Thursday, March 14, 2013

A Man Can Do All Things

I somewhat recently have become obsessed with the idea of knowing everything. I am quite keenly aware that this is not something I will realize while on this mortal sphere. However, with my belief in eternal progression this aspiration is not absurd. Centuries ago, before the advent of the internet and other technological advances a handful of men made it their goal not to specialize, but to become expert in many categories. These were the original Jacks of all trade, or rather Renaissance men. Men like; Leonardo Da Vinci, Galileo, and Copernicus used their specific genius in one field to thrust them into other realms of interest and domination. I feel like we should do the same. We all excel at certain things, no matter how seemingly trivial or apparently grandiose. Why shouldn’t we use our given talents to procure related talents? Does an interest in history not turn into an interest in geography, which can in turn become an interest in geology? After all, everything is eternally connected in some way I believe. Several years ago I learned Portuguese while serving an LDS mission in Brazil. Knowing Portuguese gave me the urge to learn Spanish, which led me to my current task of learning Italian. Learning Italian has given me an unhealthy obsession with visiting Italy, which has turned into a yen for travelling all through the European continent. I now have signed up for a Holocaust tour throughout Western Europe for the summer of 2014. This upcoming tour is giving me another obsessive yearning for knowledge concerning the Holocaust. So, consequently my head is buried in books concerning said subject matter. So, in summation, did my decision to serve a mission effect my current quest to know everything about specific concentration camps and Nazi nomenclature? I think so. I may have eventually arrived from another avenue, but my point is that knowledge begets knowledge. And we have a much greater ability to know massive amounts of things than we realize. And we can accomplish much more with our time here on earth than we tend to think. Leon Battista Alberti said it best in his pithy statement: “A man can do all things if he will.” So, I find it necessary to become a polymath. A polymath is defined as someone whose expertise spans a significant number of different subject matters. Why are so many of us determined to lounge in our pedestrian zones of comfort? Why not get better at what we are great at? Why not seek to learn new trades? Why not master any and everything we can? Perfection is an elusive thing, but is this quest for it, this determination to approach it not the very desire of Jesus when he famously instructed us with the terse commandment to “Be thou perfect”? I shall end with a splendid quote by Robert A. Heinlein that well encapsulates this ineffable desire to know everything: "A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects."
This is an old Book of Mormon of Hugh Nibley's- A polymath who was fluent in 11 languages.