Monday, September 14, 2015

Answer: Can you find more like this?

Finding extraordinary people... 

...that was the Challenge.  I gave a list of people (Galton, Da Vinci, Alberti, Goethe, von Humboldt, Pallas, Bernoulli...) and asked if you could find some more folks like this... That is, 

1.  Can you find more people like those above?  They must be skilled in multiple arts / sciences / domains-of-expertise AND have left a record so we can tell what they were so good at doing. And just as importantly, HOW can you do a SearchReSearch strategy to identify these folks?  

In some ways, the trick here like one of those SAT questions that asks "What's in common between these people?" As the question says, they're all "... skilled in multiple arts / sciences / domains-of-expertise..."  
As a SearchResearcher, I approach this question as one of finding the correct category or type.  What do you call these people?  
More importantly, HOW would you figure out what these people are like?  
To start my search, I just did the obvious search for the core of the idea taken from my Challenge statement.  

And I found a plausible word:  polymath  That sounds exactly right.  

But I wanted to try a different approach as well, just to be sure that I hadn't missed some other terminology. 

So I first looked for a Reverse Dictionary (remember this?  we talked about Reverse Dictionaries before: they look up words when given terms from a definition).  I like OneLook's Reverse Dictionary, so here's what you'll see there (given the same query)--several terms that look promising.  

As you can see, polymath is there as well, but so are cambist, chaldean, and deipnosophist.  (I looked up cambist and chaldean, and they're both off-topic.)  But deipnosophist is fairly interesting.  So I checked it out--could this be a possible word to use?  

That's a great term to know (especially if you find yourself studying for an upcoming SAT exam), but it's more like a raconteur, and not quite in the same league as polymath.  So I checked on the term--what really is a polymath:  

That sounds pretty decent.  But I thought I'd do a quick check, just to be sure I'm on target here.  My query [ Leonardo da Vinci polymath ] is intended to check to see if other people describe him as a polymath.  Answer:  They sure do!  There are even images of Leonardo, the polymath.  

Now I want to find a bunch more people like Leonardo (or Alberti, or Goethe, or....).  

The natural way to find this would be: 

Which gives me a great collection to choose from.  A quick skim shows me Charles Babbage, Charles Darwin, Thomas Jefferson, Galileo, Benjamin Franklin, Isaac Newton, and my personal favorite, (this week at least) Joseph Priestley.  
Priestley was the18th-century English theologian, clergyman notable for his dissenting opinions, natural philosopher, chemist, educator, and Liberal political theorist who published over 150 works, many of which are significant. He is usually credited with the discovery of oxygen, but also gets my undying approval for having also invented soda water.  He did it all--politics, theology, optics AND fizzy water for my afternoon repast.  Oddly, I never knew (until I started writing this) that he lived the last 10 years of his life in Northumberland Pennsylvania (near Harrisburg).  He turned down a faculty appointment at U. Penn, but he gave advice to Jefferson about how to set up a proper university (which Jefferson then used to establish the University of Virginia).  
As I mentioned, there are many polymaths in the world, not necessarily dead, white, men. 
The [ list of ...] trick works again:  [ list of female polymaths ] gives us several wonderful lists, including Hypatia, Trotula of Salerno, Hildegard of Bingen, and Maria Gaetana Agnesi.  You can keep changing the modifiers to find more.  I used [ list of African polymaths ] and [ list of Indian polymaths ] etc etc.  
With this kind of method, you can find people like:  
A 16th century Ottoman polymath: Matrakçı Nasuh with a web page which includes the following surprising sentence: "...The most well-known episode of his engineering talent occurred during the circumcision ceremonies of Süleyman’s sons, Mehmed and Selim, when he famously constructed two moving citadels out of paper from which soldiers emerged and staged a battle, as part of the public spectacle and celebration in the Istanbul hippodrome (Yurdaydın, 144)." 
George Washington Carver: the African-American botanist and inventor.  
Cheikh Anta Diop: a Senegalese historian, anthropologist, physicist and politician.
And Ibn al-Haytham (Alhazen): an Iraqi scientist, physicist, anatomist, physician, psychologist, astronomer, engineer, inventor, mathematician, ophthalmologist, philosopher, and theologian.
All of these people are pretty amazing, and well worth the time to study.  One common trait that's pretty obvious (in retrospect) is that they ALL wrote something that has survived the test of time.  
A lesson for me:  Get busy and write that book!  

Search Lessons:  
1. Even vague ideas can be captured in a single word (or short phrase)--the problem is to find that term.  In this case, a 2-step strategy was the right one.  First, find the word (or phrase) by describing the concept--".. skilled in multiple arts / sciences / domains-of-expertise..." and then scanning for a short term that captures exactly that idea.  

2. The [ list of ... ] search pattern is remarkably useful.  In this case, it found us "lists of" made by lots of different people.  The insight here is that people love to make lists of things.  The variety of lists I've found never ceases to amaze me.  Remember this when you're looking for examples of a category, like non-Indo-European polymaths...  

Search on!   (And be sure to read the comments on the Challenge page--there are MANY more polymaths listed over there.)  


  1. …was looking through your answer and your cross-check using da Vinci (looked at the More Intelligent Life result…) hadn't used the 'similar' option with the cached box before — thought it had good results… bonus SERP results.
    exploring the SERP…
    …which led here: 'about 26 results'
    which led to this list & site (thought it was worth glancing at their "faqs & cool links - under about us" )
    more contemporary polys…
    Time Blimp twitter
    also led to this Brain Pickings piece on Leo…
    Leo body

    1. That's a great suggestion, Remmij -- the "related/ similar" option is seriously under-used, and is a great way to explore a related space.

    2. Dan, fwiw - a small aside/testimonial - I was able to find/identify this plane after seeing it flying over my casa the other day, using Google
      Search and some of the skills learned off sRs. Fairly rudimentary search just using what I was able to observe as it passed overhead
      at ~ 1000'+ - colors, configuration, wing shape, etc… couldn't get the tail number or see that it was an open cockpit…
      didn't think to check any of the flight trackers out there and it was long gone by the time I did… not sure it would have showed up.

      Took a while and a friend's suggestion to use [common pusher aircraft] - in images, on the 7th SERP page, found an image
      of the engine type that led to the aircraft… reminded me that it is pretty amazing what can be determined through search!…
      even when the path is circuitous and a bit dependent on serendipity that the exact plane would turn up.

      the exact aircraft: AirCam
      …once I had the tail #, other info became available; e.g., N3251E, cool way to travel

    3. Hello Remmij and Dr. Russell similar is the first time I saw that option. I only knew the one that Dr. Russell did About this site and cached is something I never have used, so, until today I knew about this other option. When is good to use cached version?

      Thanks Remmij for sharing your SRS find! Yes, it is great to find day to day objects searching.

      About polymaths, I was listening this podcast Alfonso X, btw, they make amazing shows. And this character is another kind of polymath. They have a special name?

    4. Ramón - Cienciaes is an interesting site, can see why you enjoy it - bet ᴚℝⓇ would like it 2…
      I'm on shakey ground here… saw Alfonso's celestial interest described as astronomical and astrological, but I'd go with cosmological…?
      X on video - auditory celestial accompaniment (actually found this preferable to Miley Cyrus - go figure ;))
      Siete Partidas
      would be curious to know what Dan thinks of this type of info-display…
      different approach to a home page/information display

    5. The "rotating disk category selection widget" drive me crazy. In general, you should NEVER have to track a click target like it was a duck in a first-person shooter game. While the UI is pretty, it's one of those designs that won't last long. It's a "demos well" kind of approach. Looks great, but grows tiresome quickly. Doing these kinds of interfaces well is a really hard design challenge.

    6. Thanks Remmij! Your links to Alfonso X are very interesting and of course, to much to read and learn about him. I am glad that you liked the podcast and site.

      Like Dr. Russell says, rotating disk is hard to view even when looks amazing. In my case, I feel little dizzy. Do you like those displays, Remmij?

    7. Ramón, thought it was novel — I agree that I wouldn't want it as a daily interface, but I like different and I like visuals as opposed to a strict diet of yummy textybits…
      maybe that is one reason I use flickr & GooImageSearch a fair amount¿

      I do like a rotating disk more than a slipped disc, but not as much as a flying disc;-)
      not encouraging; will still be sorting the interface… in 2363/Stardate 40052

      guess I missed this one