The benefits of intellectual curiosity

While true polymaths like Leonardo da Vinci are rare, there is an increasing body of evidence to suggest that having diverse interests makes you better in everything you do.

To some extent, this is counter-intuitive – you might expect to perform best by putting 100% of our efforts into a single pursuit. However, recent evidence suggests that is not the case. Your behavior shapes your brain and the benefits of practicing one skill are not limited to that skill alone, they can be transferred, and the more things you know something about the more there is to transfer. As Alvaro Pascual-Leone, professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School says: “If you practice multiple things you actually get better at any one of those things.”

So go ahead and pursue your interests, passion and curiosity no matter how trivial it may seem, you are actually doing your brain, yourself and your employer a favor!

For a more detailed analysis on the benefits of cross-training your brain read Fortune’s article at:
http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/fortune_archive/2006/10/30/8391729/index.htm

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  • I wonder, would you consider Arnold Schwarzenegger to be a polymath? I’m serious 🙂

    Your average citizen in the UK would regard him as a slightly lucky if dumb hollywood oddity.

    But consider the evidence…

    The guy reaches the very top of his first chosen career – Bodybuilding. He masters it on a global level.

    Then he choses a second career, and reaches the very top of that to become one of it not the most successful ‘action heros’.

    Then he moves into politics and although I’m not fully conversant in American politics I think it’s fair to say he’s doing pretty well?

    Does reaching extremely high levels in 3 different careers qualify you for polymath status or do I have the wrong definition?

  • Wikipedia to the rescue: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polymath

    I doubt he fits the traditional definition (but then again, he might, I have not met him), but he definitely fits the more narrow definition described in the “second meaning” below:

    “In other cases, polymath is used to describe a meaning in a continuum of concepts, ranging from the person who knows a lot about several fields of study or has a varied or encyclopaedic knowledge (which will be called the first meaning in this article) to the person who has proficiency and competence in multiple fields or even to the person who has excelled in multiple fields (which will be called the second meaning). However, this distinction between the first and second meanings of the word might be subjective and even artificial since the existence of the last sense is only justified by those people who use the word polymath, in a more selective way, to denote someone with a verifiable proficiency in multiple fields, or, in an even more selective way, to denote someone with verifiable excellence or accomplishments in multiple fields (see the Etymological differentiation between Polymath and Polyhistor for an example of this distinction).”