It has been said elsewhere along the aethery intertubes in discussions of the intellectual value of the great and problematic Jesuit scientist/experimentalist/visionary/encyclopedist Athanasius Kircher that he may be the greatest polymath who has ever lived. He certainly was a genius, and worked across a wide and occasionally invisible spectrum, inventing/describing/discovering/fabricating. The great semi-mystifying polymath Kircher (1602-1680) lived
for a long time and filled his life with ideas and words, producing
dozens of books during his time on Earth, some of which were never
published even though written, some manuscripts lost forever. His was a
massive output of extraordinary breadth, most of which was original to
him, and a lot of which was original to others and not credited, as was
often the case with some scholarship at this time in history. He
wasted little time what I can see, writing on a spectacular range of
subjects, enlightening people, confusing people, generating great
theories and some bad ideas
He was often correct, and occasionally toweringly smart–but certainly not all of the time, and probably not enough of the time to earn him such high-altitude praise.
But even with the great and lofty things he has accomplished, I am pretty certain that he would not make the first rank in the alphabet of great polymaths–not only are there other polymaths in general who are more, um, polymathical, there are also more “K” polymaths who would push him out of his alpha-order.
Here’s one example of an alphabet of great polymaths: Aristotle/Agricola, Boyle/Bartholin/Babbage, Carnot/Chandrasekhar, Descartes/Davy, Euler, Faraday, Gauss/Gilbert, Helmholtz/Huygens/Herschel, Jevons, Kepler/Klein, Leonardo/Lavoisier, Maxwell/Malppighi, Newton, Poincare/Priestly/Pasteur, Quetelet, Sommerfeld, Thomson, von Neumann/Vesalius, Young, Zeno.
Well. There’s certainly a lot of room for debate on this quick list–perhaps it would be more interesting to assign chess pieces to these same names; and if this was so, I would have Fr. Kircher be a pawn.
And so: are there more dots on Kircher or squares behind him?