Universal Man is translated from the Latin “Homo universalis”. Historically, Universal Man is often thought to be analogous to the Renaissance Man label that has been applied to many well known figures of history. A few examples are: Aristotle, Da Vinci, and, more recently, the physicist Richard Feynman. I believe that although these people are thought of as Renaissance Men, they are most accurately described as Polymaths, and least accurately as Universal Men.
The term Renaissance Man originated as a description of individuals, mainly men, that helped humanity escape the dark ages by virtue of their open minds and dogged pursuit of new knowledge. Even though Polymath is often used interchangeably with Renaissance Man, I believe they differ in the follow way. A Polymath has vast knowledge in many areas and true expertise in one or a few. Although a Renaissance Man had great accomplishments and a knowledge and interest in many areas, they were not true experts in a specific area in the way a Polymath is. Additionally, neither Renaissance Man nor Polymath is synonymous with genius. Albert Einstein was a genius, but not a Polymath, or Renaissance Man, and most certainly not a Universal Man.
I believe Universal men are born with a biological or genetic interest and curiosity in perhaps every single subject imaginable. They are not Polymaths or Renaissance Men by default, but can be if blessed with sufficient intellect, education, and opportunity.
The renaissance ideal of “universal knowledge” led to the education of young men in a very lengthy and broad fashion. In fact, a true Renaissance Man was a student and teacher all of his life. This approach allowed a born Universal Man to develop into an educated Renaissance Man.
Today this development from being born a Universal Man and developing into a Renaissance Man has become pretty much impossible. The world now is simply too vast and complicated to allow the breadth of knowledge Renaissance men of the past possessed. Polymaths still exist today, particularly in academia, business and technology, and are critically important to society. Someone who is described as “a modern day Renaissance Man” usually falls into one of two categories. The first is the Polymath who also has many other interests. The second is the person who has accomplished highly in several different pursuits. However, I think the true Renaissance Man, who knew almost everything about almost anything, is now and forever only a figure of history.
This reality can lead to the notion that the modern day Universal Man is in a perpetual state of intellectual and accomplishment limbo. This view is, to a large extent, accurate but there are advantages also. I’ll talk about some of those in a future post. Next, I think I’ll try to list some humorous ways to decide if you are a Universal Man.