By Cory Doctorow at 11:54 pm Mon, Oct 4, 2010
The above posters (and perhaps Mr. Gibson) are what Barbara Sher calls “scanners”. She asserts:
“Scanners want to taste everything. They love to learn about the structure of a flower, and they love to learn about the theory of music. And the adventures of travel. And the tangle of politics. To scanners, the universe is a treasure house full of a million works of art, and life is hardly long enough to see them all.”
Barbara’s book, “Refuse to Choose”, will help you to see that there’s nothing wrong with you.
This is actually my biggest problem in life. I too easily go off exploring tangents and lack focus on one particular thing.
I’m great on a trivia team though.
Ha! I’m the same.
damn world! quit being so awesome so I can get some work done!
I have yet to pick a major, I change my mind every week. I just want to know and do everything.
That reminds me of an old Roger Zelazny novel, Doorways in the Sand. Its protagonist is a guy who receives a stipend which covers his tuition and living expenses until he graduates from college. With no desire to jump off the gravy train, he changes his major every time he gets close to having enough credits for a degree. Sounds like heaven to me. I too have a desire to learn at least a little bit about everything under the sun, but I’ve mostly had to do it on my own dime.
There was also an old British SitCom called “Doctor in the House” where there was this one guy who had an endowment which worked that way too. He had no desire to ever actually graduate and gamed the system too. Eventually there was no course that he could take without getting some kind of degree, or flunk and still stay enrolled. The rest of the students turned out for a wake marking the end of this “institution” at the University.
The exact reason why I decided to become a translator. It’s the only job where the “know a little bit about everything” mindset is practically a requirement.
who said it’s impossible to be a Renaissance Man today?
Oh it’s possible in the sense of “having knowledge about a number of subjects” the problem is that, unlikely during the Renaissance, knowing a little doesn’t put you in the position of being able to do anything significant in that discipline, since areas of knowledge are so specialized now. Being a “Renaissance man” during the actual Renaissance meant that you were at the top of each and every field, and a significant innovator in each. I have the exact same problem as Gibson – and as a result, I know a very little bit about a very great number of subjects, unable to really meaningfully engage in more than one or two. I suppose I know enough to know how ignorant I am.
Cognitive science is great for this kind of person. And some of the main veins there are some of the most interesting to me (mind hacks, AI, the link between the pharmacological and the cognitive, and what that link can tell us…).
At some point I was reading about high-IQ individuals, and came across this idea:
“Gifted people are typically capable of so many different kinds of success that they have trouble confining themselves to a reasonable number of pursuits. Some of them are lost to usefulness through spreading their available time and energy over such a wide array of projects that nothing can be finished or done well”.
I think that most people have many appealing activities on their radar, and not enough time to participate in them all.
And thank you Carolinguistic for comment #6 about “scanners”. I hadn’t given much thought as to why some people are more curious than others (I always assumed it was because some parents/teachers encourage kids when they ask questions – “Let’s go find out!” – while other parents/teachers don’t respond as positively and thus cause curiosity feel non-rewarding to some kids) but Barbara Sher’s book might be a good start to learning more about this. That is, after I finish reading four books (one about theology, one about project management, one about the Flemish art in the Prado, and one about the development of astrolabes and sextants), writing some articles about historic airplanes, re-coding my website, and building some structural simulations for my fracture-mechanics research…
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