What Is A Polymath? And Why Is That Relevant To Cardano?

Cardano Explained

What Is A Polymath? And Why Is That Relevant To Cardano?

The Cardano ecosystem is named after one of the most gifted and controversial polymaths of the Renaissance. He was a highly influential mathematician and physician and gambler, but also an inventor, astrologer, astronomer, and a proponent of steganography. If you don't know what a polymath is or what steganography is, or why this is all relevant to the Cardano ecosystem, read on...

   The Oxford Language Dictionary defines a polymath as: “A person of wide ranging knowledge or learning.”  The Cardano Ecosystem is named after one of the most gifted and controversial polymaths of the Renaissance: Gerolamo Cardano, or Jerome Cardan as he was known in the United Kingdom, or by his Latin name, Heironymus Cardani.  By whatever name he was known, he was a true polymath if there ever was one.  He was born in 1501 and died, on purpose, in 1575 which I will explain in my next post.

    The short list of Cardano’s areas of expertise always starts with his status as a highly influential mathematician.  He was pivotal in the study of probability and he was the initial introducer of binomial coefficients and the binomial theorem. But mathematics was merely the tip of a vast intellectual iceberg.  Cardano was a University trained physician whose medical expertise was sought after by the ruling monarchs of Europe.  He was a scientist, chemist, professor, author, astrologer, astronomer, inventor, and an inveterate gambler who studied the functions of probability for profitable purposes.  His book, “The Study Of Games Of Chance”, remains available online.  His father, Fazio Cardano, was good friends with Leonardo DaVinci and instrumental in DaVinci’s use of perspective in his artwork and diagrams. One of Cardano’s best known inventions is the Cardano Suspension, or gimbal , an ingenius system used originally for stabilizing compasses and gyroscopes. 

Gerolamo was deeply involved with the development of hyocycloids, (think of a Spriograph), which are actually the foundational concept behind modern printing presses, but the mathematical complexitiy they represent is beyond my understanding...you'll have to look that one up yourself.

He is the inventor of the Cardano Gear Mechanism which converts rotational motion to linear motion.  Modern automobiles, tractors, and vehicles of many other types still use versions of this gear mechanism to this day.

    The scope of Cardano’s work is surreal.  He is the author of Ars Magna , the first book entirely about algebra ever to be written in Europe. He authored over 200 scientific works on multiple subjects.  His epic work titled, De Subtilitate , written in 1550, addresses what we would call Transcendental Philosophy.  For six years he devoted himself to solving cubic and quartic equations. He became wealthy after years of grinding poverty through his work as a physician, and author. His books were major bestsellers during his lifetime and beyond.

   However incredible his achievements were, his life was imprinted with multiple tragedies and heartbreaks, mostly due to the troubles his two sons managed to create.  Additionally, Cardano was not collegial or cooperative or flexible in his thinking or in his working relationships.  He wrote about himself and his blunt tactlessness in his autobiography, De Propria Vita (The Book Of My Life):

“This I recognize as unique amongst my faults: the habit of preferring to say above all things what I know to be displeasing to the ears of my hearers. I keep it up willfully, in no way ignorant of how many enemies it makes for me.”

    So Gerolamo Cardano was a true polymath who has been the subject of countless commentaries and criticisms for 450 years.  You can research him and spend may hours being astonished at the scope of his achievements and the heavy price he paid in tragedies. In 1570, five years before his death at his own hands, he was arrested and imprisoned on charges of heresy.  He was allowed to confess in private, but was proscribed from publishing any more of his books or to lecture at the University of Bologna where he had been teaching since 1562.  But it was his interest in an entirely different intellectual field of endeavor that I believe may be the reason Charles Hoskinson chose “Cardano” for the name of the community and the ecosystem we are part of, and this brings us to the intriguing technique of Steganography…but that is the subject of my next post.

written by: Eric Hill     published at: Aug 20, 2021

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