Leonardo Da Vinci, Tertiary Education Autodidacticism and Genius

There seems to be a superficial tendency (I know I have it); to regard “university education”, as better than “self-education”. I would be decidedly more nervous about utilising the services of a surgeon who was self- educated; rather than one with a certified university education !

A word for a ‘self-educated ’ person is an ‘autodidact' eg [autodidact](Oxford Dictionary) “ A self-taught person.”
From http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/autodidact ;

Leonardo Da Vinci; the illegitimate son of Italian aristocrat was substantially an autodidact, an Italian polymath: painter, sculptor, architect, musician, scientist, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, botanist, and writer; though not an autodidact in his study of the arts, as he was trained through the Guild system, just as other Renaissance artists had been.

And from a longer list at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_autodidacts ; I recognized

Amongst artists and authors
Jorge Luis Borges, Rabindranath Tagore, William Blake, Howard Phillips Lovecraft, Maxim Gorky. Terry Pratchett, Herman Melville, George Bernard Shaw, Ernest Hemingway, Ray Bradbury, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Frida Kahlo,

Amongst directors actors, musicians, and other artists
Claudio Arrau, Frank Zappa, Arnold Schoenberg, Luis Buñuel, Orson Welles, Stanley Kubrick, John Huston, Woody Allen, Roman Polanski, Quentin Tarantino, James Cameron, Steven Spielberg, Keith Moon, David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Errol Flynn, Django Reinhardt, Noël Coward and Russell Crowe

Amongst Engineers , inventors and captains of industry
James Watt, Thomas Alva Edison, The Wright Brothers, especially Wilbur Wright.

Henry Ford: billionaire founder of Ford Motor Company. Did not attend college.
and “..Gates never returned to Harvard to complete his studies.."
from :https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Gates

Amongst scientists, historians, educators and explorers Charles Darwin , Christopher Columbus, Michael Faraday, Moshe Feldenkrais, Benjamin Franklin, Buckminster Fuller,. Oliver Heaviside, Thomas Henry Huxley, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz was a mathematical autodidact.

Karl Marx was self-taught in economics, , Heinrich Schliemann, Alfred Russel Wallace

Others
Alexander Hamilton, Julian Assange , Abraham Lincoln, Paul Keating, .

So many who whilst having some tertiary education; are famous outside their field In the third millenium AD; when we are considering education as not just ‘for life’ but as ‘a way of life’; how are we to reconcile this apparent anomaly within a general philosophy of education ? That is , many who are revered in a conventional education curriculum; did not themselves recieve such a conventional education ? Also if like the speaker one is dubious that the consequences of the digital revolution will be entirely positive; and not result in a sizable demographic who can find little or no employment in the much hoped for ‘new industries’ which will replace those displaced by the closing down of traditional professional employments in law, medicine, management, engineering, education....etc; then self-education would seem an important and desirable augmentation to tertiary education !

I would like to consider a ‘ tertiary education continuum’ from the curriculum of the most prosaic highly, constrained and certified vocational training to the rarified domain of the ‘pure autodidact’ and finally genius

Tertiary Education as Vocational Training
- as vocational training: society’s need for some kind of measure and certification of skils and knowledge, in law, medicine, science, engineering etc ( not to mention non-tertiary ‘trade’ qualifications)

One notices in passing the problem of conflict of interest when Universities are required to treat students as both ‘customers’ and potential certified and qualified graduates ? ie when universities have to both provide education and test and certify and necessarily reject some of these 'customers’ ? Or will we wait till someone who has ‘bought’ a qualification, is found legally responsible for a death or disaster by virtue of ‘lack of knowledge and the educational institution sued for fraud ?

Perhaps education and certification should be performed by separate institutions ?

Tertiary Education for further education
- an education curriculum in any subject area is often locked into imparting a certain body of knowledge in a fixed order ; usually because the foundations for later education must be’layed down first: eg painters might need to learn to draw before they use oil-paints; pianists might need to learn scales before they can play by ear; mathematicians certainly need to understand co-ordinate geometry before they learn calculus. More contentiously perhaps they need to learn calculus before modern-mathematics ; physicists might need to learn Newtonian mechanics before General Relativity... Obviously teachers will need all the above

But does a systematic appproach to knowledge always prescribe a single approach as a logical necesssity ?

Does a single approach suite all kinds of minds ?

Could a poor choice of subject area and / or approach to that subject area; result in destruction of curiosity and disinterest in education generally for some minds ? ie Does one approach suite every kind of mind ? Perhaps we should be asking tertiary students at the end of each subject : “If you weren't learning this subject matter for vocational ends or further education; would you have bothered studying it at all ?

Tertiary Education as preparation for life

Beyond the needs of further education it is often suggested that tertiary education is a preparation for life. Not just in the learning of skills, such as happens during secondary education but in producing ‘improved’ minds; ie in producing happy wise knowledgable creative ethical citizens; who can live productive lives and provide role models for their children ?

Tertiary Education as preparation for ‘ life as education’ both as further tertiary education and autodidactic education

Obviously a love of learning which leads to completion of multiple quailifications is not to be denigrated; though some might question whether becoming a professional student; has proportional advantages for society.

But what of a Tertiary Education ; which by definition is not autodidactictic; but never-the-less lays the foundations for autodidacticism?

If this was considered a desirable end; we might need a radical reappraisal of all the forms of tertiary education mentioned thus far; because if the student acquires the skil and/ or knowledge , but loses their curiosity and love of learning in the process, then we have failed , in terms of this end. In fact one can wonder how long the skill and knowledge will persist anyway, without
enthusiasm and curiousity ? It would be interesting to correlate students attitudes and enthusiasm at the end of a subject with the ‘durability’ of the knowledge imparted !

Whilst the forgoing brief overview of education does raise important problems ; it’s chief function here is to provide a context for considering the nature of genius as distinct from originality and innovation.

How to account for those who seem to have put aside the authority of accumulated traditional knowledge in their subject area; and blazed an original path into new knowledge ?

I am not going to spend a huge amount of time on ‘innovation’ which currently often means little more than “different from last week” and which rains down on us with mind numbing regularity in all the latest software and technology. Yet which many of us sense will rapidly and frequently blow away on the winds of time, like last years fashions ; or with ‘originality ’which similarly is often just a licence for peurile eccentricity !

Many on that long list of ‘autodidacts’ would probably be considered ‘geniuses’, but many ‘geniuses’ do not appear there because they had a comprehensive tertiary education ! What is the real essential difference between a genius and the rest of us ?

"Genius" is one of those words ; which are simultaneously interesting and problematic; many "ontologically distinct" usages (aka quite different meanings) are conflated;
see for example : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genius
eg “ ..... the most perfect character is supposed to lie between those extremes; retaining an equal ability and taste for books, company, and business; preserving in conversation that discernment and delicacy which arise...... “
_-David Hume
“....Genius is a talent for producing something for which no determinate rule can be given, not a predisposition consisting of a skill for something that can be learned by following some rule or other.”
—Immanuel Kant
for reasons which will become apparent I prefer :
“ Talent hits a target no one else can hit; Genius hits a target no one else can see”.
— Arthur Schopenhauer