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Last person to know everything
|Thomas Young (1733-1829)||Joseph Leidy (1823-1891)||Athanasius Kircher (1602-1680)|
At least three, Thomas Young, Joseph Leidy, and Athanasius Kircher, shown adjacent, have had books written about them, with the epitaph "last man to know everything" attributed or affixed to their name. 
Intellectual breaching point
Sometime between 1700 to 1900, predominately, people began to profess the view that the body of "known knowledge" had become so large that it was no longer possible for one person to know everything. To situate this postulate in the context of a date, French philosopher Pierre Levy argues, in his 1994 Collective Intelligence, that the publication of Frenchman Denis Didedot and Jean d’Almbert’s Encyclopedie (1751-1772) marks “the end of an area in which a single human being was able to comprehend the totality of knowledge.”
|An intellectual roundtable: Friedrich Schiller (IQ=175), Wilhelm Humboldt, (IQ=175), Alexander Humboldt (IQ=185), a cited last person to know everything, and Johann Goethe (IQ=230), another well-cited last person to know everything, Jena 1797, discussing, in Goethe's own words, “all of nature from the perspectives of philosophy and science”. |
English mathematician-physicist Karl Pearson, in his science overhauling 1892 book Grammar of Science (the first book on Albert Einstein's "Olympia Academy" study group reading list) stated his view that naturalist Alexander Humboldt, pictured adjacent, was someone at the cusp of total knowledge possession (as was his associate Goethe, also pictured): 
“At the beginning of this century it was possible for an Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) (IQ=185) to take a survey of the entire domain of the extant science. Such a survey would be impossible for any scientist now, even if gifted with more than Humboldt’s powers. Scarcely any specialist of today is really master of all the work which has been done in his own comparatively small field. Facts and their classification have been accumulating at such a rate, that nobody seems to have leisure to recognize the relations of subgroups to the whole. It is as if individual workers in both Europe and America were bringing their stones to one great building and piling them on cementing them together without regard to any general plan or to their individual neighbor’s work.”
Humboldt is one of the cited "last persons to know everything" (below); a Cattell 1000 (top 100); was one of the first to propose that South America and Africa were both joined; in 1797, in Jena, with his brother Wilhelm (IQ=175), Friedrich Schiller (IQ=175), and Johann Goethe (IQ=230), the four discussed, in Goethe's own words, “all of nature from the perspectives of philosophy and science”.
The following gives a listing of the known referenced opinions on the matter of who considers who to be the last person to know everything, ranked by (a) prevalence of citations claiming that person was the last to know everything; (b) age of the citation, e.g. Leibniz (1914) and Young (1921); along with a weighting factor addition for known established IQs, listed in chronological order by reaction end (death):
“His combined works constitute a virtual encyclopedia of Greek knowledge. It has been said that Aristotle was probably the last person to know everything there was to be known in his own time.” (2009) 
“Aristotle may have been the last person to know everything there was to be known in his own time.” (2009) 
|● Roger Bacon||(1214-1294)|
|● Leonardo da Vinci||(1452-1519)||=180 |
“Da Vinci, the last man to know everything, was overwhelmed by waves of depression, which left him shy and insecure.” (2004) 
|● Francis Bacon||(1561-1626)||=180|
“Francis Bacon, a contemporary of Shakespeare, is regarded by historians as the last person to know everything in the world. Since then, each of us learns a progressively smaller percentage of all the information that exists.” (1998, 2004) 
|● Johannes Kepler||(1571-1630)||=175|
|● John Milton||(1608-1674)||=180 |
“Milton, some say, was the last man to know everything (or to know enough about most things to discuss them with authority).” Darwin was the last biologist who could claim that.” (2001) 
“It is said that the 17th-century poet John Milton, although blind towards the end of his life, was the last person to know everything because he had read virtually every book ever written at that time.” (2007) 
|● Athanasius Kircher||(1602-1680)|
Findlen, Paula. (2004). Athanasius Kircher: the Last Man Who Knew Everything.
“Kircher combined polymath erudition and intellectual eccentricity in ways far beyond mortal men. He is often mentioned as a candidate for ‘the last man to know everything’, from obscure archaic languages and literatures to the latest in science to the most fantastical absurdities then in currency, all in heaps in the measureless attic of his remarkable mind. He wrote 40 books on subjects ranging from Egyptian hieroglyphics to possible causes of the bubonic plague, constructed strange objects, including an automatic organ, and assembled in Rome what was arguably the first natural history museum.” (2006) 
Godwin, Joscelyn. (2009). Athanasius Kircher’s Theatre of the World: the Life and Work of the Last Man to Search for Universal Knowledge. Inner Traditions.
“Another candidate [for the last person to know everything] is archaeologist, mathematician, biologist, physicist, volcanologist, and Egyptologist Athanasius Kircher.” (2009) 
|● Gottfried Leibniz||(1646-1716)||=205 |
“Leibnitz was the last man to know everything, and Locke confessed his ignorance.” (1914) 
“Leibnitz, it has been said, was the last man to know everything. Thought this is most certainly a gross exaggeration, it is an epigram with considerable point. For it is true that up to the last years of the eighteenth century our greatest mentors were able not only to compass the whole science of their day, perhaps together with mastery of several languages, but to absorb a broad culture as well. But as the fruits of scientific labor have increasingly been applied to our material betterment, fields of specialized interest have come to be cultivated, and the activities of an ever-increasing body of scientific workers have diverged. Today we are most of us content to carry out an intense cultivation of our own little scientific garden (to continue the metaphor), deriving occasional pleasure from chat with our neighbors over the fence, while with them we discuss, criticize, and exhibit our produce.” (1957, 2001, 2005) 
“Leibnitz, it has been said, was probably the last man to know everything.” (1969, 1971, 1973) 
“Leibniz is said to be the last person to know everything.” (1976) 
“Leibniz had a huge range of theoretical as well as practical interests. Philosopher, mathematician, historian, logician, political writer, and counselor to statesmen and aristocrats: he was a ‘universal genius’ (Kneale, 1962), the ‘last man to know everything’ (Bugarski, 1976).” (2004) 
|● Emanuel Swedenborg||(1688-1772)||=165|
|● Immanuel Kant||(1724-1804)||=175|
“Kant was the last man to know everything worth knowing in the humanities and sciences of his age, thought he was not quite caught up in the most recent advances in mathematics.” (2003) 
|● Johann Goethe||(1749-1823)||=210 |
“Goethe, he used to say, was the last man in the world who knew everything; after Goethe (d. 1832), there was too much to know for any one person to know it all.” (c.1966) 
“It was said of Goethe, after his death in 1932, that he was the last man to know everything worth knowing.” (1982, 1985, 1990) 
|● Thomas Young||(1773-1829)||=200|
“Young as been called the last man to know everything. This obviously over-simplified statement is to be taken to mean that during the nineteenth century the world of learning rapidly was becoming much too broad for any polymath to master more than a fragment of it.” (1959) 
Robinson, Andrew. (2006). The Last Man Who Knew Everything: Thomas Young, the anonymous Polymath who proved Newton wrong, Explained how we see, Cured the sick, and deciphered the Rosetta stone, among other feats of Genius. OneWorld.
“It has been suggested that physicist, physician, and Egyptologist Thomas Young was the last person to know everything.” (2009) 
|● Alexander Humboldt||(1769-1859)||=185|
|● John Mill||(1806-1873)||=180 |
“John Stuart Mill, the British economist, political thinker, and philosopher of science, died more than a hundred years ago. The year of his death (1873) is important because he is reputed to have been the last man to know everything there was to know in the world.” (1998, 2007) 
“John Stuart Mill has been described as the last man to know everything.” (2000) 
“British economist, political thinker, and philosopher of science John Stuart Mill was reputed to have been the last man to know everything there was to know.” (2006) 
|● Joseph Leidy||(1823-1891)|
Warren, Leonard. (1998). Joseph Leidy: the Last Man Who Knew Everything. Yale University Press.
|● Henri Poincare||(1854-1912)|
“A mathematician I know once described Poincare as the last man to know everything.” (2006) 
|● Max Weber||(1864-1920)||=165|
“Weber seems to me very much a man of a particular time. A man of whom it has been said (as it has of others) that he was the last person to know everything of importance that was to be known. A nonsensical idea, of course, but one which point to the extraordinary breadth of his interests in sociology, religion, economics, politics, history, music, and much else besides.” (2005) 
|● Thorstein Veblen||(1857-1929)|
Others, as summarized on a 2004 blog article “Last Man to Know Everything” by high-profile blogger Dennis Mangan, include: Joseph Scaliger (1540-1609), Erasmus, Alvin Saunders Johnson (1874-1971), Carl Gauss, Diderot, Thomas Jefferson, and William Whewell, and Archimedes (nominated by Mangan). 
There's also a bit of Internet talk about Samuel Coleridge said to have known everything (link) (link), but a Google books reference for this claim does note seem to be available.
The close association of these intellectual know-it-alls is striking: Kircher was frequently cited by Goethe: for instance, in his search of a science of optics to counter Newton’s, Goethe rediscovered the earlier work of Kircher, and to the extent that Kircher’s theories kept popping up in Geothe’s path, is exemplified by Goethe’s circa 1800 comment: “thus, entirely unexpected, Father Kircher is here again.” Kircher’s work on hieroglyphics translations was frequently discussed and critiqued by Young. Young endorsed Goethe’s explanation of certain pathological conditions of color-blindness and color confusion; had no objection to Goethe’s description of Physische (Physics) and Chemische Farben (Chemical Colors), but expressed great aversion to Goethe’s Farbenlehre (Color Theory) and went to great lengths to disprove it.
Goethe’s connections with Alexander Humboldt date back to 1797, when he and Alexander and Wilhelm Humboldt formed a close circle in Jena to pursue scientific research in anatomy, chemistry, mineralogy, physics, and zoology. Goethe’s opinion of Humboldt was exceedingly high, referring to him as a ‘cornucopia of sciences’ and stating that “a person cannot derive as much information from books in a week, as Humboldt can convey in an hour” and “I have never known anybody who has so harmoniously combined such determined activity with so much intellectual universality.”
Leidy, in his late 1870s search to prove that flies were the agents of contagion, acknowledged Goethe as being the first to observe fungi in flies; he was also knowledgeable of Goethe’s pre-Darwin theories of change from one form to another, of many forms arising from a few.
● Genius IQs
1. (a) Swenson, Richard. (1998). The Overload Syndrome (pg. 136). NavPress.
(b) Miller, Kevin A. (2004). Surviving Information Overload (pg. 27). Zondervan.
2. Brockman, Max. (2009). What’s Next: Dispatches on the Future of Science (pg. 226). Random House.
3. Grey, Christopher. (2005). A Very Short, Fairly Interesting and Reasonably Cheap Book about Studying Organizations (pg. 21). Sage.
4. Kharbe, A.S. (2009). English Language and Literary Criticism (pg. 185). Discover Publishing House.
5. Tunkelang, Daniel. (2009). Facet Search (pg. 3). Morgan & Claypool Publishers.
6. Thayer, Stevan J. and Nathanson, Linda S. Interview with an Angel (pg. 19). Random House.
7. (a) Robinson, Andrew. (2006). The Last Man Who Knew Everything: Thomas Young, the anonymous Polymath who proved Newton wrong, Explained how we see, Cured the sick, and deciphered the Rosetta stone, among other feats of Genius. OneWorld.
(b) Warren, Leonard. (1998). Joseph Leidy: the Last Man Who Knew Everything. Yale University Press.
(c) Findlen, Paula. (2004). Athanasius Kircher: the Last Man Who Knew Everything.
8. Heilbroner, Robert L. (1999). The Worldly Philosophers: the Lives, Times, and Ideas of the Great Economic (Thorstein Veblen, Quote: he became known as “the last man who knew everything”, pg. 241). Simon and Schuster.
9. Hjelmroos-Koski, Mervi. (2009). “Baron Alexander von Humboldt: the Last Man Who Knew Everything.” May 19, Blog of the Botanical Art and Illustration Program at Denver Botanical Gardens.
10. Crawford, Osbert G.S. (1996). Antiquity (pg. 241), Vol. 70, Issues 267-68.
11. Anon. (1976). Computer Graphics and Art: Volumes 1-3 (pg. 25). Berkeley Enterprises.
12. Shoales, Ian. (1985). I Gotta Go: the Commentary of Ian Shoales (pg. #). Perigee Books.
13. Whitehouse, Maggy. (2007). Total Kabbalah: Bring Balance and Happiness into Your Life (pg. 174). Chronicle Books.
14. (a) Anon. (1982). Time Magazine (pg. 268), Volume 120, Issues 10-17. Time Inc.
(b) Shrodes, Caroline, Finestone, Harry, and Shugrue, Michael F. (1985). The Conscious Reader (pg. 664). MacMillan.
(c) Litzinger, Boyd. (1990). The Heath Reader (pg. 63). Heath.
15. (a) Anon. (1969). Saturday Review, Volume 52 (pg. 94). Saturday Review Associates.
(b) Anon. (1971). Education in America, 1960-1969 (pg. 612). Arno Press.
(c) Corder, Jim W. (1973). Finding a Voice (pg. 373). Scott, Foresman.
16. Gore, Albert. (2000). Earth in the Balance: Ecology and Human Spirit (pg. 200). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
17. (a) Colin, Cherry. (1957). On Human Communication (pg. 1). John Wiley & Sons.
(b) Ackoff, Russell, Emery, Fred E, and Ruben, Brent D. (2005). On Purposeful Systems (pg. 4). Transaction Publishers.
(c) See also: (2001) (2008)
18. Kidder, Rushworth M. (2003). How Good People Make Tough Choices (pg. 147). Harper Collins.
19. Baker, Ronald J. (2006). Measure What Matters to Customers: Using Key Predictive Indicators (pg. 90). Wiley.
20. Cialdini, Robert B. (1998). Influence: the Psychology of Persuasion (pg. 269-70). HarperCollins.
21. Ruhah, John. (1921). “The Fitz-Patrick Lectures and Medicine in England During the Reign of George III”, Medical Records (pg. 901), Vol. 99.
22. Fentress, George L. (1914). “Tendencies in Modern Educational Development”, Annual Address Delivered Before the Alumni Association, June 16, Bulletin (pg. 29), Volume 7.
23. Nelson, Victoria. (2001). The Secret Life of Puppets (pg. 7). Harvard University Press.
24. Standish, David. (2006). Hollow Earth (pg. 21). Da Capo Press.
25. Thomas, Margaret A. (2004). Universal Grammar in Second Language Acquisition (pg. 120). Psychology Press.
26. Terras, Victor. (2003). “A Positive Pragmatist”, in: A Mind at Work (pg. 64) by Mercedes Vilanova, and Frederic Chorda. Dresden University Press.
27. Weisberg, Robert W. (2006). Creativity: Understanding Innovation in Problem Solving, Science, Invention, and the Arts (pg. 390). Wiley.
28. Brass, Perry. (2004). The Substance of God: a Spiritual Thriller (pg. 75). Perry Brass.
29. Jones, Steve. (2001). Darwin’s Ghost: the Origins of Species Updated (pg. xxiii). Ballantine.
30. Jeans, James W. (1986). Litigation, Volume 2 (pg. 1093). Kluwer Law Book Publishers.
31. Boyer, Carl B. (1959). The Rainbow from Myth to Mathematics (pg. 294). T. Yoseloff.
32. Kidder, Rushworth M. (1992). In the Backyards of Our Lives and Other Essays (pg. #). Yankee Books.
33. Anon. (1968). “Article” Transactions of the Illuminating Engineering Society, Volume 33.
34. Mangan, Dennis. (2004). “Last man to Know Everything”, Mangans.BlogSpot.com, Sep.
35. Pearson, Karl. (1900). The Grammar of Science (pg. 13). Publisher.
36. Boerner, Peter. (2005). Goethe (pg. 72). Haus Publishing.
The following are articles that cite this page:
● Brown, Scott. (2012). “Coping with Information Obesity: A Diet for Information Professionals” (abs), Business Information Review, 29(3):168-73.
● Who is called the last person to know everything? (2006) – FunTrivia.com.
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