The tangent in my last post aside, what really struck me about the use of the descriptor “savant” in Quicksilver is that it doesn’t seem to be used today to describe “a learned person” or “scholar.” I wonder why not? Do we have better words to describe them?
The term “academic” is used quite a bit, and of course “scholar,” but they just don’t seem to me to have the same je ne sais quoi as “savant.” Maybe we just don’t have any savants of the non-idiot kind anymore? Maybe our society is structured in such a way that savants don’t, or can’t, develop or thrive.
Just imagine the intense drive and passion, not to mention patience, it must have taken for the Natural Philosophers of the 17th and 18th Centuries to figure things out, many times when everyone else was actively out to stop you because your ideas were counter to the prevailing wisdom. How many people do you know today who could do that? Could you? Dedicate your life to an idea that no one else thought was worth pursuing?
It is more likely, however, that savants still exist and in fact thrive. It’s just that most people are not aware of their existence, even though their contributions to our lives are everywhere. I imagine it was the same back then. And, in fact, it quite likely that most people today are not aware at all of the contributions of the great savants of history.