I recently added Alexander von Humboldt to my list of personal heroes alongside John Maynard Keynes and Benjamin Franklin after finishing The Invention of Nature: The Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt.
These giants among men, who in their time were rightly celebrated for changing the course of world history, lived incredible lives in which they contributed to the political, scientific, cultural, and economic discourse of the day. Thanks to the work of some truly excellent biographers, I have come to appreciate and seek to emulate these renaissance men who demonstrated their integrity and willingness to challenge orthodoxy. , while still finding time to appreciate the wonder of life and maintaining impressive social lives and travelling the world. In short, they are inspirations and role models.
A few days ago I stood in front of Franklin’s grave in Philadelphia, a simple grave visible from the street that nonetheless exudes an aura of potency and symbolism. I thanked him for his contributions to the world and his influence over my life. In a city where Ben Franklin’s name is plastered across buildings, parks, roads, institutes, and museums, I was embarrassed to think this thought, but I feel like Ben Franklin still isn’t celebrated enough.
I’ve wondered why these men in particular stand out to me as role models, and I think there are some common threads that tie these men together:
- Explorers of the fringes of the new frontiers of the day in an empirical, rather than theoretical, manner (new worlds, new science, new governance, new economic thinking).
- Common men who followed the itch of their curiosities further and longer to more interesting places than people before them.
- Writers who shared their thinking widely and publicly.
- Socialites who loved to be in the company of others and debate their ideas and discuss the topics du jour with other creatives (scientists, artists, politicians, explorers etc…).
- Tinkerers who loved to try their hands at new things outside their publicly-known profession.
- Admirers with a shared wonder for the world, proponents of the best of humanity, and an optimists about the possibilities for the future without being naive about the actual state of affairs.
- They were prolific and all continued to make contributions to their respective fields until their deaths.
As a climate-realist, techno-optimist entrepreneur and writer, I look up to these men. I see myself running a small business in Colombia while delving into the brand-new world of the crypto-economy as my way of working through the world empirically, following my curiosity itch. I want to write more and socialize more and tinker more. And I also want to keep exploring the world and remaining in awe at it’s natural and human-made beauty, while remaining attenuated to the woes of the day, which for me continue to be inequality and climate change.
I write in excited bursts when I am motivated, and need to organize my life to foster more of these literary urges, like today!
Until the next time.
- Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson
- The Price of Peace: Money, Democracy, and the life of John Maynard Keynes by Zachary D. Carter
- The Invention of Nature: The Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt by Andrea Wulf