Tag Archives: Leonardo da Vinci

My life as a Moody Blues song …

Several entries ago, I mentioned a book on learning to think like Leonardo da Vinci. Well, I am slowly working my way through the exercises (very slowly indeed, as I am mired somewhat at the first one), which is to come up with a list of 100 questions – the focus being on curiosity, to see what it is you are naturally curious about. The point is to write down 100 questions without stopping, coming up with the first 20 or so rather easily, but then really having to stretch to come up with the latter 80. Well, some of my questions are rather banal, and a few are indeed interesting. But that’s not the point. The point is that I noticed that while in my teens, twenties and even early thirties, a lot of my questions probably would have begun with “why”, a lot of my questions now start with “what” or “how”. Not that I have become more practical or experiential, nor do I think I have become less philosophical. In fact, I’m probably a lot more “big picture” oriented at this juncture in my life than I have ever been. But it is interesting to note how the “big” questions didn’t seem to make it on my list. As an idealist, this level of pragmatism seems odd to me — but more troubling is that coming up with 100 things I wanted to know seemed extremely difficult. It’s not so much that the depth of my curiosity has lessened, but rather than the scope of my inquiry seems to have gained a sharper, more narrow focus.

Of course, that’s the purpose of the exercise, I suppose, to identify these kinds of things. But it got me thinking — perhaps stopping the asking “why”, looking elsewhere for the justification or purpose of things (i.e., “why is the world the way it is?”) and starting to focus on the “what” and “how” (i.e., “what can I do to apply what I know” or “how does what I know relate to what I don’t know”), is the result of my spiritual wandering, my questing for “Truth” (of course, ultimately one learns that Truth, in order to be universal, must at first be discovered to be absolutely and indelibly personal). But as I reviewed my list of questions to categorize them (and do some kind of preliminary prioritization, which is the second exercise in the book), I realized that I’m not looking so much for the answers to the big questions anymore. It doesn’t really make much difference to me at this point, for example, why the world was formed, or why human beings learned to swim, or found religions. I suppose the bottom line is that I’m not so much concerned with why things are the way they are, but rather with what I can do within the framework of what is. And that reminds me of several different things: the first being that simply realizing the way things are changes them (because based on a coagulation of Martin Buber and R. D. Laing, changing your experience of something in fact changes the thing being experienced, because now you are also experiencing your experience of a thing which is now an integral part of that thing’s existence), and also that the mingling of the observer and the observed (well, not so much a mingling, but a blurring of the line between the two, which eliminates the confines of duality to some respect) changes both the experimenter and the experiment. Krishnamurti proposed that to understand the answer, it is necessary to understand the question. Kabir said the destination is part of the first step of the journey. So few things are not related in that way.

On a separate note, I guess: Knowledge is power. That’s a common phrase, much quoted and bandied about. But I recently read a quotation from Emerson (that doubtless is based on the original source to some degree) that stated it a different way: “There is no knowledge that is not power.” Not quite as diametrically opposed as “those who are not with us, are against us” versus “those who are not against us, are with us”, but a slightly different shift in perspective, nonetheless.

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Something new to ponder

From How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day, by Michael J. Gelb (Dell Publishing, New York, NY, 1998: ISBN # 0-440-50827-4):

The Seven Da Vincian Principles (or things to incorporate to enable and nurture the genius in yourself):

Curiosit√† — An insatiably curious approach to life and an unrelenting quest for continuous learning.

Dimostrazione — A commitment to test knowledge through experience, persistence, and a willingness to learn from mistakes.

Sensazione — The continual refinement of the senses, especially sight, as the means to enliven experience.

Sfumato (literally “Going Up in Smoke”) — A willingness to embrace ambiguity, paradox, and uncertainty.

Arte/Scienza — The development of the balance between science and art, logic and imagination. “Whole-brain” thinking.

Corporalita — The cultivation of grace, ambidexterity, fitness, and poise.

Connessione — A recognition of and appreciation for the interconnectness of all things and phenomena. Systems thinking.

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Desert Storms and the Battle of Anghiari

No winding caravans, trailing behind
the despoiling route of a conqueror,
have had to slow in their lumbering tracks
to scatter their spoor against detection,

hiding the broken lances and spent shells
that might make their way through the sifted sand
to the silt bed of Mother Euphrates
before their blood-smeared edges have been dulled

and baked away by the blistering wind.
Never have heavy-foot heroes trod here
and found their imprint even the next day.

In this place, time is a meaningless farce;
no lasting triumph can be long achieved.
The faceless dunes know no empire builders.

Beyond this edge of the world there exist
no monsters; no great devouring evil
ruminates out in this barren wasteland.
Only its scored skeletal shards remain,

crumpled into obscurity and dust
now lost to the infinite sagacity
of endless sand, the edge of an hourglass
whose shattered fragments mark the worn ends

of some desolate, clutching foothold
desperately proclaimed civilization
by the collectors of temporal might.

In this place, strength is a fleeting shadow;
no permanent kingdom can be maintained.
The shifting desert has no memory.

25 MAR 2003

“Tell me if anything has ever been achieved; tell me.” — Leonardo da Vinci, Notebooks

“…You will give a reddish tinge to the faces, the figures, the air, the musketeers, and those around them, and this red glow will fade the farther it is from its source…Arrows will be flying in all directions, falling down, flying straight ahead, filling the air, and bullets from firearms will leave a trail of smoke behind them…If you show a man who has fallen to the ground, reproduce his skid marks in the dust, which has been transformed into bloody mud. And all around on the slippery ground you will show the marks where men and horses have trampled it in passing. A horse will b e dragging behind it the body of its dead rider, leaving traces of the corpse’s blood behind it in the dust and mud. Make the vanquished look pale and panic-stricken, their eyebrows raised high or knitted in grief, their faces stricken with painful lines…Men fleeing in rout will be crying out with open mouths. Have all kinds of weapons lying underfoot: broken shields, lances, stumps of swords, and other such things…The dying will be grinding their teeth, their eyeballs rolling heavenward as they beat their bodies with their fists and twist their limbs. You could show a warrior disarmed and knocked to the ground, turning on his foe, biting and scratching him in cruel and bitter revenge; there could also be a riderless horse galloping away into the enemy lines, mane flying in the wind, causing great injury with its hooves. Or perhaps some wounded man, lying on the ground and trying to protect himself with his shield, while his enemy bends over him to deal the fatal blow. Or a pile of men lying on the corpse of a horse. Several of the victors are leaving the field; they will move away from the melee, wiping their hands over their eyes and cheeks to remove the thick layer of mud caused by their eyes watering on account of the dust…Take care not to leave a single flat area that is not trampled and saturated with blood.” — Leonardo da Vinci, notes for the sketches of “The Battle of Anghiari”, MS 2038, Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, 30v; 31r.

“Apart from Poussin’s Massacre of the Innocents, Goya’s Tres de Mayo, and Picasso’s Guernica, there has probably been no picture in the history of art as violent, brutal, and terrible as The Battle of Anghiari…Unfortunately, only traces of the painting remain – in the lines quoted above, in a few of Leonardo’s sketches (in Windsor Castle and the British Library), and in partial copies of the fresco by Raphael and Michelangelo.” — Serge Bramly, Leonardo: The Artist and the Man

The Second Coming

TURNING and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

— William Butler Yeats


I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read,
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed,
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look upon my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

-Percy Bysshe Shelley

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