Sunday, May 1, 2016

Of science, mulberries and Leonardo da Vinci

There is a lot to be said for figuring things out.

Which is to say, something very different than what we find in a lot of our public discourse. Likes and copying links are cheerleading, not informed conversation.

Figuring things out is science: You have problem, you test and probe and try looking at it from different perspectives, and you try to develop a solution. And then you test the solution.

Picking berries off my mulberry tree, I was frustrated that I’d circle the tree clockwise and pick every ripe berry I saw, then turn around and see there were lots more I’d missed.

So I went back around and picked counterclockwise, now seeing berries that had previously been hidden by leaves. 

But there were still unpicked berries. How was I missing them? I went into the canopy and looked out, and now there were more ripe berries that had been hidden from the outside, but visible from the inside. 

To do a good harvest, I needed to also pick backwards and inside-out. Look at things from different perspectives.

I’d figured something out.

(Image: Mulberries on teak leaves in a blue bucket.)
Which recalls the Codex Leicester, Leonardo da Vinci’s 72 page reflection on stuff he’d figured out in the early 1500s. Microsoft’s Bill Gates in 1994 paid $30.8 million for the Codex—more than anyone had ever paid for any book.

If you could afford it, and he could, why wouldn’t you want to own a document half a millenium old, and by, well, Leonardo da Vinci? 

(Image: A page from the da Vinci document sometimes known as Codex Leicester, sometimes Codex Hammer, which perhaps now ought to be Codex Gates. Credit: Leonardo da Vinci.)

I keep a warm thought for Bill Gates, because on top of all the tech and charitable work he does, he took the codex, scanned it and made it available to the world.
Leonardo Da Vinci was and is best known as a painter (“Mona Lisa,” “The Last Supper")

But he was also one of the most figure-it-out people our little blue planet has ever produced.

In the Codex, among diverse other things, he figures out earthshine. This is that dim image of a full moon you see when the moon is in crescent. It is caused by the sun’s reflection off the earth—earthshine. It was proven a century later, but he figured it out and wrote about it.

NASA talks about that, crediting da Vinci with “a wild kind of imagination…one thing Leonardo had in abundance.”

One of the cool things about the Codex is that da Vinci wrote it in mirror script—he wrote it inside-out and backwards. Was it code to make it harder for others to read, or did he simply have the left-handed kind of brain that made it easier to write that way? That’s still debated.

I doubt that this was his message, but he might have been trying to say that you need to look at stuff inside out and backwards if you’re going to understand it.

We need more of that kind of thinking.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2016

No comments: