#15 Leonardo da Vinci The Biography

Summary Notes


In this episode, Isaac Sin delves into the life and genius of Leonardo da Vinci, exploring his interdisciplinary approach to innovation that connected arts and sciences. Isaacson draws parallels between da Vinci and other polymaths like Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein, Ada Lovelace, and Steve Jobs, highlighting their shared ability to think across disciplines. Leonardo's unquenchable curiosity and self-taught expertise made him a "disciple of experience," often challenging established knowledge and foreshadowing the scientific method. His notebooks, a testament to his insatiable curiosity, reveal his diverse interests, from anatomy to engineering, and his disdain for authority, which led him to question conventional wisdom. Isaacson also touches on da Vinci's personal life, including his flamboyant style, openness about his sexuality, and his non-religious stance, which contrasted with his contemporaries. The discussion concludes with insights into da Vinci's creative process, his habit of revisiting and refining his works, and the importance of embracing curiosity, seeking knowledge for its own sake, and being open to the mysteries of life.

Summary Notes

Introduction to Isaacson's Book on Leonardo da Vinci

  • Isaac Sin embarked on writing a book about Leonardo da Vinci to explore the connections across disciplines as a key to innovation and genius.
  • Leonardo da Vinci exemplifies the theme of Isaacson's previous biographies, which includes figures like Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein, Ada Lovelace, and Steve Jobs.
  • The ability to make interdisciplinary connections is linked to creativity and brilliance.

"I embarked on this book because Leonardo da Vinci is the ultimate example of the main theme of my previous biographies, how the ability to make connections across disciplines, arts and science, humanities and technology, is a key to innovation, imagination and genius."

The quote explains the author's motivation for writing the book and establishes Leonardo da Vinci as a prime example of interdisciplinary innovation, which is a recurring theme in Isaacson's work.

Leonardo's Notebooks as a Record of Curiosity

  • Leonardo's notebooks are described as the greatest record of curiosity ever created.
  • They are considered a guide to understanding Leonardo, who was called "the most relentlessly curious man in history" by art historian Kenneth Clark.

"His notebooks are the greatest record of curiosity ever created, a wondrous guide to the person whom the art historian Kenneth Clark called the most relentlessly curious man in history."

This quote highlights the importance of Leonardo's notebooks in understanding his insatiable curiosity and his comprehensive approach to learning about the world.

The Importance of Curiosity and Experimentation

  • Isaacson emphasizes the importance of instilling a willingness to question knowledge and to be imaginative.
  • Leonardo's curiosity and experimentation are presented as models for learning and thinking differently.

"Above all, Leonardo's relentless curiosity and experimentation should remind us of the importance of instilling in both ourselves and our children. Not just receive knowledge, but a willingness to question it, to be imaginative and like talented misfits and rebels in any era, to think different."

The quote underscores the value of fostering curiosity and the ability to challenge conventional wisdom, which are key aspects of Leonardo's approach to learning and innovation.

Leonardo as an Autodidact and Disciple of Experience

  • Leonardo was self-taught and lacked formal education, which he sometimes felt defensive about.
  • His status as an "unlettered man" led him to value experience and experimentation over traditional schooling.
  • Leonardo's empirical approach foreshadowed the scientific method.

"But he also took pride that his lack of formal schooling led him to be a disciple of experience and experiments. This free thinking attitude saved him from being an acolyte of traditional thinking."

The quote reflects Leonardo's pride in being self-taught and his preference for learning through experience rather than formal education, which contributed to his innovative thinking.

The Impact of the Printing Press and the Internet

  • The invention of the printing press in the 15th century is compared to the contemporary role of the Internet in empowering self-taught individuals.
  • The printing press enabled people like Leonardo to access knowledge and learn independently.

"In 1452, Johannes Gutenberg had just opened his publishing house, and soon others were using his movable type printing press to print books that would empower unschooled but brilliant people like Leonardo."

This quote draws a parallel between the historical impact of the printing press and the modern influence of the Internet in democratizing access to information and learning.

Leonardo's Feud with Michelangelo

  • Leonardo and Michelangelo had contrasting attitudes toward sexuality and religion.
  • Leonardo was unashamed of his sexual desires and found humor in the autonomy of the penis, while Michelangelo was more pious and possibly practiced strict celibacy.
  • Leonardo's flamboyant personality and lack of religious piety are contrasted with Michelangelo's more conservative demeanor.

"The penis sometimes displays an intellect of its own. When a man may desire to be stimulated, it remains obstinate and goes its own way, sometimes moving on its own without the permission of its owner."

The quote illustrates Leonardo's humorous and open-minded attitude towards sexuality, which was in stark contrast to the more reserved and pious Michelangelo.

Leonardo's Diverse Interests and Skills

  • Leonardo was a polymath with interests ranging from art and engineering to science and theater.
  • His notebooks contain a wide array of subjects, including technical drawings, artistic sketches, and scientific observations.
  • Leonardo's diverse interests and refusal to limit himself to one specialty are highlighted as valuable traits for founders and entrepreneurs.

"These little books on his belt, along with the larger sheets in his studio, became repositories for all of his manifold passions and obsessions, many of them sharing a page."

The quote captures the essence of Leonardo's notebooks as a collection of his varied interests and passions, reflecting his multidisciplinary approach to learning and creativity.

The Astonishing Content of Leonardo's Notebooks

  • Leonardo's notebooks are unique in their content and are considered a testament to human observation and imagination.
  • They contain detailed studies and drawings from various fields, including anatomy, mechanics, and geology.
  • The notebooks lack personal revelations, focusing instead on Leonardo's explorations and discoveries.

"Leonardo's notebooks are nothing less than an astonishing testament to the powers of human observation and imagination ever set down on paper."

The quote emphasizes the extraordinary nature of Leonardo's notebooks as a comprehensive record of his observations and creative thinking across multiple disciplines.

The Value of Paper as a Storage Medium

  • Paper's longevity is emphasized, with a comparison to the uncertain future of digital content storage.
  • Speaker A discusses the importance of physical documents in preserving history.
  • Speaker B agrees and mentions the durability of paper over time.

"But he feels that paper is a wonderful storage device and that we're doing ourselves an injustice that most of our storage if you think about all the content you create, whether it's podcasts writing." "Most of it's stored on a hard." "Drive, which means it may not exist." "500 years from now."

The quotes highlight the speakers' concerns about the impermanence of digital storage and the proven durability of paper, which has preserved information for centuries.

Leonardo's Notebooks and Working Method

  • Leonardo da Vinci's notebooks are a chaotic yet rich source of his creative process.
  • He often revisited pages, adding new thoughts over time, indicative of his iterative approach to both art and ideas.
  • The speakers note Leonardo's lack of organization in dating and ordering his pages, as well as his economical use of paper.

"As usual with Leonardo, however, there's an element of mystery involved. He rarely put dates on his pages, and much of their order has been lost." "Often he would go back to a." "Page months or even years later to." "Add another thought, just as he would go back to his painting of St. Jerome and later his other paintings to refine his work as he evolved and matured."

These quotes describe Leonardo's non-linear, revisitation-based approach to his work, which was not constrained by time or order.

Leonardo's Emphasis on Experience Over Theory

  • Leonardo valued hands-on experience far above theoretical knowledge.
  • He believed in learning from direct observation and experimentation, using this to inform his understanding of the world.
  • The speakers discuss Leonardo's preference for induction from experiments rather than deduction from theoretical principles.

"Experience greater than sign theory." "My intention is to consult experience first and then with reasoning, show why such experience is bound to operate in such a way."

Leonardo's quotes express his philosophy that practical experience should lead to understanding, rather than relying on theoretical constructs.

Detailed Observation in Leonardo's Methodology

  • Leonardo advocated for a meticulous approach to observation, studying each detail before moving to the next.
  • He compared this to reading a book word by word, emphasizing the need for a step-by-step process in deep observation.

"If you wish to have a sound knowledge of the forms of objects, begin with the details of them and do not go on to the second step until you have the first well fixed in your memory."

Leonardo's quote emphasizes the importance of mastering details to achieve a comprehensive understanding of any subject.

Leonardo's Creative Process in The Last Supper

  • Leonardo's work on The Last Supper was a public event, drawing spectators to observe his painting process.
  • His work ethic was irregular, with intense periods of painting interspersed with contemplation and sudden bursts of activity.
  • The speakers discuss how Leonardo's process involved both obsession and procrastination, which he believed allowed for creative ideas to develop.

"Men of lofty genius sometimes accomplish the most when they work least, for their minds are occupied with their ideas and the perfection of their conceptions to which they afterwards give form."

Leonardo's quote reflects his belief in the power of the subconscious mind to contribute to the creative process during periods of inactivity.

The Role of Patrons in Leonardo's Life

  • Leonardo's life was marked by interactions with prominent historical figures and patrons who supported his work.
  • The speakers touch on the importance of patrons in the artistic community during Leonardo's time.
  • They mention Leonardo's work for ruthless and powerful individuals, including Ludo Vico Sforza and Caesar Borgia.

"Leonardo may have gone to work with Borgia at the behest of Machiavelli." "So Leonardo, at the behest of Machiavelli." "Goes to work for this crazy madman."

The quotes indicate the complex and sometimes perilous relationships between artists and their patrons, highlighting the influence of Machiavelli in Leonardo's career.

Leonardo's Military Engineering for Borgia

  • Leonardo was deeply interested in military engineering and worked on projects such as diverting the Arno river to besiege Pisa.
  • The speakers discuss Leonardo's collaboration with Machiavelli on this military strategy.
  • They emphasize Leonardo's innovative approach to problem-solving in warfare.

"The river that is to be diverted from one course to another must be coaxed and not treated roughly or with violence." "His plan was to dig a huge ditch 32ft deep upriver from Pisa and use d"

Leonardo's quotes reveal his strategic thinking in military engineering and his preference for cunning over brute force in warfare.

Leonardo's Engineering Projects

  • Leonardo da Vinci's engineering projects often involved manipulating waterways.
  • He designed a system to divert water from a river into a ditch using multiple dams.
  • These projects were grand in scale, requiring significant manpower and resources.

ams to divert the water from the river into the ditch. To do this, a sort of dam must be inserted into the river, then another one further downstream jutting out behind it, and similarly 3rd, fourth and fifth dams, so that the river may discharge itself from the channel made for it.

This quote describes Leonardo's conceptual plan for diverting a river, showcasing his innovative approach to engineering and understanding of water dynamics.

This would require moving a million tons of earth. And Leonardo calculated the man hours necessary by doing a detailed time and motion study, one of the first in history.

Leonardo's meticulous approach to planning included calculating the labor required for his projects, demonstrating an early form of time and motion study.

Leonardo's Visionary Nature

  • Leonardo's grand projects often did not come to fruition, which was seen as a failing.
  • His ideas, such as scuba gear and helicopters, were ahead of their time.
  • Leonardo's "reality distortion field" was necessary for innovation, similar to Steve Jobs' approach.

They showed Leonardo at his most fantastical, dreaming up schemes that darted back and forth across the boundaries of practicality, like the construction of his flying machines, they were too fanciful to execute.

Leonardo's projects were ambitious and imaginative, often blurring the lines between what was possible at the time and what would only be realized centuries later.

Sometimes fantasies are paths to reality.

This quote encapsulates the idea that seemingly impossible dreams can eventually lead to real-world innovations, as evidenced by some of Leonardo's concepts that have since been actualized.

Leonardo and Michelangelo's Rivalry

  • Leonardo and Michelangelo were contemporaries in Florence with contrasting personalities.
  • Michelangelo was often contentious and disdainful towards Leonardo.
  • Their differences extended to personal traits, with Leonardo being genial and Michelangelo being pious and solitary.

Michelangelo took offense as if Leonardo were mocking him. No, explain it yourself, he shot back.

The quote demonstrates the tension and rivalry between the two artists, with Michelangelo perceiving Leonardo's actions as mockery.

Leonardo was extremely popular. He was very colorful, happy, nice, not religious. Michelangelo was pious, celibate, dressed in rags, just very different.

This quote contrasts the personalities of Leonardo and Michelangelo, highlighting their differing approaches to life and art.

Leonardo's Anatomical Studies

  • Leonardo conducted detailed dissections of human bodies to study anatomy.
  • His anatomical drawings are considered both scientifically accurate and artistically masterful.
  • He made significant discoveries, such as documenting the process of arteriosclerosis.

Shortly before he left Florence in 15 eight, Leonardo was at the hospital where he struck up a conversation with a man who said he was more than 100 years old and had never been ill. A few hours later, the old man quietly passed away without any movement or sign of distress.

This quote sets the scene for one of Leonardo's significant anatomical studies, where he dissected the body of a centenarian to understand the causes of his peaceful death.

I made an autopsy in order to ascertain the cause of so peaceful a death, and found it that it proceeded from weakness throughout the failure of blood and of the artery that feeds the heart and the other lower members, which I found to be very dry, shrunken, and withered.

Leonardo's own words describe his autopsy findings, which led to the early understanding of arteriosclerosis, showcasing his pioneering work in anatomy and medicine.

Leonardo's Curiosity and To-Do List

  • Leonardo's to-do list for his studies was extensive and included various tools and subjects to investigate.
  • His fascination with the tongue of the woodpecker and the jaw of the crocodile shows his interest in comparative anatomy.
  • Leonardo's curiosity drove him to explore diverse topics, leading to new insights.

Have Afisanya's book on useful inventions translated.

This quote from Leonardo's to-do list highlights his desire for knowledge and the lengths he would go to obtain it, including translating works from other scholars.

Describe the tongue of the woodpecker.

Leonardo's inclusion of seemingly random items, like the tongue of a woodpecker, on his to-do list reflects his boundless curiosity and the comprehensive nature of his studies.

The Microcosm-Macrocosm Relationship

  • Leonardo saw analogies between the human body and the Earth, reflecting the microcosm-macrocosm relationship.
  • He believed that patterns in nature resonated across different scales.
  • This concept was not new but was explored in depth by Leonardo in his notebooks.

Man is the image of the world, he wrote, known as the microcosm-macrocosm relationship.

This quote from Leonardo illustrates his belief in the interconnectedness of all things, with the human body serving as a smaller version of the universe itself, reflecting a philosophical concept that dates back to ancient times.

Analogy between Man and World

  • The human body is compared to the world in its structure and function.
  • Bones supporting flesh are likened to rocks supporting the earth.
  • The rise and fall of the lungs during breathing is compared to the ocean tides.
  • Blood veins spreading from a pool of blood are paralleled by the ocean sea filling the earth with springs of water.

The ancients called man a lesser world. And certainly the use of the name is well bestowed because his body is an analog for the world as man has his bones that support his flesh. The world has its rocks that support the earth.

This quote establishes the analogy between the human body and the world, highlighting the interconnectedness and similarities in their structures.

Leonardo's Curiosity and Worldview

  • Leonardo was deeply curious about the world and the human place within it.
  • His approach was to prioritize experience and empirical evidence over theoretical knowledge.
  • Leonardo's quotes reflect his belief in the value of a well-lived life and the pursuit of understanding the world's wonders.

To the beginning where they were talking about that Leonardo was infinitely curious about the world.

This quote summarizes Leonardo's insatiable curiosity about the natural world.

Leonardo's Views on Religion and Knowledge

  • Leonardo chose not to discuss religion extensively.
  • He believed in focusing on knowledge that could be evidenced by nature.
  • His approach emphasized the importance of experience and empirical evidence over unprovable theories.

He said that he would not endeavor to write or give information of those things of which the human mind is incapable and which cannot be proved by an instance of nature.

This quote highlights Leonardo's stance on the limits of human understanding and the importance of natural evidence.

Leonardo's Philosophy on Life and Death

  • Leonardo saw a correlation between a well-spent day and peaceful sleep, and similarly, a well-employed life and a happy death.
  • He encouraged making the most out of life's moments and the pursuit of curiosity.

As a well spent day brings a happy sleep, Leonardo had written, so a well employed life brings a happy death.

This quote encapsulates Leonardo's philosophy that a fulfilling life leads to contentment in death, emphasizing the importance of living fully.

Leonardo's Creative Process

  • Leonardo saw the completion of work as a limitation to its evolution.
  • He believed there was always more to learn and improve upon.
  • Creativity was seen as the application of imagination to intellect, which was the essence of his genius.

Relinquishing a work, declaring it finished, froze its evolution. Leonardo did not like to do that.

This quote reflects Leonardo's reluctance to consider his work complete, suggesting his belief in continual learning and improvement.

Leonardo's Universal Genius

  • Leonardo's genius was not confined to a single field but spanned multiple disciplines.
  • His curiosity and drive to understand the world were unparalleled.
  • He is celebrated for his contributions across the arts, sciences, and engineering, among others.

What also distinguished Leonardo's genius was its universal nature.

This quote underscores the breadth and depth of Leonardo's genius, which encompassed a wide range of subjects and disciplines.

Learning from Leonardo

  • Leonardo's humanity and quirks make him relatable and his genius attainable through effort.
  • His life serves as a guide for others to follow in their pursuit of knowledge and curiosity.

The fact that Leonardo was not only a genius, but also very human, quirky and obsessive and playful and easily distracted makes him more accessible.

This quote suggests that Leonardo's genius was complemented by his human qualities, making his approach to learning and curiosity attainable for others.

Principles Inspired by Leonardo

  • Curiosity should be relentless and indiscriminate.
  • Knowledge should be sought for pleasure, not just utility.
  • Exploration of various fields can lead to unexpected connections.
  • Procrastination, when used like Leonardo, can be a creative process.
  • Collaboration between disciplines can enhance creativity.
  • Fantasy and imagination should be indulged in the pursuit of innovation.
  • Making lists and taking notes on paper can help preserve ideas for future inspiration.
  • Embracing mystery and the unknown can lead to greater creativity and understanding.

Be curious. Relentlessly curious.

This quote encapsulates the principle of maintaining an insatiable curiosity about the world, similar to Leonardo's approach.

Supporting the Podcast

  • The podcast promotes a book about Leonardo da Vinci, with an Amazon affiliate link provided for listeners to purchase the book.
  • Purchases made through the affiliate link support the podcast at no additional cost to the buyer.

If you are interested in reading the book and you want to help out the podcast, you can go to founderspodcast.com.

This quote is an invitation for listeners to support the podcast by purchasing the recommended book through the provided affiliate link.

What others are sharing

Go To Library

Want to Deciphr in private?
- It's completely free

Deciphr Now
Footer background
Crossed lines icon
Crossed lines icon
Crossed lines icon
Crossed lines icon
Crossed lines icon
Crossed lines icon
Crossed lines icon

© 2024 Deciphr

Terms and ConditionsPrivacy Policy