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  • richardmitnick 8:22 am on November 8, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: da Vinci fused rigorous observation mathematics and scientific experimentation with imagination and endless wonder, , Leonardo da Vinci, The ultimate Renaissance man, Walter Isaacson   

    From Harvard Gazette: “The incomparable da Vinci “ 

    Harvard University
    Harvard Gazette

    November 7, 2017
    Christina Pazzanese

    Courtesy of Harvard Repository, Harvard Fine Arts Library, Digital Images & Slides Collection d2011.01721
    Leonardo da Vinci, the ultimate Renaissance man, is the subject of Walter Isaacson’s newest book. Pictured is Leonardo da Vinci’s iconic “Vitruvian Man” c.1490.

    Uneducated and his own creation, he still rose to the top ranks in both science and art, author Walter Isaacson recounts.

    After portraying titans of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics such as Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein, and Steve Jobs, author Walter Isaacson ’74 has now turned his attention to someone whose intellectual triumphs and artistic brilliance may outpace all of the others: Leonardo da Vinci.

    In a dazzling new biography, Isaacson plumbs da Vinci’s relentlessly curious and creative mind, poring over the to-do lists that da Vinci maintained to hold himself to his intellectual pursuits. Isaacson also digs into da Vinci notebooks crammed with math problems, maps, sketches of “The Last Supper,” doodles, riddles, and notes-to-self in his mirror-image handwriting in an effort to decode what he thought and to retrace how his mind darted between art and science, engineering and the humanities.

    As the ultimate Renaissance man, da Vinci fused rigorous observation, mathematics, and scientific experimentation with imagination and endless wonder. He was a procrastinator who managed to unlock mysteries of the human body, envision flying machines that predated recorded flight by centuries, and create two of the most celebrated paintings in Western art. He was also a perfectionist who could abandon or relentlessly tinker with projects he deemed flawed, including the “Mona Lisa.” Though known for his exceptionally sharp eye for detail, da Vinci is credited with inventing sfumato, a painting technique in which lines and edges are smudged to simulate how things appear in 3-D.

    His personal life was also a study in contrasts. Born out of wedlock and having almost no formal education, da Vinci was a savant and a bon vivant popular among the political, intellectual, and courtly elite in Florence and Milan. He was a stylish, even flamboyant dresser who dated younger men but rarely shared intimate details of his personal life publicly.

    Isaacson spoke with the Gazette about what he learned about da Vinci’s creative process and what his remarkable life still has to teach us.

    GAZETTE: You’ve written about other giants of math, science, and technology. What prompted you to tackle da Vinci, and how did your exploration of his life reshape your understanding of him?

    ISAACSON: In some ways, it began for me at Harvard, where the whole point of a liberal arts education is to connect the arts and the sciences in different disciplines. I realized that whether it was Benjamin Franklin or Steve Jobs or Leonardo, the ability to be interested in all fields helped enrich an appreciation for the patterns of nature and also helped enrich their lives. Leonardo is the ultimate person who connects arts and sciences, who connects the humanities and engineering. “Vitruvian Man” is the ultimate symbol of how do we fit into our earth, our universe, and into spirituality, and he does it by connecting the work of great art with the work of great scientific precision.

    I discovered that he had more than 7,000 pages of notebooks, so I went around the world, from Milan to Seattle, looking at his notebooks and trying to piece together all of the questions he was exploring every day. How his interest in squaring the circle as a mathematical problem tied in with his interest in the flow of water tied in with the way he did “Vitruvian Man” or the “Mona Lisa.” Likewise, I found out that he loved producing theatrical pageants and saw his notes and noticed how they connected to the tricks he used in “The Last Supper.” The purpose was to use the notebooks as a foundation for watching his mind dance back and forth between art and engineering. And that will be the most important recipe for creativity in the future. It’s not just about learning engineering or learning how to code. Nor is it about just learning about literature and poetry. It’s learning about how to stand at the intersection of the humanities and the sciences.

    GAZETTE: I was fascinated by those notebooks and to-do lists. Both are so ordinary and yet seem to have played such a key role in his creative process. Why did he rely on them?

    ISAACSON: Because paper was a little bit expensive, he crammed many things on one page. The opening notebook page at the beginning of my book has a sketch of “The Last Supper,” but it also has some geometry problems he was trying to figure out — how the same mathematical pattern underlies swirling water and curling hairs. So you see a playful and extraordinarily curious mind dancing with nature as he hops across the page.

    A drawing of an elderly bearded man, believed to be a self-portrait of da Vinci. Harvard Fine Arts Library, Digital Images & Slides Collection 1998.00960

    GAZETTE: Da Vinci’s belief in science, observation, and experiential knowledge was unusual for his time. Where did that belief come from?

    ISAACSON: It helped that he was born out of wedlock, so he couldn’t be a notary like his father and grandfather. He became very self-taught just when [Johannes] Gutenberg’s printing press is spreading. He becomes what he calls a “disciple of experience.” So he’d read something in a book and then say, “How would I test that?” Or he’d learn something like the Biblical flood and then he would sketch the layers of fossils in sediments near Florence and say, “Well, that doesn’t make sense because these were laid down over thousands of years.” So he questions received wisdom, and like Steve Jobs and a lot of creative people, he’s a bit of a misfit, a round peg in a square hole. He’s illegitimate, he’s left-handed, he’s gay, he’s vegetarian, he’s somewhat heretical. But Florence in the 1470s celebrated people who were from diverse backgrounds, whether immigrants from the fall of Constantinople or people who liked both engineering the dome of the cathedral but also painting the angels that would adorn the cathedral.

    GAZETTE: Da Vinci is sometimes criticized for his willingness to be distracted and go off on tangents, leaving behind many unfinished works or abandoned pursuits. You say that shouldn’t be viewed as negative. Why not?

    ISAACSON: There are critics who say that if Leonardo had not spent so much time studying anatomy or squaring the circle or figuring out how to divert rivers or engineering flying machines or dissecting the human eye and studying optics that he would’ve ended up painting more masterpieces and that all of these passions were a waste of time. It may be true he would have painted more masterpieces, but he would not have painted “The Last Supper” or the “Mona Lisa” had he not been deeply interested in all of the patterns across all of the arts and humanities and sciences and engineering, had he not been obsessed with squaring the circle or dissecting every muscle and nerve of the human face or knowing how light strikes the center of the retina differently from its edge. He would not have been Leonardo da Vinci; he would have been a master craftsman, but not a genius.

    GAZETTE: Did the scientist inform the art, or did the artist inform the science?

    ISAACSON: At first, the science was used in service of the art, like how do birds fly or how do the muscles of the neck look? But Leonardo, literally as well as figuratively, started dissecting the muscles of the neck and soon he’s dissecting every organ and doing layered drawings of all parts of the body for curiosity for its own sake. He can’t help himself. When he explores a piece of science he needs to know for his paintings, soon he’s geeking out to square the circle or do a cross-section of the human heart, which is not going to help him paint “The Last Supper” but it is going to help make him Leonardo. One of the things we learn is that the pursuit of useful knowledge should be allowed to flow into the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake.

    GAZETTE: You write that what separates da Vinci from other super-intellects and super-talents was his ability to bring imagination to intellect. Can you explain?

    ISAACSON: Part of his imagination comes from just being so observant about things we forget to study after we outgrow our wonder years, like why is the sky blue or what does the tongue of a woodpecker look like? And then his imagination was honed by his love of theater, and so he would build a prop, say an aerial screw to bring angels down from the rafters in a play. But then he would go on to try and make a real flying machine like the helicopter he drew, because he had the talent of letting his imagination blur into reality.

    “… He’s a bit of a misfit, a round peg in a square hole. He’s illegitimate, he’s left-handed, he’s gay, he’s vegetarian, he’s somewhat heretical,” says Walter Isaacson ’74 of Leonardo da Vinci. File photo by Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer

    GAZETTE: He comes across as a brilliant visionary, of course, but also as a complicated, thoroughly modern man. How did someone who was such a singular figure and a misfit, as you call him, find so much success and acceptance in his day? He was certainly no outcast despite his unusual talents and qualities.

    ISAACSON: Both in Florence and in parts of Renaissance Italy, for certain periods, there was not only a tolerance of diversity but a joy and celebration of diversity. And that’s what made Florence in the late 1400s so creative. That people of diverse talents, personalities, and lifestyles all worked together and a person like Leonardo — who wore short pink-and-purple tunics and had a young male companion and who indulged in fantasy — was beloved by both the Medicis and, later, other rulers in Italy. He had a very collegial, friendly, and kind personality. In his notebooks, there were more people referred to as “my close friend” than almost any person you can imagine. He loved Donato Bramante the architect, Luca Pacioli the mathematician, and the list goes on and on of the people he would have dinner with so he could ask them questions. He loved other people. In college or at a university, you end up being in the most diverse environment you’ve ever been in, diverse in terms of people’s backgrounds and lifestyles and diverse in terms of their interests. Leonardo loved to be around such enlivening and stimulating diversity.

    GAZETTE: What lessons does da Vinci’s life offer the rest of us?

    ISAACSON: We should retain the child-like curiosity that we outgrow sometimes when we leave our wonder years. And we should make sure that both our students and our children are curious about the most ordinary things, like why is the sky blue or why does water swirl when it flows into a bowl. We will never be able to push ourselves to understand the tensor calculus that Einstein used to describe the curvature of space and time, but we can all push ourselves to be like Leonardo and observe whether a bird’s wing goes up faster or down faster when it is flying or observe how the pattern of a hair curl matches the pattern of a swirl of water. That’s a combination of curiosity and observation for its own sake, not because we can make something useful out of it.

    Isaacson will be in Cambridge on Nov. 15 for a reading at First Parish Church at 7 p.m.

    See the full article here .

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    Harvard University campus
    Harvard is the oldest institution of higher education in the United States, established in 1636 by vote of the Great and General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It was named after the College’s first benefactor, the young minister John Harvard of Charlestown, who upon his death in 1638 left his library and half his estate to the institution. A statue of John Harvard stands today in front of University Hall in Harvard Yard, and is perhaps the University’s best known landmark.

    Harvard University has 12 degree-granting Schools in addition to the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. The University has grown from nine students with a single master to an enrollment of more than 20,000 degree candidates including undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. There are more than 360,000 living alumni in the U.S. and over 190 other countries.

  • richardmitnick 7:55 am on November 6, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , First detailed chronological study of Leonardo’s work on friction, Leonardo da Vinci, , Study reveals Leonardo da Vinci’s “irrelevant” scribbles mark the spot where he first recorded the laws of friction, Tribology,   

    From University of Cambridge: “Study reveals Leonardo da Vinci’s “irrelevant” scribbles mark the spot where he first recorded the laws of friction” 

    U Cambridge bloc

    University of Cambridge

    21 Jul 2016 [Just found in social media]
    No writer credit found

    Codex Forster III folio 72r. Credit: V&A Museum, London

    A new detailed study of notes and sketches by Leonardo da Vinci has identified a page of scribbles in a tiny notebook as the place where Leonardo first recorded the laws of friction. The research also shows that he went on to apply this knowledge repeatedly to mechanical problems for more than 20 years.

    Scribbled notes and sketches on a page in a notebook by Leonardo da Vinci, previously dismissed as irrelevant by an art historian, have been identified as the place where he first recorded his understanding of the laws of friction.

    The research by Professor Ian Hutchings, Professor of Manufacturing Engineering at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of St John’s College, is the first detailed chronological study of Leonardo’s work on friction, and has also shown how he continued to apply his knowledge of the subject to wider work on machines over the next two decades.

    It is widely known that Leonardo conducted the first systematic study of friction, which underpins the modern science of “tribology”, but exactly when and how he developed these ideas has been uncertain until now.

    Professor Hutchings has discovered that Leonardo’s first statement of the laws of friction is in a tiny notebook measuring just 92 mm x 63 mm. The book, which dates from 1493 and is now held in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, contains a statement scribbled quickly in Leonardo’s characteristic “mirror writing” from right to left.

    Ironically the page had already attracted interest because it also carries a sketch of an old woman in black pencil with a line below reading “cosa bella mortal passa e non dura”, which can be translated as “mortal beauty passes and does not last”. Amid debate surrounding the significance of the quote and speculation that the sketch could represent an aged Helen of Troy, the Director of the V & A in the 1920s referred to the jottings below as “irrelevant notes and diagrams in red chalk”.

    Professor Hutchings’s study has, however, revealed that the script and diagrams in red are of great interest to the history of tribology, marking a pivotal moment in Leonardo’s work on the subject.

    The rough geometrical figures underneath Leonardo’s red notes show rows of blocks being pulled by a weight hanging over a pulley – in exactly the same kind of experiment students might do today to demonstrate the laws of friction.

    Professor Hutchings said: “The sketches and text show Leonardo understood the fundamentals of friction in 1493. He knew that the force of friction acting between two sliding surfaces is proportional to the load pressing the surfaces together and that friction is independent of the apparent area of contact between the two surfaces. These are the ‘laws of friction’ that we nowadays usually credit to a French scientist, Guillaume Amontons, working two hundred years later.”

    “Leonardo’s 20-year study of friction, which incorporated his empirical understanding into models for several mechanical systems, confirms his position as a remarkable and inspirational pioneer of tribology.”

    Professor Hutchings’s research traces a clear path of development in Leonardo’s studies of friction and demonstrates that he realised that friction, while sometimes useful and even essential, also played a key role in limiting the efficiency of machines.

    Sketches of machine elements and mechanisms are pervasive in Leonardo’s notebooks and he used his remarkably sophisticated understanding of friction to analyse the behaviour of wheels and axles, screw threads and pulleys, all important components of the complicated machines he sketched.

    He wanted to understand the rules that governed the operation of these machines and knew that friction was important in limiting their efficiency and precision, grasping, for example, that resistance to the rotation of a wheel arose from friction at the axle bearing and calculating its effect.

    “Leonardo’s sketches and notes were undoubtedly based on experiments, probably with lubricated contacts,” added Hutchings. “He appreciated that friction depends on the nature of surfaces and the state of lubrication and his use and understanding of the ratios between frictional force and weight was much more nuanced than many have suggested.”

    Although he undoubtedly discovered the laws of friction, Leonardo’s work had no influence on the development of the subject over the following centuries and it was certainly unknown to Amontons.

    “Leonardo da Vinci’s studies of friction” by Professor Ian Hutchings is published in the journal Wear. The paper can be accessed in full via: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0043164816300588

    or http://www.ifm.eng.cam.ac.uk/uploads/Hutchings_Leonardo_Friction_2016_v2.pdf

    A general article on tribology that discusses its importance in modern engineering can be found at:


    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    U Cambridge Campus

    The University of Cambridge (abbreviated as Cantab in post-nominal letters) is a collegiate public research university in Cambridge, England. Founded in 1209, Cambridge is the second-oldest university in the English-speaking world and the world’s fourth-oldest surviving university. It grew out of an association of scholars who left the University of Oxford after a dispute with townsfolk. The two ancient universities share many common features and are often jointly referred to as “Oxbridge”.

    Cambridge is formed from a variety of institutions which include 31 constituent colleges and over 100 academic departments organised into six schools. The university occupies buildings throughout the town, many of which are of historical importance. The colleges are self-governing institutions founded as integral parts of the university. In the year ended 31 July 2014, the university had a total income of £1.51 billion, of which £371 million was from research grants and contracts. The central university and colleges have a combined endowment of around £4.9 billion, the largest of any university outside the United States. Cambridge is a member of many associations and forms part of the “golden triangle” of leading English universities and Cambridge University Health Partners, an academic health science centre. The university is closely linked with the development of the high-tech business cluster known as “Silicon Fen”.

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