A Foundation For Life Long Learning

by rubenharris


No man or woman, past or present, has fully explored the capacities of the brain. Leonardo Da Vinci is one of the most inspiring examples for those of us wishing to explore our fullest capacities. We are all gifted with an almost unlimited potential for learning and creativity. Michael Gelb has made an attempt to codify the principles implicit in Leonardo’s work so that they can be used by others (us).

The Seven Da Vincian Principles

1. Curiosity (Curiosita) – An insatiably curious approach to life and an unrelenting quest for continuous learning.

2. Demonstration (Dimonstrazione) – A commitment to test knowledge through experience, persistence, and willingness to learn from mistakes.

3. Sensation (Sensazione) – The continual refinement of the senses, especially sight, as the means to enliven experience.

4. Smoke (Sfumato) – Becoming open to the unknown. A willingness to embrace ambiguity, paradox, and uncertainty. 

5. Art and Science (Arte/Scienza) – Whole-Brain thinking. The development of the balance between science and art, logic and imagination.

6. The Body (Corporalita) – The cultivation of grace, ambidexterity, fitness, and poise. Balancing the body and mind.

7. Connection (Connessione) – A recognition of and appreciation for the interconnectedness of all things and phenomena. Systems thinking.

I have a firm belief that there is a native capacity for reason in every man/woman. I also believe that these principles are a solid foundation in our life long attempts to acquire wisdom. The following paragraphs are my interpretations of these principles, and how we can use them to uncover our “hidden” abilities, sharpen our senses, and liberate our unique intelligences. 

1. Curiosita – All of us have an innate sense of curiosity. As children, we are compelled to search for answers to things we do not understand. A child understands that questions are fundamental in the development of his knowledge base. Individuals who constantly seek to expand their base of knowledge, are open to the concept that conventional ways of doing things can be modified. 

2. Dimonstrazione – We must have a willingness to learn from our mistakes. A mistake is a synonym for experience, and experience is the best teacher. Our experiences provide a unique kind of knowledge. Some types of knowledge are indisputable, e.g., pecans grow on trees. The combination of knowledge with experience provides a means for people to come up with hypotheses that may or may not be accurate when they test them out. Children are capable of coming up with their own hypotheses based on their limited experiences in the world. Consider the following example: As a 5 year old, my aunt was riding in the car with her parents. They passed by a large cemetery, which she observed very carefully. She turned to her mother and said, “Mommy, when people die do they come back as flowers?” Clearly, she came to this conclusion based on her knowledge that when people die, they get buried in the ground, and that when you plant flowers you bury seeds in the ground too. Therefore, since this cemetery was full of beautiful flowers, in her mind when people die, they must come back as flowers (deductive reasoning). As adults we have a much greater amount of knowledge and experience than a young child. What happens to many of us is that we stop developing our own hypotheses and are content to just do things or think things the way everyone else does simply because its so much easier.

3. Sensazione – We perceive our experiences through the senses. Leonardo Da Vinci says, the average human “looks without seeing, listens without hearing, touches without feeling, eats without tasting, moves without physical awareness, inhales without awareness of odor or fragrance, and talks without thinking.” Continuous sensory development will enhance our experiences, in turn allowing us to fully grasp the totality of the lesson(s) being taught.

4. Sfumato – In our quest for knowledge we will face the unknown. Young children are not ready to deal with the paradoxes of life. As we become older we become more comfortable with the idea that familiar things can be done in new and different ways. Sometimes we find out that the new way is better than what we thought had been ideal before. If we are willing to try things (open mindedness), we may be pleasantly surprised.

5. Arte/Scienza – Leonardo Da Vinci says that science and art are indivisible. He was not only a scientist who studied art, but also an artist who studied science. He was a “whole-brain” thinker. The left hemisphere of the cerebral cortex processes logical and analytical thinking, while the right hemisphere processes imaginative, big-picture thinking. Modern educational systems emphasize left-brain thinking and neglect the right hemisphere. The result is people who do well in school, but lack in creativity. People who are dominated by their right-brain are often ridiculed and categorized as “learning disabled”. This approach fails to appreciate that an individual who is capable of using both their left and right hemispheres are the ones who are truly intelligent. The notion that individuals who are outstanding left-brain thinkers are the most intelligent on the planet is a narrow minded perspective.

6. Corporalita – Good physical health has positive effects on our attitudes and emotions. If the mind does not work, then the body does not. It works the same way in the reverse order. Sometimes instead of going to see a psychologist one should just eat a banana and some almonds.

7. Connessione – Leonardo Da Vinci never provided a table of contents, an outline, or an index for any of his writings. It seemed like his notes were written at random. He had a sense for connectedness. He didnt need to organize his notes because he saw how everything was related to one another. In one of his writings called “How to Make an Imaginary Animal Appear Real” he said, “if therefore you wish to make one of your imagined animals appear natural–let us suppose it to be a dragon–take for its head that of a mastiff or setter, for its eyes those of a cat, for its ears those of a porcupine, for its nose that of a greyhound, with the eyebrows of a lion, the temples of an old cock, and the neck of a water tortoise.” So it is in life, you can take what has always been and use it in a way that was never done, and it may become more than what you had ever imagined.

The development of our minds seems to have fallen along the side of the road as our physical appearances have cruised ahead and taken the spot of focus in our lives. It is true that it is in the physical world that we are judged: our words, actions, and productions, however it is through the development of our minds–through the adaptation, evolution, and progression of our thoughts and mindsets–that we can incur those same physical manifestations of our inner beings. Until we break the paradigms that have held us captive, slaves to the sub-par standards of society that have undeservingly held the power in our interworking for far too long, we will never develop our minds to their greatest potential. By leaving yourself to fester apathetically in the same sanctuary of unchangingness in which you have reveled for so long in your own dilapidating intelligence, you are willingly choosing to be less than you could be: a fool’s mission. The way to develop the mind is not adequately described in words, discourses, and theses; the true genius is in each one of us, showing us the way, guiding us to higher levels of thought, and molding us into higher-minded individuals. Be the change, or sit back and enjoy the “ride.”

Ruben Harris
Adam T. Wamack (co-author)