Born in 1452 in the Tuscan village of Vinci, Leonardo da Vinci was a prolific creator and sought to solve problems in many areas of life.
Leonardo was born out of wedlock to a poor family and never received any kind of formal education.
He received instruction at home in reading, writing, Latin, geometry and mathematics.
As well as the art he is best known for, his mind wandered merrily across the arts, sciences, engineering, and humanities.
Some scholars consider Da Vinci to be the first person to combine interdisciplinary knowledge in this way and still excel.
In late 2017, Salvator Mundi, a painting by Leonardo da Vinci sold for $450.3 million at Christie’s, by far the highest price for any work of art sold at auction.
The elastic mind of Leonardo
“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvellous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery each day. — Einstein
Leonardo da Vinci maintained a passionate curiosity throughout life.
He once said, “The noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding.”
He simply wanted to know.
In his book, Leonardo da Vinci: The Biography, Walter Isaacson, says Da Vinci was “more interested in pursuing knowledge than in publishing it.”
“He wanted to accumulate knowledge for its own sake, and for his own personal joy, rather than out of a desire to make a public name for himself as a scholar or to be part of the progress of history,” writes Isaacson.
He was an elastic thinker and a prolific creator.
His mind wandered merrily across the arts, sciences, engineering, and humanities.
More than 7,000 pages of Leonardo’s notebooks still exist.
His genius came from being wildly imaginative, quirkily curious and willfully observant.
His novelty was a product of his own will and effort, which makes his story inspiring for us and also more possible to emulate.
Da Vinci’s work paved the path for artists, scientists, and philosophers alike.
Most of the people we admire often have the gift of the elastic mind.
Today, more than ever, we must embrace the elastic mindset.
In a stable world devoid of change, we can solve problems by applying the same old techniques, principles, and rules.
But the age of unprecedented technological change constantly challenges us to find new solutions.
Do you give in when faced with a problem you have not seen before, or are you driven by the determination to achieve?
How strongly are you driven to reach that “light” at the end of the tunnel?
Solving problems and drawing better conclusions within an existing framework requires a blend of analytical and elastic thinking.
In the right combination with other traits, elastic thinking is a crucial predictor of total well-being.
“Novelty-seeking is one of the traits that keeps you healthy and happy and fosters personality growth as you age,” says C. Robert Cloninger, a psychiatrist.
Da Vinci made connections better in life.
Maria Konnikova, a Harvard psychologist and author of Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes says a mind that can connect the seemingly unconnected can make the most of brain. She writes:
“A mind that can find connections between the seemingly unconnected can access its vast network of ideas and impressions and detect even faint links that can then be amplified to recognize a broader significance, if such a significance exists. Insight may seem to come from nowhere, but really, it comes from somewhere quite specific: from the attic and the processing that has been taking place while you’ve been busy doing other things.
Da Vinci’s insatiably curious approach to life
“Be curious, not judgmental.” — Walt Whitman
Leonardo da Vinci was insanely curious at the prime of his career.
He was an insatiable learner.
Being curious about everything and curious just for curiosity’s sake, not simply because it’s useful, is the defining trait of Leonardo.
He studied everything he could see and observe: the flow of water, the way smoke rises through the air, how a woodpecker uses its tongue.
Leonardo had insights that were ahead of his time.
His observation and belief that “everything connects” informed most of his work. Making connections between seemingly unimportant things is perhaps one of the most crucial creative thinking skills you can ever master.
He didn’t differentiate so much between subjects because he believed that they were all inter-related. In his own words:
“I roamed the countryside searching for answers to things I did not understand. Why shells existed on the tops of mountains along with the imprints of coral and plants and seaweed usually found in the sea. Why the thunder lasts a longer time than that which causes it, and why immediately on its creation the lightning becomes visible to the eye while thunder requires time to travel. How the various circles of water form around the spot which has been struck by a stone, and why a bird sustains itself in the air. These questions and other strange phenomena engage my thought throughout my life.”
Your instinct to explore should grow into an instinct for inquiry.
Curiosity led Einstein to the Theory of Relativity. Without curiosity, Isaac Newton would not have discovered the Laws of Physics, and Alexander Fleming probably wouldn’t have discovered Penicillin.
A neurological study has shown that curiosity makes our brains more receptive for learning and that as we learn, we enjoy the sensation of learning.
A naturally curious mind takes interest in a wide range of subjects to find connections to help solve everyday problems better.
When you are open to new ideas, the more you are likely to follow your curiosities, and the more you will be able to connect new information and discoveries with what you already know.
Our insatiable drive to learn, invent, explore, and study deserves to have the same status as every other drive in our lives.
Assume nothing. Question the obvious
“Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.” — Voltaire
The acquisition of knowledge and learning derives its energy through questioning.
Brilliant ideas can come out of a more better question.
In one of his well quoted and popular quotes, Einstein reckoned that if he had an hour to solve a problem, he would spend the first fifty-five minutes making sure he was answering the right question.
Leonardo once said, Learning is the only thing the mind never exhausts, never fears, and never regrets.
Start asking better questions to find the right answers.
Like modern scientists, Leonardo was always ready to revise his models when he felt that new observations or insights required him to do so.
He was more interested in the process of exploration than in the completed work or final results.
If you want a better approach to gathering the right information about your life’s work and what you want to spend the rest of your life doing without stress, you should be focusing on getting to the path of inquiry.
Questioning is like breathing — it’s something that seems so basic, so instinctive, that we take it for granted. But there’s a lot we can all learn about how to question, and really do it well to get the answers we seek.
“All my life I’ve been harassed by questions: Why is something this way and not another? How do you account for that? This rage to understand, to fill in the blanks, only makes life more banal. If we could only find the courage to leave our destiny to chance, to accept the fundamental mystery of our lives, then we might be closer to the sort of happiness that comes with innocence.” — Luis Buñuel
A curious mind can relate and connect ideas better. Maintain an open mind and be willing to learn, unlearn and relearn to find get the answers you seek.
Your curiosity will develop into an amazing discovery. Something you will easily identify with and can pursue further.
Intellectual fearlessness will take you far
“We all operate in two contrasting modes, which might be called open and closed. The open mode is more relaxed, more receptive, more exploratory, more democratic, more playful and more humorous. The closed mode is the tighter, more rigid, more hierarchical, more tunnel-visioned. Most people, unfortunately, spend most of their time in the closed mode.” — John Cleese
When you are intellectually fearless, you are ready to completely immerse yourself in another experience to gain more knowledge without prejudice.
Leonardo was self-taught. Left to his own devices, Leonardo developed an empirical approach to learning that prioritized experience, observation, and experimentation.
Apparently proud of this unschooled approach, he once signed a document “Leonardo da Vinci, disscepolo della sperientia” (“disciple of experience”).
Opening your mind to the possibilities of knowledge, skills and adventure can surprise you in the best way possible.
Don’t cramp your imagination to fit your expectations. Be open to learning new approaches to solving problems.
Your brain doesn’t race with judgmental thoughts that make you feel guilty and you are not aggressively working to hide a gut reaction that has been programmed into you for so long.
Open-mindedness doesn’t even mean that you agree with something. The beauty of open-mindedness is that it allows you to find out so many new things and soak in so many new perspectives.
Eliezer Yudkowsky of LessWrong explains:
“To feel the burning itch of curiosity requires both that you be ignorant, and that you desire to relinquish your ignorance. If in your heart you believe you already know, or if in your heart you do not wish to know, then your questioning will be purposeless and your skills without direction. Curiosity seeks to annihilate itself; there is no curiosity that does not want an answer. The glory of glorious mystery is to be solved, after which it ceases to be mystery. Be wary of those who speak of being open-minded and modestly confess their ignorance. There is a time to confess your ignorance and a time to relinquish your ignorance.
Open-mindedness is a muscle. You must actively place yourself in situations that allow you to dig deeper to understand new concepts, principles and ideas to improve your life, health and wealth.
You could start with one small area to open up to new ideas, and then gradually include more areas of your life.
Leonardo was a genius because sought the answers to everything that baffled him. He was the ultimate doer and learner.
If you want to think and work like Leonardo, embrace curiosity, train your mind to question everything, experiment boldly, and always question the obvious.
Originally published on Medium.
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