Leonardo da Vinci: renaissance polymath, resourceful genius, and all round brilliant human being continues to inspire us 500 years after his death. At Insitu, we’ve been reflecting on what we can learn from his approach to discovery and learning.
The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci document his insights across a remarkable range of disciplines, including painting, architecture, anatomy, embryology, flight, cosmography and optics.
He believed in the unity of all things, quoting Plato on this matter, and it is striking that he sought to understand the world through such a wide range of topics, never limiting his thinking through a particular lens, branch of science or type of approach.
Everything comes from everything, and everything is made from everything, and everything can be turned into everything else; because that which exists in the elements is composed of those elements
- Plato, Timaeus, 55
Leonardo thrived on a restless curiosity. Every investigation, dissection, drawing or reflection in his notebooks was effectively an open-ended question to which he would return time and time again.
Take for example his studies of the scalp, brain, and eyeball. In an illustration from 1487, he details these from the mediaeval point of view, as evidenced by the drawing of an onion, a widely used analogy amongst anatomists of the time to explain the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord.
But even this rather crude sketch is littered with evidence of his restless quest for understanding. It is surrounded by copious notes and includes one of his own discoveries, the frontal sinus above the eyeball.
The lower right diagram on the page shows the head sectioned horizontally at eye level, revealing all the sensory nerves. It is thought that this diagram was imaginary rather than recording an actual sectioning of the head performed by Leonardo, but its accuracy in many parts is remarkable.
The eye has until now been defined by countless writers in a certain way, but I find through experience that it works in a different manner.
- Leonardo da Vinci, Codex Atlanticus
Though he carefully studied the theories of his predecessors, Leonardo’s close observation of the functioning of the human eye led him to reject the accepted optical principles of his day. This allowed him to pursue his own studies of anatomy, light and optics, through science and art, advancing his understanding of visual perception.
Over the next twenty years he continued to investigate the anatomy and physiology of the scalp, brain and eyeball. By carefully dissecting the eyeball and associated muscles and nerves he progressed his understanding way beyond accepted views (which were largely based on theory rather than empirical evidence).
A world of discovery without inhibitions
Leonardo’s extraordinary approach to investigating visual perception, combining optics, anatomy and neuroscience mirrored his approach to life and learning in general. He launched into a world of discovery without inhibitions, applying a meticulous empirical methodology to the dizzying array of subjects at his disposal, never fearing that any would be beyond his grasp.
Compare his early drawing to this (not dissimilar) illustration completed some 21 years later. This later drawing includes many additional details concerning the anatomy of the eye – eyes, optic nerves, optic chiasm, and optic tracts – and the pathways of visual perception. There is also a highly detailed visualisation of cerebral ventricles and cranial nerves.
Learning never exhausts the mind.
- Leonardo da Vinci
3 tips for learning like Leonardo
Five hundred years later, our understanding of the eye is still evolving. At Insitu, over recent years, we have developed many learning experiences to support the understanding of modern eye anatomy, disease, surgical and therapeutic interventions. Our training programmes support the work of optometrists, ophthalmologists, eye care practitioners, and manufacturers of medical devices and surgical equipment.
Leonardo’s meticulous records, his artwork and his inventions demonstrate his passion for the joy of learning and his curiosity in the natural world. While few of us can hope to match his genius, we can all strive to emulate his prodigious appetite for learning. Here are three things you can do every day to learn like Leoardo.
Whatever the topic, be curious! At Insitu, we are experts at digging in and finding out more about a topic as demonstrated in our ongoing work exploring the fundamental science of eye health and surgical approaches to vision correction.
Never assume there is nothing left to know
Our understanding is always evolving, and this message is at the core of training we develop alongside medical professionals. We have offered a fresh perspective on the awareness of disease state around Glaucoma and preventing sight loss to age related macular degeneration. Being open to new ways of investigating, managing and treating long-term conditions is as relevant now as ever, and sharing current guidance effectively can lead to significant improvements for patients and healthcare professionals.
Fearless investigation leads to innovation
Whether through eye disease research and treatment or product development, we constantly strive for fresh and innovative ways of sharing knowledge, for example our work supporting the launch of the world’s first light-adapting contact lens contact lens. Don’t be afraid to ask questions that no one else is asking, even if they seem completely obvious. You might see things in a different way to everyone else and unlock surprising results.
At Insitu, we can help you with creating high quality and accessible training programmes for CPD requirements, sales force training, product marketing, or health information for patients and medical professionals. Get in touch here and we’ll set up some time to talk. We look forward to hearing from you!
Jenny Berrisford is a Senior Learning Experience Designer at Insitu.