November 03, 2017

What does a woodpecker’s tongue look like? This was just one of many questions Leonardo da Vinci sought to answer on his quest to unravel some of the mysteries of the universe. Walter Isaacson, author of the new biography "Leonardo da Vinci," talks to us about the quintessential Renaissance man, and his never-ending obsession with trying to understand the world around him.

Three Takeaways 

  • Asking about the tongue of a woodpecker seems pretty bizarre. After all, how could that information actually be useful? But, da Vinci felt that knowledge didn’t need to be practical. Instead, he emphasized curiosity and asking about everything to avoid being “siloed into disciplines,” as we often are today.
  • Innovation isn’t just about having good ideas: it’s a team sport. Isaacson says that while da Vinci was an avid reader, he also sought to learn about everything from theatre to locksmithing from local experts.
  • da Vinci’s failed attempt to make a human-powered flying machine ultimately led to viable ideas for working gliders. Isaacson says this is because da Vinci was able to find his inspiration through attempting the impossible, and then learning why it was impossible.

More reading 

  • The New Yorker’s take on Isaacson’s biography.
  • The biography sparked legal complaints about the “Salvator Mundi” painting, which Isaacson says does not reflect da Vinci’s obsession with precision and science.
  • The Atlantic explores how da Vinci created Mona Lisa’s famous smile.

Innovator, Leonardo Da Vinci, curiosity, innovation hub, Culture, pri, WGBH, Walter Isaacson, Kara Miller

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