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Learning from Leonardo: Decoding the Notebooks of a Genius (BK Currents)by Fritjof Capra
Synopses & Reviews
Leonardo da Vinci was a brilliant artist, scientist, engineer, mathematician, architect, inventor, and even musician — the archetypal Renaissance man. But he was also a profoundly modern man.
Not only did Leonardo invent the empirical scientific method over a century before Galileo and Francis Bacon, but Capra's decade-long study of Leonardo's fabled notebooks reveals that he was a system's thinker centuries before the term was coined. At the very core of Leonardo's science, Capra argues, lies his persistent quest for understanding the nature of life. His science is a science of living forms, of qualities and patterns, radically different from the mechanistic science that emerged 200 years later.
Because he saw the world as an integrated whole, Leonardo always applied concepts from one area to illuminate problems in another. His studies of the movement of water informed his ideas about how landscapes are shaped, how sap rises in plants, how air moves over a bird's wing, and how blood flows in the human body. His observations of nature enhanced his art, his drawings were integral to his scientific studies, and he brought art, science, and technology together in his beautiful and elegant mechanical and architectural designs.
Capra describes seven defining characteristics of Leonardo da Vinci's genius and includes a list of over forty discoveries he made that weren't rediscovered until centuries later. Capra follows the organizational scheme Leonardo himself intended to use if he ever published his notebooks. So in a sense, this is Leonardo's science as he himself would have presented it.
Obviously, we can't all be geniuses on the scale of Leonardo da Vinci. But his persistent endeavor to put life at the very center of his art, science, and design and his recognition that all natural phenomena are fundamentally interconnected and interdependent are important lessons we can learn from. By exploring the mind of the preeminent Renaissance genius, we can gain profound insights into how to address the complex challenges of the 21st century.
“This remarkable exposition of Leonardo's work provides in analysis and illustration not only the nature of genius but the intellectual epic that can unfold whenever the human mind is set free.” Edward o. Wilson, University Research Professor Emeritus, Harvard University, and author of the best-selling The Social Conquest of Earth and Letters to a Young Scientist
“ In this meticulously crafted work, Capra leads us into the mind and heart of Leonardo so that we experience firsthand his relentless curiosity, his desire to understand the living world on its own terms, his willingness to let go of treasured ideas and concepts in exchange for new ones. Journeying so intimately with Leonardo has given me a rich appreciation for the qualities of a Renaissance person, and what shines through above all is Leonardo's never-faltering love for that which he was observing: this beautiful, interwoven, life-sustaining planet.” Margaret Wheatley, author of So Far from Home and Leadership and the New Science
Leonardo da Vinci is celebrated as the archetypal Renaissance man. He made extraordinary discoveries in numerous fields and pioneered entire disciplines, among them fluid dynamics, aerodynamics, theoretical botany, and embryology. Leonardo's unique synthesis of art, science, and technology is not only fascinating intellectually but also very relevant to our time — it prefigures modern systems theory.
Our sciences and technologies have become increasingly narrow in their focus, unable to understand our multi-faceted problems from an interdisciplinary perspective; and our business and political leaders are often incapable of "connecting the dots." This is exactly what we can learn from Leonardo. As the author shows throughout the book, Da Vinci practiced a science and technology that honored and respected the unity of all life, recognized the fundamental interdependence of all natural phenomena, and connected the microcosm (the human being) with the macrocosm (the living Earth). That is exactly the kind of science and technology we need today.
About the Author
Fritjof Capra lives in Berkeley, CA.
Table of Contents
Introduction: Leonardo's Science of Living Forms
I. Form and Transformation in the Macrocosm
1. The Movements of Water
2. The Living Earth
3. The Growth of Plants
II. Form and Transformation in the Human Body
4. The Human Figure
5. The Elements of Mechanics
6. The Body in Motion
7. The Science of Flight
8. The Mystery of Life
Appendix A: Chronology of Leonardo's Life and Work
Appendix B: Timeline of Scientific Discoveries
Leonardo's Notebooks: Facsimiles and Transcriptions
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