Academic journal article Emergence: Complexity and Organization

A Review of the Science of Leonardo: Inside the Mind of the Great Genius of the Renaissance

Academic journal article Emergence: Complexity and Organization

A Review of the Science of Leonardo: Inside the Mind of the Great Genius of the Renaissance

Article excerpt

A Review of The Science of Leonardo: Inside the Mind of the Great Genius of the Renaissance written by Fritjof Capra reviewed by Evangelos Katsamakas published by Anchor Books ISBN 9781400078837 (2007)

The contemporary growth of complexity and computational social science may call for a systematic look into the historical roots of systems thinking and complexity. Capra's book on the life and science of Leonardo da Vinci provides such a historical exploration.

The book consists of two tightly coupled parts, the first focusing on the life and the second on the science of Leonardo.

Leonardo was the prototypical 'Renaissance man' or 'Universal man' with innovative contributions to science, art and engineering that reflect a great diversity of knowledge, interests and capabilities. Capra argues that Leonardo da Vinci was a systemic thinker and a complexity theorist, aware of the interrelatedness of things, and interested in discovering fundamental patterns (archetypes) across diverse phenomena. As Leonardo wrote in one of his famous notebooks "for a man who knows how, it is easy to become universal..." (p. 34). He was "deeply aware of the fundamental interconnectedness of all phenomena and of the interdependence and mutual generation of all parts of an organic whole" (p. 1 68).

Leonardo's life and thought are dominated by synthesis of art and science. The historical context of his life was characterized by creative turbulence: fierce conflicts among wealthy Italian renaissance cities that kept brilliant engineers like Leonardo busy in defensive and offensive military projects, geographical exploration, discovery of the printing press, and rediscovery of the classics and humanism, all achievements celebrating human capabilities.

Capra suggests that Leonardo developed through his studies the approach to knowledge that later became known as the scientific method. Leonardo "always seemed to be more interested in the process of exploration than in the completed work or final results" (p. 165). Capra goes as far as claiming that Leonardo is "the true founder of modern science" (p. 6). To Leonardo, contrary to his contemporaries who resorted blindly to authority, the root of science was first experience, through detailed observation and experiment, and second explanation. His scientific explorations involved the flow of water and rivers (fluid dynamics), the nature of light, the functioning of the eye and other elaborate anatomical drawings, and many other natural phenomena. …

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