The above image is an illustrated and translated version of an actual “to-do” list written by Leonardo da Vinci. It was put together for NPR by Robert Krulwich and illustrator Wendy MacNaughton, based on information found in the book, Da Vinci’s Ghost: Genius, Obsession, and How Leonardo Created the World in His Own Image, by Toby Lester.
What does a list like this tell us about the guy who wrote it? Krulwich sees in this list an example of what the brain can do when it’s allowed to really wander.
“We live in an age that worships attention,” says my friend (and Radiolab colleague) Jonah Lehrer. “When we need to work, we force ourselves to concentrate. This approach can also inhibit the imagination. Sometimes, it helps to consider irrelevant information, to eavesdrop on all the stray associations unfolding in the far reaches of the brain.”
Minds that break free, that are compelled to wander, can sometimes achieve more than those of us who are more inhibited, more orderly, [a scientific study] suggests. Or, as Jonah chose to put it, there are “unexpected benefits of not being able to focus.”
There are two points to be gleaned from Da Vinci’s To-Do list,
1.Da Vinci obsession with knowledge: His curiosity and hunger to find answers to a lot of question is unwavering. Take another look at that to-do list. I think it’s pretty interesting that of the nine tasks shown, six involve consulting and learning from other people. Leonardo da Vinci needs to find a book. Leonardo da Vinci needs to get in touch with local merchants, monks, and accountants who he hopes can help him better understand concepts within their areas of expertise.Leonardo da Vinci knows he doesn’t know everything.I think that’s a big deal.
2.His Ability to let his mind wander: we live in a world that preaches being extremely focused as a key ingredient for success.Da Vinci’s mind seems to be able to wander freely.From how mortars are positioned,to how to repair a lock, canal and mill lombard,draw Milan,get the measurement of the sun. This man’s mind was freely leaping from wall to wall. Little wonder is the model image of the Renaissance.