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The Genius of All Time

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Leonardo Da Vinci was born in Italy on April 15, 1452 as an illegitimate son, and is considered the most complex genius of the Renaissance and perhaps of all time. (Wallace, pg. 9) Much of the skills and attitudes that Leonardo Da Vinci expressed throughout his works and life, represent that of which is now considered what a critical thinker is thought to be. The definition of a critical thinker, in a simplistic view, is one who is aware of the obstacles that block critical thinking, and is able to analyze them objectively while staying positive as well as open-minded. As a historical figure Leonardo’s life and the process he went through to create his accomplishments, reflects such ideas. He developed ideas that modern technology has barely now been able to prove, and witness (Kemp, pg. 80) He was able to remove himself from the norms of society and questioned the old ways in search for new ones; he ventured out to discover beyond what was believed. These attitudes and skills in his personality represent the foundation of what critical thinkers have come to be.

Critical thinking is the “awareness of a set of interrelated critical questioning…it is the ability to ask and answer critical questions at appropriate times” (Browne, pg. 29.) Analysis is an important skill that a critical thinker needs, because they must be able to fully comprehend ideas and develop coherent arguments to further prove one’s point. Since it is vital for a critical thinker to have the skill of analysis, one must also have the attitude of being open-minded and positive in order to understand the information that they are to process. It is also crucial for critical thinkers to recognize the barriers that one would face, and how to overcome them. In his life as a scientist, inventor, artist as well as man in general Leonardo Da Vinci, defines what it means to be such a thinker. He expresses these characteristics through the various processes he went through in order to make his discoveries and in order to paint such realistic art. He was a dynamic person that did not take such complex questions in a simplistic view the way that many around him did.

In order to express his realism, Leonardo Da Vinci “…studied men pulling, pushing, carrying, picking up, putting down, running, stopping, walking uphill and downhill, getting up and sitting down, and in one remarkably cinematic sequence of thumbnail sketches, a man wielding a hammer to mighty effect,” (Kemp, pg. 9) Through his analysis of the human body he was able to create such masterpieces that lived on well after his time. The skill of using one’s imagination was also a technique that he was well known for utilizing. He thought of creations that were physically impossible to produce with the technology of his time that has later become the blueprints to what modern technology now creates. Leonardo Da Vinci believed that “The ultimate form of proof: God’s creation—natural form—observation—analysis—synthesis—recreation…is a circle that stands at the heart of…his science” (Kemp, pg. 80). The fact that these values reflected his thought process, in a way shows the skills that critical thinkers utilize as well. His skills of observation, analysis and imagination gave birth to ideas and drawings that were so “brilliantly [done] that we cannot readily tell if we are looking at a compelling visualization or actual object,” (Kemp, pg. 116). In his life Da Vinci was a man that thought well into the future and although it was physically impossible for him to even test his ideas, he did not let that hinder his desire to explore the unknown.

During the renaissance era, around the time of his birth, bastardy or illegitimacy in birth carried little to small stigma. Yet even though his father claimed him, due to the illegitimacy of his birth, he was still unable to have a formal education. As a result Leonardo was able to learn through a more open perspective. Although many at the time conformed to the practices of society, Da Vinci refused to be so close minded and separated himself to rise against the obstacles that were presented to him. He continually questioned the old ways in order to explain what was unknown. “The qualities he was known to have: extraordinary keen observation, imagination and the ability to detach himself from the world around him,” (Wallace, pg.11). Da Vinci never allowed his illegitimacy or even his lack of a formal education, to become a barrier in discovering the many questions that his mind contained. He was involved in society, musically talented and well known because of his accomplishments, yet at the same time he was still a solitary man not being able to fully connect with society since his ideas were far beyond what others knew or even understood (Wallace, pg. 12) His mind never stopped to consider all the possibilities nor did he believe that things only had one answer. In his art he often did trials and errors as well as in his inventions to develop the best answer, he continually tested his theories (Abrams, pg. 115). Another factor that contributed to his uniqueness was the fact that he was a left-handed. At the time being a lefty, was considered wrong and even the “devil’s” work, yet Leonardo was able to rise above the difficulties in his own way. Instead of letting such minor effects deter him or become a weakness, he turned it into strength and developed his own style of writing backwards. Later in his life he suffered paralysis to his right arm but astonished others since he was still able to create such masterpieces as St. John, St. Anne and “the Florentine Lady” which is speculated to be the famous Mona Lisa (Wallace, pg.164).

Conclusively, the many skills that his life showed and the attitude that he portrayed clearly reflects what critical thinkers have become. Through his works he observed in order to create more of a realistic feel to it. Through his science he did many trials and errors before coming to an absolute conclusion. Through his inventions he used his imagination to create a world of technology that modern day is barely now being able to prove. Due to his birth and lack of education he was able to separate himself from the norms of society and see what was beyond belief. (Wallace, pg. 169) He was a critical thinker because he faced many of the obstacles that block critical thinking. When he was confronted by “black and white thinking” he further questioned the old beliefs and developed them to create and explain many other possibilities. When he experienced “cultural conditioning” (eg. the prejudice faced with being left handed) he created a unique style and utilized being left handed. In other aspects, he did not succumb to labels or resistance to change, instead his ideas were “…so many and so diverse that he simply could not make an end to them,” (Wallace 169). Leonardo Da Vinci various accomplishments speak for themselves. A man of his diversity and complexities that still managed to stay open-minded and positive, is a man that models the very essence of being a critical thinker. 

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