Raphael’s masterpiece, The School of Athens (1509 – 1511) is a who’s who of influential philosophers, mathematicians and scientists spanning 2000 years of Western civilisation.
With Plato and Aristotle as the central figures, the iconic fresco has come to symbolise the connections between art, philosophy and science. Framed by the impressive arch and dwarfed at the feet of the marble statues are Pythagoras, Euclid, Ptolemy, along with a “cameo” self-portrait of Raphael himself.
Creativity and innovation require what in modern times have been separated and labelled as science and art.
Critical thinking and problem-solving are as much prerequisites in the field of arts practice as they are to scientific inquiry.
The iterative nature of the scientific method relies on the imagination. Breakthroughs in science seem to happen out of the blue, but they never are. They are the result of deep thinking, acute observation, meticulous measurement, and rigorous experimentation.
This realisation now seems revolutionary but 500 years ago Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo knew it. Galileo too couldn’t have made his breakthrough scientific discoveries without it. Over 2000 years ago Archimedes taught us the importance of inventing experiments to test hypotheses.
It is a little-known fact that Leonardo da Vinci worked in entertainment. Of course, the industry didn’t exist in the Renaissance, but da Vinci was a skilled musician and he created and played quirky and beautiful musical instruments. There are many written accounts of the elaborate theatrical props that da Vinci invented as well as staging that made actors appear and disappear as if by magic for his wealthy patrons.
Da Vinci’s ability to imagine and sketch dragons and other fantastical creatures with wings was key to his genius. He was commissioned by Pope Leo X to create a mechanical lion for the amusement of Francois I, the King of France. The fearsome-looking automaton would propel itself onto the stage. When the King struck it would open its mouth releasing lillies, the King’s floral emblem.
Other accounts tell of actors dressed as angels with wings entering the stage by hidden ropes creating the illusion they had flown from the heavens, much to the delight, awe, and wonder of the guests of the court. Even the sketch of the bicycle, found in the Codex Atlanticus (1478-1519), was thought to have been not so much the precursor to the two-wheeled vehicle but a stage prop.
Visitors to the Museum of Science and History in Jacksonville Florida can see for themselves how entertainment, and specifically the art of comedy, was reshaped during da Vinci’s times.
What do the world’s greatest thinkers, scientists, artists, and visionaries have in common?
Archimedes of Syracuse, Leonardo Da Vinci and Galileo Galilei drew on the scientific knowledge of their times. They observed, measured, and imagined. They challenged widely accepted and long-held beliefs and created new knowledge. Each of them tested their hypotheses and adjusted their theories. Their discoveries changed the course of history.
We have the privilege of touring the iconic machines and exhibits based on the groundbreaking works of these geniuses. In the process of creating our exhibitions, the Artisans make discoveries of their own and unravel mysteries that bring us closer to understanding the nature of genius.
Not many of us will ever have the impact on the world that Archimedes, Da Vinci and Galilei have had, but we can learn from them.
In the words of the German philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer:
Talent hits a target no one else can hit; Genius hits a target no one else can see
David Unaipon (1872 – 1967), a Ngarrindjeri man of the Coorong region of South Australia, was an author, inventor, evangelical preacher, and political activist. His many significant accomplishments during a period that book-ends Australian federation challenged the prejudiced stereotypes held about Aboriginal people.
Unaipon spent much of his life reading science books and was particularly fascinated by perpetual motion. His deep understanding of the fundamental principles of physics led to his most successful invention, a sheep-shearing handpiece that converts curvilinear motion into the straight-line movement. This design, partially patented in 1909 greatly improved the efficiency of the cutting blades and is still in use today.
His helicopter design in 1914, based on the aerodynamics of the boomerang, pre-dates the manufacture of the world’s first ‘hovering aircraft’ by 25 years.
His research into the polarisation of light points to him also being a pioneer in the field of photonics. In an interview published in the Daily Herald (Adelaide, SA 1/6/1914) he said; “We are gradually coming to the age when we might expect to be able to hurl electricity, like Nature does, for instance, in the shape of lightning.”
Unaipon’s legacy has been re-examined in more recent times, and his image along with his shearing shears design has been on the Australian $50 banknote since 1995.
Since the dawn of technology, humans have sought ways of using machines and inventions to make work easier. Even though we can use machines to create mechanical advantage, it is sadly not possible for any machine to produce more energy than is put into it. As Albert Einstein put it, “Energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only be changed from one form to another”.
Galileo Galilei never explicitly expressed his thoughts on perpetual motion machines, however, we can see from several of his lecture notes, made while a professor at the University of Padua in Venice, that he clearly understood that perpetual motion machines are indeed not possible. As he eloquently put it, “Nature cannot be deceived”.
When discussing this principle, Galileo used the analogy of drawing water from a well by hand with a bucket. He conjectured, “whoever believes they are able to draw a greater amount of water from a well, in the same time, with the same force is in grave error”.