Book Review: Leonardo’s Brain, by Leonard Shlain

Leonardo's Brain CoverLeonard Shlain’s latest, and final, book is a tour-de-force. Leonardo’s Brain: Understanding Da Vinci’s Creative Genius follows from the spirit of the author’s previous books, most notably The Alphabet Versus the Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image and Art & Physics: Parallel Visions in Space, Time, and Light. Taken together, the three books examine the way alphabetic literacy reconfigured the human brain and brought about profound changes in history, religion, and gender relations; review the ways art interprets the visible world while science charts its unseen workings; and describe the manner in which a unique individual transcended the divisions between left and right-brained approaches to the world to achieve exceptional genius.

A Celebration of Genius

Shlain’s work is an unabashed celebration of da Vincis’ staggering range of achievements in the art, science and invention. Despite the five centuries that have passed since da Vinci lived, Shlain marshals evidence to show the scope of his genius resulted on the unique physiology of his brain that allowed him to achieve all he did in both art and science.

Much of the evidence is based on the neuroscience with which the author, a practicing laparoscopic surgeon, extrapolates from the fact that da Vinci was a gay left-handed (but ambidextrous) man and a vegetarian pacifist. From both his paintings and his scientific journals, Shlain infers that da Vinci was able to transcend the division between the left and right hemispheres of his brain and achieve a synthesis that was the engine of his genius:

For creativity to manifest itself, the right brain must free itself from the deadening hand of the inhibitory left brain and do its work, unimpeded… (p.92)

This synthesis unleashed a creative force that allowed da Vinci to recognize novel patterns in the world, seeing with a heightened level of alertness and clarity.

Remote Viewing

Beyond this level of appreciation, however, Shlain proposes a truly startling argument that some of da Vinci’s work, such as the drawings of the town plan of Imola and the scheme for a canal to bypass the Arno could only have been made if he was capable of “remote viewing”, or:

…the skill to enter a space-time consciousness, discard the rational left brain, and acquire a quantum look at the world. (p.157)

This extraordinary level of perception might also explain how he was able to draw a bird’s trajectory in slow motion or stop time to draw water caught in midair, even drawing how it appeared beneath the surface.

Prior Unity

Shlain sees da Vinci’s achievements as a sign of hope for humanity at the start of the twenty-first century, experiencing a transitional stage of evolution as a species. He speculates that we are entering a period in which humanity is changing:

The absence or presence of creativity determines what we believe…Perhaps we will develop into an improved version of Homo sapiens as more of us become less interested in power and more interested in matters of the heart. (p. 194)

As the Western-born Spiritual Adept Adi Da Samraj has written:

I am interested in finding men and women who are free of every kind of seeking, who are attendant only to understanding, and who will devote themselves to the intentional creation of human life in the form and logic of Reality, rather than the form and logic of Narcissus. Such men are the unexploitable Presence of Reality … They will create in the aesthetics of Reality, turning all things into radical relationship and enjoyment. They will remove the effects of separative existence and restore the Form of things. They will engineer every kind of stability and beauty. They will create a Presence of Peace. Their eye will be on present form and not on exaggerated notions of artifice. Their idea of form is stable and whole, not a gesture toward some other event. They will not make the world seem but a symbol for higher and other things.

Shalin’s Legacy

Shlain’s life ended just as he was finishing the manuscript for this book. The terrible irony is that he, who shared so many insights about the brain, passed away from brain cancer. The book was finished with the help of his three children: Kimberley, Jordan and Tiffany. We owe them, and their father, an immense debt for sharing his insights with us.

1 Comment so far
Leave a comment

Here’s a useful resource on da Vinci’s art.



Leave a comment
Line and paragraph breaks automatic, e-mail address never displayed, HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

(required)

(required)



× 4 = thirty two