Leonardo da Vinci. We all know who he was. We all know what he was. All of the official documents of the human race: our history books, the schoolbooks from which we teach our children and all of our encyclopedic publications list him as a: painter, sculptor, architect, musician, scientist, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, planner (cities), botanist, writer, poet and philosopher, among others and each one an official and formal citation. Many people consider him a genius and on other occasions, intellectuals have given him the title Universal Genius, however if one were forced to find a category in which to classify him when compared to others (something we can’t seem to stop doing), neither one of the aforementioned categories would be correct or even precise. Leonardo da Vinci was a Polymath; and how. This word may not be familiar to you and that is probably because it’s not use in the current lexicon; it’s not obsolete, but it is considered archaic. Polymath is defined in today’s dictionaries as follows:
– a person of great learning in several fields of study;
Its use in the current vernacular has been replaced by the word “genius”. Why was this new word; genius, one defined in a matter far less precise and descriptive than polymath, chosen to replace it? This might be best explained by reading an excerpt from an observation written by some distinguished man of letters in some intellectual publication, I really don’t care to remember the person’s name, but I do remember what they wrote: “By modern standards, Leonardo da Vinci would be called, in all probability, a genius.” Hold on a minute: Standards? There is a universal standard for measuring human academic, intellectual, practical and/or professional competence? When did this happen and why hasn’t anyone been told? Naturally, whoever wrote that did what pretty much all of us do nowadays; defer the need or ability to think or exercise judgment about anything or anyone by virtue of a written endorsement of a particular measure of any human quality, particularly professional competence. According to the modern day “rule book”, the modern “standards” mentioned above actually refer to something called “professional standards” which is intended to imply, conceptually, that there is a universal and infallible criteria representing individual compliance with specific requirements and their measurement in terms of competence, as a professional. It’s a bit difficult to explain because it is equally difficult to grasp; how exactly is the competence of a person in anything learned standardized and then endorsed? Isn’t that what we call “work”? In order accomplish what this version of the word standard is suggesting, there must be an unquestionable and unequalled authority in each area of knowledge being measured and this authority must be the absolute maximum pinnacle of competence possible for the area of learning or profession being standardized. For a standardized system of universal measurement and comparison (which is not the same as a “standard”) to be valid there must exist the maximum possible value for that measurement so that everything else may be compared to that value. For there to be a valid “standard” used to measure competence in the category of knowledge called genius, then it must be established by the highest possible example of the measure, which is to say that if the “standard” in this case is the height of the “bar” that upon clearing earns one the title of genius, then that bar must be set by the most genial of all possible geniuses, past, present or future. For the standard to mean anything, it must be real and for it to be real is must be the highest possible outcome. Since what is being measured is a human quality, then the value must come from a human. So I ask; who is this Genius Rex who established the standard by which all geniuses are compared? How do we know there will never be someone more competent, because the concept of genius has nothing to do with intelligence, in fact, I would go so far as to state that the phrase “intelligent genius” is an oxymoron. When was an “intelligence” competition declared and who declared it? For the record, intelligence is not a measure of humanity; it is simply a choice, barring impairment.
Where did we get the sheer balls to lay claim to have an official “standard of competence” for anything? However it happened, it worked, because everyone bought it; hook line and sinker. No one is considered competent by the rest of the world in anything, unless that person has a piece of paper, endorsed by what I can only imagine is the authorized representative of the author of the alleged standard and whose validity and authority are unquestionable. We call this a credential. It’s the 21st century’s tribute to something us old-timers used to call “Epstein’s note”, taken from the 1970’s American television program Welcome Back Kotter, “Epstein’s Note” refers to a method used by high school teacher; Mr. Kotter’s perpetually absent student; the Puerto Rican-Jewish Juan Epstein, who, upon returning to school after what is understood to be another in a long sequence of unauthorized absences, would present Mr. Kotter with a “note from his Mom”, as a legitimate excuse. Each note would describe an inane excuse for missing class and all bore the same signature; for example: “Please excuse Juan from class last Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. He had radiation poisoning and 2 heart attacks. Sincerely, Epstein’s Mom”. Today, in 2011, any credential that can be earned is no more a valid measure of professional competence that any of Epstein’s notes was a legitimate excuse. They are both sad, perverse jokes and yet, we still accept a credential issued by “official” sources at face value. A person producing a legitimate credential as a professional is accepted as competent, without question. In the case of genius, we can’t even agree on the mechanism of measurement, much less establish a standard. There an infinite number of “IQ tests”, each one endorsed by a different “group” with each one claiming to be the standard of measure for genius. It is of particular irony, in the case of standards for human genius that these purportedly smartest examples of what homo sapiens has to offer, didn’t know that “standards” weren’t created to measure competence or even worse, to license or regulate it. In the social process called “professionalization” which is how a “task” becomes a “profession”, one of the first milestones on this academic journey is “the development and implementation of standards of conduct and ethics” for the profession. These standards were intended to dictate the tone and manner of the interpersonal interchanges and manner in which a “professional” was expected to behave. Don’t take my word for it, look it up, do some research, you will find that this is true. When exactly did these original standards become required levels of endorsed competence of unquestioned validity? When did modern day standards and credentials make even one person actually competent? The person chooses to be competent or not, a credential does not. In fact, it’s actually a limitation. The modern system of setting professional “standards” by the use of “credentials” is explained as: a vehicle through which one can guarantee competence in a profession by providing a printed receipt that serves as unquestionable endorsement of the same.” Rather than accomplish this, they have actually limited what one human being is “allowed” to learn or do. This is not intelligent, it’s ridiculous and it’s also nothing more than an exclusive club for a select few, existing solely to protect the continuity of comfort, laziness and the imposition of the will of the few over that of the many.
Ponder this; if Leonardo da Vinci would have been born in the 1960’s and not in 1452, he would not have all of the titles that are printed right next to his name in every history book and encyclopedia. In the modern world, we would say “That’s not possible today, that could have only happened back then, you know, in more primitive times; we are civilized now – people just can’t go around being experts in 10 or 11 highly extremely complicated and important professions! No sir, you won’t see any of that today, we’re civilized now.” That’s not an actual quote, but tell me you didn’t just picture someone, maybe even someone you know, who is capable of saying exactly that. So what does all of this mean? Was Leonardo da Vinci not all of those things? If not, why do we say he was if it’s not possible? Was he lying or was someone else lying? What’s the benefit of lying about something that happened 500 years ago? It makes no sense. That’s because it is senseless. The reason that Leonardo da Vinci is given full credit for every profession that he exercised as listed in the encyclopedia and history books is because he is dead and dead people aren’t a threat; you know, if he were alive, with all of that knowledge, he’d make everyone else look like an idiot. It’s okay to have a Leonardo da Vinci 500 years ago, but not today. Think about it, it would not be illogical to consider that in today’s world, if a polymath possessing only ¼ of the knowledge and competence that Leonardo da Vinci had were discovered, they might very easily be hunted and killed; why? Because they are a threat to the status quo which is that you only have ONE career, darn it! What is considered “normal” is a sort of anonymous and androgynous mediocrity, where the blandness of everyone makes their name or even their gender insignificant. If Leonardo da Vinci would have been born in our “modern” world, there would be no Mona Lisa, anatomy wouldn’t exist, aviation would never exist, or medicine, architecture, engineering and a host of other professions that were all born from this one man’s mind; one very competent man. In today’s world, Leonardo would have never had the chance, to do any of those things, mainly because there was no possible way he could have earned all of the credentials. The fact is that Leonardo da Vinci did not, in all of his life, possess one single credential endorsing any professional quality. No Harvard diploma, no medical license, no contractor’s license, nothing; just his capabilities and his competence. In today’s world, anyone claiming to possess even a fraction of the knowledge that Leonardo da Vinci had would be called a liar, ridiculed, excluded and possibly even jailed. What a sad and mediocre world we have created and what’s worse; we have almost forgotten how to recognize human potential – unless, of course, you have the right credentials.
We have turned the word credential into a vile and worthless symbol of what we have shaped ourselves into after 12,000 years of ‘civilization’. This by no means in intended to imply that anyone possessing a professional credential isn’t competent or invalidates any individual’s choice to learn, it is intended to bring attention to another social mechanism that we have broken in this first decade of the 21st century. We wouldn’t know a real credential if it landed on our head. Would you like to see what a legitimate credential looks like? Following is the text of a letter written by Leonardo da Vinci to the Duke of Milan in 1482. Leonardo wrote the letter to introduce himself to the Duke in his search for a job:
Having, most illustrious lord, seen and considered the experiments of all those who pose as masters in the art of inventing instruments of war, and finding that their inventions differ in no way from those in common use, I am emboldened, without prejudice to anyone, to solicit an appointment of acquainting your Excellency with certain of my secrets.
- I can construct bridges which are very light and strong and very portable, with which to pursue and defeat the enemy; and others more solid, which resist fire or assault, yet are easily removed and placed in position; and I can also burn and destroy those of the enemy.
- In case of a siege I can cut off water from the trenches and make pontoons and scaling ladders and other similar contrivances.
- If by reason of the elevation or the strength of its position a place cannot be bombarded, I can demolish every fortress if its foundations have not been set on stone.
- I can also make a kind of cannon which is light and easy of transport, with which to hurl small stones like hail, and of which the smoke causes great terror to the enemy, so that they suffer heavy loss and confusion.
- I can noiselessly construct to any prescribed point subterranean passages either straight or winding, passing if necessary underneath trenches or a river.
- I can make armoured wagons carrying artillery, which shall break through the most serried ranks of the enemy, and so open a safe passage for his infantry.
- If occasion should arise, I can construct cannon and mortars and light ordnance in shape both ornamental and useful and different from those in common use.
- When it is impossible to use cannon I can supply in their stead catapults, mangonels, trabocchi, and other instruments of admirable efficiency not in general use—I short, as the occasion requires I can supply infinite means of attack and defense.
- And if the fight should take place upon the sea I can construct many engines most suitable either for attack or defense and ships which can resist the fire of the heaviest cannon, and powders or weapons.
- In time of peace, I believe that I can give you as complete satisfaction as anyone else in the construction of buildings both public and private, and in conducting water from one place to another.
I can further execute sculpture in marble, bronze or clay, also in painting I can do as much as anyone else, whoever he may be.
Moreover, I would undertake the commission of the bronze horse, which shall endue with immortal glory and eternal honour the auspicious memory of your father and of the illustrious house of Sforza.—
And if any of the aforesaid things should seem to anyone impossible or impracticable, I offer myself as ready to make trial of them in your park or in whatever place shall please your Excellency, to whom I commend myself with all possible humility.
Leonardo Da Vinci
That is a credential. . By the way, the Duke hired Leonardo and with the exception of the Bronze Horse, he did every single thing he said he could do in the letter. He worked for Lorenzo il Moro, Duke of Milan, from 1482 until 1499 and left only because the Duke was overthrown by the French during the Second Italian War.