A Critique of Credentialism, circa 1500

…from Leonardo da Vinci.

Leonardo did not attend a university to study the liberal arts, and apparently some of his contemporaries disrespected him considerably because of this omission.  His response:

Because I am not a literary man some presumptuous persons will think that they may reasonably blame me by arguing that I am an unlettered man.  Foolish men!…They will say that because I have no letters I cannot express well what I want to treat of…They go about puffed up and pompous, dressed and decorated with the fruits not of their own labours but those of others, and they will not allow me my own.  And if they despise me, an inventor, how much more could they–who are not inventors but trumpeters and declaimers of the works of others–be blamed.

(The quote is from Jean Gimpel’s book The Medieval Machine)

5 thoughts on “A Critique of Credentialism, circa 1500”

  1. WKPD “He conceptualised flying machines, an armoured vehicle, concentrated solar power, an adding machine, … Relatively few of his designs were constructed or were even feasible during his lifetime …” A clever chap, a very clever chap indeed, but what’s the point of “conceptualising” an impractical flying machine? Hats off to the Wright brothers, say I, even though the Italian might have been an infinitely more appealing chap to have dinner with.

    “He made important discoveries in anatomy, civil engineering, optics, and hydrodynamics, but he did not publish his findings and they had no direct influence on later science.” If they had no influence, in what sense were they “important”? How important would Newton’s physics and maths had been if he had never published them, as nearly happened? How important would Darwin’s rather unoriginal views on evolution have been if he had not published his masterpiece of evidence, argument and advocacy?

    I would be glad to have had one tenth of his fertility of mind, but oh what a wastrel. Not that a few credentials were really likely to alter his character.

    A note on inventions for Sgt Mom; I saw an illustration recently, date ca. 1720, of what looks rather like a 19th/20th century machine gun, but that worked on the revolver principle.

  2. “Hats off to the Wright brothers, say I, even though the Italian might have been an infinitely more appealing chap to have dinner with.”

    Obama certainly thinks so and has an antipathy to science, I believe.

  3. Well, totally impractical dreams aren’t worth much. But the whirling screw overhead is at least *slightly* practical: it’s a step toward something that turned out to be much more practical than the common idea of flapping like a bird, and as far as I know it was nonobvious in Leonardo’s time. Helicopter flight was still totally impractical not just for Leonardo but even for Twain’s time-travelling Connecticut Yankee, but not impossibly far away from being practical for that Yankee upon his return, while flapping like a bird is not a reasonable way to make a flying machine even today. So I think Leonardo deserves at least a little credit for a surprising intuition about what would eventually turn out to be a practical solution.

  4. As regulation increases, the need for inventors decreases.

    Inventions upset the daily routine. Regulation brings order, replaces chaos. Fire was domesticated 50,000 years ago, but matches were invented only 100 years ago.

    Japan banned the wheel because it put porters out of work and the wheel had military applications plus it is used in torture devises.

    Inventions are dangerous. Drones are dangerous – flying around willy nilly – putting delivery men out of work.

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