Leonardo da Vinci’s painting “Salvator Mundi” sold for a record $450 million last week. That was the latest manifestation of a 500-year old appreciation of the man. The value of the sale was more derived from being able to possess a piece of this man through his work than from the literal painting itself. At the same time, Walter Isaacson’s newly released biography, Leonardo da Vinci, is drawing well-deserved attention as many people want to understand how this remarkable man thought.
Da Vinci was a prophet—i.e., he could see what others could not see and brought those visions to mankind so we could all see more clearly. His thinking and creations have stood the tests of time like few others’ have. While the art he produced is expensive, his principles are free, and in my opinion much more valuable, so I’d like to pass along some that a friend recently passed to me.
Remember that principles are ways of dealing with reality effectively, so it is common for different people who practice principled thinking to learn the same ones. Also remember that principled thinking is thinking at a higher level and in a more simplified way that captures timeless truths than more common thinking which observes things in more of a one-off way, without regard to patterns and or a deep understanding of how things really work.
Here are some principles attributed to da Vinci* that I believe are timeless truths.
“There are three classes of people: those who see. Those who see when they are shown. Those who do not see.”
“It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.”
“I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.”
“Obstacles cannot crush me. Every obstacle yields to stern resolve.”
“Wisdom is the daughter of experience.”
“The greatest deception men suffer is from their own opinions.”
“Where there is shouting, there is no true knowledge.”
“Beyond a doubt truth bears the same relation to falsehood as light to darkness.”
“The truth of things is the chief nutrient of superior intellects.”
“Nature is the source of all true knowledge. She has her own logic, her own laws, she has no effect without cause nor invention without necessity.”
“Human subtlety will never devise an invention more beautiful, more simple or more direct than does nature because in her inventions nothing is lacking, and nothing is superfluous.”
“Nature never breaks her own laws.”
“Great love springs from great knowledge of the beloved object, and if you little know it, you will be able to love it only little or not at all.”
“He who does not punish evil commands that it be done.”
“It is easier to contend with evil at the first than at the last.”
“As a well-spent day brings happy sleep, so a life well spent brings happy death.”
*More than 500 years later and with translation effects (and misattribution on the internet), I’m not certain of the exact accuracy of these quotes. As with anyone else’s principles, what matters most is that you think for yourself about their logic and merit. To me, they’re logical, great principles that I have also found to be true.