Posts Tagged ‘Leonardo da Vinci’

I live and work as a technologist in Des Moines, Iowa. Wherever I have lived, I’ve tried to become part of the local community and contribute regularly to one or more environmental, disaster response or neighborhood organizations. Since the application of technology is a very much a prerequisite for supporting those activities and effectively managing any modern company or organization, I am frequently dismayed by people’s disdain for understanding and experiencing modern technology.

pencil technology

High Tech

It seems like a significant portion of every generation deliberately chooses to not learn about technology. They resign themselves to being passive customers/users of mainstream “consumer tech” and have limited scientific literacy. Does this explain why the US ranks only average in scientific literacy compared to other developed countries?  I don’t know. Maybe it’s just brain fatigue from experiencing so much change over the course of a life.

I get frustrated with my peers that tell me that technology is “moving too fast”, that it’s just too damn hard to learn, and that “I just can’t keep up with all the changes.” As a consequence, they choose not to learn about it, and shut their naturally inquisitive minds off.  I imagine every generation has its share of Luddites and Neo-Luddites.

Honestly, I empathize with them a little. Over the last twenty years working as a computer systems administrator I have worked with about a dozen computer operating systems, literally hundreds of different software applications and computer hardware brands, many of which no longer exist. They were rendered to the scrap pile or trumped by competitors. Examples include AST, Compaq, Kaypro, EMachines, Maxtor, Orange Micro, Osborne, Tangerine, Wang, and Zeos

It’s not just the tech vendors that no longer exist. Many once noted futuristic and innovative technologies have been superseded by so-called “better” technologies. If you are not yet pushing middle age, you may have never experienced these technologies: 78-45 RPM-LP vinyl records, B&W analog TV, computer bulletin board systems (BBS), library card catalogs, ditto printing machine, home fuse boxes , laserdiscs, office mimeograph printers, overhead projectors, pagers, pocket calculators, dot matrix printers, slide projectors, slide rules, and Walkman cassette music players.

I don’t think I’ve ever been afraid of changing technology unless it threatens human liberty, has a decidedly military purpose, or when the human operator has too much power to use the technology for harming the environment (e.g. the hydrogen bomb, biological weapons, nanotechnology, and mass surveillance/profiling ).

Change happens. Rather than purposely remaining ignorant of the purpose, application, and opportunities of emerging technology each of use needs to employ some critical analysis of technology acquired through experience.

I am an advocate for “appropriate technology.” The term means different things to different people, but I began to use and appreciate the concept just prior to the 1973 energy crisis when great thinkers such as Mahatma Gandhi reiterated that ‘technological development is not inherently synonymous with progress.’

My Father: Gerald C. Pauls


My enthusiasm for emerging technology was kindled primarily by three people. It began with my father who as a young man applied cutting edge technology to mass screen for tuberculosis (TB) in the Dakotas.  He was a survivor of TB having both resided and worked in radiology at the San Haven Tuberculosis Sanitarium near Dunseith, ND.  After meeting my mother, a nurse at the sanitarium, and subsequently marrying her, he moved on to operate one of the early mobile radiography and fluoroscopy (X-ray) trucks. In the 1950’s he traveled the cities and towns of rural farm economies of the Dakotas providing TB screening services for the state’s public health agency.

Leonardo da Vinci self-portraitLater in my young adulthood, I was inspired by the archetypal Renaissance man, artist, scientist, inventor, and genius: Leonardo da Vinci.

R. Buckminster Fuller Commemorative Postage Stamp

My enthusiasm for most things tech was moderated by da Vinci’s end-of-life regrets about inapproopriate technology he developed. I was also inspired by the works of R. Buckminster Fuller, whom I came to know briefly from his visits to Southern Illinois University (SIU) in Carbondale. He once lived there with his wife in a simple geodesic dome home of his own design. I was a graduate student at SIU at that time studying community computing networks. 

The vision and work of my father, Leonardo, Bucky, and those that came before me exploring appropriate technology have been the guideposts for my continuing career and passion for technology. The synergistic relationships among computing, shelter, and the environmental technology offer hope for the survival of man… if only we desire to experience and better understand.

Consider how much must society places in ancient writings about the human soul, although such a thing cannot be proven to exist, and yet consider how little we understand about the tangible things around us that are easy to observe.

Many people will probably accuse me of attempting to discredit men who are highly respected as being authorities in their field even though they have no science behind what they say. Many will refuse to acknowledge that my conclusions are instead drawn from real experience.

Only through experience can you know what is true or false, and this is why wise men take care to only make claims about things that can be observed. Nothing true can come from ignorance, and trying to uphold unproven claims only leads to despair.

I am well aware that because I did not study the ancients, some foolish men will accuse me of being uneducated. They will say that because I did not learn from their schoolbooks, I am unqualified to express an opinion. But I would reply that my conclusions are drawn from first-hand experience, unlike the scholars who only believe what they read in books written by others.

Although I cannot quote from authors in the same way they do, I shall rely on a much worthier thing, actual experience, which is the only thing that could ever have properly guided the men that they learn from.

These scholars strut around in a pompous way, without any thoughts of their own, equipped only with the thoughts of others, and they want to stop me from having my own thoughts. And if they despise me for being an inventor, then how much more should they be despised for not being inventors but followers and reciters of the works of others.

When the followers and reciters of the works of others are compared to those who are inventors and interpreters between Nature and man, it is as though they are non-existent mirror images of some original. Given that it is only by chance that we are invested with human form, I might think of them as being a herd of animals.

Those who try to censor knowledge do harm to both knowledge and love, because love is the offspring of knowledge, and the passion of love grows in proportion to the certainty of knowledge. The more we know about nature, the more we can be certain of what we know, and so the more love we can feel for nature as a whole.

Of what use are those who try to restrict what we know to only those things that are easy to comprehend, often because they themselves are not inclined to learn more about a particular subject, like the subject of the human body.

And yet they want to comprehend the mind of God, talking about it as though they had already dissected it into parts. Still they remain unaware of their own bodies, of the realities of their surroundings, and even unaware of their own stupidity.

Along with the scholars, they despise the mathematical sciences, which are the only true sources of information about those things which they claim to know so much about. Instead they talk about miracles and write about things that nobody could ever know, things that cannot be proven by any evidence in nature.

It seems to me that all studies are vain and full of errors unless they are based on experience and can be tested by experiment, in other words, they can be demonstrated to our senses. For if we are doubtful of what our senses perceive then how much more doubtful should we be of things that our senses cannot perceive, like the nature of God and the soul and other such things over which there are endless disputes and controversies.

Wherever there is no true science and no certainty of knowledge, there will be conflicting speculations and quarrels. However, whenever things are proven by scientific demonstration and known for certain, then all quarreling will cease. And if controversy should ever arise again, then our first conclusions must have been questionable.                  ~ Leonardo da Vinci

Bob Pauls writes for his company, Des Moines Tech Support, about appropriate technology and computers in business, education, and community development. You can follow Bob on Twitter @desmoinestech.  Bob’s e-mail address is bpauls@dsmtechsupport.com

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I often think about a man who had an insatiable curiosity about science and technology: Leonard DaVinci. He studied art, science, and technology until his death in 1519 at the age of 67. His stimulating occupations included that of an anatomist, musician, painter, sculptor, writer, architect, cartographer, scientist, mathematician, inventor, engineer, geologist, and botanist. It’s fortunate that the incredible traveling exhibit on Leonardo Da Vinci–The Genius is showing in Des Moines at the from October 2nd through January 16, 2011

“The noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding.”  — Leonardo da Vinci

What do you think Leonardo would be doing today if he were alive in 2010? Watching reality TV all day? I think not.

“A well spent day brings happy sleep, so life well used brings happy death. “   — Leonardo da Vinci

What would he think about computers, the Internet and all of its resources?  I think he’d marvel at the advancement in technology over the last 500 years, forewarn of its dangers, and ask what good resulted from it.

What do you think?


Bob Pauls writes for his company, Des Moines Tech Support, about appropriate technology and computers in business, education, and community development. You can follow Bob on Twitter @desmoinestech.  Bob’s e-mail address is bpauls@dsmtechsupport.com

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