Leonardo Da Vinci

Leonardo Da Vinci (1452-1519) lived in an age considered the pre-dawn hours of the scientific revolution. By 1700 AD the progression of European civilization had settled on the benefits of organizing the world from an engineering perspective – reconciling to the idea that the universe could be understood mechanistically. A byproduct of this consensus was the emergence of the false dichotomy of religion and science, classifying all things of a spiritual nature as “primitive beliefs”. The history of the science of the 20th Century is the story of the discovery of the limitations of this belief system, starting with Quantum Physics and ending with the observation of Dark Matter and Energy. Revisiting the perceptual frameworks of our pre-mechanistic ancestors educates us to the insight that they were more than cognitively lethargic primitive tribalists, having demonstrably acquired a vast body of generationally enhanced wisdom about the nature of the world. Da Vinci lived in this time and his artistic renderings open a window for us to glimpse into the wisdom of this pre-industrial era.

Before the mechanistic perspective really took hold with the work of Isaac Newton, the study of what makes animals move had broader horizons. Da Vinci’s research on this question of animal locomotion illustrates the difference in perspective between his time and the flourishing Scientific Revolution 200 years later. Anatomical research in the age of mechanization resolves human structure and function mechanically, with joints functioning with a hinge, ball or slide motion, and with muscles functioning with a linear actuation. Even now this is the standard framework for anatomical instruction. Although our scientific enterprise has greatly clarified anatomical structural/functional relationships, perhaps the larger picture of how it all gets put together has been obscured in the process. Da Vinci, unencumbered by the scientific literacy of future generations, applied his genius to the question of what makes animals move and addressed this question with insights that are vividly expressed through his illustrations. It is this writer’s opinion that these insights fill out our understanding of animal movement beyond the scope of a mechanistic model.

Leonardo Da Vinci was an archetypal polymath – both artist and engineer. His anatomical drawings are quite unique in their attempts to capture both the structure and range of functions of our bodies – to understand how our bodies move through dissection of their structure. Of course, this could be said of the anatomists that followed him. However, these anatomists were more focused on properly cataloging attributes of the body and their drawings have more the feel of a 2-dimensional technical diagram that excludes what the purpose of the structure is. Da Vinci did not divorce anatomical structures from their function and his talented drawings emphasis that these structures have a reason for being there – to enable movement. Enabling movement requires flexibility, stability, a means of activating a movement and a mechanism to translate that action into a specific motion. Da Vinci’s anatomical drawings encompass all of these criteria. Both the artist Da Vinci, and the engineer Da Vinci are present in his anatomical drawings, and his work is unique in documenting the expression of the principles of tensegrity in our bodies in the following ways:

1) Da Vinci perceived the action of muscles as fundamentally hydraulic. An increase in hydraulic pressure would result in muscle contraction, initiating flexion or extension of an articulation. This aligns well with the principles of tensegrity articulated on the website. We now know that this is at best overly simplified, but the pressure differentials in muscle tissue can be easily palpated.
2) The relationships between compressional and tensional elements are clearly visible (SEE BIOTENSEGRITY).
3) Illustrating functional elements from a three-dimensional perspective more accurately captures the idea of how they function. These elements do not act in the line or plane dimensions, but rather inside their volume. The paper on CONNECTIVE TISSUE discusses this attribute of Fasciae. It is extremely rare to see anatomical illustrations drawn from an understanding that the biological system fully utilizes its space.

This writer highly recommends spending time studying Da Vinci’s anatomical drawings as they elucidate the principles of Biotensegrity in how animals move. Before the emergence of three-dimensional anatomical software, Da Vinci’s drawings were the closest instructional aid this writer had for learning about the true nature of animal movement dynamics. However, Da Vinci’s insight and talent expressed through these illustrations inform in a way 3-D anatomical software or even dissection do not, and they are a gift for anyone wishing to gain clarity about what makes animals move.

A recent publication of Da Vinci’s anatomical explorations is highly recommended as an addition to any Manual Therapist’s library, as these drawings illuminate the dynamic attributes of our form and function.

Martin Clayton / Ron Philo