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Excerpts from Leonardo da Vinci, The Codex Leicester

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) was a multi-talented Italian scholar who gave meaning to the term Renaissance man. He was a painter, architect, mathematician, inventor, engineer, and more. The Codex Leicester is one of da Vincis 30 scientific journals and takes the form of 18 sheets of paper, folded in half with writing on both sides 72 pages of writing in total. The Codex is named for the Earl of Leicester, Thomas Coke, who acquired it in 1717. In the Codex, da Vinci notes his observations about astronomy, the movement of water, light, fossils, and geologic formations. The creative thinking process of a scientist is on display as da Vinci argues, probes, and accumulates information on which to base claims. Here are translated excerpts of the Codex that provide a look at da Vincis experiments and observations. Note: Headings have been inserted by the editors.

Observing light and waves

Here it is demonstrated how the moon, not having any light of its own but the light which it takes from the sun, could not take nor reflect it if it had not a dense and lustrous surface like surfaces of mirrors and liquids; but were it of the nature of dense and lustrous mirror, it would give us only part of all the light, as if the eye which looks at it were situated in the point a, and such a thing would make very small light. But if its lustre originates from a liquid body, the reflected rays would not lose their character nor their great brightness; but if it is wavy, as we see for ourselves happening in the marine waters, then the brightness will convey itself to each single wave on its own account, and then all together will cause a great quantity of brightness, but not so powerfully as originally, on account of the shady parts that the waves possess. (Codex Leicester, Folio 1 R)
Leonardo argues that the Moon appears illuminated to humans because the water on its surface reflects the Suns light. This is an example of Leonardo using reason and geometry based on Ptolemys view of the Universe but drawing false conclusions. What were the conclusions da Vinci reached? If you were to hold a mirror to the Moon or look at the Moons reflection on the ocean or lake, what do you notice? What if you held a mirror to a candle or a light in your house. Do you and da Vinci agree?



Shells in the mountains






If you will say that the shells, which are visible in our times within the borders of Italy, far from the seas, at such a great height, were caused by the Deluge, which left them there, I reply that if you believe that the Deluge was 7 cubits higher than the highest mountain, as he who measured it wrote, these shells, which always reside near to the sea shores, ought to remain on those mountains, and not so low as the feet of the mountains, every one at the same height, stratum by stratum. And if you will say that these shells are inclined to stay near the sea shores, and that, as the water rises at such a height, the shells depart from their first location and follow the increase of the waters up to their greatest height, here it is replied that, since the shell, an animal, has no faster motion than the land snail when it is out of the water, it will be even slower, since it does not swim but rather it makes a furrow in the sand and by means of the sides of this furrow, on which it leans, it will walk between 3 to 4 braccia a day; thus, with this motion, it could not walk from the Adriatic Sea to the Monferrato in Lombardy, which is a distance of 250 miles, in 40 days, as he, who kept a calculation of this time, said. And if you say that the waves carried the shells there, because of their weight they cannot be supported except on the sea bed; and if you do not grant me this, at least acknowledge that they had to remain on the tops of the highest mountains, and in the lakes that are shut among the mountains, such as the lake of Lario, and the Maggiore and of Como, and of Fiesole, and of Perugia and similar. (Codex Leicester, Folio 8 V)

da Vinci refers to the Deluge, the flood referenced in the Bible and responsible for making Noah and his ark famous. The writing he references is believed to be the Bible. Which scientists in big history would concur with da Vincis finding that shells in the Italian mountains were indications of the Earths great shifts over long periods? Against what paradigm in geology is da Vinci arguing against? A. Uniformitarianism B. Plate tectonics C. Vulcanism D. Catastrophism da Vinci based his conclusions about the origin of marine fossils on which of these claim testers? A. Intuition B. Reason and logic C. Evidence and observation D. Authority



Underground water and a moving Earth

The heat of the fire burning within the center of the earth warms the waters which are enclosed within the great caverns and other concavities; and this heat causes the aforesaid waters to be warmed and evaporated, and they raise themselves up to the roofs of the aforesaid concavities, and penetrate through the fissures of the mountains, up to their greatest heights, where, as it finds the cold, it suddenly changes back into water, as it is seen happen in the still, and it falls down and forms the beginning of the rivers, which are subsequently seen descending from there. But when great coldness pushes back the heat toward the center of the world, this heat becomes more powerful and gives rise to greater evaporation of the aforesaid waters; and these evaporations, heating the caverns in which they circulate, cannot produce the waters as they used to, as it is seen in the making of aqua vitae, for if the passage for the evaporation of wine did not pass through cool water, the said evaporation would never change into aqua vitae, but would return and finally it would condense to such an extent that it would break every obstacle. We will say the same of water heated in the bowels of the earth, which not finding in its passage places of such coolness as are adapted for it, does not form itself into water as it did before, but it condenses and congeals like the fire multiplied and condensed within a bombard, which makes itself harder and more powerful than the matter that receives it, and so, unless it has a sudden exhalation, it immediately proceeds to break and destroy that which opposes its growth; so does the aforesaid evaporation of water, and it bursts within the bowels of the earth in different places, revolving and rumbling with great tumult; it finally reaches the surface of the earth, which with a great earthquake shakes the regions and often ruins the mountains and collapses the cities and intervening lands in various parts, and it emerges with great wind through the breaks previously made in the earth; and so, by this exhalation, it consumes its own power. (Codex Leicester, Folio 28 R) da Vinci, Leonardo. The Codex Leicester, 2011 KL Translation (Martin Kemp and Domenico Laurenza)
da Vinci speculates about the forces responsible for the formation of mountains. His explanation invokes the heating and cooling of water in a way that suggests convection, the process which scientist do believe is responsible for the movement of the plates of the Earth. His idea that water in the Earths interior is a driver of this process is incorrect. Does being incorrect limit the value of da Vincis theory?