Engineering and Leonardo da Vinci

“The Practice of Engineering”

Leonardo [da Vinci] took an artist’s vision into science. He understood that science, as much as painting, has to find the design of nature in her detail. He gave science what was (and is!) most needed: The artist’s sense that the detail of nature is significant.
—Jacob Bronowski [adapted]

Problems can’t be solved at the same level of consciousness that created them.
—Albert Einstein [adapted]

We’re struggling to draw right conclusions from observation of matter in motion, because we haven’t yet acquired the ability to translate dynamic effect back to true cause.
—Jeff Tennant [adapted]

The pursuit of beauty and the pursuit of truth are not incompatible.
—George Sarton [adapted]

It’s been said that an engineer is one who seeks to solve a problem by tinkering with science to produce a functionally efficient solution, be it the harnessing of geothermal energy from thousands of feet below the earth’s surface to the placing of a human being on the moon. As engineers, we must first and foremost do well to observe the many natural phenomena and corresponding scientific explanations that inform our technical expertise. But as human beings, our observations should never end there. A sunset can be described mathematically, but does such a description capture the essence of a sunset?

To observe and perceive things rightly, we must ask questions, listen, look, dream, and then ask more questions. We must draw from both the scientist and the artist within us… from the mathematician and the poet… from the pragmatist and the visionary. For then—and only then—will our faculties and senses work together synergistically to observe the world around us more completely. Without such observations, we’ll never see the problems we encounter correctly or in the right context, nor will we conceive of real and lasting solutions that harmonize naturally with our environment.

The practice of engineering is and must be a conscious blending of both art and science; and its principles must be exercised in the context of an entire system, where all elements are part of One Unified Whole, including the principles and practices themselves. Anything less is beneath us as human beings created in the Image of a creating God.

“The Inventor’s Realization Loop (IRL)”

Every problem that’s ever been “solved” by humankind has not, in fact, been truly or completely solved. In a sense, all problems—even those thought to have been solved—remain, largely, unsolved. The energies of (and keys to) inventiveness are found in cycling through the Inventor’s Realization Loop (IRL)—continually and continuously, without end. The IRL feeds upon itself as the inventor cycles through the following four realizations:

1/The firm (and humiliating) realization that every solution (to either a discrete problem or a set or series of problems) devised to date is flawed and almost wholly inadequate.

2/The firm (and, again, humiliating) realization that every solution devised to date is, in many ways, destructive to humankind and to the whole of the created order. While it may partially solve a problem or two, it, most likely, creates a myriad of collateral—and often hidden—death-nail problems.

3/The firm (and, yes, humiliating) realization that every solution devised to date hides within it the seeds of a better, more holistically-complete solution.


4/The firm (and, again, humiliating) realization that, once you harvest said seeds, plant them, water them, and then sprout them, you’re not done. You must, yet again, cycle through the IRL—and do so over and over and over again. While you may, at different points in time, abandon your quest, Realization 4 reminds you, like a splinter in your mind, that you’re not done. Laying something down for a while is not the same thing as finishing it. As such, the inventor’s work is never done. To stay in the hunt, the chase, the game, both humility and persistence must be embodied.

A Practicer of the Practice of Everything will, with great abandon, run toward mistakes and seek to make as many of them as quickly as possible. Why? Because he’s [or she’s] learned the value of a mistake and of what it can teach him—IF HE’LL LET IT.

Discovery consists of seeing what everyone else has seen and yet thinking what no one else has thought.
—Albert Imre Szent-Györgyi


Generally, there are three kinds of creators:

1/Sunbirds: Those that transport solutions that work in one arena and apply them to another, often with a twist.

2/Architects: Those that recognize openings and find what’s missing. They spot problems and design new products and services to satisfy unfilled needs.


3/Integrators: Those that meld existing concepts to combine disparate approaches to build blended outcomes.
—Amy Wilkinson [from The Creator’s Code]