12 May, 2021

A Different River Every Time

What is ‘smart’ and how does it fit our consciousness? Is there just one way to it? Are smarter people happier, richer? The answers may not always be that obvious.

Illustration by Sorit
A Different River Every Time

In 1994, Bill Gates, surely one of the smartest men on the planet, spent $30.8 million to acquire what was essentially a loose sheaf of papers scrawled densely all over in mirror  image writing—a haphazard mixture of stray thoughts, speculations, observations and theories on topics ranging from astronomy, the nature of light, why fossils are sometimes found on tops of mountains, and why the moon shines at night. These 18 pages, each folded in half and written on both sides—formed a 72-page document which Gates has said he turns to often for inspiration. They form the Codex Leicester (named after the Earl of Leicester, one-time owner of the papers), an idea diary maintained by Leonardo da Vinci, one of the smartest men who ever lived.

The 500-year journey of the Codex Leicester from Da Vinci to Gates is also somehow emblematic of the sheer width of what we consider and acknowledge as ‘smart’. Da Vinci was the ultimate polymath: painter, sculptor, architect, musician, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist,...

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