The Art of Perspective: Lessons from Da Vinci and Alexander the Great

We are all biased. Our experiences throughout life, our loves, triumphs, defeats, childhoods, mentors, etc. have an effect on our thoughts and personalities. Not to mention our personal biologies. 

The point is experiences and our own biology make it difficult to notice our blind spots.

We all have weaknesses, but are we aware of them?

Our brains automatically categorize new information if it matches our internal beliefs. Otherwise, our brains dismiss the info. See cognitive dissonance.

How do we get out of this mindset?

Granted, for many deep-rooted beliefs its impossible. (Unless a life-altering event takes place).

But we can make a conscious effort to open up and empathize with new beliefs. We can climb the watchtower, look down and view our weaknesses, beliefs, etc. Then push them aside, understand where we’re coming from and how it might differ from reality.

We can also ask mentors, friends, family to get second opinions or to have a better understanding of your strengths and weaknesses.

When we take this bird-eye view, we’re able to open up, realize our mistakes, and accept new ideas.

The greatest minds throughout history were open to new ideas.

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Leonardo Da Vinci

A curious mind

Leonardo Da Vinci’s curious mind propelled his monumental legacy. His curiosity about physics, human anatomy (he dissected bodies for research), plays, body language, angles of light, etc. Informed his work. With the Last Supper he put his love of plays into adding drama to the composition. He used light and perspective to highlight the important figures seated in the scene. With the Mona Lisa, he studied facial expressions and captured the most captivating smile ever depicted. By studying birds he designed flying machines, that if built actually had a chance of flying.

“Principles for the Development of a Complete Mind: Study the science of art. Study the art of science. Develop your senses- especially learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else.” - Leonardo da Vinci

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Alexander the Great

A cautionary tale

Alexander the Great conquered the Ancient World. His teacher growing up was the famous philosopher Aristotle. Aristotle instilled in Alexander the importance of being a life-long learner. Alexander’s army succeeded on rocky shorelines, desert terrains, crossing mountains, crossing rivers, etc. He was able to adapt to different terrains, because he rethought the Greek/Macedonian tactics he grew up with. He listened to the people he conquered and employed the greatest minds from the conquered lands. He adapted his tactics to match his enemy’s fighting style.

But like many leaders corrupted by power, he stopped listening to his advisors. (Looking at you Napoleon.) His megalomania got the best of him. He refused to accept his soldiers’ low morale. After spending years away from Macedonia, they wanted to return to their families. For years, he believed he was divine. He visited Oracles in Egypt to reinforce these beliefs. But the farther he ventured into the Asian continent, the more his megalomania consumed him. He dressed as a Persian god, upsetting his soldiers who spent months fighting against the Persians. Assassination plots were devised. During an infamous episode, Alexander plunged a spear through Cleitus the Black, a man that saved his life and became Alexander’s close friend. Cleitus the Black confronted Alexander about Alexander’s judgmental errors and ambivalence towards the soldiers’ morale. He paid the price.

After his soldiers were trampled by war elephants in India, Alexander’s army revolted. He finally listened to them and they went back to Persia. He died at the age of 32. Sources say it was either from sickness or an assassin’s poison.

To be successful in life we must try to keep an open mind, surround ourselves with colleagues and friends with different beliefs. We can’t surround ourselves with yes men and like Leonardo Da Vinci says “The greatest deception men suffer is from their own opinions.”