Do you know anyone who is dyslexic? How about Jamie Oliver, Steven Spielberg, Richard Branson? All successful people, and all able to defy what many perceive as a handicap, but which is really just a state of mind, and sometimes an advantageous one.
It was around the middle of his life that Leonardo’s work on optics became more intense. The dissections he had the liberty to perform during his time in Milan, beyond the reach of the Cardinals of Florence and Rome, would have taught Leonardo many things, but the mysteries of the eye and how it worked would have been hard to decipher without a microscope. He could certainly sketch the nerve and the visible construct of the eye, which he did, but it didn’t really tell him how the eye actually saw. It didn’t tell him the secret of sight.
Why did it matter? Well, Leonardo was not the kind of man who liked being beaten. He had acquired, over the years, a reputation for leaving certain things, such as painting commissions, unfinished, but that was probably because something more important came into his head and he was drawn away to explore that. What he could do did not really interest him that much; it was those things he couldn’t understand that captured his attention.
There is something else too. It is really only pure speculation, but it’s worth mentioning because it does seem to fit the general picture. It was possible that Leonardo was slightly dyslexic. He was a leftie, but he also had the kind of mind that often marks out dyslexic people from their peers. When you look at the sketches he made, and particularly in later life, they are breathtakingly complex and detailed, almost to the point of obsession. His ability for spatial reasoning, a known trait of the dyslexic mind, was obviously strong, and his ability to find patterns and meaning where others did not was the catalyst for many of his discoveries.
We know that he made magic lanterns, image flicking devices a little like early moving pictures. We know he devised a camera obscura, an early device that mimicked the way the eye sees. If he were dyslexic, he would also have seen things a little differently from other people. His peripheral vision, or indirect vision, for instance, would have been above the average. All in all, he might have been his own best experiment. Perhaps he wrote what he discovered? We can only suspect that he did. There is no evidence to prove that a treatise on optics had been compiled, but much of Leonardo’s work was dispersed and lost after his death. Perhaps such a codex on optics was compiled and lost, perhaps it was never even written. After all, as any dyslexic will tell you, if you can’t write it, draw it.