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Sophistical Devices: Leonardo da Vinci's Investigations of Perpetual Motion

Benjamin B. Olshin
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Vol. 15 (2009), pp. 1-39
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/23787091
Page Count: 39
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Sophistical Devices: Leonardo da Vinci's Investigations of Perpetual Motion
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Abstract

Although the engineering drawings of Leonardo da Vinci are well known, they are not necessarily well understood. Leonardo used the pages of his notebooks as a method of "visual thinking," to investigate and work out problems in everything from mechanics to hydraulics. Leonardo used this same method to investigate the possibility — or impossibility — of perpetual motion. In many of the folio pages, we find pictures and text dealing with a range of designs for perpetual motion machines powered by weights or water. This paper examines Leonardo's investigations of the belief in perpetual motion, a belief that already had a long history by the time he began his studies. In addition, this paper allows us to recreate a typology of his renderings of different kinds of perpetual motion machines — that is, a classification scheme according to the various mechanical elements that he posited or analyzed, and motive forces employed. Finally, this paper reveals that Leonardo carried out his investigations in a detailed and systematic, if at times episodic, manner over a period of years. It also argues that he used his folio drawings to both depict perpetual motion devices and to articulate the problems and impossibilities that such schemes presented.

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