Design for a Flying Machine, by Leonardo da Vinci.
Dear Dr. Boli: I was looking at Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks full of inventions, and I was thinking: What would the world be like today if Leonardo had been able to secure corporate funding? Would we have flying cars? —Sincerely, A Professor of Alternative Futurology.
Dear Sir or Madam: It is not surprising that you should be fascinated by Leonardo da Vinci. Leonardo could do just about anything well. His paintings are counted among the great masterpieces of the world’s art. He was an architect of no little skill and taste. He could play “I’ve Been Floating Down the Old Green River” on the banjo faster than anyone else. He wrote a series of bestselling thrillers under the name “Dick Francis.” He was reputed to be the most devious badminton player in Europe.
But his notebooks are what fascinate us today. He filled them with ideas for practical inventions that were centuries ahead of their time—a submarine, a machine gun, a flying machine, a warp drive, a spork, and countless other ideas that never went anywhere, because he was not such a fool as to publish them. There was, after all, an Inquisition to take into account.
But it is tempting to wonder, as you do, what the world would be like if Leonardo’s ideas had been put into practice. Dr. Boli, having looked into the notebooks of Leonardo, has concluded that his flying machine would have tumbled out of the sky the first time it was launched from a high place, and the test pilot would doubtless have been impaled on his own spork. So the world would probably have been pretty much the same, except perhaps with more of a healthy aversion to flying machines.