Forgive me for a moment while I bash a hole in the fourth wall and violate the first rule of snarky inside references and actually explain the title of this particular post.
There’s a company that advertises on a number of radio stations that I will hypothetically call "Lenox Financial", since that is their actual name. As part of their pitch to sell mortgages, they suggest that choosing their offerings, coming as they do without up-front closing costs, is, and I quote: "The biggest no-brainer in the history of earth." Now, I love a good bit of hyperbole every bit as much as a billion-trillion other guys, but does refinancing a mortgage with no (and by "no" they really mean "deferred") closing costs really rank higher than food, shelter, heat, and procreation in the pantheon of the absurdly obvious?
Bad jokes, like so many things, just get funnier the more laboriously you explain them. Right?
Now that we have that out of the way, what exactly is a "Double-Brainer’, other than a friendly nod to my old pal Uumellmahaye? Well, I’ll come to that before long, so read on, or don’t.
A couple of weeks ago, I had the welcome privilege of speaking at Seattle’s Museum of Flight, as part of an event that Microsoft cosponsored in conjunction with the Museum’s sadly temporary exhibit celebrating the inventions of Leonardo da Vinci. I opened the talk by convincing my audience of my expertise on the subject by casually using terms like "codex Madrid", and explaining that Leonardo da Vinci is Italian for "Leonardo of Vinci." After that, I went on to make two main points. Actually, I made three, since I always make three, but I only remember two, and I’m really only interested in discussing one here.
Da Vinci was the archetypal Uomo Universale (literally, the Universal Man), or Renaissance Man, defined as one who tried to embrace all knowledge. Renaissance Men, like da Vinci, were artists and engineers, poets and scientists. In other words, they made equal use of their creative right-brains as well as their logical left-brains. And, of course, no Renaissance Man ever paid closing costs on a mortgage.
Da Vinci, of course, was a painter, an engineer, a sculptor, a scientist, and a writer. And, perhaps most importantly, he wanted to fly. One of his most famous quotes, in fact, is about flying:
For once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return.
As I see it, da Vinci’s right brain wanted to go, and he knew that his left brain could be the thing that got him there. Tragically, he was a few centuries too early, but his surviving sketches prove that he had a number of the right ideas. He showed a lot of interest in human-powered ornithopters which have yet to be proven feasible, but most of his designs show excellent proportion, and basic structural methods – like wood ribs and fabric covering, for example – that proved to be key when pioneers like Lilienthal and the Wright Brothers really figured things out some four hundred years later.
It occurred to me some time ago that one of the things I love most about flying is the fact that it does appeal to both sides of the brain. The physics, the engineering, the constant flow of input-analysis-decision-response, the delightful minutiae of detail all keep the left brain ticking along with ruthless contentment. The right brain, on the other hand, err, other brain, is free to enjoy the view, to wax poetic (probably badly poetic) about the shift in perspective, to feel the thrill of aerobatics, or the quiet and gentle finesse of a perfect three-point on a grassy meadow in an airplane old enough to be a grandparent.
So, are all pilots "double-brainers"? No, apparently not. Richard Bach, in his classic collection of stories A Gift of Wings, published a piece entitled "Aviation or Flying? Take Your Pick". In it, he speaks of the aviator as someone who wants their airplane to be fast, comfortable, and efficient – a rational and sensible tool for transportation. A flyer, however, is interested in the sky itself, and the airplane that gets them there. At least loosely speaking, the aviator has left-brain motivations, while the flier’s interests are predominantly right-brained.
I’ve known a number of pilots of both stripes. For example, I met a U.S. Naval aviator who flew F-18 Hornets and then, when he retired, never gave flying or airplanes another thought, because he knew he’d never fly anything that fast again. And I’ve known a number of ultralight pilots, for example, over the years who live only to go up and then come back down.
But the pilots that I’ve admired most have always been a bit of both. My father, who flew airliners with Vulcanesque logic and efficiency for more then 30,000 hours, is also a painter, and possesses a sense of humor that is so painfully awful that it has to be indicative of some kind of creative genius. My temporal alter-ego and dear friend, the writer, budding computer geek, and amateur student of brain chemistry who flies antique biplanes with supernatural finesse. My honorary sister, the actress, writer and dancer who is rebuilding her own several-decade-old airplane for a solo flight across Canada. My dear friend the champion gymnast turned gifted sculptor who retraced his famous grandfather’s footsteps across the Atlantic 75 years after the fact. My friend the astronaut with more than 5,000 hours in space who is now restoring a 1946 Ercoupe that will fly just about exactly 175 times slower than the space shuttle, at altitudes measured in feet rather than miles. A software engineer, airline pilot, and flight instructor who can return anything, and I do mean anything, to Circuit City for a full refund, and convince them that he’s their best customer in the process. (Trust me – this is an art.)
As it happens, some of my favorite double-brainers aren’t even pilots, or not exactly, though they’d all make good ones. The philosopher and writer who is also a software expert and test scientist. The guitar-playing book-collecting chemical engineer who does PR for video games. The historian toy collector who is a Major in the Army, and his brother, the video engineer who writes music and strange answering machine messages and never met a sequitur he didn’t loathe. The list, like my writing, goes on and on.
In a broader sense, all I need to do is walk the halls at work to find more examples – a visually lush and ridiculously complex product like Flight Simulator needs developers, engineers, artists, writers, designers, and testers, and there’s a lot more crossover in all of those professions than people realize.
Thankfully, while no one in my world would claim to be a da Vinci, and only a few would even admit to reading The Da Vinci Code, there are a number of double-brainers in my world. It’s nicely irrelevant that some of them are women, too – I don’t particularly care for the sound of "Renaissance Person", but Populus Universale has a nice ring to it. Maybe I’ll make some shirts. Whatever I call them, if anything at all, I’m lucky, as there are few things I enjoy in life more than a great conversation with someone whose mind refuses to stick to one side or the other, and prefers to hop all over the map.
As for me, do I consider myself a Renaissance Man? While I’ve been labeled as such once or twice, and I enjoyed it rather more than I cared to admit, the method to this branch of my madness is far simpler. Frankly, I’m just one who uses his myriad interests to try to stay at least three steps ahead of anyone who actually expects me to be good at something.
And I paid closing costs on my last mortgage, I’m sure of it.