When wireless is perfectly applied the whole earth will be converted into a huge brain, which in fact it is, all things being particles of a real and rhythmic whole. We shall be able to communicate with one another instantly, irrespective of distance. Not only this, but through television and telephony we shall see and hear one another as perfectly as though we were face to face, despite intervening distances of thousands of miles; and the instruments through which we shall be able to do his will be amazingly simple compared with our present telephone. A man will be able to carry one in his vest pocket. – Nikola Tesla on January 30, 1926
It’s a damn shame more people know about the car company Tesla than the inventor Tesla. Nikola Tesla is one of the most fascinating and peculiar individuals I have had the pleasure of reading about. But I won’t try to summarize his entire life in a blog post. You should read his autobiography, My Inventions and Other Writings or Wizard: The Life and Times of Nikola Tesla by Mark Seifer.
Instead I will attempt to highlight his brilliance, peculiarities, and wisdom.
Nikola Tesla’s parents were determined he enter the clergy, eventually they backpedaled and allowed him to pursue engineering. He decided to surprise them, “and during the whole first year I regularly started my work at three o’clock in the morning and continued until eleven at night, no Sundays or holidays excepted. As most of my fellow-students took things easily, naturally enough I eclipsed all records.” (p.36)
Ignorance Is Not Bliss
“There can be no doubt that, of all the frictional resistances, the one that most retards human movements is ignorance. Not without reason said that man of reason, Buddha: “Ignorance is the greatest evil in the world.” The friction which results from ignorance, which is greatly increased owing to the numerous languages and nationalities, can be reduced only by the spread of knowledge and the unification of the heterogeneous elements of humanity. No effort could be better spent.” (p.115)
How Tesla’s Mind Recuperates
This is a common thread of great men. They often work on a problem constantly and then seem to abandon it, only for the answer to miraculously appear months later.
“When I am all but used up I simply do as the darkies, who ‘naturally fall asleep while white folks worry.’ To venture a theory out of my sphere – the body probably accumulates little by little a definite quantity of some toxic agent and I sink into a lethargic state which lasts half an hour to the minute. Upon awakening I have the sensation as though the events immediately preceding had occurred very long ago, and if I attempt to continue the interrupted train of thought I feel a veritable mental nausea. Involuntarily I then turn to other work and am surprised by the freshness of the mind and ease with which I overcome obstacles that had baffled me before. After weeks or months my passion for the temporarily abandoned inventions return and I invariably find answers to all the vexing questions with scarcely any effort.”(p. 69-70)
Tesla was blessed with natural curiosity and incredible interest. His mother, her father and grandfather were all inventors. It seems like destiny that Nikola Tesla would be an inventor.
“My mother descended from one of the oldest families in the country and a line of inventors. Both her father and grandfather originated numerous implements for household, agriculture and other uses.” (p.8)
Superhuman Powers of Visualization
Nikola Tesla’s ability to visualize is incredible, verging on unbelievable. You need to remember he is 1 in a billion or 1 in 10 billion in intelligence. It is not fair to compare his abilities to ordinary humans. This quote will bring out people’s inner skeptic.
“I do not rush into actual work. When I get an idea I start at once building it up in my imagination. I change the construction, make improvements and operate the device in my mind. It is absolutely immaterial to me whether I run my turbine in thought or test it in my shop. I even note if it is out of balance.” (p.10)
Tesla was an avid Reader
How could he learn so much without reading? A natural curiosity drove Tesla to read a lot. Without an insatiable natural curiosity he never could have been a successful inventor, the foundation of book knowledge allowed him to execute.
“Of all things I liked books the best. My father had a large library and whenever I could manage I tried to satisfy my passion for reading. He did not permit it and would fly into a rage when he caught me in the act.” (p.14)
The Importance of Introspection
Nikola Tesla’s childhood pain led him to adapt to life differently. He needed to live a differently life than most people due to his sensitivity to stimulus. He had to adapt his lifestyle to maintain his work ethic and brilliance.
“From childhood I was compelled to concentrate attention upon myself. This caused me such suffering but, to my present view, it was a blessing in disguise for it taught me to appreciate the inestimable value of introspection in the preservation of life, as well as a means of achievement. The pressure of occupation and the incessant stream of impressions pouring into our consciousness thru all the gateways of knowledge make our modern existence hazardous in many ways.” (p.19)
To me, this screams an extremely routine life. Tesla knew how much to eat, how much to exert himself – this led him to maintain the same weight his whole life. He never went through periods lacking discipline or overeating.
“Friends of mine often remark that my suits fit me like gloves but they do not know that all my clothing is made to measurements which were taken nearly 35 years ago and never changed. During this same period my weight has not varied one pound.” (p.21)
My Inventions and Other Writings by Nikola Tesla