my invention

Review :

I didn't think it was possible for me to love Tesla more than I already had. After reading his thoughts in his own words, I feel that, in some way, I know him now and certainly love him all the more for every page.

My favorite part of the book was Tesla's ranting about the wireless. Its potential was so clear to him. Freeing ourselves from wires, and harnessing the waves in the air around us, would not only lead to advances in technology that were at that time unimaginable, but for Tesla, wireless meant that we could finally connect everyone in the world. According to Tesla, wires meant we could only connect to our small area (unless we went to great pains to bury wires under the ocean floor, which we did-- and still it had constraints), but wireless means we can connect to anyone, anywhere in the world. If we can connect so readily to other cultures, Tesla reasoned, then we can understand other cultures. Once we understand and stop subscribing to ingroup and outgroup thinking, we can finally attain peace. Tesla suggested, as do many people in our current day, that when anyone in any part of the country can connect to any other part of the country and gain knowledge from that, the weakest groups will gain power and not be dependent on the powerful as much as they are now. He saw not only an end to wires but an end to ignorance and war.

In reading this, I felt as if I really understood the mind of Tesla. What it all boiled down to was always solving the distance problem. What I mean by that is that in figuring out AC (to replace DC) and in trying to figure out wireless, Tesla overcame the constraints caused by physical wires that are held in place, constrained to one physical area. In the case of DC (Edison, in his limited vision, was a fan of direct current) every house was required to have their own generator because DC will only travel so far. When AC came along, cities could have one generator that supplies the multitudes of houses (like we have now in our society). Wires, whether vertical or buried under ground, are limited to where the physical wires are. With wireless, the signal can be sent to far more tethering spots (towers or even smartphones and tablets in every home!). In each case, the signal can reach far beyond a wire, solving the distance problem.

Sadly, Tesla could not develop the wireless in the way he wanted to. It was too new of an idea and even the experts, according to Tesla, could not see its value. This caused him great anguish.

Other parts of the book were more amusing to me than profound. Early in the book I had to laugh hardily because I had just finished reading another author's take on his nervous breakdown and then I read Tesla's own take on it. It seems to me that inventing is similar to childbirth not only in that the inventor brings something new into the world, but also because there can be amnesia for the pain of the birthing process. It is often said, and I believe it to be true, that many women only have more than one child because they selectively forget the negative aspects of pregnancy and child birth and magnify their memories of the positive aspects.

After reading Tesla's description of his life, I was dumbfounded. The reality is that Tesla had a mental breakdown following his work on attempting to invent the wireless telephone*, in the 1800s no less. The breakdown was so severe, Tesla was in bed for months and suffered complete amnesia for the entirety of his past, including the knowledge of how to invent anything at all. Yet looking back in his autobiography, Tesla wrote that even though many people who work have to sacrifice their life-energy, he had never had to make such sacrifices, stating, "On the contrary, I have thrived on my thoughts."

It seems his amnesia was not just limited to those months in bed. He had selective amnesia for what seems to be the remainder of his life. He loved his inventions, and the inventing process, so much that he magnified the positive aspects, feeling a swelling of involuntary love, while seeming to completely forget the absolute torment it caused him at times.

I had heard about Tesla's visions and delusions but hadn't appreciated them fully until hearing his own take. He said the people he imagined were as real to him as any real person. People portray him as non-social. It seems he was very social, with the envisioned people who visited him regularly. He made it extremely clear though, that he understood full well that the visions of people and things were not real. He held disdain for those who believed in the paranormal, which I found so interesting considering the fact that he had constant visions. I am still trying to understand how he could have such a firm grip on reality. One funny story he related about psychics goes as follows. Men in powerful positions from the ford company came to visit him. They told him how impressed they were that everything he had predicted had come true. He was elated and wondered if they were there to talk about his inventions, invest in them, or even use his turbine engines in their cars. Alas, when asked how he could be of assistance, they said they were starting a psychological society that focused on psychic phenomenon and said he would be an extremely valuable asset to them. He said, "These gentlemen never knew how close they were to being fired out of my office!"

It seems as though he spent his life trying to control his visions. He said he controlled most visions but could never control the bright light and fire visions he had. Those sounded like seizures to me. He also said he could simply visualize equations. It seems far more than merely possible that Tesla had synesthesia. The neurons in brain seems to have been not only hyper connected, as is the case in synesthesia, but connected in such a way that it caused high output but then short circuiting, causing a seizure. How I wish his brain were around to study.


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