Serbian inventor Nikola Tesla, father of many inventions that would define the modern electronic era, was perhaps best known for his relentless probing of all things electrical and capable of being machined. In his lifetime, he exhibited a masterful ability to wield raw electricity, earning him nicknames that include The Father of Physics, The man who invented the twentieth century, the patron saint of modern electricity, and the master of lightning. But of all the strange energies Tesla was able to harness, a few seemed to have less to do with his mastery of electricity and things physical in nature; at various times in his life, Tesla described otherworldly forces that seemed to act on him, often bringing inspiration from serendipitous meetings and almost ghostly events.
Tesla described that throughout his life he often experienced detailed moments of inspiration. In his autobiography, he related how as a youth he had been stricken with a dangerous illness in which a peculiar afflictionblinding flashes of light that triggered bizarre hallucinations would appear before his eyes. Often, the visions were linked to specific words, or perhaps ideas he might have stumbled across, and it is known that Tesla also described frequent flashbacks to events that had happened previously in his life. With his unusual ability to perform instant recall of objects and events, it is said that by merely uttering the name of an item Tesla could involuntarily envision it in realistic detail. Similarly, Tesla would create his inventions mentally through visualization in precise form before physically constructing them; a technique some today would call picture thinking. It is noteworthy that some of these characteristics bear resemblance to symptoms of those diagnosed with synesthesia, a neurological condition where stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway (for example, perceiving certain images might create in the synesthete an association with a particular odor, which they will claim to be able to smell).
Tesla also used his unusual cognitive abilities to memorize long passages of the many works he enjoyed, supposedly memorizing entire books with is uncanny photographic memory. One of his favorite writers was Mark Twain, whom he would later befriend and host many visits with at his laboratory at 35 South Fifth avenue in the late 1890s. Tesla even went so far as to credit Twain with his recovery of his early illnesses, stating that he found the writers early novels so captivating as to make me utterly forget my hopeless state. Half a century after his illnesses had passed, the two met for the first time in New York, at which time Tesla shared the story of his recovery with Twain, recounting his amazement at seeing the great man of laughter burst into tears.
ABOVE: Mark Twain with Nikola Tesla in his lab.
Twain and Tesla would remain lifelong friends, and some even credit Twain with encouraging the scientist to conjure some of his most famous inventions (which, ironically, were never built). Among these might have been Teslas infamous death-ray, a proposed super-weapon which was never completed in his lifetime. Twain had prescribed to the notion that wars might cease when weapons became too horrible to contemplate, and along these lines Tesla sometimes referred to the proposed weapon as a peace ray. Tesla worked on plans for such a weapon from the early 1900s until his death in 1943. In 1937, Tesla published a treatise called The Art of Projecting Concentrated Non-dispersive Energy through the Natural Media which dealt with the implementation of charged particle beams. Indeed, Tesla said his reason for publishing the document had been an attempt to expound on the technical description of a superweapon that would put an end to all war.
Among the other space-age devices Tesla had proposedbut never builtincluded his flying machine, which by all accounts seemed to be a sort of ion-propelled aircraft. An interesting point about the designs Tesla had proposed for this craft included its shape, which Tesla said would be either one of two forms: a cigar-shape, or a saucer, both of which ironically became common shapes of reported UFO craft in years that would follow. Of course, the saucer-shaped craft is arguably the most famous of all alleged UFOs, though the notion of a flying saucer wouldnt emerge into the public consciousness until years later in 1947, when Kenneth Arnold had his famous sighting over the Mount Ranier in Washington; four years after Teslas death. Is it a coincidence that Teslas proposed design for such an advanced craft would match what later became the staple design of supposed craft from other worlds presumably belonging to civilizations more advanced than us?
Much like the shamen of remote tribes the world over who practice celibacy in order to remain pure and focused in their magical arts, Tesla never married, citing his chastity as being very helpful to his scientific abilities. Perhaps this is why, of all the strange incidents that occurred in the life of Nikola Tesla, perhaps the most peculiar had to do with his one true love.
John J. ONeill, author of the book Prodigal Genius: the Life of Nikola Tesla, described a bizarre story which Tesla recounted during a meeting they shared with New York Times science writer William L. Laurence. A lifelong lover of animals, Tesla had been known to feed pigeons, liking the birds so much that he would occasionally bring them into his hotel rooms with him when he would travel. Of all his favorite pigeons, there was a particularly beautiful white female who bore light gray tips on its wings, which Tesla had noticed seemed to follow him everywhere. Apparently, Tesla began to bond with the bird, describing a great deal of rapport which developed between them. Yes, I loved that pigeon, I loved her as a man loves a woman, and she loved me, Tesla said. If ever the bird became ill, Tesla would take great measures to nurse her back to health, feeling that as long as she needed himand as long as he could keep her with himnothing else mattered.
In spite of all his great achievements, Tesla said that having his beautiful white bird him is what brought him his truest sense of purpose in life. Then one night as he was lying in bed, his familiar flew into his room, at which time Tesla discerned that she had something important to tell him. Apparently, the bird conveyed to him that she was dying. As I got her message, Tesla said, there came a light from her eyespowerful beams of light Yes, it was a real light, a powerful, dazzling, blinding light, a light more intense than I had ever produced by the most powerful lamps in my laboratory.
According to ONeills account, Tesla said that once his pigeon had died he lost much of his lust for living, failing in his further pursuit of the sciences. Before that time, he said he had felt capable of completing the greatest programs he could have imagined, but learned that his lifes work had been completed once his soul matethe beautiful bird for whom he had cared so muchhad left him.
Teslas achievements were of obvious importance during his lifetime, and they remain such today, with many of his more complex notions regarding the nature of electric theory still misunderstood. Perhaps outside the brilliant mind of the master of lightning himself, they are but vague interpretations of portions of the universe yet discovered, glimpsed by him through his strange ability to perceive some light from the other side. Though one-of-a-kind and an unrivaled genius, perhaps some of Teslas most unique contributions to the world were his own peculiar abilities to translate the unexplained around him into pure energy, whether literally, or in character alone; hence Teslas mystique continues today and the light he conjured wont soon be forgotten.