# 366: BOOK OF THE WEEK — “My Inventions”
Story behind the Book Choice
One day after the official end of the 365-Day Blogging Challenge, I find myself blogging again! The reason is simple: It is Sunday, actually a holiday in Germany (Reunification Day), and since I mentioned that I would keep up my habit of blogging about a new book every week, this is what it is. Today, I am afraid, this book post will be rather short — just as short as the autobiography of Tesla itself. It is only a bit more than 50 pages long, which completely suits the scientific style of the work. And I have to add, there is not so much that inspires me about this. This might already be the most important finding. In summary, this is the self-adulation of one of the world’s greatest geniuses and an arrogant prick. I cannot say it differently. But this gives me more of a clue why some people nowadays celebrate Tesla. I do see some parallels with living creatures — famous and infamous…
This very first sentence of the book already gave me a taste of what was to come. And it came exactly as I had expected it after reading these lines. Tesla, no doubt, was aware of his brilliance and he consciously reflects on many of the influences which shaped his mind. But, as many scientists and inventors, he sees scientific advancement as the sole engine of human progress. And the fact that he links this to his genius obviously reveals the role he assigns to himself in this global project of innovation. For him, it was not living with the forces of nature or learning from the them. Rather, engineering and science was about “harnessing the forces of nature to human needs.”
“Needs” is a good keyword because, in the remainder of the book, he describes himself as a hyper-disciplined inventor who learned to control all his human needs to a degree where all his life was about invention. And the result, even though he always claims that he learned to control his workaholism, was that he suffered from nervous breakdowns pretty much all his life. He starts the autobiography in his childhood years and even then he suffered from poor health — mentally and physically. This was not necessarily supported by the fact that he must have been very skinny and basically denied himself most human pleasures, including food and sex. He does not talk about this explicitly but from other sources I know he never married or engaged in any social relations. I am sorry to say this, even despite my sincere appreciation of his achievements, but the way he writes really makes him sound like a fellow who lacked most human warmth and true recognition of things outside of science.
It is remarkable how he does give insights into his poor mental health while still selling the lack of psychological treatment as kind of a heroic deed. In fact, every one of his inventions is described more or less as the ultimate pride of creation. It really is a relief to read some of the passages in-between in which he shares stories which are not directly about his multiple technological inventions. And the fact that he fell in love with books in his early childhood, including fiction which was “unlike anything” he had ever read before, gave me hope that he did appreciate literature and its contribution to his evolving genius. Throughout the entire biography, he comes back to the influence reading had on the formation of his creative imagination. This we know from other innovators like Steve Jobs or Elon Musk. They all read extensively. The latter, now I see this very clearly, did not call his his company “Tesla” for no reason. There is a lot of Tesla in Elon Musk.
3. War, Peace, and Technology
This passage is so interesting because I know so many other scientists and inventors who think exactly the same way. The passage therefore pretty much puts brackets around the book and is closely linked to the opening passage I chose to discuss today. For Tesla, war and misery are basically just technological problems. If you come up with the right communication and power systems, people will be connected and thus understand each other better. Hence, they will not have any reason to go to war anymore. That is the message, the firm belief, in a nutshell. Remember that Tesla wrote this during the First World War. He must have been under the impression of the political situation. But except for the impact this had on his business relations and the various ways of turning his inventions into marketable patents, this plays no role. War is an engineering problem, that is it.
Boy, I am sorry. This was a genius and it makes me so sad to see another example, a piece of evidence, of how genius obviously does not go along with a healthy and loving mind. There is no other conclusion to draw for me based on the way he writes and reflects about his life story. The climax of this appears on some of the final pages in which he describes the only “supernatural exerperince” which happened when his mother died. But even this, he tries to neatly desconstruct afterwards. This is how he describes it:
“Ever since I was told by some of the greatest men of the time, leaders in science whose names are immortal, that I am possessed of an unusual mind, I bent all my thinking faculties on the solution of great problems regardless of sacrifice. For many years I endeavored to solve the enigma of death, and watched eagerly for every kind of spiritual indication. But only once in the course of my existence have I had an experience which momentarily impressed me as supernatural. It was the time of my mother’s death. …
Then he describes “supernatural occurrence” and continues:
“This occurred long ago, and I have never had the faintest reason since to change my views on psychical and spiritual phenomena, for which there is no foundation. The belief in these is the natural outgrowth of intellectual development. Religious dogmas are no longer accepted in their orthodox meaning, but every individual clings to faith in a supreme power of some kind.” (Tesla 46–47)
I hope that he made peace with some supreme power before he died himself.
1) Do you think that being a scientist and being a believer in “supernatural phenomena” is incompatible? Why/not?
2) In how far can reading fiction be helpful for inventors?
3) Based on the last long quote — what is your impression of Tesla’s writing?