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My Early Life by Nikola Tesla

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    http://www.geocities.com/Area51/Shadowlands/9654/tesla/biography1.html The Strange Life of Nicola Telsa My Early Life ©1995, John Roland Hans Penner, 464
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 5, 2003

      The Strange Life of Nicola Telsa
      My Early Life
      �1995, John Roland Hans Penner, 464 Scott Street, St.
      Catharines, Ontario, L2M 3W7, Canada

      The progressive development of man is vitally
      dependent on invention. It is the most important
      product of his creative brain. Its ultimate purpose is
      the complete mastery of mind over the material world,
      the harnessing of the forces of nature to human needs.
      This is the difficult task of the inventor who is
      often misunderstood and unrewarded. But he finds ample
      compensation in the pleasing exercises of his powers
      and in the knowledge of being one of that
      exceptionally privileged class without whom the race
      would have long ago perished in the bitter struggle
      against pitiless elements. Speaking for myself, I have
      already had more than my full measure of this
      exquisite enjoyment; so much, that for many years my
      life was little short of continuous rapture. I am
      credited with being one of the hardest workers and
      perhaps I am, if thought is the equivalent of labor,
      for I have devoted to it almost all of my waking
      hours. But if work is interpreted to be a definite
      performance in a specified time according to a rigid
      rule, then I may be the worst of idlers.
      Every effort under compulsion demands a sacrifice of
      life-energy. I never paid such a price. On the
      contrary, I have thrived on my thoughts. In attempting
      to give a connected and faithful account of my
      activities in this story of my life, I must dwell,
      however reluctantly, on the impressions of my youth
      and the circumstances and events which have been
      instrumental in determining my career. Our first
      endeavors are purely instinctive promptings of an
      imagination vivid and undisciplined. As we grow older,
      reason asserts itself and we become more and more
      systematic and designing. But those early impulses,
      though not immediately productive, are of the greatest
      moment and may shape our very destinies. Indeed, I
      feel now that had I understood and cultivated instead
      of suppressing them, I would have added substantial
      value to my bequest to the world. But not until I had
      attained manhood did I realize that I was an inventor.

      This was due to a number of causes. In the first place
      I had a brother who was gifted to an extraordinary
      degree; one of those rare phenomena of mentality which
      biological investigation has failed to explain. His
      premature death left my earth parents disconsolate. (I
      will explain my remark about my "earth parents"
      later.) We owned a horse which had been presented to
      us by a dear friend. It was a magnificent animal of
      Arabian breed, possessed of almost human intelligence,
      and was cared for and petted by the whole family,
      having on one occasion saved my dear father's life
      under remarkable circumstances.

      My father had been called one winter night to perform
      an urgent duty and while crossing the mountains,
      infested by wolves, the horse became frightened and
      ran away, throwing him violently to the ground. It
      arrived home bleeding and exhausted, but after the
      alarm was sounded, immediately dashed off again,
      returning to the spot, and before the searching party
      were far on the way they were met by my father, who
      had recovered consciousness and remounted, not
      realizing that he had been lying in the snow for
      several hours. This horse was responsible for my
      brother's injuries from which he died. I witnessed the
      tragic scene and although so many years have elapsed
      since, my visual impression of it has lost none of its
      force. The recollection of his attainments made every
      effort of mine seem dull in comparison. Anything I did
      that was creditable merely caused my parents to feel
      their loss more keenly. So I grew up with little
      confidence in myself.

      But I was far from being considered a stupid boy, if I
      am to judge from an incident of which I have still a
      strong remembrance. One day the Aldermen were passing
      through a street where I was playing with other boys.
      The oldest of these venerable gentlemen, a wealthy
      citizen, paused to give a silver piece to each of us.
      Coming to me, he suddenly stopped and commanded, "Look
      in my eyes." I met his gaze, my hand outstretched to
      receive the much valued coin, when to my dismay, he
      said, "No, not much; you can get nothing from me. You
      are too smart."

      They used to tell a funny story about me. I had two
      old aunts with wrinkled faces, one of them having two
      teeth protruding like the tusks of an elephant, which
      she buried in my cheek every time she kissed me.
      Nothing would scare me more then the prospects of
      being kissed by these affectionate, unattractive
      relatives. It happened that while being carried in my
      mother's arms, they asked who was the prettier of the
      two. After examining their faces intently, I answered
      thoughtfully, pointing to one of them, "This here is
      not as ugly as the other."

      Then again, I was intended from my very birth for the
      clerical profession and this thought constantly
      oppressed me. I longed to be an engineer, but my
      father was inflexible. He was the son of an officer
      who served in the army of the Great Napoleon and in
      common with his brother, professor of mathematics in a
      prominent institution, had received a military
      education; but, singularly enough, later embraced the
      clergy in which vocation he achieved eminence. He was
      a very erudite man, a veritable natural philosopher,
      poet and writer and his sermons were said to be as
      eloquent as those of Abraham a-Sancta-Clara. He had a
      prodigious memory and frequently recited at length
      from works in several languages. He often remarked
      playfully that if some of the classics were lost he
      could restore them. His style of writing was much
      admired. He penned sentences short and terse and full
      of wit and satire. The humorous remarks he made were
      always peculiar and characteristic. Just to
      illustrate, I may mention one or two instances.

      Among the help, there was a cross-eyed man called
      Mane, employed to do work around the farm. He was
      chopping wood one day. As he swung the ax, my father,
      who stood nearby and felt very uncomfortable,
      cautioned him, "For God's sake, Mane, do not strike at
      what you are looking but at what you intend to hit."

      On another occasion he was taking out for a drive a
      friend who carelessly permitted his costly fur coat to
      rub on the carriage wheel. My father reminded him of
      it saying, "Pull in your coat; you are ruining my

      He had the odd habit of talking to himself and would
      often carry on an animated conversation and indulge in
      heated argument, changing the tone of his voice. A
      casual listener might have sworn that several people
      were in the room.

      Although I must trace to my mother's influence
      whatever inventiveness I possess, the training he gave
      me must have been helpful. It comprised all sorts of
      exercises - as, guessing one another's thoughts,
      discovering the defects of some form of expression,
      repeating long sentences or performing mental
      calculations. These daily lessons were intended to
      strengthen memory and reason, and especially to
      develop the critical sense, and were undoubtedly very

      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, agricultural and other uses. She was a
      truly great woman, of rare skill, courage and
      fortitude, who had braved the storms of life and
      passed through many a trying experience. When she was
      sixteen, a virulent pestilence swept the country. Her
      father was called away to administer the last
      sacraments to the dying and during his absence she
      went alone to the assistance of a neighboring family
      who were stricken by the dread disease. She bathed,
      clothed and laid out the bodies, decorating them with
      flowers according to the custom of the country and
      when her father returned he found everything ready for
      a Christian burial.

      My mother was an inventor of the first order and
      would, I believe, have achieved great things had she
      not been so remote from modern life and its multifold
      opportunities. She invented and constructed all kinds
      of tools and devices and wove the finest designs from
      thread which was spun by her. She even planted the
      seeds, raised the plants and separated the fibers
      herself. She worked indefatigably, from break of day
      till late at night, and most of the wearing apparel
      and furnishings of the home were the product of her
      hands. When she was past sixty, her fingers were still
      nimble enough to tie three knots in an eyelash.

      There was another and still more important reason for
      my late awakening. In my boyhood I suffered from a
      peculiar affliction due to the appearance of images,
      often accompanied by strong flashes of light, which
      marred the sight of real objects and interfered with
      my thoughts and action. They were pictures of things
      and scenes which I had really seen, never of those
      imagined. When a word was spoken to me the image of
      the object it designated would present itself vividly
      to my vision and sometimes I was quite unable to
      distinguish whether what I saw was tangible or not.
      This caused me great discomfort and anxiety. None of
      the students of psychology or physiology whom I have
      consulted, could ever explain satisfactorily these
      phenomenon. They seem to have been unique although I
      was probably predisposed as I know that my brother
      experienced a similar trouble. The theory I have
      formulated is that the images were the result of a
      reflex action from the brain on the retina under great
      excitation. They certainly were not hallucinations
      such as are produced in diseased and anguished minds,
      for in other respects I was normal and composed. To
      give an idea of my distress, suppose that I had
      witnessed a funeral or some such nerve-wracking
      spectacle. Then, inevitably, in the stillness of
      night, a vivid picture of the scene would thrust
      itself before my eyes and persist despite all my
      efforts to banish it. If my explanation is correct, it
      should be possible to project on a screen the image of
      any object one conceives and make it visible. Such an
      advance would revolutionize all human relations. I am
      convinced that this wonder can and will be
      accomplished in time to come. I may add that I have
      devoted much thought to the solution of the problem.

      I have managed to reflect such a picture, which I have
      seen in my mind, to the mind of another person, in
      another room. To free myself of these tormenting
      appearances, I tried to concentrate my mind on
      something else I had seen, and in this way I would
      often obtain temporary relief; but in order to get it
      I had to conjure continuously new images. It was not
      long before I found that I had exhausted all of those
      at my command; my 'reel' had run out as it were,
      because I had seen little of the world - only objects
      in my home and the immediate surroundings. As I
      performed these mental operations for the second or
      third time, in order to chase the appearances from my
      vision, the remedy gradually lost all its force. Then
      I instinctively commenced to make excursions beyond
      the limits of the small world of which I had
      knowledge, and I saw new scenes. These were at first
      very blurred and indistinct, and would flit away when
      I tried to concentrate my attention upon them. They
      gained in strength and distinctness and finally
      assumed the concreteness of real things. I soon
      discovered that my best comfort was attained if I
      simply went on in my vision further and further,
      getting new impressions all the time, and so I began
      to travel; of course, in my mind. Every night, (and
      sometimes during the day), when alone, I would start
      on my journeys - see new places, cities and countries;
      live there, meet people and make friendships and
      acquaintances and, however unbelievable, it is a fact
      that they were just as dear to me as those in actual
      life, and not a bit less intense in their

      This I did constantly until I was about seventeen,
      when my thoughts turned seriously to invention. Then I
      observed to my delight that I could visualize with the
      greatest facility. I needed no models, drawings or
      experiments. I could picture them all as real in my
      mind. Thus I have been led unconsciously to evolve
      what I consider a new method of materializing
      inventive concepts and ideas, which is radially
      opposite to the purely experimental and is in my
      opinion ever so much more expeditious and efficient.

      The moment one constructs a device to carry into
      practice a crude idea, he finds himself unavoidably
      engrossed with the details of the apparatus. As he
      goes on improving and reconstructing, his force of
      concentration diminishes and he loses sight of the
      great underlying principle. Results may be obtained,
      but always at the sacrifice of quality. My method is
      different. 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. There is no difference whatever; the
      results are the same. In this way I am able to rapidly
      develop and perfect a conception without touching
      anything. When I have gone so far as to embody in the
      invention every possible improvement I can think of
      and see no fault anywhere, I put into concrete form
      this final product of my brain. Invariably my device
      works as I conceived that it should, and the
      experiment comes out exactly as I planned it. In
      twenty years there has not been a single exception.
      Why should it be otherwise? Engineering, electrical
      and mechanical, is positive in results. There is
      scarcely a subject that cannot be examined beforehand,
      from the available theoretical and practical data. The
      carrying out into practice of a crude idea as is being
      generally done, is, I hold, nothing but a waste of
      energy, money, and time.

      My early affliction had however, another compensation.
      The incessant mental exertion developed my powers of
      observation and enabled me to discover a truth of
      great importance. I had noted that the appearance of
      images was always preceded by actual vision of scenes
      under peculiar and generally very exceptional
      conditions, and I was impelled on each occasion to
      locate the original impulse. After a while this effort
      grew to be almost automatic and I gained great
      facility in connecting cause and effect. Soon I became
      aware, to my surprise, that every thought I conceived
      was suggested by an external impression. Not only this
      but all my actions were prompted in a similar way. In
      the course of time it became perfectly evident to me
      that I was merely an automation endowed with power of
      movement responding to the stimuli of the sense organs
      and thinking and acting accordingly. The practical
      result of this was the art of teleautomatics which has
      been so far carried out only in an imperfect manner.
      Its latent possibilities will, however be eventually
      shown. I have been years planning self-controlled
      automata and believe that mechanisms can be produced
      which will act as if possessed of reason, to a limited
      degree, and will create a revolution in many
      commercial and industrial departments.

      I was about twelve years of age when I first succeeded
      in banishing an image from my vision by willful
      effort, but I never had any control over the flashes
      of light to which I have referred. They were, perhaps,
      my strangest and [most] inexplicable experience. They
      usually occurred when I found myself in a dangerous or
      distressing situations or when I was greatly
      exhilarated. In some instances I have seen all the air
      around me filled with tongues of living flame. Their
      intensity, instead of diminishing, increased with time
      and seemingly attained a maximum when I was about
      twenty-five years old.

      While in Paris in 1883, a prominent French
      manufacturer sent me an invitation to a shooting
      expedition which I accepted. I had been long confined
      to the factory and the fresh air had a wonderfully
      invigorating effect on me. On my return to the city
      that night, I felt a positive sensation that my brain
      had caught fire. I was a light as though a small sun
      was located in it and I passed the whole night
      applying cold compressions to my tortured head.
      Finally the flashes diminished in frequency and force
      but it took more than three weeks before they wholly
      subsided. When a second invitation was extended to me,
      my answer was an emphatic NO!

      These luminous phenomena still manifest themselves
      from time to time, as when a new idea opening up
      possibilities strikes me, but they are no longer
      exciting, being of relatively small intensity. When I
      close my eyes I invariably observe first, a background
      of very dark and uniform blue, not unlike the sky on a
      clear but starless night. In a few seconds this field
      becomes animated with innumerable scintillating flakes
      of green, arranged in several layers and advancing
      towards me. Then there appears, to the right, a
      beautiful pattern of two systems of parallel and
      closely spaced lines, at right angles to one another,
      in all sorts of colors with yellow, green, and gold
      predominating. Immediately thereafter, the lines grow
      brighter and the whole is thickly sprinkled with dots
      of twinkling light. This picture moves slowly across
      the field of vision and in about ten seconds vanishes
      on the left, leaving behind a ground of rather
      unpleasant and inert gray until the second phase is
      reached. Every time, before falling asleep, images of
      persons or objects flit before my view. When I see
      them I know I am about to lose consciousness. If they
      are absent and refuse to come, it means a sleepless
      night. To what an extent imagination played in my
      early life, I may illustrate by another odd

      Like most children, I was fond of jumping and
      developed an intense desire to support myself in the
      air. Occasionally a strong wind richly charged with
      oxygen blew from the mountains, rendering my body
      light as cork and then I would leap and float in space
      for a long time. It was a delightful sensation and my
      disappointment was keen when later I undeceived
      myself. During that period I contracted many strange
      likes, dislikes and habits, some of which I can trace
      to external impressions while others are
      unaccountable. I had a violent aversion against the
      earrings of women, but other ornaments, as bracelets,
      pleased me more or less according to design.The sight
      of a pearl would almost give me a fit, but I was
      fascinated with the glitter of crystals or objects
      with sharp edges and plane surfaces. I would not touch
      the hair of other people except, perhaps at the point
      of a revolver. I would get a fever by looking at a
      peach and if a piece of camphor was anywhere in the
      house it caused me the keenest discomfort. Even now I
      am not insensible to some of these upsetting impulses.
      When I drop little squares of paper in a dish filled
      with liquid, I always sense a peculiar and awful taste
      in my mouth. I counted the steps in my walks and
      calculated the cubical contents of soup plates, coffee
      cups and pieces of food, otherwise my meal was
      unenjoyable. All repeated acts or operations I
      performed had to be divisible by three and if I missed
      I felt impelled to do it all over again, even if it
      took hours. Up to the age of eight years, my character
      was weak and vacillating. I had neither courage or
      strength to form a firm resolve. My feelings came in
      waves and surges and variated unceasingly between
      extremes. My wishes were of consuming force and like
      the heads of the hydra, they multiplied. I was
      oppressed by thoughts of pain in life and death and
      religious fear. I was swayed by superstitious belief
      and lived in constant dread of the spirit of evil, of
      ghosts and ogres and other unholy monsters of the
      dark. Thenall at once, there came a tremendous change
      which altered the course of my whole existence.

      Of all things I liked books 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 in a rage when he caught me in the act.
      He hid the candles when he found that I was reading in
      secret. He did not want me to spoil my eyes. But I
      obtained tallow, made the wicking and cast the sticks
      into tin forms, and every night I would bush the
      keyhole and the cracks and read, often till dawn, when
      all others slept and my mother started on her arduous
      daily task.

      On one occasion I came across a novel entitled
      "Aoafi", (the son of Aba), a Serbian translation of a
      well known Hungarian writer, Josika. This work somehow
      awakened my dormant powers of will and I began to
      practice self-control. At first my resolutions faded
      like snow in April, but in a little while I conquered
      my weakness and felt a pleasure I never knew before -
      that of doing as I willed.

      In the course of time this vigorous mental exercise
      became second to nature. At the outset my wishes had
      to be subdued but gradually desire and will grew to be
      identical. After years of such discipline I gained so
      complete a mastery over myself that I toyed with
      passions which have meant destruction to some of the
      strongest men. At a certain age I contracted a mania
      for gambling which greatly worried my parents. To sit
      down to a game of cards was for me the quintessence of
      pleasure. My father led an exemplary life and could
      not excuse the senseless waste of my time and money in
      which I indulged. I had a strong resolve, but my
      philosophy was bad. I would say to him, "I can stop
      whenever I please, but is it worth while to give up
      that which I would purchase with the joys of
      paradise?" On frequent occasions he gave vent to his
      anger and contempt, but my mother was different. She
      understood the character of men and knew that one's
      salvation could only be brought about through his own
      efforts. One afternoon, I remember, when I had lost
      all my money and was craving for a game, she came to
      me with a roll of bills and said, "Go and enjoy
      yourself. The sooner you lose all we possess, the
      better it will be. I know that you will get over it."
      She was right. I conquered my passion then and there
      and only regretted that it had not been a hundred
      times as strong. I not only vanquished but tore it
      from my heart so as not to leave even a trace of

      Ever since that time I have been as indifferent to any
      form of gambling as to picking teeth. During another
      period I smoked excessively, threatening to ruin my
      health. Then my will asserted itself and I not only
      stopped but destroyed all inclination. Long ago I
      suffered from heart trouble until I discovered that it
      was due to the innocent cup of coffee I consumed every
      morning. I discontinued at once, though I confess it
      was not an easy task. In this way I checked and
      bridled other habits and passions, and have not only
      preserved my life but derived an immense amount of
      satisfaction from what most men would consider
      privation and sacrifice.

      After finishing the studies at the Polytechnic
      Institute and University, I had a complete nervous
      breakdown and, while the malady lasted, I observed
      many phenomena, strange and unbelievable...

      My Inventions: The Autobiography of Nikola Tesla


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