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Tesla’s Nightmare

Acrylic painting of woman surrounded by body shaped bottles and spheres

Tesla's Nightmare

Tesla had a plethora of philias (loves) and phobias (hates), including a fear of spherical shapes. He could not bear to see pearl earrings and later in his life could not even use the word “sphere.”

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Nikola Tesla (inventor, mechanical engineer, and electrical engineer) was a columbiphiliac…a pigeon lover

 Actually, so am I, but I think Tesla just might have taken it a little too far. If you have ever wondered exactly where you stand between normal and crazy, I think the following could tilt your perception of yourself toward normal.

I read this in Strange Brains and Genius: The Secret Lives Of Eccentric Scientists And Madmen by Clifford A. Pickover, which I found highly entertaining. The original quote is an excerpt from Prodigal Genius: The Life of Nikola Tesla by John J. O’Neill, who actually knew Tesla:

Tesla told me the story; but if I did not have a witness who assured me that he heard exactly what I heard, I would have convinced myself that I had had nothing more tangible than a dream experience. It was the love story of Tesla’s life. In the story of his strange romance, I saw instantly the reason for those unremitting daily journeys to feed the pigeons, and those midnight pilgrimages when he wished to be alone. I recalled those occasions when I had happened to meet him on deserted Fifth Avenue and, when I spoke to him, he replied, “You will now leave me.”

He told his story simply, briefly and without embellishments, but there was still a surging of emotion in his voice.

“I have been feeding pigeons, thousands of them, for years; thousands of them, for who can tell–

“But there was one pigeon, a beautiful bird, pure white with light gray tips on its wings; that one was different. It was a female. I would know that pigeon anywhere.

“No matter where I was that pigeon would find me; when I wanted her I had only to wish and call her and she would come flying to me. She understood me and I understood her.

“I loved that pigeon. “Yes,” he replied to an unasked question.

Yes, I loved that pigeon, I loved her as a man loves a woman, and she loved me. When she was ill I knew, and understood; she came to my room and I stayed beside her for days. I nursed her back to health. That pigeon was the joy of my life. If she needed me, nothing else mattered. As long as I had her, there was a purpose in my life.

“Then one night as I was lying in my bed in the dark, solving problems, as usual, she flew in through the open window and stood on my desk. I knew she wanted me; she wanted to tell me something important so I got up and went to her.

“As I looked at her I knew she wanted to tell me–she was dying. And then, as I got her message, there came a light from her eyes–powerful beams of light.

“Yes,” he continued, again answering an unasked question, “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.

“When that pigeon died, something went out of my life. Up to that time I knew with a certainty that I would complete my work, no matter how ambitious my program, but when that something went out of my life I knew my life’s work was finished.

“Yes, I have fed pigeons for years; I continue to feed them, thousands of them, for after all, who can tell–”   

There was nothing more to say. We parted in silence. The talk took place in a corner of the mezzanine in the Hotel New Yorker. I was accompanied by William L. Laurence, science writer of the New York Times. We walked several blocks on Seventh Avenue before we spoke.

Tesla had a plethora of other philias (loves) and phobias (hates), including a fear of spherical shapes. He could not bear to see pearl earrings and later in his life could not even use the word “sphere.”

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