Why a Conspiracy Theory About Nikola Tesla Just Can’t Be True
Almost all of the fanciful inventions attributed to Tesla by conspiracy theorists are fake.
As he died in 1943, it’s easy to make claims about Nikola Tesla, the inventor, engineer, and futurist who is credited with more than 300 patents. He also held remarkable popular appeal at the time and was known as a promotional expert, not unlike the CEO of Tesla, Elon Musk, whose electric car company is named after the inventor. For one example of his popular appeal, anyone who has visited Los Angeles’ famous Griffith Observatory has likely marveled at the Tesla Coil on display just as much as what the telescopes reveal in the night sky.
Because of Tesla’s varied accomplishments, conspiracy theorists have given credit to the innovator for numerous inventions they say world governments have hidden away over the years for various reasons, from oppressing their people or using those inventions own selfish reasons.
The theory that Tesla’s potentially world-changing inventions are being hidden away is one that author and podcaster Brian Dunning explores in his new book, Conspiracies Declassified: The Skeptoid Guide to to the Truth Behind the Theories, which was released today, June 5. Inverse is republishing with permission his examination of Nikola Tesla, which is included in the section of the book titled “Suppressed Science.”
The theory about Tesla isn’t as widespread or ridiculous as the one about all-powerful lizard people, but it’s equally as fascinating.
The name of Nikola Tesla is associated with crazy conspiracy claims that have nothing to do with his real work.
By Brian Dunning via Skeptoid
No personality in the history of science has been pushed further into the realm of mythology than the Serbian-American electrical engineer Nikola Tesla. He is, without a doubt, one of the true giants in the history of electromagnetic theory. As an inventor he was as prolific as they come, with approximately 300 patents having been discovered in at least 26 countries, but many more inventions as well that stayed within his lab and were never patented. As remarkable as were his talents was his personality: private, eccentric, possessed of extraordinary memory and bizarre habits, and with a headlong descent into mental illness during his later years. Tesla’s unparalleled combination of genius and aberrance have turned him into one of the seminal cult figures of the day. As such, at least as much fiction as fact have swirled around popular accounts of his life, and devotees of conspiracy theories and alternative science hypotheses have hijacked his name more than that of any other figure. Today we’re going to try and separate that fiction from the fact.
First, a very brief outline of his life; but in order to put it in the proper perspective, we have to first clear up a popular misconception. Tesla did not invent alternating current, which is what he’s best remembered for. AC had been around for a quarter century before he was born, which was in 1856 in what’s now Croatia. While Tesla was a young man working as a telephone engineer, other men around Europe were already developing AC transformers and setting up experimental power transmission grids to send alternating current over long distances. Tesla’s greatest early development was in his mind: a rotary magnetic field, which would make possible an electric induction motor that could run directly from AC, unlike all existing electric motors, which were DC. At the time, AC had to be converted to DC to run a motor, at a loss of efficiency. Induction motors had been conceived before his birth, but none had ever been built. Tesla built a working prototype, but only two years after another inventor, Galileo Ferraris, had also independently conceived the rotary magnetic field and built his own working prototype. Rightfully fearing that his own obscurity as a telephone engineer was hampering his efforts as an inventor, Tesla arranged to move to the United States. He did so in 1884, getting his famously ill-fated and short-lived job in Thomas Edison’s laboratory.
The tycoon George Westinghouse, who understood the potential of AC and induction motors and was actively seeking them, gratefully purchased some of Tesla’s patents as soon as he learned about them. Royalties from Westinghouse fattened Tesla’s wallet, and a number of highly public projects on which they collaborated made him a celebrity, including the 1893 illumination of the World’s Fair with alternating current, and the subsequent creation of the Niagara Falls power plant. It was as a result of this windfall that Tesla set up his own laboratories and created his most intriguing inventions. Let’s run through a list of some of the seemingly magical feats attributed to Tesla, beginning with . . .
Tesla Didn’t Invent Alternating Current And He Wasn’t A Major Power In The War Of The Currents
By Jo Rodriguez via Listverse
Is there life elsewhere in the universe? It’s becoming increasingly likely that life must exist somewhere out there, but theories on aliens closer to home have ranged from misguided to idiotic.
10 • Viking Landers Finding Life On Mars
During the ’70s, NASA’s Viking landers probed Martian soil, eagerly looking for signs of life on the Red Planet. While the landers did not find actual microorganisms, traces of carbon dioxide turned up in the collected samples. Some scientists looked at the results and concluded that living organisms had to be on the planet, producing the compound.
The findings have been disputed for decades. Recently, some scientists have concluded that iron particles in Martian soil could have oxidized carbon compounds that exist naturally there.
Though evidence from Viking may not point to current Martians, carbon in the soil may still indicate that life once existed on the planet. Today’s research focuses less on finding living organisms there and more on investigating if the atmosphere could preserve traces of life even after long stretches of time.
9 • Arthur C. Clarke And Martian Vegetation
Beloved author and screenwriter Arthur C. Clarke long believed in life on Mars. In 2001, Clarke downloaded several photos from NASA’s website captured by the Mars Global Surveyor and was delighted to see what he thought were trees.
Clarke spoke to a crowd in his home in Sri Lanka, saying that the pictures showed things that were growing on the planet’s surface. Clarke said, “I’m quite serious when I say I have a really good look at these new Mars images. Something is actually moving and changing with the seasons that suggest, at least, vegetation.” In another interview, he joked, “I’m now convinced that Mars is inhabited by a race of demented landscape gardeners.”
The images were actually simply sand dunes, covered in or affected by frozen carbon dioxide. Over time, dark sand cascades down the dunes, leaving streaks that may look like trees to the less educated eye.
8 • Crazy Experiments To Contact Martians
In 1820, German mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss sought to incorporate the work of Pythagoras in his quest to communicate with alien life on Mars. Gauss suggested clearing a large patch of Siberia and planting wheat for miles in a shape that geometrically illustrates the Pythagorean Theorem. By harvest season, the bright yellow crop-filled areas would contrast with the forest’s darker coloring. Gauss believed that Martian observers could spot this gigantic triangle on Earth with a small telescope.
Other odd ideas were also popular during the 19th century. Astronomer Joseph Littrow suggested digging trenches measuring 30 kilometers (20 mi) in length and shaped in various geometric patterns across the Sahara. We’d then fill them with kerosene and light them up. A Frenchman, Charles Cros, suggested building a huge mirror that could focus sunlight and burn messages into the very surface of Mars.
7 • Martians Contact Nikola Tesla
Nikola Tesla may have been one of the most brilliant scientists in human history, but he also falsely claimed to have received artificial signals of extraterrestrial origin—he said they were from Mars or Venus.
In a letter to the New York Times, Tesla wrote of how Mars, of the two planets, could support life. He viewed the distance of the planets from the Sun in terms of evolution. Venus was at a youthful stage, perhaps unable to fully sustain humanoid life. Earth was at full growth. Mars had reached old age, yet it had passed through prime biological and technological evolutionary stages.
Tesla suggested ways to improve our means to communicate with Mars, first by relocating our observatories to send clearer signals through the atmosphere. In 1937, Tesla’s work led him to believe that he could win the Pierre Guzman Prize of 100,000 francs for “the first person who will find the means of communicating with a star and of receiving a response.” The prize rules excluded contact with Mars, however, because that would have been “too easy.”
The public has never had a chance to analyze Tesla’s supposed observation, but it is likely that he actually detected the pulsing of distant stars. This was far from the intelligent transmission he had claimed to see, but it was still an impressive accomplishment.
Nikola Tesla has become something of an Internet hero. According to legend, he was a mad genius who almost never got the credit he deserved in the money-hungry world of science. It’s easy to argue that Tesla didn’t make it further because of his eccentricities: He hated everything, suffered from severe obsessive-compulsive disorder, and might have been autistic. The truth, however, is far simpler: Many of his ideas just weren’t viable. Although many people would like to believe otherwise, Tesla was far from perfect.
10 • Alleged Eidetic Memory
It’s often claimed that Tesla never needed to write anything down because he had either a photographic or eidetic memory. While scientists have not ruled out the claim, the researchers who have studied the phenomenon have admitted that they can’t even prove its existence, although others have pointed out flaws in their methodologies.
As a brilliant scientist and inventor, it’s quite possible that Tesla had excellent visual memory, but it was never tested. It’s certainly not true that he never needed to write anything down—Tesla kept copious notes on his inventions and ideas, many of which have survived to this day. Scientists were thrilled by the possibilities they might contain, but upon examination, these notebooks were found to be highly speculative and contain no useful scientific knowledge.
9 • Irresponsibility With Money
Many people claim that Tesla died penniless, and some go so far as to say he always was. This is decried as a great injustice against such a brilliant mind. The truth, much like the man himself, is a little more complicated. There is some evidence that he could have made more money if his patents had been secured better or he had not been exploited by people like Thomas Edison. Tesla never cared much for the business aspect of his work, though, and even if he had made a fortune, he likely would have blown it.
Tesla had a reputation for hemorrhaging money. He lived in fancy hotels and sunk the rest of his money into increasingly ambitious—and expensive—projects. He had a history of borrowing money from friends and getting evicted from those hotels. He would sometimes even leave some of his notebooks behind as collateral for the debt when he moved out.
Tesla once commented on his poverty when the city tried to force him to pay a tax bill, admitting that he had no money and “scores” of other debts he owed. He explained that he had been living on credit at the Waldorf for several years. He had plenty of opportunities to pay off his debts and keep his patents from lapsing, but instead, he maintained his lavish lifestyle until the day he died.
8 • Wild Claims
Thanks to the Tesla revival, every absurd claim he made to newspapers back in the day is now being repeated as fact. The truth is that Tesla made many claims so far out of left field that they would destroy a scientist’s credibility even today, often with no evidence or results to back them up. But if Tesla was crazy, he was crazy like a fox. Oftentimes, his claims were reported shortly before the historical experiments of other scientists.
For example, when Marconi was gearing up for some important radio signal tests, Tesla told the media that he had already received radio transmissions that he believed were from Mars. With his technology, he claimed, we would soon be able to communicate with other planets almost instantaneously. Other projects he claimed to be working on included a torpedo that could be recalled even after being fired and a powerful death ray.
As bizarre as these claims sounded, they gave the impression that Tesla was light-years ahead of everyone else. But if the general public was impressed, the scientific community was decidedly not, regarding Tesla as being mostly full of hot air. While this is an overreaction—Tesla certainly did contribute to our body of scientific knowledge—the plausibility of many of Tesla’s inventions is greatly exaggerated.
7 • Strange Visions
Tesla’s tall tales weren’t confined to his inventions or supposed interactions with Martians. He also believed that he received a variety of important visions. The first occurred when he was walking in the park with a friend after suffering a nervous breakdown due to his constant lack of sleep.
According to Tesla, he had a vision of the entire model for his AC motor and started drawing it in the dirt. Considering that he had already stated that he had been thinking about the idea for about six years, he probably wasn’t being entirely truthful.
His second “vision” occurred much later in life, involving his beloved pigeons. He claimed that he was alone in his hotel room one night when a white pigeon for whom he harbored particularly great affection came to see him. He was then suddenly blinded by two powerful beams of light that communicated to him that he had finished all of his life’s work and would die soon.
6 • Insomnia And Addiction To Work
Tesla’s visions could probably be more reasonably attributed to his lack of sleep than any mystical properties. He was known to be a workaholic, to the point that any kind of rest was inconceivable. He claimed that he went to bed at 5:00 AM and rose only five hours later, and only two of those hours were spent sleeping. Once a year, he indulged himself and actually slept all five hours. He never stopped thinking about his work, even when he was snoozing.
There’s no doubt that Tesla’s insomnia had a profound impact on his physical and psychological health for his entire life, but it’s likely that its extent was another of his exaggerations. Humans simply aren’t capable of maintaining such a lack of sleep and remaining alive. However, it is possible Tesla had simply deluded himself. The hotel employees who attended his room said they often found Tesla standing silently, apparently awake but totally unaware of his surroundings. It’s likely that he slept more than he realized, falling into these nap-like trances as a natural reaction to that level of sleep deprivation.
By Marc V. via Listverse
Thanks to never-ending reports of encounters and sightings, UFOs are easily one of the most recognized and well-known icons of modern pop culture. In fact, the fascination has even spawned whole religions with UFOs and aliens as the centerpiece. Of course, we also mustn’t forget the different UFO conspiracy theories being continuously peddled by people who either really want to know the truth or are just plain wacko. In any case, it’s certain that these conspiracy theories will never go out of style, especially when most of them are just downright insane.
10 • There Is An Alien Satellite Hovering Over Earth
This conspiracy theory states that a 13,000-year-old satellite called the Black Knight is orbiting our planet. As the story goes, Nikola Tesla was the first man to discover its existence after he began receiving radio signals in 1899 which he believed came from space, a claim also made by amateur radio operators in the early 20th century. Later on, newspaper reports in the 1950s and ’60s detailing the discovery of a mysterious object in space coupled with supposed photographic evidence helped to fuel belief in the Black Knight’s existence.
If this supposed satellite really does exist, then why is it there? According to Scottish writer Duncan Lunan, the Black Knight satellite is actually a space probe that contains a map to a faraway alien planet called Epsilon Bootis, and the unidentified radio signals are in fact an attempt by those inhabitants to communicate with humans. Although skeptics have sought to debunk the alien satellite as nothing more than space junk or debris, believers have continued to insist otherwise.
9 • MacArthur And Alien Warfare In The Future
Did Douglas MacArthur, the man who led the US against the Japanese and later the Koreans and Chinese, foresee a future war against aliens? According to a supposed speech he made in 1955, MacArthur warned that all countries of the Earth should unite, because the next war would involve humanity against aliens from other planets. Conspiracy theorists closely tie the general’s statements with his alleged involvement in the creation of the ambiguous Interplanetary Phenomenon Unit, a government agency supposedly tasked with investigating mysterious UFO crashes in the 1950s and which was later absorbed by the Air Force. As the story goes, the IPU’s findings that UFOs constituted a threat to national and global security was what prompted MacArthur to render his speech.
MacArthur’s statements, although somewhat sensationalized later on by the media, nonetheless manifested his belief that someday in the future, all of us might experience a real-life version of Independence Day.
8 • The US Government Secretly Sent Astronauts To Another Planet
According to this conspiracy theory, the administration of President JFK—and, later, Johnson—allegedly sent astronauts to a faraway planet called Serpo. The ambitious project began after the US government supposedly saved the life of an alien whose spacecraft crashed in Roswell. In return, the grateful alien established an exchange program with the government and made arrangements for two spaceships to pick it up along with a dozen specially trained astronauts in 1965. After 37 light-years, the astronauts finally reached Serpo and spent more than a decade learning about the planet and its inhabitants, a race called Ebens.
According to them, the Ebens numbered more than 600,000 but lived in a peaceful, government-free community. After 13 years, the team finally returned to Earth four members short after two of them died and another two chose to stay on Serpo. Unfortunately, there are no surviving members of the team today, as all of them supposedly succumbed to the high radiation levels brought on by the two suns of Serpo.
7 • Jesus Was An Alien
Remember the belief that the gods that ancient people worshiped and revered were actually aliens? If that theory is to be believed, then Jesus might have also been one, a fact that is supposedly being suppressed by the Church. As the theory goes, all the circumstances surrounding Jesus’ life hinted at extraterrestrial origins. His “virgin birth,” for instance, could be attributed to aliens artificially inseminating Mary, which in turn would explain why he could perform miraculous feats as well as communicate with otherworldly beings such as angels (who themselves were actually aliens).
Believers also point to Jesus’ statements that he was “not of this world” as hints of his real heritage. The theory goes on to say that after his resurrection, Jesus was beamed up into a spaceship and that the Catholic Church later suppressed the rest of the details by marking books such as the Epistles of the Apostles as apocryphal.
Did an electrical engineer from the 1920s really invent a device capable of harnessing zero-point energy? What happened to it? Listen in to learn more about the fiction and fact surrounding this bizarre story of conspiracy theory, technological suppression and more.
When impoverished inventor Nikola Tesla died in New York City, the U.S. government confiscated his notes. Why? Were they trying to steal his technology?