March 21, 2013

 The following post is taken from an article written by Suzanne Deffree in EDN Magazine – March 15, 2013

Nikola Tesla, the favorite genius of many engineers, stood out not only for his brilliance but also for several personal traits and beliefs that were sometimes  considered very odd.    That’s not to be insulting; it’s simply a fact.   In comparison to others of his time, Tesla was noted not only for his scientific and engineering accomplishments but also for his personal habits, rituals, and beliefs.   Perhaps by today’s terms, Tesla would be diagnosed with OCD or a similar syndrome, but in his day many of the following traits were simply written off as the peculiarities or partial insanity that came with his character.   Some also example his extreme intelligence and dedication to his work, even the sacrifices he made along the course of his exceptional career.

Let’s take a look at 10 things in Tesla’s daily life that accompanied his intelligence and made him the man he was.

1.       Things  Come in 3s:

Tesla had his obsession with the number 3.   It is said that he often walked around a block 3 times before entering a building and that he required 18 (a number divisible by 3) napkins to polish his silverware and drinking glass each night.   When he died, he did so 3 days before his 87th birthday and alone in Room 3327 (a number divisible by 3) of the 33rd floor of the New Yorker Hotel, in which he lived out his last years.

2.       No Sleep for the Brilliant

As did Da Vinci, Tesla claimed to sleep in short bursts, but never over a period of more than two hours at a time.   He did so on a work schedule that often kept him at his desk until after 3 am, then he started again just hours later. It is said that he once worked 84 hours straight.
While he never got what could be considered a good night’s rest, he did admit to “dozing” from time to time.

3.       Queen Bees

Tesla made many predictions about the future; among them,  flying machines that would replace cars, of course — wireless power, and the emergence of women as the dominant sex.
In 1926, he predicted a “queen bee” scenario where women would overcome all obstacles and create a more intellectual, selective society.  “It is clear to any trained observer, and even to the sociologically untrained, that a new attitude toward sex discrimination has come over the world through the centuries, receiving an abrupt stimulus just before and after the World War,” he said in an interview with Collier’s magazine“This struggle of the human female toward sex equality will end in a new sex order, with the female as superior. The modern woman, who anticipates in merely superficial phenomena the advancement of her sex, is but a surface symptom of something deeper and more potent fermenting in the bosom of the race.  It is not in the shallow physical imitation of men that women will assert first their equality and later their superiority, but in the awakening of the intellect of women.  Through countless generations, from the very beginning, the social subservience of women resulted naturally in the partial atrophy or at least the hereditary suspension of mental qualities which we now know the female sex to be endowed with no less than men.  But the female mind has demonstrated a capacity for all the mental acquirements and achievements of men. As generations ensue that capacity will be expanded; the average woman will be as well educated as the average man, and then better educated, for the dormant faculties of her brain will be stimulated to an activity that will be all the more intense and powerful because of centuries of repose. Woman will ignore precedent and startle civilization with their progress.  “The acquisition of new fields of endeavor by women, their gradual usurpation of leadership, will dull and finally dissipate feminine sensibilities, will choke the maternal instinct, so that marriage and motherhood may become abhorrent and human civilization draw closer and closer to the perfect civilization of the bee.   Tesla did not fear this predicted future, but embraced it, suggesting it would bring about a near-perfect society by more selective reproduction and less undesirable citizens.

4. Healthy Living

Tesla believed, as many modern-day health experts would agree, that a sound body encouraged a sound mind. As such, he walked eight to 10 miles a day and was very aware of staying fit.   In the evenings before bed, Tesla would complement his walks by curling his toes 100 times per foot. He believed this stimulated brain cells.  Tesla even became a vegetarian in his later years, living on only milk, bread, honey, and vegetable juices, as he believed this would benefit his health.

5. Appearances Matter

Along with Telsa’s beliefs on healthy living, he was strict about his appearance and that of those in his employ.  Always meticulous dressed and groomed, Telsa understood that the world takes a man by his appearance and that a good appearance can often open doors.   Tesla was so strict in these beliefs that he once fired a secretary for being overweight and repeatedly sent others home during the workday to change into more tasteful attire.

6. Celibate

Tesla chose to live a life of celibacy. Not without options – it is said that Tesla had women falling at his feet due to his brilliance, fame, and periods of wealth – Tesla made the choice, believing sex would muddy his thinking and claiming that his chastity was very helpful to his scientific abilities.  Late in his life, Tesla was said to have questioned if he sacrificed too much for his work in not taking a wife.

7. Fondness for pigeons

Tesla may have chosen to stay away from women and marriage but, according to some reports, he grew overly fond of a pigeon.   Near the end of his life, Tesla walked to the park every day to feed the pigeons. He began to bring injured ones into his hotel room to nurse back to health.  He claimed that he had been visited by a specific injured white pigeon each day at the park. Tesla spent more than $2,000 to fix the bird’s broken wing and leg, including building a device that comfortably supported the bird so her bones could heal.   Tesla is reported as saying, “I have been feeding pigeons, thousands of them, for years. But there was one, a beautiful bird, pure white with light grey tips on its wings that was different. It was a female. I had only to wish and call her, and she would come flying to me. I loved that pigeon as a man loves a woman, and she loved me. As long as I had her, there was a purpose to my life.”

8. Hyper polyglot

Engineers have their own language. Add in the other eight languages Tesla spoke – Serbo-Croatian, Czech, English, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, and Latin – and the polyglot was more of a hyper polyglot (one who can speak more than six languages with fluency) with a high degree of proficiency.  The jury is still out on what makes someone able to learn multiple languages and use them fluently: One theory claims that a spike in testosterone levels while in the uterus can increase brain asymmetry and allow for such learning. Others theories suggest that becoming a polyglot has nothing to do with such factors and is actually just about hard work and the right type of motivation, which any adult, but especially one of Tesla’s high intelligence, can apply.

9. Celebrity friends

Tesla often refused social engagements, preferring the company of his work to dinner-party chit chat. But he did have a few close friends, many of whom were writers (perhaps as a hyper polyglot he appreciated those whose stills leaned toward words) and some of whom also happened to be famous.   Among them was Mark Twain. Each was a fan of the other’s work before meeting. Notably, Twain, whose word was near gold at the time, described Tesla’s induction-motor invention as “the most valuable patent since the telephone” before they became acquainted.   Tesla and Twain spent a lot of time together in Tesla’s lab and elsewhere. When Tesla described his mechanical oscillator that produced alternating currents as a device that could be therapeutic, Twain even helped Tesla test it.

10. Oddity odds and ends

Tesla reportedly always despised jewelry and did not own a single piece, seeing it as wasteful and cumbersome. In his very last years, however, he seemed to focus in on pearls specifically, as, in addition to hating jewelry; he began to hate round objects.   In his later years, Tesla also could not bear to touch hair and did not like to shake hands.

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