Columns » Penny Post by Andrei Codrescu

Nikola Tesla's Brain



Nikola Tesla was a genius inventor who designed the first alternate current motor, discovered X-rays and pioneered wireless communication, making radio, television and the Internet possible. He was also convinced of the existence of life on other planets and planned to use the earth's magnetic field to communicate with the aliens who often spoke to him. He also claimed to have invented a death ray that "could split the earth in half like an apple," but he never produced any evidence. He was much older when he claimed that, living in a hotel in New York, feeding pigeons on the window ledge. He was heart-broken when his favorite pigeon died, and he followed not long after, penurious and neglected, much the way he started out. He had arrived in New York six decades earlier, a young Serbian engineer, without any money, but with the idea for alternate current already firmly developed in his mind. Tesla visualized his inventions in their entirety before committing them to paper, a gift given to him either by "voices" or by an inner light that burned (quite painfully) inside him.

I first became fascinated by Tesla when he made an unexpected appearance in my novel Messiah. He became a major character, in fact. After I wrote that book, I kept meeting Tesla fanatics, and it now looks like the cult may be going above ground. An opera about his life, Violet Fire, opened in Philadelphia this month. The libretto by Miriam Seidel makes Tesla into a tragic figure of mystery who, like Prometheus, suffered grievously from playing with the fire of the gods. I saw the lovely production, complete with Tesla coils and backdrops of lightning, and I was fascinated all over again. How did Tesla see the world? What was going on inside him?

I think I found a partial answer in a memoir by Pandit Gopi Krishna, Kundalini: The Evolutionary Energy in Man. Gopi Krishna was a humble Indian bureaucrat living in Kashmir in the early part of the 20th century who was one day zapped by a great bolt of lightning that came up his spine, flooded his brain with unbearable light, and nearly killed him. For the next 40 years, Gopi Krishna tried to deal with the presence of the maddening light that had flooded his body and brain and was affecting chemical changes in him down to the atomic level. Gopi Krishna, who didn't have a scientific education, grew old with his fully awakened kundalini power, without having produced any great works to benefit humankind -- with the exception of his autobiography, which he wrote in order to help others who might awaken without warning. Gopi Krishna was well-read and perfectly aware that his condition would have been instantly diagnosed by psychiatrists as manic depression and schizophrenia, and he avoided doctors, convinced that drugs would poison him and that the mental hospitals were already full of enlightened beings who were victims of their inability to make something of the searing light. Something like that may have happened to Tesla, who experimented with greater and greater electrical intensities that he conducted through his body, in an effort perhaps to produce outwardly as much illumination as was already present in his kundalini-light-flooded brain. There may have been a therapeutic purpose too in the attempt: He may have hoped to heal himself by self-administered electroshock. He succeeded in illuminating the world and facilitating rapid communication, but all that may be only a pale reflection of what he had seen inside within.

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