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Nikola Tesla’s Personality

This is a quick, rough translation of an article that ran in a Serbian newspaper a few days ago. It is written by a professor of psychology at the University of Belgrade, Prof.Dr.Zarko Trebjesanin, whose book about psychology of Tesla just got published in Belgrade. Posthumous psychoanalyzing is always suspect, but it is usually harmless and fun:

Nikola Tesla’s Personality – the Lonely Visionary

If we could imagine the modern world devoid of Tesla’s discoveries, we’d be surprised at how impoverished it would be. The gigantic industries would be dead, factories empty, cities would be dark, people would have no radio or television, the trams, trolleybuses and trains would stop….The whole planet would be enveloped in an eery quiet, silence and darkness. Noisy and lit world would suddenly become reminiscent of an enchanted sleeping kingdom from The Sleeping Beauty.

Tesla’s momumental scientific work was well studied and carefully evaluated. About epochal value of his inventions in the area of electric technology much is known, but about the structure and dynamics of his interesting personality, however, very little is known and that little is not very trustworthy. Tesla’s personality is today still enigmatic, surrounded by the veils of mystery.

On the surface, apparent are Tesla’s talents and character traits like developed creativity, introvertion, curiosity, rationality, asceticism, etc.

Even in his early childhood, Tesla exhibited immense powers of imaginaton, that is an ability to imagine detailed, rich and realistic things in his mind. Due to his lively imagination, it was easy for Tesla to realize complex experiments in his minds, with no drawings, models or laboratory instruments. Next, he was undoubtedly a very introverted person, turned into his carefully hidden, subjective world, tanding towards introspection. Tesla’s biggest and most carefully tended passion was for discovery of unknown principles, laws and unknown worlds. His greatest joy this composed and disciplined man found in inventing, in the ‘joy of discovery’.

The Joy Of Discovery

“I don’t think there is any thrill that can go through the human heart like that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation of the brain unfolding to success….Such emotions make a man forget food, sleep, friends, love, everything”, said Tesla.

Great scientist managed, due to his iron will, to turn himself into a robot and to channel all of his energy towards a single goal – the creative work. Tesla’s asceticism was also visible in his relationship with women. Tesla, says O’Neill, “erased love from his life, even erased women from his thoughts”.

Abstaining From Marriage

In an interview, asked if artists and scientists should get married, Tesla said: “Artist, yes; musician, yes; inventor, no. The former two can get inspiration from the woman’s influence and reach their finest work through love, but inventor’s nature is so forceful, so wild and passionate, that by giving himself to a woman, he would give everything and nothing would be left for his chosen field. I doubt that you can name many inventors who were married” responded Tesla to the journalist. And then, after a brief pause, not without sadness, he added “And that is a shame, as we are sometimes so lonely”.

The Father of modern electrical engineering, he had an enormous faith in the power of reason and technology. He carried in himself the Enlightenment belief that the advances in knowledge carry the humans inevitably towards prosperity, both material and spiritual.

Hidden Traits: Mysticism and Narcissism

Apparently paradoxically, this great rationalist was simultaneously susceptible to parapsychological experiences, vision and mystical states. Still, it is not unusual that those who overemphasize the importance of reason, in reality, deep inside the subconscious, supress the tendencies towards the mystical and the occult.

Underneath Tesla’s obvious shyness and asceticism hides narcissism, visible in his constant efforts to make his inventions accessible to the public with effective, often sensationalist and shocking ways that fascinated the audience. Remember Tesla’s famous poses from the photographs, in which the great scientist, like a great magician, sits and reads in his laboratory lit by the mystical glow of artificial lightnings!

The Problem of Tesla’s “Neurosis”

It is undoubtful that Tesla had various phobias (fear of dirt and disease), aversions (fat women, earrings, pearls, hair), as well as compulsive activities (hand-washing, counting).

Despite numerous neurotic symptoms, it cannot be said that Tesla was a Neurotic. Neurosis denotes, by defnition, weakness in functions of the ego, inability to concentrate one’s thoughts, difficulties in reasoning, problems in decision-making, as well as inability to perform professional duties well. The great scientist had, undoubtedly, some neurotic symptoms (obsessive cleanliness and tidiness, hard-headedness, self-discipline), but was not a Neurotic. Proof is his unusual working energ and extremely fruitful scientific activity. Finally, Tesla never complained that he may need psychiatric help.

Thus, Tesla was not neurotic, but obessive-compulsive. He managed to tame his obsessive reactions and include them in the structure of his personality, even making them useful in his creative work.