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Tesla & the ethics of publicity

Mon, 06/24/2013 - 12:47pm
Karl Stephan, Consulting Engineer, Texas State University, San Marcos

A few weeks ago I mentioned that an eminently qualified historian of technology has written a biography of Nikola Tesla (1856-1943), the inventor of the eponymous Tesla coil, the induction motor, and numerous other ingenious contraptions. While Tesla has been the subject of numerous popular biographies and even a film or two, earlier treatments tended to play up the sensational and mysterious aspects of his career, while neglecting the deeper context of his times and the significance of his actual technical contributions. By contrast, University of Virginia historian W. Bernard Carlson has shown how Tesla flashed upon the scene of early electrical technology rather like a spark from one of his own coils, only to fade out almost as fast into relative obscurity after about 1910. What is more, Carlson traces the reason for Tesla’s failure to live up to his potential on a conflict between ideal and illusion. When illusion took over, Tesla lost credibility, first with the technical community, then with the public, and most seriously for his career, with his financial backers.

Possessed of a rare type of imagination which allowed him to controllably visualize complex structures and scenes so real to him that he sometimes lost sight of reality while contemplating them, Tesla always worked primarily in the realm of the ideal—the perfect mental construct that performed his every bidding.

Read the rest here: http://www.pddnet.com/blogs/2013/06/tesla-ethics-publicity

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