FactCheck Social Media

Nikola Tesla’s ‘death and light’ quote dims under closer scrutiny

2020-12-16 14:12:35

The Statement

Nikola Tesla is renowned for his pioneering work in developing alternating-current electric systems, however a Facebook post paints the scientist and engineer in a more philosophical light.

The post, from December 7, attributes a quote to Tesla which reads, “Death does not exist, and with that very knowledge, the fear of it disappears. And remember: no man who existed died. They turned into light and as such still exist. The secret is that these light particles return to original state. Return to one of the previous energies. Christ and some others knew this secret.

“I was searching for how to preserve human energy. It is one of the forms of light. In the Soul sometimes equal to the supreme celestial light. I did not search for it for myself, but for the good of all. I believe that my discovery will make people’s lives easier and more bearable and direct them to spirituality and morality.”

The purported quote features above a photo of Tesla as an old man.

At the time of writing, the post had been viewed more than 89,000 times and generated more than 970 shares, 2600 reactions and 380 comments. The same quote has also been shared on other social media sites, including to an Australian Instagram account.

A Facebook post
 A Facebook post attributes a quote about death to Serbian inventor Nicola Tesla. 

The Analysis

Nikola Tesla is known for discovering rotating magnetic fields – the foundation for motors and electrical systems powered by alternating currents – and his pioneering work in wireless power distribution. Today, his name is honoured in Elon Musk’s electric car marque.

However, while the Serbian scientist’s thinking did at times veer towards the philosophical, experts say the quote did not come from the famed inventor. Instead, the words appear to stem from a 1995 fictional play about Tesla’s life and views which was later adapted into a radio series and film.

Tesla was born in 1856 to Serbian parents in the Croatian village of Smiljan. He conceptualised alternating currents while studying at the University of Graz in Austria, but it was in Paris in 1882 when he built his first induction motor.

After emigrating to the US in 1884, Tesla initially worked for Thomas Edison but left to continue his work inventing and patenting electrical technology. Many of his inventions, such as the Tesla coil used in wireless devices and networks, are still used today. He died on January 7, 1943 from heart failure.

The Belgrave-based Nikola Tesla Museum, which holds the inventor’s ashes, possesses original documents and artefacts belonging to Tesla as well as archives of his writings and lectures.

A museum spokesperson told AAP FactCheck in an email that “there is no certain record or any original source that (the purported quote) was Tesla’s sentence”.

Ellis Oswalt, an actor and dramatist from New York, whose book Tesla’s Words: A Stunning Utopia of the Future was awarded the Tesla Spirit Medal by the Tesla Science Foundation, told AAP FactCheck the post “doesn’t look like a genuine Tesla quote … and having read all of his existing interviews and lectures, I don’t think this is a legitimate quote”.

“Tesla had a grandiose spiritual side for sure, but he was a lot more rational than a lot of his contemporary new-age fans can understand. In his autobiography, at the age of 63, he wrote a section rebuking the belief in ghosts, divination, and the supernatural belief in ‘spirits’,” Mr Oswalt said in an email.

The quote also does not appear in an archive of Tesla’s quotes on Tesla Universe, a website dedicated to the inventor’s life and contributions to the fields of electricity, radio and robotics.

Parts of the quote do, however, appear in a 2001 film, Tesla or the Adaptation of an Angel (Tesla ili prilagodjavanje andjela), which featured a fictional interview between the inventor and a journalist from a non-existent US magazine named Immortality.

The film was adapted from Stevan Pešić’s 1995 play by the same name. The work is set in Colorado Springs in 1899 and explores the inventor’s “sacrifices and tamed visions”, according to director Dušan Mihailović, who has staged the play.

A transcript shows parts of the quote and, while the wording is not identical, the meaning is consistent with the sentiment of the post. The lines corresponding to the quote are highlighted in bold:

JOURNALIST: You said that I am, like every being, the Light. This flatters me, but I confess, I do not quite understand.

TESLA: Why would you need to understand, Mr. Smith? Suffice it to believe it. Everything is light. In one its ray is the fate of nations, each nation has its own ray in what great light source we see as the sun. And remember: no one who was there did not die. They transformed into the light, and as such exist still. The secret lies in the fact that the light particles restore their original state.

JOURNALIST: This is the resurrection!

TESLA: I prefer to call it: return to a previous energy. Christ and several others knew the secret. I am searching how to preserve human energy. It is forms of Light, sometimes straight like heavenly light. I have not looked for it for my own sake, but for the good of all. I believe that my discoveries make people’s lives easier and more bearable, and channel them to spirituality and morality.

According to an archive of defunct US magazines, there has never been a published periodical named Immortality.

A statue of the inventor and scientist Nikola Tesla in Belgrade.
 A statue of the famous Serbian inventor and scientist Nikola Tesla in Belgrade, Serbia. 

The Verdict

There is no evidence that Nikola Tesla made the statement attributed to him in the post. Experts on Tesla’s life and writings told AAP FactCheck there is no record of the quote being attributed to the inventor and it does not directly tally with his beliefs.

Parts of the quote can, however, be found in a film adaptation of Serbian playwright Stevan Pešić’s play that features a fictional interview with the inventor in 1899 about his ideas and philosophy.

 False – Content that has no basis in fact.

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