Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Nikola Tesla with Pikachu

Our older son is in the throes of researching a paper on Nikola Tesla.  As it turns out, the selection of this topic was a perhaps somewhat overly ambitious.

Tesla has enjoyed quite a bit of popularity on the world wide web over the last several years. If you waste any time online, you have probably encountered some sort of widely shared post about how Tesla was an unrecognized genius who was responsible for everything from basic electricity to cell phones and the internet.

One would think that with all this recent notoriety, that there would be some research materials out there appropriate for seventh graders... or more specifically, for seventh graders who would rather be playing video games than slogging through 500 page texts full of detailed history and scientific terminology.

The research problems caused by this lack of age-appropriate materials has resulted in me learning more about Tesla than I might have intended. This is not all bad of course. Tesla has a fascinating biography and reading about him has also revealed how much I need to learn about basic electrical principles. On the other hand, I do not need to repeat 7th grade, so the situation is not so very delightful.

But I have learned more that enough about the man to hypothesize that he would have been pretty enthusiastic about Pikachu:

Tesla really loved electricity... and not just as a topic of scientific research and commercial engineering.  He believed in both its philosophical power and potent health effects. He frequently treated himself and others with electric current for for mental heath and digestive function. (He also initially believed that X-rays had health benefits, but fortunately quickly discovered evidence to the contrary)

He had a powerful imagination and was an enthusiast for the fantastic.  Picking up a beeping sound of unknown origin on a receiver in his laboratory in Colorado Springs, he seems to have arrived at the conclusion that he was receiving messages from intelligent life on Mars.

And, last but not least, at the end of his life, he was an ardent fan of small creatures in the form of pigeons. He was, by many accounts, obsessed with the pigeons that he fed daily in Central Park. He himself wrote about one bird in particular, "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." As Tesla did not marry and seems to have never had a significant relationship with a woman other than his mother, maybe we should not read too much into that statement. Still, he cared very much about animals and their welfare, espousing vegetarianism to avoid cruelty. Despite his pigeon romance, by the end of his life, he did not seem to be having much success in his relationships with people or money.

But perhaps things would have worked out better for him if there had been an electric Pokemon for him to bond with.

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