I recently found a rather interesting paper (letter?) from Nikola Tesla called "Man's Greatest Achievement", in which appears the following paragraph:

Long ago he recognized that all perceptible matter comes from a primary substance, of a tenuity beyond conception and filling all space - the Akasha or luminiferous ether - which is acted upon by the life-giving Prana or creative force, calling into existence, in never ending cycles, all things and phenomena.

Upon reading the paragraph, I couldn't help but relating it to the process philosophy (and Schellingian philosophy) tradition of taking the world as being created in "ending cycles", with both creative (idealist) and "dampening" (objective, not sure if "dampening" is the correct term) forces acting upon each other in some kind of a non-dualistic sense.

Would taking Tesla as having a non-dualistic/process-ian philosophical stance be true?

If so, did it influence his work? How so?

[Didn't have any proper tag for this question; maybe a "personality" tag would fit.]

  • The link may be indirect... It seems that there is a link with Upanishads and Schelling (and Schopenhauer) praised the ideas of Upanishads. – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Jul 15 '18 at 17:03
  • Another possible link is with American Transcendentalism. – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Jul 15 '18 at 17:17
  • @MauroALLEGRANZA oh wow, I had no idea Schelling read the Upanishads, this makes a whole lot of sense of the similarities. I wonder in which period he read it though. Interesting. I wonder if I should delete the question now as you've presented a pretty obvious answer. Maybe someone can find a different link though. If I won't get any other answers I'll put yours as an answer and accept it. – Yechiam Weiss Jul 15 '18 at 17:34
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    The poet Eliot was influenced by Upanishads : "he studied philosophy at Harvard College from 1906 to 1909 and then was a philosophy assistant at Harvard from 1909 to 1910. Eliot moved to Paris where, from 1910 to 1911, he studied philosophy at the Sorbonne.From 1911 to 1914, he was back at Harvard studying Indian philosophy and Sanskrit." Thus, through Schelling, idealism, romanticism and transcedentalism, the Indian phil was present in US, while Tesla emigrated to the United States in 1884 and lived there until his death in NYC in 1943. – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Jul 15 '18 at 17:47

Schelling's familiarity with Upanishads was likely late, first German translation appeared in 1832, although there were earlier Latin and English translations, all of questionable quality. But he was enthralled by them and encouraged his student, Max Müller, to do a scholarly systematic translation, see Vedanta Society's Journey of the Upanishads to the West. It only came out in 1879, however, 25 years after Schelling's death. Here is from Müller's preface:

"My real love for Sanskrit literature was first kindled by the Upanishads. It was in the year 1844, when attending Schelling's lectures at Berlin, that my attention was drawn to those ancient theosophic treatises, and I still possess my collations of the Sanskrit MSS, which had then just arrived at Berlin, the Chambers collection, and my copies of commentaries, and commentaries on commentaries, which I made at that time. Some of my translations which I left with Schelling, I have never been able to recover, though to judge from others which I still possess, the loss of them is of small consequence."

Tesla also accepted the non-dualism of Upanishads enthusiastically when he was in his forties, but he got it from a different source. Skala's From Boskovic's fundamental theory in natural philosophy to generic technical innovations of Tesla describes it as follows:

"A big change in Tesla's world view took place after he met Svami Vivekananda, a high ranking Indian spiritual teacher, during the Congress of all world religions in Chicago 1893. Tesla became a true follower of the Vedic philosophy including Hinduism, Taoism and Buddism and their picture of the nature ofUniverse.Tesla built the Vedic philosophy in his everyday life habits by practising yoga and becoming a vegetarian... After meeting the Swami Tesla continued to study the Eastern view of the mechanisms driving the material world, Tesla also began to use the Sanskrit words Akasha, Prana, and the concept of luminiferous ether to describe the source, existence, and construction of the physical universe.

Swami Vivekananda was a Hindu monk, a disciple of the Indian mystic Ramakrishna, and a major promoter of Vedanta and Yoga philosophies in the 19th century Europe. Interestingly, Max Müller also met with Swami in London in May 1896, which apparently inspired him to write Ramakrishna, His Life and Sayings published in 1898.

As for Upanisdhads' influence on Tesla's work, it is probably fair to say that it provided some general inspiration, but it is hard to trace it specifically to any of his inventions, Skala does not attempt it. And the OP quote reflects the then current hopes, widely shared, for "grand unification" of physics by an all-encompassing ether theory in addition to the Upanishads. Compare to Michelson's 1902 speech:

"The day seems not far distant when the converging lines from many apparently remote regions of thought will meet on this common ground. Then the nature of the atoms, and the forces called into play in their chemical union... the explanation of cohesion, elasticity, and gravitation — all these will be marshaled into a single compact and consistent body of scientific knowledge... one of the grandest generalizations of modern science ... that all the phenomena of the physical universe are only different manifestations of the various modes of motion of one all-pervading substance — the ether." [quoted from Kragh, Quantum Generations, p.4]

Ironically, it was Michelson's own experiment that played a large part in spelling the end of this grand vision.

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    Interesting, so it was around the time of his mythological lectures. On a side note, I must say I keep getting fascinated by how much you know and how wide your philosophical knowledge is. Truly amazing. – Yechiam Weiss Jul 16 '18 at 3:29

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