8 times when Nikola Tesla was wrong

Jul 4, 2021 8 comments
8 times when engineer Nikola Tesla was wrong

Nikola Tesla was a great Serbian-American engineer who played the major role in perfecting and promoting alternate current. He was also a visionary who predicted smartphones, renewable energy and creation of artificial Suns, much before time permitted.

However, it is surprising that Tesla sometimes took anti-science as well as anti-mathematics positions. Several of his views about the world were particularly pseudoscientific. So in this post, let us look at 8 instances when even the Genius Nikola Tesla was wrong.


On electrons

Tesla did not agree with the theory of atoms being composed of smaller subatomic particles. He thought that there was no such thing as an electron creating an electric charge and that it had nothing to do with electricity.

However, not only did the electron get discovered but also its properties and effects were measured by physicist J.J. Thomson at the start of the twentieth century. Without electron, technologies like the television couldn't exist.

On relativity

According to Nikola Tesla, Einstein's 1915 theory of general relativity was wrong. He commented in 1932: "I hold that space cannot be curved, for the simple reason that it can have no properties. It might as well be said that God has properties. He has not."

8 times when engineer Nikola Tesla was wrong

In 1935, Tesla told The New York times: "Einstein's relativity work is a magnificent mathematical garb which fascinates, dazzles and makes people blind to the underlying errors. The theory is like a beggar clothed in purple whom ignorant people take for a king."

In 2004, the gravity probe-b satellite was launched to measure the curvature due to Earth. Its data was analyzed by the Stanford University and it indeed confirmed Einstein's theory to a high degree of accuracy in 2011.

Furthermore, without relativity, the GPS would fail in its navigational functions and Google maps couldn't work to pinpoint precision.


On mathematics

Nikola Tesla did not have a strong hold on advanced mathematics. Perhaps that is why he said in 1934: "Today's scientists have substituted mathematics for experiments, and they wander off through equation after equation, and eventually build a structure which has no relation to reality."

That is not true at all – mathematics and experiments both are fundamental to scientific progress. In fact, many a times it was mathematics alone that led to a new kind of discovery.

For example: Dirac was trying to unify relativity with quantum mechanics and ended up predicting the existence of antimatter in doing so.

Even sixteenth century Galileo Galilei had a high regard for mathematics, when he said: Philosophy is written in mathematical language; without it one wanders in vain through a dark labyrinth.


On atomic energy

Tesla told The New York Times in 1931: "The idea of atomic energy is illusionary. I have preached against it for twenty-five years but there are still some who believe it to be realizable."

Because, as mentioned before, he did not trust the theory of subatomic particles. So according to Tesla, atoms were immutable – meaning that they could not be split or changed in any way.

Two years after Tesla's death in 1943, not only did the humankind split the atom, they also used it to end the World War II. Although it began a nuclear arms race and a call for disarmament – well that is another story in itself.

Today, atomic energy is a source of nuclear power – as predicted by physicist Lise Meitner – which is in turn used to generate heat and electricity. Moreover, scientists are also working on a large-scale fusion project called ITER for future electricity generation.


On EM waves

German physicist Henrich Hertz demonstrated the accuracy of Maxwell's equations when he successfully generated electromagnetic waves in laboratory.

Because Tesla did not have the mathematical advantage, he relied completely on experiments. Though his own experiments led him to erroneously believe that Hertz and Maxwell were wrong.

In one 1891 lecture, Tesla expressed openly his disagreements with Hertz – which is anyway healthy for the sake of scientific progress.

But over the next few years, several groundbreaking evidences were collected in the favor of Maxwellian electromagnetism.

In 1898, Tesla himself developed a radio based remote-controlled boat and yet till 1919 he did not believe in the existence of EM waves and in the theories developed by Maxwell and Hertz.


On wireless electricity

Tesla was a great visionary but his vision was not always practical for everyone. After having perfected alternate current technologies he wanted to make a new revolutionary change – render wires useless.

So in 1901-1902, he built the Wardenclyffe Tower, his attempt to transfer electricity via the ground. Earlier he had believed that he could do so via the air but that he later found infeasible.

Tesla promised his financier J.P. Morgan 100-fold returns on the initial investment. However, engineers pointed out that currents once injected into the ground would spread in all directions, quickly becoming too diffuse to be usable over long distances.

8 times when engineer Nikola Tesla was wrong

Also, around the same time, Guglielmo Marconi, who unlike Tesla, believed in and worked with EM waves, had successfully transmitted the Morse Code for letter S across the Atlantic.

Tesla wanted to transmit electricity wirelessly – impractical, even impossible to achieve. Marconi, on the other hand, was interested in the wireless transmission of information.

In addition to engineering and financial problems, the dangers of wireless electrical power to the nearby wildlife was not taken into account. Thus, the Wardenclyffe Tower project had to be abandoned.


On science

Although Tesla was a brilliant engineer and experimenter, he sometimes delved into pseudoscientific ideas which had no basis in reality and lacked experimental data – a quality he revered.

For example, he once said: A single ray of light from a distant star falling upon the eye of a tyrant in bygone times may have altered the course of his life, may have changed the destiny of nations, may have transformed the surface of the globe, so intricate, so inconceivably complex are the processes in Nature.

That thought, although poetically beautiful, has no place in a science lab – it doesn't work that way. Because distant stars and planets and their motions have no measurable effects on the Earth. It is pointless and unscientific.

On radioactivity

In 1903, Marie Curie, Pierre Curie and Henri Becquerel won the Nobel Prize in physics for discovering evidence for radioactivity.

However, Tesla was not convinced since he did not believe that the atom was divisible and that it had internal forces and subatomic particles.

According to him, the phenomena of radioactivity was not the result of forces within the radioactive substance but by the rays emitted by the Sun.

He told The New York Times in 1931: If radium could be screened effectively against this ray it would cease to be radioactive.

Summing up

Nikola Tesla was a genius inventor and explorer whose work ushered the electrical revolution that transformed daily life. Einstein wrote to Tesla: As an eminent pioneer in the realm of high frequency currents... I congratulate you on the great successes of your life's work.

8 times when Nikola Tesla was wrong

But at the same time Nikola Tesla was also human – jealousy, denial and frustration, played a big role in his professional life.

His frustration with advanced mathematics led him to incorrectly conclude that Maxwell's equations and relativity were wrong.

His denial of modern science left him too far behind his contemporaries – Marconi, Braun, Bose – in his ability to contribute to the wireless communication.

Surely, Tesla did achieve what others could only dream of. But the point is, not to put Tesla on pedestal, or build conspiracy theories in his favor, as many fans would want to do. It does not do justice to Tesla's brilliance.

Comments

  1. Dear Sirs ... I am not a cientist and not a Tesla defense lawer, but in this link that is in this text https://www.wondersofphysics.com/2019/07/nikola-tesla-biography.html ...Somewhere it says that Tesla did "...By the age of 16, Nikola was able to perform integral calculus in his head which prompted his teachers to believe that he was cheating...." Isn´t this a mathematical thing ?? On the other end, I read once that when he was questioned about Marconi transmitting radio signal he said to the jornalist something like "... Marconi is using 14 of my patents... No problem, he can use them ..." What is what ?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's why Tesla was a Genius.

      But he was also wrong plenty of times especially when he grew older.

      Delete
  2. This article is completely wrong and misleading. Tesla was wrong sometimes that is true but not in the cases mentioned in this article. His mistakes was beleveing in people, fairplay, bad money handling etc. but you can't find his mistakes in science and electro engineering. Merely his different viewpoint

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Of course, because the statement "2 + 2 = 5" is just a different point of view. Do not compromise yourself.

      Delete
    2. "Of course, because the statement "2 + 2 = 5" is just a different point of view." this is a reductio adabsurdum
      "Do not compromise yourself." this is an ad hominem statement coupled with classical projection.

      Delete
  3. Beautiful article and it is absolutely true. But it may offend non-scientific fans of Tesla. But the truth must be communicated. Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  4. That's Why Science is so beautiful

    ReplyDelete
  5. Tesla was sometimes wrong but not as how it is mentioned here.
    He did advanced math himself.
    How can you say Tesla did not believe in EM waves that is never true. He transmitted radio waves and even took the first ever x-ray photo.He worked more on EM waves and even thought of inventing a death ray. Please when bringing out a public feed do much research first.
    Tesla did always talk about nonscientific phenomenon and I think you should know the difference, what he said up there was more of a poetry than of physics.

    ReplyDelete

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