Tesla – Lecture at Columbia University

EXPERIMENTS WITH ALTERNATE CURRENTS OF VERY HIGH FREQUENCY AND THEIR APPLICATION TO METHODS OF ARTIFICIAL ILLUMINATION

by Nikola Tesla
Delivered before the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, Columbia College, N.Y., May 20, 1891
There is no subject more captivating, more worthy of study, than nature. To understand this great mechanism, to discover the forces which are active, and the laws which govern them, is the highest aim of the intellect of man.
Nature has stored up in the universe infinite energy. The eternal recipient and transmitter of this infinite energy is the ether. The recognition of the existence of ether, and of the functions it performs, is one of the most important results of modern scientific research. The mere abandoning of the idea of action at a distance, the assumption of a medium pervading all space and connecting all gross matter, has freed the minds of thinkers of an ever present doubt, and, by opening a new horizon—new and unforeseen possibilities—has given fresh interest to phenomena with which we are familiar of old. It has been a great step towards the understanding of the forces of nature and their multifold manifestations to our senses. It has been for the enlightened student of physics what the understanding of the mechanism of the firearm or of the steam engine is for the barbarian. Phenomena upon which we used to look as wonders baffling explanation, we now see in a different light. The spark of an induction coil, the glow of an incandescent lamp, the manifestations of the mechanical forces of currents and magnets are no longer beyond our grasp; instead of the incomprehensible, as before, their observation suggests now in our minds a simple mechanism, and although as to its precise nature all is still conjecture, yet we know that the truth cannot be much longer hidden, and instinctively we feel that the understanding is dawning upon us. We still admire these beautiful phenomena, these strange forces, but we are helpless no longer; we can in a certain measure explain them, account for them, and we are hopeful of finally succeeding in unraveling the mystery which surrounds them.
In how far we can understand the world around us is the ultimate thought of every student of nature. The coarseness of our senses prevents us from recognizing the ulterior construction of matter, and astronomy, this grandest and most positive of natural sciences, can only teach us something that happens, as it were, in our immediate neighborhood; of the remoter portions of the boundless universe, with its numberless stars and suns, we know nothing, But far beyond the limit of perception of our senses the spirit still can guide us, and so we may hope that even these unknown worlds—infinitely small and great—may in a measure became known to us. Still, even if this knowledge should reach us, the searching mind will find a barrier, perhaps forever unsurpassable, to the true recognition of that which seems to be, the mere appearance of which is the only and slender basis of all our philosophy.
Of all the forms of nature’s immeasurable, all-pervading energy, which ever and ever changing and moving; like a soul animates the inert universe, electricity and magnetism are perhaps the most fascinating. The effects of gravitation, of heat and light we observe daily, and soon we get accustomed to them, and soon they lose for us the character of the marvelous and wonderful; but electricity and magnetism, with their singular relationship, with their seemingly dual character, unique among the forces in nature, with their phenomena of attractions, repulsions and rotations, strange manifestations of mysterious agents; stimulate and excite the mind to thought and research. What is electricity, and what is magnetism? These questions have been asked again and again. The most able intellects have ceaselessly wrestled with the problem; still the question has not as yet been fully answered. But while we cannot even to-day state what these singular forces are, we have made good headway towards the solution of the problem. We are now confident that electric and magnetic phenomena are attributable to ether, and we are perhaps justified in saying that the effects of static electricity are effects of ether under strain, and those of dynamic electricity and electro-magnetism effects of ether in motion. But this still leaves the question, as to what electricity and magnetism are, unanswered.

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