THE PROBLEM OF INCREASING HUMAN ENERGY
WITH SPECIAL REFERENCES TO THE HARNESSING OF THE SUN’S ENERGY.
Century Illustrated Magazine, June 1900
by Nikola Tesla
THE ONWARD MOVEMENT OF MAN—THE ENERGY OF THE MOVEMENT—THE THREE WAYS OF INCREASING HUMAN ENERGY.
Of all the endless variety of phenomena which nature presents to our senses, there is none that fills our minds with greater wonder than that inconceivably complex movement which, in its entirety, we designate as human life; Its mysterious origin is veiled in the forever impenetrable mist of the past, its character is rendered incomprehensible by its infinite intricacy, and its destination is hidden in the unfathomable depths of the future. Whence does it come? What is it? Whither does it tend? Are the great questions which the sages of all times have endeavored to answer?
Modern science says: The sun is the past, the earth is the present, and the moon is the future. From an incandescent mass we have originated, and into a frozen mass we shall turn. Merciless is the law of nature, and rapidly and irresistibly we are drawn to our doom. Lord Kelvin, in his profound meditations, allows us only a short span of life, something like six million years, after which time the suns bright light will have ceased to shine, and its life giving heat will have ebbed away, and our own earth will be a lump of ice, hurrying on through the eternal night. But do not let us despair. There will still be left upon it a glimmering spark of life, and there will be a chance to kindle a new fire on some distant star. This wonderful possibility seems, indeed, to exist, judging from Professor Dewar’s beautiful experiments with liquid air, which show that germs of organic life are not destroyed by cold, no matter how intense; consequently they may be transmitted through the interstellar space. Meanwhile the cheering lights of science and art, ever increasing in intensity, illuminate our path, and marvels they disclose, and the enjoyments they offer, make us measurably forgetful of the gloomy future.
Though we may never be able to comprehend human life, we know certainly that it is a movement, of whatever nature it be. The existence of movement unavoidably implies a body which is being moved and a force which is moving it. Hence, wherever there is life, there is a mass moved by a force. All mass possesses inertia, all force tends to persist. Owing to this universal property and condition, a body, be it at rest or in motion, tends to remain in the same state, and a force, manifesting itself anywhere and through whatever cause, produces an equivalent opposing force, and as an absolute necessity of this it follows that every movement in nature must be rhythmical. Long ago this simple truth was clearly pointed out by Herbert Spencer, who arrived at it through a somewhat different process of reasoning. It is borne out in everything we perceive—in the movement of a planet, in the surging and ebbing of the tide, in the reverberations of the air, the swinging of a pendulum, the oscillations of an electric current, and in the infinitely varied phenomena of organic life. Does not the whole of human life attest to it? Birth, growth, old age, and death of an individual, family, race, or nation, what is it all but a rhythm? All life-manifestation, then, even in its most intricate form, as exemplified in man, however involved and inscrutable, is only a movement, to which the same general laws of movement which govern throughout the physical universe must be applicable.
[Nikola Tesla: Colorado Springs Notes, page 334, Photograph X.]
FIG. 1. BURNING THE NITROGEN OF THE ATMOSPHERE.
Note to Fig. 1.—This result is produced by the discharge of an electrical oscillator giving twelve million volts. The electrical pressure, alternating one hundred thousand times per second, excites the normally inert nitrogen, causing it to combine with the oxygen. The flame-like discharge shown in the photograph measures sixty-five feet across.
When we speak of man, we have a conception of humanity as a whole, and before applying scientific methods to, the investigation of his movement we must accept this as a physical fact. But can anyone doubt to-day that all the millions of individuals and all the innumerable types and characters constitute an entity, a unit? Though free to think and act, we are held together, like the stars in the firmament, with ties inseparable. These ties cannot be seen, but we can feel them. I cut myself in the finger, and it pains me: this finger is a part of me. I see a friend hurt, and it hurts me, too: my friend and I are one.
And now I see stricken down an enemy, a lump of matter which, of all the lumps of matter in the universe, I care least for, and it still grieves me. Does this not prove that each of us is only part of a whole?
For ages this idea has been proclaimed in the consummately wise teachings of religion, probably not alone as a means of insuring peace and harmony among men, but as a deeply founded truth. The Buddhist expresses it in one way, the Christian in another, but both say the same: We are all one. Metaphysical proofs are, however, not the only ones which we are able to bring forth in support of this idea. Science, too, recognizes this connectedness of separate individuals, though not quite in the same sense as it admits that the suns, planets, and moons of a constellation are one body, and there can be no doubt that it will be experimentally confirmed in times to come, when our means and methods for investigating psychical and other states and phenomena shall have been brought to great perfection. Still more: this one human being lives on and on. The individual is ephemeral, races and nations come and pass away, but man remains. Therein lies the profound difference between the individual and the whole. Therein, too, is to be found the partial explanation of many of those marvelous phenomena of heredity which are the result of countless centuries of feeble but persistent influence.
Conceive, then, man as a mass urged on by a force. Though this movement is not of a translatory character, implying change of place, yet the general laws of mechanical movement are applicable to it, and the energy associated with this mass can be measured, in accordance with well-known principles, by half the product of the mass with the square of a certain velocity. So, for instance, a cannon-ball which is at rest possesses a certain amount of energy in the form of heat, which we measure in a similar way. We imagine the ball to consist of innumerable minute particles, called atoms or molecules, which vibrate or whirl around one another. We determine their masses and velocities, and from them the energy of each of these minute systems, and adding them all together, we get an idea of the total heat-energy contained in the ball, which is only seemingly at rest. In this purely theoretical estimate this energy may then be calculated by multiplying half of the total mass—that is half of the sum of all the small masses—with the square of a velocity which is determined from the velocities of the separate particles. In like manner we may conceive of human energy being measured by half the human mass multiplied with the square of the velocity which we are not yet able to compute. But our deficiency in this knowledge will not vitiate the truth of the deductions I shall draw, which rest on the firm basis that the same laws of mass and force govern throughout nature.
Man, however, is not an ordinary mass, consisting of spinning atoms and molecules, and containing merely heat-energy. He is a mass possessed of certain higher qualities by reason of the creative principle of life with which he is endowed. His mass, as the water in an ocean wave, is being continuously exchanged, new taking the place of the old. Not only this, but he grows propagates, and dies, thus altering his mass independently, both in bulk and density. What is most wonderful of all, he is capable of increasing or diminishing his velocity of movement by the mysterious power he possesses by appropriating more or less energy from other substance, and turning it into motive energy. But in any given moment we may ignore these slow changes and assume that human energy is measured by half the product of man’s mass with the square of a certain hypothetical velocity. However we may compute this velocity, and whatever we may take as the standard of its measure, we must, in harmony with this conception, come to the conclusion that the great problem of science is, and always will be, to increase the energy thus defined. Many years ago, stimulated by the perusal of that deeply interesting work, Draper’s “History of the Intellectual Development of Europe,” depicting so vividly human movement, I recognized that to solve this eternal problem must ever be the chief task of the man of science. Some results of my own efforts to this end I shall endeavor briefly to describe here.
DIAGRAM a. THE THREE WAYS OF INCREASING HUMAN ENERGY.
Let, then, in diagram a, M represent the mass of man. This mass is impelled in one direction by a force f, which is resisted by another partly frictional and partly negative force R, acting in a direction exactly opposite, and retarding the movement of the mass. Such an antagonistic force is present in every movement and must be taken into consideration. The difference between these two forces is the effective force which imparts a velocity V to the mass M in the direction of the arrow on the line representing the force f. In accordance with the preceding, the human energy will then be given by the product — MV2 = — MV x V, in which M is the total mass of man in the ordinary interpretation of the term “mass,” and V is a certain hypothetical velocity, which, in the present state of science, we are unable exactly to define and determine. To increase the human energy is, therefore, equivalent to increasing this product, and there are, as will readily be seen, only three ways possible to attain this result, which are illustrated in the above diagram. The first way shown in the top figure, is to increase the mass (as indicated by the dotted circle), leaving the two opposing forces the same. The second way is to reduce the retarding force R to a smaller value r, leaving the mass and the impelling force the same, as diagrammatically shown in the middle figure. The third way, which is illustrated in the last figure, is to increase the impelling force f to a higher value F, while the mass and the retarding force R remain unaltered. Evidently fixed limits exist as regards increase of mass and reduction of retarding force, but the impelling force can be increased indefinitely. Each of these three possible solutions presents a different aspect of the main problem of increasing human energy, which is thus divided into three distinct problems, to be successively considered.