Nikolai Tesla

Moving the goalposts! You goalpost-mover you. Your garage was only supposed to have a common unicorn infestation. Not pink ones.

*Invisible *pink ones. That’s a in-joke around here. The existence of the invisible pink unicorn is postulated in threads where people want to argue about the existence of god. (But if it’s invisible how do you know it is pink? Exactly.)

I have a fairly complete set of the first three or four years of OMNI. I could look for this article if it would help. It’d be nice if you could narrow it down some, though.

There was no specification of a particular type of unicorn. The phrase ‘there are no unicorns in there’ would be inclusive of the invisible pink variety.

You have taught me well.

Obviously. Those kind are always invisible. And my quantum fridge is full of small ones, but every time I open the door to look inside, they turn into a one-ton block of U-235.

Ask for degrees, publication lists. Suspect nonscientists. The researchers I know personally don’t behave like that. (Well, one does! Guy’s a dick though.) Science relies on creativity, and anyone who accepts only “textbook knowledge” tends to be the type who never has one original thought in their entire career. Successful researchers need to have Carroll’s “six impossible beliefs before breakfast,” but also do as K. Lorentz says and “kill off one pet theory before breakfast.”

Many miss the fact that science is always tentative, with all statements carrying the unstated idea “but we could be wrong.” This odd position is rare in the world of law/politics/religion, but not in science. The garage almost certainly doesn’t contain any unicorns …but I could be wrong. Even though I’d bet my life and my firstborn on not finding any unicorns there, I wouldn’t see their presence as ridiculous, any more than I’d find it ridiculous to get very long strings of heads while flipping coins. When Feynman said that we must leave the door to the unknown ajar, this is what he was talking about: remaining tentative. Avoiding ‘belief’ and toxic certainty. Sometimes “unicorns” do actually arise. Such chances only favor prepared minds. Also, scientists in the ideal case don’t leap to positions of belief or disbelief in the first place, since that’s a major source of emotional bias. Rather we assign increasing probabilities with increasing reliable evidence both pro and con. And most important: be constantly ready to revise our thinking, rather than fighting tooth and nail against admitting being wrong. Here’s an excellent old article on this:

RA Lyttleton, “Nature of Knowledge”

Not true about replication. Quote me some papers. I’ll be surprised if you can find any. Tesla is considered far-fringe science, and any legit researcher who pursues funding will receive only laughter, if not total career damage. This problem was even worse in the past, so any existing legit Tesla work will be recent. Other than the many crackpots and hobbyists without real resources, Tesla’s claims haven’t seen any years of testing. The only large-scale replications were by Robert Golka and Charles Yost, neither one in academia. Neither succeeded. (We could insist that they were unreliable crackpots. Or insist that they were fanatical Tesla supporters, and if there was anything real, they would have found it. Which one’s more true?) Here’s an odd bit of trivia: high-volt hobbyist forums ban discussion of Tesla’s power broadcast testing. Even hobbyists don’t work on this.

A problem: Golka and Yost didn’t use Tesla’s balloon-borne longwire antennas or his ion method, (both of very questionable legality today.) So, if they were trying to ‘prove unicorns,’ they were looking in an entirely different garage from the one Tesla used. Searching for lost car keys under the distant streetlight where it’s easier to see. :slight_smile: Lots of Tesla enthusiasts have messed with 10ft outdoor coils lacking any antenna. Bearden and “scalar waves” aside, a Tesla coil alone cannot broadcast any 10KHz VLF; that’s one simple result supported both empirically and by Maxwell, and by Tesla’s writings. Tesla’s own stated method requires breaking down a large region of atmosphere high above the transmitter, i.e. artificial aurora. Even ignoring antenna issues, this cannot occur except at extreme output wattage. If youse isnts creating massive sky-glow, you aint bein Tesla.

Not true, not for multi-megawatt KHz radio. Other than secret NAVY sub comm systems, it’s a relatively unexplored area. But in fact, our understanding of the physics is supporting Tesla.

Tesla originally was rejected on the grounds that Earth Resonance doesn’t exist. Waves cannot curve around the Earth. Then Marconi succeeded. Then the Heaviside layer was found. Then Zenneck & others showed that a resistive Earth bends wavefronts and causes the “ground wave” effect (see “over-the-horizon radar,” or Kraus text “Electromagnetism.”) Then just such a VLF resonance phenomenon was discovered in the 1950s.

But then Tesla was still rejected on the grounds that the known resonance bands show too low a Q-factor. At far below 100KHz, the EM pulses only circle the Earth a few times before damping out, and above 100KHz they don’t make it around even once. Then in the 1970s some NASA vlf people measured Q-factors of hundreds, even thousands, and discovered that the earlier measurements were artifacts of long integration times and wide filters with built-in limits of Q=~10. Oops.

So now what does physics say about Colorado Springs? Most of the objections have evaporated. But not all! First: the Schumann absorption lines wander around over a time scale of minutes. A fixed-frequency transmitter will miss the narrow high-Q resonance. Unless Tesla had some sort of weird phase-locking technique, his transmitter cannot possibly have worked. (Note to Tesla fanatics: look for possible weird phase locking technique he may have used.)

Even worse: you cannot broadcast significant VLF power without a long antenna. He’d have needed miles-long balloon-lofted antennas. Um, …Tesla’s records show that he was initially using just such antennas. But then for some reason he abandoned this. If he had some actual success, why would he change it to something that doesn’t work? Gone crazy? Or found a better method? Years later the Wardenclyffe tower didn’t involve balloon antennas as far as we know. But this below from an 1899 Tesla article:

If it turns out that we looked in the wrong garage, then we have a valid case for saying that the evidence had never been inspected. (This of course is different than common/idiotic backpedaling attempts, e.g. crackpots who suddenly move the goalposts, and say “Oh we forgot to tell you they’re invisible.”)

Analogical counterevidence: There are no sea monsters that attack ships. If there were, evidence would exist. OK, someone finally gives us a giant squid to dissect. Turns out that these animals have been reported for centuries, and they are found to be aggressive. But such reports were ignored by the scientific community on the grounds that we all know that ship-attacking giant squids are ridiculous sailor-stories. With unicorns/fairies/bigfoot, if someone provides a corpse to dissect, then suddenly we realize that in the vast collection of ridiculed eyewitness accounts, many were perfectly legit. Theory determines evidence? It does where non-lab, observations-from-nature are concerned.

His “The True Wireless” from Electrical Experimenter magazine has some pretty crazy (meaning flagrantly wrong) stuff. Tesla accurately described the ground-wave behavior of VLF transmitters with grounded short antennas, then wrongly extended this to mean that radio never involves free EM waves in empty space. Elsewhere he says that his coils don’t have Hertz-losses to radiation, …then later says this radiation doesn’t exist in the first place? Huh? He disbelieves the Heaviside layer, yet insists that the upper atmosphere must be conductive in order for his system to work. Huh? Craziness. At worst, it proves that he’s just a crackpot. At best, he must be like another poster here noted: another Einstein who gets SR/GR right, but turns into a QM denialist.

Sounds like: “If this was true, experts would already know about it?” That assertion fails whenever a claim involves a revolutionary breakthrough, or even a well-known crackpot topic. By definition, revolutionary breakthroughs are both rare and outside of expert knowledge. And, if Tesla was right all along, and if his stuff would be genuinely useful, well, we have little chance of discovering this, because anyone who makes funding applications will be laughed down, and have their reputation damaged. Crackpot ideas stay limited to the crackpot realm not just because they’re wrong, but also because everyone thinks that they’re crackpot ideas. Hobbyists with no fear of losing tenure might scrape up some non-federal funding and perform tests. But that’s a self-limiting process, since only the fringe-science journals will publish their results, so they have no impact on the real science community. (Me, I read the seedy crackpot journals, and no, there still haven’t been any big breakthroughs with verifying Tesla’s stuff.)

You’re mistaken if you think I’m insisting that Tesla correct. This is about the unknown. Tesla was probably wrong. But that probability isn’t immense. So let the experiment be made. Refuse to explore the unknown on what grounds? That someone already looked? No, they didn’t (not besides Tesla.) On grounds of avoiding ridicule by colleagues? That’s normal science politics, but it’s the opposite of “Science.” On grounds of limited funding? That’s valid, so let the fanatical Tesla supporters mount a replication of the Colorado Springs device, if they’re so insistent. Or have the frakking Serbian government do it. Hey, if Tesla did have keys to success, and left written secrets not found in any published docs, then supposedly Beograd has them hidden in its Tesla museum. They can prove their national hero correct. I don’t think they ever tried. What’s the hold-up?

That narrowness is how science is done, but remains totally the opposite of Believer/Skeptic flamewars (i.e. “politics/law/religion.”) Different from the skeptic crusader is the Pyrrhonian skeptic: I don’t yet know, but I’m still working on trying to find out.

I don’t understand this statement at all. Telsa firmly disputed that radio waves or electromagnetic radiation even existed – everyone from Maxwell onward was wrong. Tesla did recognize that there was radiation produced from an oscillating electrical current, but it was what he called “Hertzian waves”, which was a compression wave that traveled through the ether, similar to sound waves. He also firmly denied that Hertzian waves could be used for anything more than very short distance communication.

The statements in his 1919 The True Wireless makes this abundantly clear. Conventional science believed in – and still does – the existence of “surface waves” (then called “gliding waves”) for longwave transmissions, something Tesla thought ridiculous: “In Fig. 13 a transmitter is shown radiating space waves of considerable frequency. It is generally believed that these waves pass along the earth’s surface and thus affect the receivers. I can hardly think of anything more improbable than this “gliding wave” theory and the conception of the “guided wireless” which are contrary to all laws of action and reaction. Why should these disturbances cling to a conductor where they are counteracted by induced currents, when they can propagate in all other directions unimpeded? The fact is that the radiations of the transmitter passing along the earth’s surface are soon extinguished, the height of the inactive zone indicated in the diagram, being some function of the wave length, the bulk of the waves traversing freely the atmosphere.”

In his view, the only way to transmit electrical energy to great distances was to use some sort of conductor, and he claimed he could use AC electrical currents traveling through the earth to achieve this goal: “By keeping steadily in mind that the transmission thru the earth is in every respect identical to that thru a straight wire, one will gain a clear understanding of the phenomena and will be able to judge correctly the merits of a new scheme.”

A more complete review of Tesla’s earlier “balloons in the sky” approach appeared in the 1898 Tesla’s Latest Wonder. Both conventional scientific thought and Tesla recognize that running an alternating current through a long wire would transmit radiation, although science (in Tesla’s view), blinded by Maxwell’s equations, believes that radio waves are produced, while Tesla would claim that what was actually the result was his own conception of “Hertzian Waves”, which were essentially a waste product that stole energy and needed to be minimized at all costs.

But for Telsa, “wireless” merely meant there were no connecting wires, but he strongly felt that some sort of conductor was need to transmit electrical power. In this case, he was merely using the balloons to raise his electrical wires high enough to connect to a conveniently located electrically conducting layer of the atmosphere that he believed in and thought could be readily utilized: "It is a well-known laboratory fact that rarefied air is a conductor of electricity, though one of much resistance. The Crookes tubes of X ray fame depend on this principle. With one sweep Tesla takes this principle from the laboratories where, only, men have put it to use, and goes up to the clouds with it. He produces a wonderful voltage that will jump an enormous distance in every-day air, and proposes to take it in balloons up to where the air is a sort of natural Crookes tube. In such an altitude it will jump long distances to another terminal, he says, the layer of heavy air below being a non-conductor and resisting it like the rubber wrapping of a wire, for ordinary air is not a good conductor. "

So, there are two schemes, neither of which worked. But both were semi-conventional forms of AC electrical transmission, one that replaced the electric wires with a conducting upper atmosphere, and a second (aka “True”) approach that replaced the wires with the earth itself.

Aha, that’s the key to this.

You claim knowledge of an important fact: when tested, did Tesla’s devices fail? You seem to know something that nobody else does. Teach us. Let’s see some evidence to back up your above statement.

Lacking solid evidence, it’s a serious mistake to state that Tesla’s devices failed, or that Tesla’s devices worked.

This isn’t a complicated concept. It’s quite simple: if we’ve never looked in the garage, we’re not allowed to say that it contains a car. Or doesn’t contain a unicorn. Without evidence, our status becomes “we don’t know.” If you don’t look at the penny, you don’t know if it’s heads, tails, or standing on edge, or catching fire and melting, or falling upwards against gravity, or the fairies have magically turned it into a nickle. The unknown is unknown. Is it heads? Don’t know. Tails? Don’t know. Spontaneously melted? * Don’t know.*

Very simple idea? But I think it’s lost on most people who live in the political/religious world where confident beliefs are adopted based entirely on emotions. In this case, the Tesla Fanatics want Tesla to have succeeded, so they think this makes it OK to say that he did succeed. Bad move. The Tesla skeptics do the same, and assume that the lack of evidence makes it OK to state confidently “Tesla’s tried and failed.” No, both positions are dishonest: pure pseudoscience. The scientific position is: …without evidence our conversations are speculation, whether we label them such or not. An even more scientific position is “stop talking and go find out. Don’t argue pro or con since that can never settle the issue. Instead let nature supply the answer: let the experiment be made.”

Here’s an important side issue. Non-scientist inventors can accidentally create a successful device, yet their explanation of how it works can be bogus. For this reason we’re not on solid ground if we start reasoning that, since the explanation is crap, therefore it proves the device doesn’t work. No. Without evidence, anything we say about the device is speculation. Sometimes things which couldn’t possibly work, do actually work, and then we have to go back and figure out why. To get to the bottom of things we have to actually test.

But, I am still confused the the Wardenclyff Tower fiasco. Tesla had committed to build a wireless communications system-that was why JP Morgan invested in the project. As I say, I am beginning to believe that Morgan saw this as a way to block Marconi, and make it possible for the Morgan trust to get control of the future radio market. Unfortunately, Morgan died before this could happen, and the Marconi Co. emerged triumphant.
It reminds me a bit of Robert Sarnoff’s RCA Corporation crushing Edwin Armstrong (the inventor of FM radio)-it is not enoughto have a good idea-you need the financial muscle to avoid being ambushed by guys like JP Morgan and Sarnoff.

You could easily say that that many of Tesla’s ideas did not work in terms of financial success, or impacting the market, or becoming mainstream technology. wbeaty is making the point that there has been no thorough investigation of the technical validity of some of Tesla’s ideas. An initial failure doesn’t mean that the idea is invalid, disproval requires far more research. You can see the extent that wbeaty goes to find the answers to questions like this at his web site. Unlike many who classify unproven concepts as disproven, he is willing to consider every possibility until it can be absolutely proven or disproven.

He does not know much about unicorns though. They defy scientific methodology. Disproving the existence of unicorns requires more than simple observation and experimentation because of the existence of the invisible pink variety.

I think its more accurate to say that Tesla believed he was building a world-wide power-transmission system, so joining up with Tesla would be a way to compete with some of the corporate giants like General Electric. Communications was just one of the potential sidelines of such a company, but not the main one. Until about 1917 radio communication was a fairly small industry, mainly used for ship-to-ship, ship-to-shore, and, in a few cases transoceanic communication by Morse code. It was one of those niche industries that got a lot of publicity, so everyone knew who Marconi was, but it didn’t make very much money.

This of course was before the development of broadcasting brought receivers into every home. In contrast, power transmission had the potential of having every house in the U.S. – and maybe the world – paying you a monthly fee for their electric service. So Morgan invested what for him wasn’t a lot of money, to see if it would pan out.

I still would like to see any evidence, particularly in Tesla’s own words, that he even believed that radio waves existed (in contrast to his concept of “Hertzian waves” as longitudinal compression waves in the ether) or that he believed that “surface wave” signals could carry any sort of distance. We use the modern term “Radio Frequency” because were are aware that a high-frequency electrical oscillation creates a useful product we call electromagnetic radiation. I think he would actually be insulted if he thought you were suggesting that he believed in the existence of same. He certainly did nothing to correctly describe how it behaves over any sort of distance.

None of this makes any sense. Start with the timeline. Morgan didn’t die until 1913.

Wiki actually has a neat paragraph summary that easier to copy than to summarize out of a book.

In addition, the project was to transmit electric power, not radio communications. Why would it be in competition with anything that that Marconi was attempting?

Finally, in what world did Marconi Wireless emerge triumphant? They survived until 1920, when they were bought out by RCA, but it was never the powerhouse in the U.S. that it was in England. It did a good business in ship to shore telegraphy but never got involved in voice transmission. However you evaluate it, the company and Tesla were not competing directly in any area.

There is not a particle of evidence that Tesla had a good idea. There is no evidence he could have made the scheme work with any amount of money. He could have, should have, and was told to site the project near Niagara Falls to take advantage of the only large body of hydroelectric power transmission in the world. Instead he set it up on Long Island so he could stay in a fancy New York City hotel, whose bills he didn’t bother to pay because such things were beneath him.

I’m afraid I’m no admirer of Tesla.

In this case, I’d say take the time to look it up in the book. Someone has already changed the wording, but I can’t believe Tesla ever thought he was giving away energy for free. From Wireless Power (1912): “Also his perfected system of positive selectivity will absolutely prevent an unscrupulous consumer from stealing his power from the air, any more than he could use the key to his barn door for manipulating the time lock on a bank safe, so complete will be the individualization of currents.”

Tesla may have said that in 1912. I can’t find any other references to a Tesla-related “positive selectivity” in Google, though. And I don’t ever remember reading an account of Wardenclyffe that included such a notion at the time of its construction.

My guess is that Tesla realized that he needed to refute Morgan’s question - which may be apocryphal in that exact form, but surely came up at some time or other: Morgan wanted to make pots of money off the system - and devised some scientific-sounding gobbledygook for the reporter to disseminate. If the system was indeed "perfected,’ as the article states, what evidence do we have of it?

Except that cars exist, unicorns don’t. That’s my basic problem with your example.

I understand thought experiments and such but, c’mon.

Tesla had brains and he was a crackpot, what’s wrong with that?

None. I’m just saying that as far as I know he never was trying to give away power. Do you know of any contemporary evidence that he wanted to give the power away for free? I just can’t see him saying something like that.

Marconi however had some wild ideas. From Marconi’s Plans for the World: “As soon as the use of wireless energy becomes universal it will necessarily sweep out all the present privileged corporations of power and create a semi-socialistic state of affairs. In the future the government will be the owner of all energy. Individuals will use it to a certain amount free of any charge, but for the rest they will have to pay for the state a definite tribute. This will naturally make railways, telegraphy, telephone, vessels and mills a public ownership. There remains opportunity for an individual under those new conditions. The main trouble with all the today’s economic friction is that the energy can be owned by certain privileged individuals, who use it for their own selfish ends but not for the benefit of humanity.”

That’s a non-science position. Certain belief is for crackpots and for political parties. Instead, avoid belief and certainty, and say that cars almost certainly exist, while unicorns almost certainly don’t.

Aha, that brings up an interesting concept. What it Science? Feynman says it’s a system for not fooling ourselves, or it’s a way of avoiding bias by adopting bend-over-backwards honesty during investigations. If instead we concentrate on “avoidance of certainty,” or avoidance of making early decisions, and we concentrate on the bead-on-a-wire analogy, then we have this:

Science is a system for preventing people from making up their minds.

Do unicorns exist?

Science: very very probably not. [But we might be wrong.]

Pseudoscience: no.

There’s a world of difference between the two. It’s a matter of black/white thinkers, versus those who carefully maintain the shades of gray.

In human life it’s very useful to make up one’s mind. It lets us make snap decisions in crisis situations. Fence-sitters face problems which Believers/Disbelievers do not. If we habitually adopt beliefs, if we make up our minds at some point, then we don’t have to make decisions on the spot. The decision was already made long before. Brain evolution probably played a big role in sculpting this behavior. If the tiger is leaping out of the bushes, or if your neighbor is trying to kill you, you don’t have to carefully review all the evidence before making a decision on the best course of action. And today if you’re a Republican or Democrat rather than a fence-sitter, you don’t have to spend hours in the voting booth.

But in science that’s a toxin: it’s a major form of emotional bias. Certain beliefs are a recipe for fooling yourself. Suppose you “become certain” that something exists, and you happen to be almost certainly mistaken. It then takes a needlessly huge amount of evidence to pry your mind loose from your wrong position. Undecided fence-sitters preserve their uncertainty, so they easily respond to changing evidence. (They also face big delays when making decisions, but research work doesn’t have many life/death struggles on a scale of seconds.)

Also, certain beliefs/disbeliefs can destroy your curiousity. If you carry all sorts of beliefs and disbeliefs, then you seemingly know the answer to any situation, and you won’t have to actually check things out. You’ll assume that you know the contents of a closed garage, and won’t feel any niggling doubts or huge needs to defeat the unknown by opening the door and looking inside.

Also, certain belief/disbelief can make you unconsciously start cherry-picking evidence. You’ll elevate the supporting evidence while also you hide the contrary evidence, or ignore it, or let it slip your mind. You’ll fall into the habit of describing your believed concepts in glowing terms, and describing disbelieved concepts in derogatory terms. Bias infects your brain.

So, if I don’t look in the closed garage, I might miss the first solid evidence for unicorns. That’s a very, very, very low-probability scenario, of course. Easily solved: make it your habit to be curious: open doors and look in garages, and also admit that the contents are genuinely unknown before you looked.

I think it fits right in with this “certain belief” stuff. A non-scientist wants things to be black and white. Tesla was either trustworthy or crackpot. In that case Wardenclyffe isn’t anything unknown: it was either a workable system brought down by greed, or it was a huge expensive folly that smart investors wisely avoided. What the Teslaphiles and Tesla-scoffers miss is that evidence is very spotty, so we don’t really know. And neither side seems very curious. (Perhaps it’s because a good test of Tesla’s claims would show that their own certain beliefs/disbeliefs were wrong all along.)

“Hertzian waves” vs radio waves involves the switchover between Aether compression vs. Michaelson-Morely. Back then, Aether belief didn’t require flagrant crackpotism. (I hope you’re not slipping into ad hominem and reasoning that, since Tesla was an obvious crackpot, therefore all his statements are suspect and all his devices didn’t work.)

Tesla’s explanations of his equipment has little effect on whether it worked or not, particularly if he built it through empirical measurements and tests. To investigate Tesla’s devices, we must actually investigate Tesla’s devices, not look for holes in his explanations. Sometimes explanations are even pasted on after the fact, in which case they have no impact on that equipment.

All that aside, Tesla describes some correct empirically-derived knowledge. Ham radio experience, or RF engineering classes might make “True Wireless” appear in a less crackpotty light. For example, conductors act as mirrors, and EM waves reflect from conductors, so we shouldn’t be able to couple the waves from a dipole antenna to the Earth. They form brief currents as they bounce off, as Tesla angrilly mentions. He wasn’t being an idiot, and his complaint about this was nearly correct. It seemed that his ground currents could not escape the Earth, and that “Hertz” waves could never connect to it. Obviously two different phenomena? The Earth is an electrical shield, and also a conductor for power transmissions. What nobody knew at the time was that this applies only to ideal conductors. Dipole emissions can connect to a resistive surface if the waves are launched at a very low angle. They become a ground current, plus e and b fields above the surface. And ground currents from a short groundplane antenna also have e and b fields above the surface. They follow the ground, but also can be lost to space (though much less at sub-100KHz freqs.)

Because of this bit of physics, Hertz’ dipole-emitted waves seemed totally different than Tesla’s ground-launched “currents.” And in later years we find that microwaves travelling in a rectangular waveguide appear to be very different than GHz currents in coax cable, yet they’re the same phenomenon. Tesla’s mistake was to treat these as two completely different things.

Would this mistake hurt Tesla’s project? Probably not, since regardless of theoretical explanations, measurements showed that the ground-currents passed at least many times around the Earth before fading away. The more they stay in circulation, the lower the losses in a continuously running system. That these ground currents were Hertz waves is beside the point. One engineering paper showed that extreme high Q isn’t necessary to build a working Tesla system. Tesla’s “world system” might have discarded a megawatt continuously, which is a very good loss level, considering that it was intended as a “power grid” far large than North America. If NASA VLF measurements are correct, and if Tesla could lock on to wandering resonance lines, then his losses might have been orders less than a MW.

All this says to me that his success or failure was uncertain, unknown. If we want to make confident statements about his claims, we’d first need to build the equipment that Tesla built. Stop pretending to knowledge we don’t have, show how science differs from everything else, take Franklin seriously: “Let the experiment be made.”

Wanted to jump in here and say this is one of the best/thought-provoking SDMB threads I’ve read.