While I do not want to present any arguments regarding diagnosing historical figures posthumously, or overgeneralize on a topic, or even get hung up in any way on labels, I found some of Tesla’s thoughts intriguing. As I have mentioned in my last post, I have been reading a biography on Nikola Tesla entitled Tesla: The Life and Times of an Electric Messiah by Nigel Hawthorne. Several aspects of his work ethic, idiosyncrasies and, in particular, this following quote made it easy for my mind to drift to another scientist, from today, an agriculturist and spokesperson for autism. Of course, I mean Temple Grandin. Here, I lay their thoughts, separated by nearly one hundred years, parallel to one another.
“…nature has given me a vivid imagination which, through incessant exercise and training through the study of scientific subjects, and the verification of theories through experiment, has become very accurate in results, so that I have been able to dispense, to a large extent, with the slow labour, wasteful and expensive processes of practical development the ideas I conceive…
When I turned my thoughts to inventions, I found that I could visualize my conceptions with the greatest facility. I did not need any models and drawings or experiments, I could do it all in my mind, and I did….When I got an idea, I started right away to build it up in my mind. I changed the structure, I made improvements, I experimented, and I ran the device in my mind.
It is absolutely the same to me whether I place my turbine in my mind or have it in my shop actually running in my test. It makes no difference. The results are the same….I then construct it, and every time my device works as I conceived it would, my experiment comes out exactly as I plan it, and in 20 years there has not been a single, solitary experiment which did not come out exactly as I thought it would.”
-Nikola Tesla on accepting the Edison Medal, New York City on May 18, 1917
“When I was much younger, I assumed that everybody perceived the world the same way I did, that is, that everybody thought in pictures. Early in my professional career I got into a heated verbal argument with an engineer at a meat-packing plant when I told him he was stupid. He had designed a piece of equipment that had obvious flaws to me. My visual thinking gives me the ability to “test-run” in my head a piece of equipment I’ve designed, just like a virtual reality computer system. Mistakes can be found prior to construction when I do this. Now I realize his problem was not stupidity; it was a lack of visual thinking. It took me years to learn that the majority of people cannot do this, and that visualization skills in some people are almost nonexistent.”
-Temple Grandin in The Way I See It, p. 15