Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Life After Death According to Nikola Tesla, Henry Ford and Luther Burbank

In this article I found in the Newspaper Archives, Ross Duff Whytock attempts to bridge the perceived philosophical gap between religion and science and presents the points of view on the subject of life-after-death of Nikola Tesla, Henry Ford and Luther Burbank.

A well-written, insightful article giving us a glimpse into the psyche of three of the early Twentieth Century's great minds.

The Lima News, Lima, Ohio, USA, March 14, 1926, Page 34.

After Death - WHAT?
Here Is What Nikola Tesla, the Learned Scientist, Has
to Say About Life After the Grave, in Conjunction With
the Nation-Wide Symposium on the Subject Growing Out
of the Discussions of Henry Ford and Luther Burbank

By Ross Duff Whytock

HENRY FORD'S recent assertion of his firm belief in a future life, which was followed by a statement from his friend, Luther Burbank, that as an infidel he refused to accept the doctrine of immortality, has acutely stimulated discussion of the vexatious question whose answer has eluded mankind on down the ages.

While Henry Ford emphatically avows his conviction in the theory of reincarnation, Luther Burbank just as emphatically disavows belief in a resurrection and another life. The statements of the great manufacturer and the famous horticulturist have fanned into flame a most controversial question, and it is safe to assume that, as a consequence of their almost startlingly frank utterances, destiny will become a paramount subject for debate.

To the forum comes Nikola Tesla, internationally known scientist and pioneer in many of the great electrical discoveries of the age, including wireless, and a man who has given many years of serious thought and experiment in an endeavor to solve the riddle of future life. After deep study of the declarations of Mr. Ford and Mr. Burbank, the great electrical engineer gave slow and careful utterance to an amazing statement regarding the probability or improbability of life after death.

Image: The imagination of one of the most graphic artists on religious subjects, Gustave Dore, forever led him into efforts to portray both heaven and the domain of lost souls. (The Ministry of Angels by Gustave Dore)

Tesla's reasoning is the reasoning of a practical man of science, who has not only given laboratory tests but deep mental consideration to the question of immortality. There is a deal of the esthetic about Tesla, and as he talks his deep-set eyes seem to be looking into the far distance. Born of a Greek church clergyman, in Smiljan in Serbia, it was intended that the young Tesla follow theology as a profession, but the inventive genius, inherited from his mother, took him into the realm of science. But all his life--he is now 68 years old--he has given deep thought to the question of life after death. He has come to no hasty conclusions, and his remarkable statement might be said to be a brief summarizing of years of thought.

"SINCE time immemorial the most profound thinkers have tried to lift the veil that hides the beyond," said Mr. Tesla. "As for myself, I have read thousands of volumes of literature and thought for years in the hope that I might get some kind of evidence to show that death is not the end. But all in vain. To me the universe is simply a marvelous mechanism, and the most complex forms of human life, as human beings, are nothing else but automatic engines, controlled by external influence. Through incessant observation I have so convinced myself of the truth of this that I cannot perform any act or even conceive a thought without locating at once the external stimulus that prompted it.

"A forceful argument in support of
the existence of a creative agent is made of the law, order and harmony perceptible everywhere. But it must not be forgotten that Kant's reasoning and conclusion in this respect are irrefutable. According to this philosopher, the conception of fitness has been created in the speculative mind of men, which thus admires a miracle wrought by itself.

"Granted a planetary system, it is absolutely inevitable that in the course of eons such organized beings as we are will evolve. The cooling of the hot masses results in a precipitation of water, and under the influence of the sun's rays heliotropic action takes place and life is started. Through chemical and other agents and continuous adjustment complex mechanisms come into being, and these ultimately develop into structures of marvelous complexity with capacities of response to the faintest stimulae (sic) of the environment.

"When we realize this as a fact we begin to grasp the great idea of Buddha--that self is an illusion. Indeed, we are nothing but waves in space and time which when dissolved exist no more.

"There is this to be said, however, that science without hope is not satisfactory, and unless one has some ideals he cannot achieve happiness. The religious is the most lofty ideal, and it seems that the great reformers who, ages ago, laid down rules of conduct were right in their conclusions that a peaceful existence and a continued onward march of man on this globe is essentially dependent on the conception of a God.


"I HAVE read Mr. Burbank's statement in which he expresses an opinion shared by most natural philosophers, but one must not be too rash in contradicting the conclusions reached by countless men of genius who spent their lives in endeavors to ascertain the destiny of the human race. A single individual, however well informed and capable, may be partially unaware of if not utterly blind to evidences of a certain kind, which might be quite sufficient for others. This is the reason why I am distrustful of my own findings. Possibly Mr. Ford, who I understand is accepting old traditions, may be closer to the truth than such men as Burbank and myself.

"I have searched during many years for some process or means to test the possibility of future existence by scientific experiment, and I have devised one, which, to my great disappointment, has failed. But perhaps some more skillful experimenter might succeed if I suggest to him the course. To put it briefly, it is this:

"Our bodies are composed of molecules of various elements, harmoniously united. Do these molecules retain any
after-effect when the body is dissolved? To ascertain this take, say, two molecules of hydrogen from the body of an individual and also one molecule of oxygen. Furthermore, provide another molecule of oxygen taken from some other body. Now place the two molecules of hydrogen so they can combine with the oxygen, and if they prefer that molecule of oxygen with which they were previously united, then reincarnation is proved. For, though it may take ages and ages, ultimately the molecules which constituted that body will get to-
gether again, just as in a vast city individuals from a distant land finally meet and establish close contact."

In his talk with Frazier Hunt and published in the Cosmopolitan Magazine, a talk that has precipitated a controversy that threatens to grow in volume, the Detroit automobile genius in declaring his belief in reincarnation said:

"Each life we live simply adds to our total experience. Everything put on earth is put here for some good--to get experience which will be stored up for future use. There is not one bit of man--one thought, one experience, one drop--that does not go on. Life is eternal--so there can't be any death."

And, in further explanation of his belief, Mr. Ford said: "This earth is just a clearing station between past and future lives. We don't know anything about what's on those other planets--except life: I'm sure there's life there.

"Service is what man has to give in this world. Serve people--do things for them--and you'll get along all right. I believe that there are entities or little auxiliary life atoms, or whatever you want to call them, flying about, and when a person is doing something to help people--doing something for people and not for himself--that these entities fly to him and help him. The vital stuff we need is all about us--it feeds and strengthens our spirit. All we need is to keep our lives pointed in the right direction and what we need will come to us."


Admitting that he is an infidel, Luther Burbank, of Santa Rosa, Calif., after reading the declarations of his friend, Henry Ford, took decisive issue
with the doctrine of reincarnation. Boldly stating that all religions are on a tottering foundation, he declared that religions of the past and future will sooner or later become petrified forms instead of living helps to mankind.

Among the statements of Mr. Burbank, contained in a copyrighted article in the San Francisco Bulletin, is one in which the eminent horticulturist declared:

"I do not believe what has been served me to believe. I am a doubter, a questioner, a skeptic. When it can be proved to me that there is immortality, that there is resurrection beyond the gates of death, then will I believe. Until then, no."

In further amplification of his stand Mr. Burbank said: "A theory of personal resurrection or reincarnation of the individual is untenable when we pause to consider the magnitude of the idea. On the contrary, I must believe that, rather, with the survival of all, we must look for survival only in the spirit of the good we have done in passing through.


"I do recognize the existence of a great universal power--a power which we can't even begin to comprehend and might as well not attempt to. It may be a conscious kind of mind and it may not. I don't know. As a scientist I should like to know, but as a man I am not so vitally concerned.

"As for Christ--well, He has been most outrageously belied. His followers have so garbled His words and conduct that many of them no longer apply to present life. Christ was an infidel of His day because He rebelled against the prevailing religion and government. I am a lover of Christ as a man and His works and all things that help humanity, but, nevertheless, just as He was an infidel then, I am an infidel today."

THERE is something of the reasoning of Thomas Paine, early American free-thinker and advocate of deistical principles, almost discernible in the utterances of Luther Burbank. In his "Age of Reason," in a summary of his theological researches, Paine makes this statement as to belief in a future life:

"I trouble not myself about the manner of future existence. I content myself with believing, even to positive conviction, that the power that gave me existence is able to continue it, in any form and manner he pleases, either with or without this body, and it appears more probable to me that I shall continue to exist hereafter than that I should have had existence, as I now have, before that existence began."

It is necessary to but dip into the question of life beyond the grave to realize the illimitable vastness of the subject. From earliest days mankind has sought to glimpse behind the veil of mystery. The literature of all times is sprinkled with references to the "great beyond."

We find Cicero insistent upon believing in a future life, even though he might have been at fault in entertaining such a belief, when he wrote: "If I err in this, that I believe the souls of men to be immortal, I err of my own free will; nor do I wish this error, in which I find delight, to be wrested from me as long as I live."

Shakespeare's rather shaky opinion anent the future life is voiced by Hamlet in his melancholy soliloquy when he says:




But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered country from whose bourn
No traveler returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?

Image: To Gustave Dore the mystery of the hereafter was ever an engrossing subject. (The Inferno, Canto 7 by Gustave Dore)

THE World War did much toward vigorously enhancing interest in life beyond the grave, and much of the revival was brought about through the yearnings of men and women to find if their beloved dead had crossed the unbridged chasm to a happier state and one where individuality was still preserved. Prominent among the leaders in the widespread movement to obtain definite proof of a future life through communication with the spirit world was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who since his initial investigations has practically devoted himself to the subject. The statement of Henry Ford as to his positive belief in reincarnation will, it is predicted, do much toward stimulating investigators to increased efforts in their quest for proof of the life everlasting.

IMPETUS is given to the cause of science, which many fundamentalists have regarded as the arch-enemy of theology, in the recent address at Yale University of Prof. Kirtley F. Mather, of Harvard. Prof. Mather, who was one of the expert witnesses who were expected to testify at the Scopes evolution trial in Dayton, Tenn., announced that modern science had forced theology into a revolution. While denying that science opposes religion, Prof. Mather condemns "narrow theologians who think it their chief business to preserve a tradition rather than to discover truth."

Stung by what they conceive to be a serious moral slump and an increasing atheistic attitude on the part of the younger generation since the war, a large number of preachers and reformers have launched the latest attack against science, and in particular against evolution, as its most obnoxious principle, was the declaration of Prof. Mather.

If a plebiscite of all American voters could be taken today it would disclose an overwhelming majority of adherents to the view that evolution is anti-Christian and modern science is destructive to belief in God, as a result of this campaign, he asserted.

"Theology may be just as scientific as geology," stated the professor. "Many scientists believe that real Christianity is just that sort of religion; that the theology of Jesus of Nazareth is just that sort of theology. Ancient Hebrew folklore is not the basis of Christianity, no matter how much it may have contributed to the philosophy which made Christianity possible.

"Men of science are hastening to the development of a true religion when they aid in stripping off the husks of tradition that compass Christianity round about, and thus help to reveal the kernel of truth which is its really fundamental basis. In that sense evolution and religion are in harmony."

THERE is much in common between the declarations of Prof. Mather and those of Nikola Tesla, man of science. While Tesla, speaking as a scientist, declares that his years of effort to find that death is not the end have been in vain, he maintains that "science without hope is not satisfactory," and that "the religious is the most lofty ideal." The electrical wizard furthermore blends religion with science when he declares: "A forceful argument in support of the existence of a creative agent is made of the law, order and harmony perceptible everywhere," and "a peaceful existence and a continued onward march of man on this globe is essentially dependent on the conception of a God."
Copyright by Public Ledger

3 comments:

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Anonymous said...

Please check your facts, Smiljan is in Croatia, not Serbia.

Nanette South Clark said...

Thank you, Anonymous. I am so glad you read the article. The newspaper this was written in was published in 1926 and I transcribed it as it appeared. Smiljan is indeed in Croatia today.

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