Type A: Thomas Edison in March 1921, nearly half a century after he invented the electric … [+]CORBIS/VCG VIA GETTY IMAGES
By Kristin Tablang Forbes Staff
In the early years of Forbes, Thomas Edison and B.C. Forbes, the magazine’s founder, had a short circuit in their relationship. Edison was clearly a fan of the publication—the cover of the August 7, 1920, issue proudly touted the endorsement of the “busiest man in the world”: I read ‘FORBES.’ I like it. It stimulates people to work, to think and to do things to make progress in the world.
In the same edition, Forbes reverently writes, “Edison reads not for entertainment, but to increase his store of knowledge. He sucks in information as eagerly as the bee sucks honey from flowers. The whole world, so to speak, pours its wisdom into his mind.
“Would we of Forbes be pardoned,” the editor continues, “if we confessed that we feel extremely gratified that Edison, unquestionably the most eminent private citizen in the world and one of the few immortals now living, finds this magazine helpful to him? It encourages us to hope it will help others.”
But a month later, their famous friendship was tested. While reporting a story on how Edison began his quest for electric light, Forbes recounted how the young inventor struggled to make ends meet some 40 years earlier. After paying a local sheriff $5 a day to postpone a judgment on his small factory, Edison had a new problem—he couldn’t afford his gas bill. After it was cut off, Forbes wrote, Edison resolved he “would try to see electricity couldn’t be made to replace gas and give those people a run for their money.”
Edison, however, appeared to take issue with Forbes’ retelling of the events, and sent a letter to the editor to express his discontent. He believed Forbes had either misread (or misinterpreted) a handwritten note explaining Edison’s version of the unpaid bill. In a letter dated September 10, 1920, the Wizard of Menlo Park curtly wrote back: Forbes, The reason you think so is because you do not understand what I have written. Edison.
The contretemps, however, didn’t last long. The following month, Forbes published a new interview with Edison in the October 16, 1920 issue of The American Magazine. The exclusive article brought to light a bizarre new device the 73-year-old Edison had apparently been working on—a spirit phone that would let the living communicate with the dead.
“I have been at work for some time building an apparatus to see if it is possible for personalities which have left this earth to communicate with us,” Edison told Forbes. “If this is ever accomplished it will be accomplished not by any occult, mystifying, mysterious or weird means, such as are employed by so-called mediums, but by scientific methods.”
Then, as now, the existence of an afterlife was of considerable debate, with prominent figures such as Harry Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle standing on opposite sides of the belief spectrum. (The creator of Sherlock Holmes reportedly ended his friendship with the famed magician, a lifelong skeptic who debunked many mediums, after Houdini publicly condemned spiritualism, in which Doyle deeply believed.)
Edison’s own beliefs allowed for both faith and science: “I can no more doubt the existence of an Intelligence that is running things,” he told Forbes, “than I do the existence of myself.” He added “with absolute positiveness that some of our most generally accepted notions on the subject are utterly untenable and ridiculous.” Edison believed that all living bodies are composed of “myriads and myriads of infinitesimally small individuals, each in itself a unit of life,” and that those units, which worked in “swarms,” were everlasting.
When a person dies, Edison asserted, the swarms would take form elsewhere, going on to function in some other environment or vessel. Certain swarms, he theorized, did most of the thinking and directing, much like bosses or leaders do among humans. “This theory would account for the fact that certain men and women have greater intellectuality, greater abilities, greater powers than others,” he explained in Forbes’ article. “It would account, too, for differences in moral character,” with the movement of swarms behind changes in a person’s personality in the course of his or her lifetime.
If successful, Edison’s electric ghost machine would be able to detect the personalities of the deceased, allowing them to relay messages from the spirit realm.
“If the units of life which compose an individual’s memory hold together after that individual’s ‘death,’” Edison reasoned, “is it not within range of possibility to say the least, that these memory swarms could retain the powers they formerly possessed, and thus retain what we call the individual’s personality after ‘dissolution’ of the body? If so, then that individual’s memory, or personality, ought to be able to function as before.
“I am hopeful,” he continued, “that by providing the right kind of instrument, to be operated by this personality, we can receive intelligent messages from it in its changed habitation, or environment. If the apparatus I am now constructing should provide a channel for the inflow of knowledge from the unknown world—a form of existence different from that of this life—we may be brought an important step nearer the fountainhead of all knowledge, nearer the intelligence which directs it all.”
Despite the buzz that Forbes’ scoop set off, Edison’s spirit phone never saw the light of day. A prototype of the invention was never found, though many still speculate about its existence—especially after Modern Mechanix magazine published an article in 1933 detailing a covert gathering that allegedly took place in Edison’s laboratory in the winter of 1920, attended by several unnamed scientists.
According to the story, “Edison set up a photo-electric cell. A tiny pencil of light, coming from a powerful lamp, bored through the darkness and struck the active surface of this cell, where it was transformed instantly into a feeble electric current. Any object, no matter how thin, transparent, or small, would cause a registration on the cell if it cut through the beam.” The group spent hours observing the instrument for any movement that would indicate a successful connection with the beyond—to no avail.
Eleven years after Forbes wrote about Edison’s spirit phone, the great inventor died. But who’s to say he didn’t eventually succeed in his quest to marry science and séance? If only we could call him up and ask.
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Fuente: / Source: www.forbes.com