Nikola Tesla was born 156 years ago this week. This quote and image of him has appeared repeatedly in my Facebook news feed:
Here the quote is as plain text:
“The day science begins to study non-physical phenomena, it will make more progress in one decade than in all the previous centuries of its existence.”
– Nikola Tesla
There are problems.
First, the “day” science begins anything, it won’t make a decade’s worth of progress. It will make a day’s worth of progress. I wouldn’t bother making a blog about this quote if that was my only quibble.
Truthfully, I’m not sure what Tesla means by “non-physical phenomena”. It’s possible he meant “non-material” phenomena (i.e. electromagnetic radiation). Chances are that at least some of the people I see sharing this quote think he meant spiritual phenomena, so that’s where I’m going with it.
Science is the study of the physical world, using physical methods. By definition, the non-physical world (if such a thing exists) is outside of its realm.
There have been numerous scientific studies looking for physical effects of non-physical phenomena. For example, the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research Lab operated for nearly three full decades. According to their website, they ran “thousands” of experiments, involving “many millions of trials…. performed by several hundred operators”.
Did they learn more in any decade than was learned in the past century about non-physical phenomena? I’d have to say, No. See the entry for PEAR at the Skepdics Dictionary for a skeptical analysis of their goals and accomplishments.
There is a combined prize value of $2.6 million awaiting any scientist who can prove a claim of “non-physical phenomena”.
Some might argue as a last resort “but you’re expecting non-physical phenomena to have physical effects, and obviously it doesn’t!”. OK, fine. Then why should I care about it at all? I’m a physical being in a physical world.