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‘Addle-brained’ young Thomas Edison. Source Wikipedia. Public domain.

This is the first part of a two-part post by Miss Jessel, looking at the extraordinary Thomas Edison (1847-1931), inventor and freethinker.  Famous for developing everything from the phonograph to the light bulb, he was also instrumental in bringing a scientific approach to the investigation of the spirit world. Lenora.

Thomas Edison was born on the 11th February in 1847 in Milan in Ohio, America. When he was seven his teacher described him as ‘addled-brained’ because of his constant questions and so a decision was taken to home school him. Edison’s mother believed her son’s unusual demeanour and appearance were due to his extraordinary intelligence. The lack of formal education meant that Edison was able to develop his own approach to learning which included the importance of practical applications to test scientific theories.

A turning point in Edison’s life was when at the age of 14 he saved the 3-year-old son of a station master from being killed on the railway tracks by an oncoming box car. As a thank you the station master taught Edison morse code and the workings of the telegraph and as a result Edison began a career as a telegraph operator.

Edison’s experiments on improving the telegraph system and the use of electricity formed the basis of all his later inventions. In his life Edison registered 1093 patents either singly or jointly. His most famous inventions included the first practical electric lightbulb; dictaphone; memeograph; fluoroscopy; alkaline storage battery; and motion picture camera, the kinetoscope. Edison also set up the first industrial research lab at Menlo Park in New Jersey in 1876. The success of Edison’s research and inventions led him to be dubbed ‘the father of the electrical age’, ‘the greatest inventor who ever lived’ and my personal favourite ‘The Wizard of Menlo Park’[1].

Replica of the Menlo Park Lab. Source Andrew Balet via Wikimedia.

Probably the most controversial of Edison’s inventions is a device which many believe he never invented and others that the plans and models of were destroyed. This invention was an instrument which could communicate with the souls of the dead.

Atheist, Free-thinker or Deist

Edison has been labelled at different times and depending on the sympathies of the author either an atheist, free-thinker or deist.

Thomas Edison c1922. Source Wikimedia.

On being accused of atheism, Edison replied that he had never made such as a denial but that “what you call god I call nature, the supreme intelligence that rules matter”[2]. Although Edison is often described as a free-thinker he seems to have shared a very similar viewpoint to Thomas Paine who in his book ‘The Age of Reason’ expresses his opposition to institutionalized religions and the Bible. Edison’s belief in deism and the idea that although a creator existed beyond that it was only the laws of nature that ruled the world, is clear when he stated “I do not believe in the god of theologians, but that there is a supreme intelligence I do not doubt”[3].

A New Sixth Sense

A story is told about Edison’s first introduction to someone who claimed to be a clairvoyant. A stranger came to Edison’s lab and asked to see him. Edison was a little concerned about the man and so asked his assistant to come into the room. The man asked the assistant to write down a number of names which he then proceeded to repeat perfectly without looking at the paper. Edison then wanted to test the man’s ability and asked if he could write down a question. The man agreed. His response was ‘No, there is nothing better’. The question was whether there was anything better for a storage battery than nickel hydroxide. The man then left and Edison never saw him again[4].

Burt Reese 1851 -1926, Medium. Source Wikimedia.

This event may have been why Edison was so keen to test the famous medium Dr Bert Reese. Reese’s ‘divination method’ involved asking members of his audience to write names on pieces of paper which he would then roll up into small balls and rub on his forehead. He would then ‘read’ the paper with his mind. His accuracy amazed people as he would reel off the names correctly. Reese was revealed to be a charlatan by Harry Houdini at a séance but Edison was firmly convinced that Reese was genuine since he himself had never seen any evidence of Reese cheating[5].

These two experiences convinced Edison that clairvoyance was not due to some form of magical power but was proof of a new sensory ability which anyone could develop. It may have also confirmed and cemented Edison’s standpoint that the afterlife could also be deciphered by science.

Spiritualism vs Science

“I believe that if we are to make any real progress in psychic investigation we must do it with scientific apparatus and in a scientific manner, just as we do in medicine, electricity, chemistry, and other fields.”[6]

The Victorian era was the age of invention. Ideas that would have been seen as impossible a few decades earlier were now becoming a reality. Science was disproving many long-held beliefs. This new reality left some people uncomfortable and frightened. The desire to reconcile religion and science was one of the reasons for the rise of spiritualism. Some scientists felt that by scientifically proving that spirits and the afterlife existed they could then justify why so many people felt the need for religion.

Séance, 1872. Source Wikimedia.

Although Edison himself had no tolerance for people who believed in an afterlife or in the supernatural, Because we are as yet unable to understand it, we call it immortal. It is the ignorant, lazy man’s refuge. There are plenty of savages, you know, who still call fire immortal”[7] it would have been strange for someone with his questioning personality if he had not got caught up in the spiritualism debate. Therefore it makes sense that Edison would have wanted to find answers using technology and if they exist give ‘spirits’ a better opportunity “to express themselves than the tilting tables and raps and Ouija boards and mediums and the other crude methods now purported to be the only means of communication.” [8]

Edison was first and foremost a scientist and so it is impossible to think that he would have ever conceived of the spirit or soul in the same way theologians or spiritualists did. There is evidence to prove that he was in contact with other like-minded scientists such as the British inventor, Sir William Crookes who claimed to have captured spirit images on photographs but what Edison always demanded wasProof, proof! That is what I always have been after; that is what my mind requires before it can accept a theory as fact.”[9] It may have been this need for proof which was behind him thinking about building a device which could allow the souls of the dead to communicate.

If Edison did try to create such a device, the ‘spirits’ which he would have envisaged would not have been what spiritualists and religions refer to as shades, ghosts, phantoms or manifestations but a very scientific version i.e. what Edison called life units[10].

Swarms of life units

Edison’s idea of how life existed was quite unusual. He thought that animate objects were made up of extremely tiny particles which he called life units. These life units were even smaller than electrons and had yet to be officially discovered. Edison’s theory was based on the scientific concept that energy was interchangeable and that the energy which made up all lifeforms could not be created or destroyed. Therefore when an animate object died these life units broke up into their respective individual units, left their human vessel, created swarms and joined another form[11].

Since these life units made up all human functions they would also naturally make up the Broca’s Area of the brain which Edison believed wrongly was responsible for both personality and memory. Therefore as life units could not be destroyed, a person’s memory and personality would continue to exist after death[12].

It was these life units that Edison if he did create an instrument would have tried to contact.

Swarms of life units… Original Image by Bin im Garten via Wikimedia. Altered by Lenora.

In part two, Miss Jessel will look at whether Edison’s spirit phone was ever created, and evaluate the evidence as to whether Edison’s alleged invention was genuine or a hoax.  Click here to read Part Two.

biography

The Biography of Thomas Edison, http://www.thomasedison.com/biography.html

Thomas Edison, http://www.history.com/topics/inventions/thomas-edison

Thomas Edison, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Edison

The religious and political views of Thomas Edison http://hollowverse.com/thomas-edison/

Thomas Edison, http://www.history.co.uk/biographies/thomas-edison

Thomas Edison’s Telephone to the Afterlife  http://institute4learning.com/blog/2012/08/21/thomas-edisons-telephone-to-the-afterlife/

Thomas Edison and His Mysterious Telephone to the Dead, http://itcvoices.org/thomas-edisons-telephone-to-the-dead-myth-or-fact/

Edison and the Ghost Machine, http://paranormal.about.com/od/ghostaudiovideo/a/edison-ghost-machine.htm

Thomas Edison and the Ghost in the Machine, ww.paranormal-encyclopedia.com/e/thomas-edison/

How Thomas Edison Pranked the 1920s With His “Dead People” Phone http://gizmodo.com/5676604/how-thomas-edison-pranked-the-1920s-with-his-dead-people-phone

Inventions by Thomas Edison (That You’ve Never Heard Of), http://science.howstuffworks.com/10-inventions-thomas-edison10.htm

Edison’s ‘Lost’ Idea: A Device to Hear the Dead, http://www.seeker.com/edisons-lost-idea-a-device-to-hear-the-dead-1769577566.html

Edison’s Lost Plan To Record Voices Of Dead, http://news.sky.com/story/edisons-lost-plan-to-record-voices-of-dead-10368974

Edison’s forgotten ‘invention’: A phone that calls the dead http://www.reliableplant.com/Read/27212/Edison-invention-calls-dead

Notes

[1] The Biography of Thomas Edison, http://www.thomasedison.com/biography.html

[2] Thomas Edison, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Edison

[3] Thomas Edison, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Edison

[4] Thomas Edison and the Ghost in the Machine, ww.paranormal-encyclopedia.com/e/thomas-edison/

[5] Thomas Edison and the Ghost in the Machine, ww.paranormal-encyclopedia.com/e/thomas-edison/

[6] Edison and the Ghost Machine, http://paranormal.about.com/od/ghostaudiovideo/a/edison-ghost-machine.htm

[7] The religious and political views of Thomas Edison http://hollowverse.com/thomas-edison/

[8] Edison and the Ghost Machine, http://paranormal.about.com/od/ghostaudiovideo/a/edison-ghost-machine.htm

[9] The religious and political views of Thomas Edison http://hollowverse.com/thomas-edison/

[10] Thomas Edison and His Mysterious Telephone to the Dead, http://itcvoices.org/thomas-edisons-telephone-to-the-dead-myth-or-fact/

[11] Thomas Edison and His Mysterious Telephone to the Dead, http://itcvoices.org/thomas-edisons-telephone-to-the-dead-myth-or-fact/

[12] Thomas Edison and His Mysterious Telephone to the Dead, http://itcvoices.org/thomas-edisons-telephone-to-the-dead-myth-or-fact/

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