One of the most famous inventors in history, Thomas Edison, made a myriad of important discoveries because of his determination to push past the limits of what others thought was possible. Edison patented more than 1,000 inventions — including the phonograph, the motion picture camera, and the first practical electric light bulb — during his lifetime (1847-1931). His work exploring physical science like chemistry, electricity, and machinery is well known. But Edison also worked to investigate the spiritual world by testing what the human mind can perceive beyond the boundaries of the physical senses. Edison was fascinated by extrasensory perception (ESP) and explored that phenomenon in various ways. His work with ESP is a a great lesson in the importance of creativity.
“If we all did the things we are capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves,” Edison once remarked.
Telepathy (mind to mind communication) was the subject of a series of experiments that Edison and some of his laboratory employees conducted in the early 1900s with Bert Reese, a man who was famous for his intuitive abilities. The experiments, which Edison recorded in his notebooks, involved Edison and his coworkers writing information down on pieces of paper while Reese was in another room and testing to see if Reese could perceive what they’d written without looking at the papers — only by reading their minds as they thought about the information.
Edison observed the experiments with Reese and his employees. Then Edison participated himself in several experiments, including one in which he wrote: “Is there anything better than hydroxide of nickel for an alkaline battery?” (a question he was wondering about because he was trying to develop a strong alkaline storage battery at the time).
Reese’s responses in all of the experiments showed that he apparently could perceive the written information while in another location where he couldn’t read the papers. In response to Edison’s question about the battery, Reese told him, “There is nothing better than hydroxide of nickel for an alkaline battery” when Edison returned to the room where he was waiting.
But Reese’s work was controversial, and some people said that his apparent telepathic ESP ability was a hoax. Still, Edison believed that Reese was truly about to read people’s minds. Edison said, “I am certain that Reese was neither a medium nor a fake. I saw him several times and on each occasion I wrote something on a piece of paper when Reese was not near … In no single case was one of these papers handled by Reese … yet he recited correctly the contents of each paper.”
Afterward, Edison conducted some telepathy experiments without Reese. Edison had electrical machines built for four of his employees to wear on their heads in a series of experiments where they tried to read each other’s thoughts telepathically. But these experiments failed to produce any clear results of telepathic ESP at work.
Edison was also fascinated with psychokinesis (the ability to move physical objects using only mental energy). In his notebooks, Edison recorded how he tried to move objects with his mind. After failing to do so in several experiments, however, Edison turned his attention to other experiments.
In an interview about his fascination with ESP experiments, Edison told The New York Times in 1910 that, even though his work was inconclusive, “There are bigger things remaining for discovery than any of the big things we have yet discovered.”
An Afterlife Communication Machine
Perhaps the most startling way in which Edison explored ESP was by contemplating how to build a machine to communicate with people who had died. This device would be able to send messages back and forth from the earthly dimension to the afterlife, Edison explained in some interviews he gave during the 1920s that elicited some people’s curiosity and other people’s ridicule.
“If our personality survives, then it is strictly logical and scientific to assume that it retains memory, intellect, and other faculties and knowledge that we acquire on this earth,” Edison said in article published in Scientific American magazine’s October 1920 issue. “Therefore, if personality exists after what we call death, it’s reasonable to conclude that those who leave this earth would like to communicate with those they have left here. … If we can evolve an instrument so delicate as to be affected, or moved, or manipulated by our personality as it survives in the next life, such an instrument, when made available, ought to record something.”
Since no evidence survives of such a machine or even a prototype for it, Edison likely never actually built the machine he had contemplated. But one of Edison’s employees, Dr. Miller Hutchinson, said that he worked with Edison on plans for the machine. In his diary, Hutchinson expressed enthusiasm for scientific research into the spiritual realm. He wrote: “Edison and I are convinced that in the fields of psychic research will yet be discovered facts that will prove of greater significance to the thinking of the human race than all the inventions we have ever made in the field of electricity.”
Still Experimenting When He Died?
Throughout his life, Edison had been fascinated with energy, and some people believe that Edison was experimenting with the electromagnetic energy of the spiritual realm when he died on October 18, 1931. Edison had reportedly told some of his employees that he would try to stop clocks after his death, as he was leaving the earthly dimension for the afterlife.
Three of Edison’s employees had their clocks inexplicably stop at 3:24 a.m. on October 18, 1931: the exact time that Edison passed away. Just three minutes later, at 3:27 a.m., the large clock in the office and research library of Edison’s West Orange, New Jersey laboratory stopped without any physical explanation, as well — and still remains stopped at that time. Believers say that Edison’s soul was giving people a miraculous sign that he had discovered there really is life after death.