It's no secret that Elon Musk considers Nikola Tesla to be a role model. (After all, he named his automobile company after the guy.) There are many, many parallels between the lives of the two men.

Like  Musk, Nikola Tesla was an engineering polymath. Tesla invented neon lights, remote-control boats, alternating current, the hydraulic diode, wireless electricity transmission, and is credited with inventing radio.

Like Musk, Nikola Tesla was showman. When the very concept of electricity was new, he toured a stage show where he demonstrated electrical power by running electrical current through his own body and (reputedly) creating ball lightning--a feat never since repeated.

Like Musk, Nikola Tesla was a celebrity. Tesla was good friends with Mark Twain, for instance, at the height of Twain's international fame. Like Musk, Nikola Tesla was a bit of a ladies' man. Tesla was often seen dining (a bit deal in those days) with some of the great beauties of his time.

Despite his fame and creativity, though, Nikola Tesla gradually lost touch with reality. In his later years, he claimed to have invented some highly unlikely things, like a death ray and a way to photograph human thoughts.

Nikola Tesla also became obsessed with pigeons, feeding thousands of them in his hotel room and claiming that he'd fallen in love with one of them and that the bird had fallen in love with him. His friends had to pay his bills, disguising the payment as "consulting fees."

Nikola Tesla's story has always affected me because, at the age of 20, I was forced to deal with a genius who lost track of reality. My first serious girlfriend, a brilliant, highly creative woman, suddenly stopped sleeping and instead started writing down her ideas to change the world.

As she continued to stay awake, those ideas, at first plausible, became decreasingly so, until she became convinced that world peace would result if we could only get all the world's leaders onto the same carousel. Literally.

Much like Tesla's friends, my girlfriend's parents and teachers were in awe of her and thus were completely unable to cope. It fell to me to get her hospitalized. Ever since then, I've been pretty sensitive to manic behavior.

Now, I'm no psychologist, and even if I were, remote diagnosis is pretty meaningless. However, some of Musk's recent behavior "feels" manic to me. Certainly, over the past few days, Elon Musk has been behaving more strangely than usual.

Musk's recent plan to help rescue the trapped soccer players in Thailand was downright weird. Even if it had been a great idea, changing plans at that point would have further endangered them, and the presence of Elon and entourage can't have been helpful.

Then, when one of the divers pointed that out, Musk made  an unfounded accusation that the guy was a pedophile--definitely not an accusation to be made lightly, and highly appropriate in any case for a social-media clapback.

It's all very odd and, well, not Musk-like.

When I consider that Musk by all accounts has been working around the clock to fulfill his company's manufacturing quota and then, atop all that stress, flew across the world on a fool's errand...well, that's pretty much a recipe for some kind of meltdown.

So, frankly, I'm worried. I like Musk. While he's far from perfect (and suffers a great deal from high-tech hubris), I find him and his life inspirational. I'm worried that he's driven himself so hard that he's losing track of reality. I sure hope not.

But if he is, it would be true to archetype.

Published on: Jul 16, 2018