On February 16 2023, a metaphysics-focused Facebook page attributed a quote (“When you understand that every opinion is a vision full of personal history … you will begin to understand that every judgment is a confession”) to inventor and engineer Nikola Tesla in a quote meme:
Attribution came by way of bottom text on the meme. Tesla’s first name (“Nikola”) was misspelled as “Nicola,” a detail that didn’t bode well for the veracity of the following quote’s attribution:
When you understand that every opinion is a vision full of personal history, you will begin to understand that every judgment is a confession.
Nikola Tesla was a Serbian-American inventor who was born in 1856 and died in 1943, interest in whom was revived by (among other things) the rise of electric vehicle company Tesla. In 2023, Tesla was typically viewed as a man consistently ahead of his time; his Brittanica.com entry said of his life and work:
Tesla was a godsend to reporters who sought sensational copy but a problem to editors who were uncertain how seriously his futuristic prophecies should be regarded.
His renewed prominence as an historical figure appeared to prompt some on social media to “credit” the long-dead Tesla with a number of observations and ideas, often commentary or concepts at the edge of standard physics. Some claims were indeed accurate or correctly attributed, but a great many were not, a social media phenomenon common with other high-profile historical or public figures such as Frida Kahlo (on romance), Tim Allen (typically on politics), Robin Williams (often on loneliness), Jim Carrey (on emotional wellness), and Dave Ramsey (on money and finance).
One extremely popular concept misattributed to Tesla involved metaphysics and the numbers 3, 6, and 9:
Tesla’s “3-6-9” quote varied across memes and sources, but many were similar to the [embedded] meme from August 1 2021:
“If you only knew the magnificence of the numbers 3,6, and 9, then you would have a key to the universe.” – Nikola Tesla
A July 28 2021 post from a Facebook metaphysics page was similar in composition, as was a 2016 post with less engagement. Over on TikTok, the tags #369 and #369method boasted hundreds of millions of views.
Google Trends data showed sustained search interest for the partial search “when you understand every vision” in the one year period displayed by default. Narrowing the time frame to a 24-hour period demonstrated ongoing interest in the quote and its provenance.
A tab labeled “Related Topics” included the search term “Tesla” in that period:
A search for “when you understand every opinion is vision loaded with personal history you will start to understand all judgment is a confession” (without quotes) returned over two million results. Placing “when you understand every opinion” and “understand all judgment is a confession” in quotes whittled the number of total results to nine, indicating the quote was (if correctly attributed) not well-documented historically.
Adding “Tesla” to the second search string further reduced the results to two. We located a November 2022 iteration of the quote attributed to Tesla on Twitter, an August 2020 Facebook post peddling the phrase on a sticker, and a post to Reddit’s r/quotes in December 2020:
Another item in search was a very similar quote attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, “People do not seem to realize that their opinion of the world is also a confession of character.” Wikiquote’s Nikola Tesla entry did not feature the quote or anything resembling it, even under the “Disputed” heading.
In December 2020, an Australia-based fact-checking site examined a different, somewhat mystical quote attributed to Tesla, determining that it was misattributed. That analysis alluded to the “philosophical” and “spiritual” nature of quotes misattributed to Tesla among “new age” fans:
The Belgrave-based Nikola Tesla Museum, which holds the inventor’s ashes, possesses original documents and artefacts belonging to Tesla as well as archives of his writings and lectures.
A museum spokesperson told AAP FactCheck in an email that “there is no certain record or any original source that (the purported quote) was Tesla’s sentence”.
Ellis Oswalt, an actor and dramatist from New York, whose book Tesla’s Words: A Stunning Utopia of the Future was awarded the Tesla Spirit Medal by the Tesla Science Foundation, told AAP FactCheck the post “doesn’t look like a genuine Tesla quote … and having read all of his existing interviews and lectures, I don’t think this is a legitimate quote”.
“Tesla had a grandiose spiritual side for sure, but he was a lot more rational than a lot of his contemporary new-age fans can understand. In his autobiography, at the age of 63, he wrote a section rebuking the belief in ghosts, divination, and the supernatural belief in ‘spirits’,” Mr Oswalt said in an email.
It linked to an archive of Tesla’s quotes, noting that the quote in question was absent. We executed a search for the word “judgment,” and no results were returned.
Further restricting the search to content published on or before January 2021 returned zero results with “Tesla” appended. An April 2019 Instagram post was among the search results (translated in Spanish like a 2021 tweet).
The oldest version of the quote we found was not attributed to Nikola Tesla. It was tweeted by @salvadorpano in September 2018 as a personal observation. Commenters praised the commentary, and the account thanked them:
When you understand that every opinion is a vision full of personal history … You will begin to understand that every judgment is a confession pic.twitter.com/5PI5Qk6XS9
— salvador pano (@salvadorpano) September 15, 2018
A popular February 16 2023 Facebook post claimed that Nikola Tesla said, “When you understand every opinion is vision loaded with personal history you will start to understand all judgment is a confession.” We found no instances of the quote and attribution before mid-2020. Iterations of the quote in 2019 and 2018 circulated in English and Spanish with no attribution. The earliest iteration we found was in English, from a Twitter user in September 2018.