An introduction to metal-bending: involvement of the author
An introduction to metal-bending: involvement of the author
In retrospect, it seems curious that it all started in the mid-seventies of
the twentieth century.
· Has it been going on unnoticed for centuries, or is it something quite new, brought on by our advancing technology and social system?
· Does it really happen at all? Are the claimants merely frauds?
· How rare is it, and who is really responsible? Can it be pinned down to the responsibility of one person, or is it just a fact of nature, a sort of local disease?
· Can it be developed or taught?
· How long does it last, and how frequently do the attacks come on?
· Is it a symptom of something else?
· Do other phenomena accompany it?
· Can any use be made of it? Is it likely to have much effect on human society?
We cannot answer all these questions in concise sentences; but at least we can describe the researches which will find answers for the most agonizing question of them all:
How is metal-bending possible within the framework of the physical science that we have come to accept?
The essential phenomenon is this: a very few people appear to be able to deform and fracture pieces of metal, and occasionally other materials, just by stroking them between their thumb and fingers, or even without actually touching them.
At first the household cutlery becomes deformed, no one knows how; perhaps a spoon or fork is seen to bend on its own. Usually the phenomena are first noticed after a television appearance by Uri Geller, the best known, first and ‘strongest’ of all metal-benders. When the household first becomes aware of the bendings, it is often not known who is responsible. Nearly always it is one of the children, who finds that if he or she strokes a spoon between fingers and thumb it sometimes softens and bends.
It is apparent that metal-bending should be classed as a ‘psychic’ phenomenon, to be grouped together with such things as water-divining, telepathy, faith-healing, mediumship. I cannot claim to be a life-long authority on these things (I have always found physical science more interesting and more immediately important), but I have come to regard them as worthy of serious study. What has really led to my taking an active part in ‘psychic research’ is simply that it is very difficult, and therefore very important, to reconcile psychic phenomena with physical science. Of course this is why many scientists, probably the large majority, refuse to believe in the reality of psychic phenomena at all. The area must be classed with others, such as the workings of the brain and the origin of the universe, in being only speculatively interpreted.
Within our present society there are strong social overtones to psychic phenomena; it is possible to make money, and even to achieve some power, through their use. Therefore there have been some who have eked out their sparse psychic effects with fraud, and some who were entirely fraudulent. Naturally this has led to much scepticism among thinking people, and it has been scepticism not only of mediums but of investigators. It is useless for a person who has experienced psychic phenomena merely to claim that this scepticism is of the ‘closed mind’ variety.
There are all sorts of sociological reasons for these strongly-held attitudes, even within science itself. In such a field, any seriously interested person must start by finding things out for himself, without paying too much heed to the opinions held by others. My own initial attitude was: ‘Believe nothing that you hear and only half of what you see’, and it is only more recently that I have come to reaise that I was perhaps arrogant in ignoring some good investigations that previous psychic researchers have made. I have seldom taken this attitude in other fields of science. Yet proportionately there has been almost as much bad science done as there had been bad psychic research. Some years ago there was an outcry when a National Bureau of Standards physicist working in atomic processes claimed that 90 per cent of the published papers in this field were wrong (at least in the sense that the real data were subsequently found to lie outside the published error bars). We must concede that it is easier to make mistakes in psychic research than it is in physics. Nevertheless, although opportunities may be lost, the community of scientists (and this includes the psychic researchers) will always get there in the end, by virtue of sheer persistence.
My first target was to answer to my own satisfaction the question of whether there was anything in paranormal metal-bending worth investigating at all – i.e., was it a real phenomenon? And in this I was very lucky in obtaining reasonably good evidence at the very first attempt; I doubt if the single instance described would be sufficient on its own, if nothing subsequent had happened; but at least at the time it was sufficient to prompt me to start a serious research programme. My account of what happened reads naively in the light of all the scorn that has since been heaped on such observations by some sceptical sciencewriters; indeed, no publisher would even consider publishing this account back in 1974. But I stand by every word of it, and have been unable to find any errors of fact in the account which follows.
First observations with Geller, 5 February 1974
It was already five o’clock. There was a television camera in the. hotel lobby, fixed so that anyone walking in would be photographed. I had never seen this in an English hotel, but perhaps one day it will be nothing to notice especially. I was told that the hotel was popular with Israeli airline pilots, who needed security. But it made the evening seem a little unreal to me.
David Bohm and I were on our way to meet Uri Geller, the young Israeli who was visiting England and bending spoons on the television. I had seen his interview on the David Dimbleby ‘Talk-In’ show, and, sure enough, a spoon had apparently become quite soft in his fingers.
I am an experimental physicist, and David Bohm is a senior theoretical physicist; he developed the concept of the hidden variable in quantum theory. We had both come by taxi from the laboratories at Birkbeck College, which is part of the University of London. In my pocket I had four polythene envelopes each containing a brass latchkey, cleaned up and carefully examined for scratches. When I was an undergraduate, my laboratory training in chemistry included months of gravitational analysis, making weighings of chemicals to verify that ‘matter can neither be created nor destroyed’. So I developed the usual skill at handling chemical balances, and thought I would use this skill on the latchkeys. If they weighed the same after they had been handled by Geller, something would be learned.
This was my first venture into anything that could be described as ‘psychic research’, and I think this applies to David Bohm as well. The whole field is contrary to the huge weight of experiment and experience which make up the physicist’s life. The history of psychic research is spattered with doubtful reports and contradictions. What is one to believe?
I made up my mind, as most physicists would do, to take nothing on trust and believe nothing that I had not actually seen clearly myself. What a state of affairs! How fast would physics advance if we had to restrict ourselves to this cautious attitude? The young scientist is taught (in the words of Newton) that he has the advantage of ‘standing on the shoulders of a giant’. What if the giant had lied to him? On the other hand, I had often told my research students to take nothing on trust.
We found the hotel suite and were introduced to Uri Geller by Brendan O’Regan. Brendan is a research consultant who had met Geller at the Stanford Research Institute in America. It was he who at the instigation of Californian physicists Fred Wolf and Jack Sarfatt had persuaded Geller to talk with Bohm and myself. But he was more or less unknown to me, and I thought at first that he might be a colleague of Geller’s; this suspicion was helped by what happened next. David Bohm and I took seats, and Brendan and Uri went off together for a minute or so. I wondered what they could be cooking up, and tried to think how I could keep my eye on Brendan as well as Uri. But when they returned, Brendan kept well in the background, whilst Uri sat between David and myself around a plastic-topped wooden coffee table; I had already looked underneath the table and found nothing there. After all, spoons do not bend when they are stroked, and people were already saying that Geller was a very clever conjuror.
There was another scientist present – Dr Ted Bastin; he had with him a piece of electronic equipment which was not working; Uri Geller put his hands on it and tried to heal it but without success. I had the impression that Uri was rather nervous and unsure of himself in the presence of a new crop of scientists (he had already spent some weeks working with physicists at the Stanford Research Institute in California). So we started by talking about what Geller had been doing at Stanford, and after that he tried to receive telepathic messages from us. We drew pictures on paper, which he could not see and he tried to guess what they were; but I had already decided that I would not investigate claims of telepathy at all seriously, since I had no experience, and the conditions were poor. I was waiting for the opportunity to produce my latchkeys. I judged that Geller had to he feeling confident before he would agree to try. I also wanted to make sure that the conditions were just right, so that David Bohm and I could get a really close-up view. I hoped that nothing would go wrong, and although I was in a mood of suspense, I tried not to let this be communicated to the others.
At length Geller said he would try, and asked for a hotel spoon. But I produced two latchkeys in polythene bags before he had a chance. I took them from the bags and laid them on the table.
Many spoons are so weak that anyone with moderately strong hands might bend them. But latchkeys, particularly the large ones issued by the Automobile Association, are much tougher, and I know few people who can bend them between the fingers; it is, however, not very difficult to bend them with one hand pressed against a hard surface. Also I knew all about my latchkeys, and my knowledge of the weights would enable me to test for chemical corrosion and abrasion.
Geller was quite happy with the keys, and at once took one in each hand, holding it lightly between the forefinger and thumb; I did not take my eyes off them once, not even for a moment. I can affirm that I did not see Geller’s other fingers touch the keys (except at pick-up) and that he did not move them more than about an inch from the table surface; they were in my field of vision the whole time. Nothing happened for about forty seconds, and then Geller put the keys flat on the tables about two inches apart and stroked them gently, one with each forefinger. All the time Geller was talking, but I never took my eyes off the two keys and I am certain they never left the table for a surreptitious bend to he performed. After one more minute’s stroking, the end of each key started to bend slightly upwards, one (the one stroked by his right forefinger) distinctly more than the other. The angles were 11 degrees and 8 degrees, as measured afterwards.
Geller picked up one key and held it a few inches above the table to see if it would bend further, or if the metal would soften extensively. But no more bending took place that I could see, and when Geller handed me the key I quickly put it back in the polythene bag and into my pocket. It was not even warm. During the entire time this key had spent out of the bag its movements had been very simple; table, Geller’s forefinger and thumb, table, pick-up by Geller, handed to me, back to the bag. I am quite sure that I did not take my eyes off this key or the other, and I am quite sure that Geller’s handling of the keys was light and gentle. Although the operation had taken little more than two minutes, the strain of the close observation was beginning already to tell on me. I do not think that I could have continued at this intensity for very much longer.
The other key had only a smaller bend; Geller tried by stroking to get it to bend further. We took it into the under a running tap, but to no avail. It remained only slightly bent, and it is my opinion that all of this slight bend (8 degrees) had the table during the stroking. I dried the water off and put the key back in the polythene bag; we said goodbye to Uri Geller, who was happy about what had happened. He promised to come to our laboratory when he returned to England, and David Bohm and I went off into the hotel lobby, past the television camera and out into the street. Altogether we had been in the hotel for an hour and a quarter.
We caught a taxi straight back to the chemistry laboratory where I had use of a balance, and I weighed both keys; next morning I weighed them again. Within the reproducibility which I was getting, there was no change of weight:
AA key EFG key
Morning 12.3264 g 12.5023 g
Afternoon 12.3267 g 12.5024 g
After bending 12.3265 g 12.5013 g
Next morning 12.3271 g 12.5023 g
One reason why I carried out this weighing routine was that I had heard that paranormally bent or fractured specimens had sometimes lost weight. This might be attributed to corrosion by chemicals or to scratching or chipping; but if normal causes were ruled out, something most peculiar must have happened. Metal can be changed chemically, or vaporized, or filed away, but it cannot just disappear, unless it is converted into energy, as in a nuclear reactor. But I now had evidence that this bent key did not lose appreciable weight. I was later to repeat the weighing – paranormal bending – weighing observations more than twenty times, and with one unreliable
exception, no specimen was found to have lost or gained in weight.
More recently a weight loss of 0.03 g has been reported by Dr Sachiro Okada at Tokyo University in a spoon bent by Jun Sekiguchi: this report remains unique.
This was my personal introduction to the metal-bending phenomenon, and whilst it is obviously not worth very much on its own, the conditions of the observation were sufficiently good for me to claim that a conjuror could not duplicate exactly what I reported. But no attempt was made to video-record the events, so that all we have as a permanent record is my own testimony and that of the other physicists present.(5) Such testimonies are perhaps not worth very much in isolation, but when similar reports accumulate, as they have done, they amount to more than video-records.
During the late 1950s the young Israeli Uri Geller had the following experience. He writes:(6)
One time my mother had made some mushroom soup. There was good white bread with the soup, and I dipped the bread into it and ate. Then I started eating the soup with my spoon. I’m left-handed, so I held the spoon in my left hand and took several sips of the soup. My mother was standing by the kitchen stove. I was lifting a full spoonful up to my mouth, when suddenly the bowl of the spoon bent down and spilled hot soup into my lap. Then the bowl of the spoon itself fell off. I was left there holding the handle. I called to my mother. ‘Look what happened!’ She came over and looked at me, then at the spoon. And then she started laughing. ‘Well, it must be a loose spoon or something, she said. Now I knew that was silly. You don’t just have ‘loose spoons.’
I laughed, too. But then I started to put two and two together. Something was happening around me that was very strange, and I had no way of explaining it or knowing what to do about it. I only knew that, whatever it was, this kind of thing didn’t seem to happen to anyone else. And it was not comfortable.
Try to imagine such a thing happening to you as a child of eight or nine. You have a spoon full of soup, and it suddenly breaks and spills the soup into your lap. What do you do? The first reaction is to jump back in surprise, then to get angry at the spoon. And if it happens again the reaction is: Wait a minute. What’s going on here? What is happening? And then if it continues, as it did with me, up to thirty or forty times a year, it becomes disconcerting and worrisome, to say the least.
The worst part of it was that there was no place to turn for help. Neither of my parents could believe what was going on, and I couldn’t exactly blame them. I didn’t want to talk to my teachers about it, and my classmates would either laugh or say it was all just a trick. I was too ashamed even to ask anybody about it, because I knew they would laugh at me.
In view of what has happened during the 1970s, we are forced to wonder whether occasionally in the past there have been other children who have had similar experiences, which, did not become widely known, and which eventually ceased altogether, as has been the case with nearly all those children studied more recently. We shall discuss pre-Geller metal-bending in the next chapter.
Uri Geller, having a strongly outgoing personality and a talent for performance, started to give public demonstrations of metal-bending and other things in Israel. ‘Having an audience even seemed to help,’ he wrote. But then:
When the manager urged me to add the magician’s trick to the regular demonstration, I didn’t know what to do. He was very persuasive, and I was young and inexperienced. He insisted that everything was going to fail unless I added the trick material, I figured, well it won’t last much longer anyway. We’ll soon cover all of Israel, and that will be it. Maybe I’ll be able to save enough money to open up a coffee shop or something like that. I really didn’t have any conception about the gift that had been given to me . . .
I finally gave in to the manager’s pressure. I felt it was wrong the minute I agreed. I didn’t reaise, though, how big a mistake I was making one of the most crucial mistakes of my life. After all, the more I became known all over the country, the more controversy would grow as to whether what I did was real or phoney. I added the trick to the legitimate demonstrations and I hated myself every time I did it.
Uri Geller’s demonstrations in Israel did not convince the world that a new phenomenon was occurring; but the news reached Dr Andrija Puharich, a medical and electrons researcher in the United States, and Puharich made two visits to Israel with simple physical equipment and recorded various observations. At the instigation of astronaut Edgar Mitchell, Puharich brought Geller to the United States, via West Germany, in 1972. A number of physicists then became involved in investigating the effects: Dr Karger of the Max Planck Institute in Munich, Dr Targ and Dr Puthoff of the Stanford Research Institute in California, and others.
Most of Uri Geller’s activity was in the form of ‘performance’ rather than laboratory investigations; the performance did not convince everybody, but it was found that the community, including scientists, polarized into every shade of opinion between complete believers and complete sceptics. One could with some success predict how a person would react if one personally knew him and his background. What was more important, the scientific community had now had their attention drawn to the metal-bending phenomenon, and here and there some physicists and engineers started to make more careful observations and even experiments.
In 1974 the ‘induction effect’ began to occupy attention. During Geller’s television performances other people both in the studio and in their homes would find that a latchkey held gently in the hand would bend of its own accord. In most West European countries, as well as Japan, South Africa and others, the television companies received letters and telephone calls reporting cutlery bending. of its own accord in viewers’ homes. Hundreds of such cases have been followed up in West Germany, and in Britain by the Society for Psychical Research; investigations were made by mathematical physicist John Taylor,(7) who wrote of his experience with children, the ‘mini-Gellers’ who could produce metal-bending effects on their own. In nearly all cases the effects began during or after the television performance. Moreover it is quite possible that a deliberately faked performance or account has actually induced real paranormal metal-bending.(8)
In January 1974 I became involved myself, and slowly developed my research with Uri Geller, and more extensively with British children. This will be described in subsequent chapters. In 1975 the first scientific conference to discuss the effect was held, called by Andrija Puharich at Tarrytown, USA. At this time certain professional conjurors and science-writers started what has since become an organized campaign to convince the public that the entire phenomenon was fraudulent.
In 1976-7, what might be termed ‘second generation metal-benders’ made their appearance in Europe. These people, some of whom are adult rather than children, came forward not as an immediate result of Geller’s own performances but rather as a result of their own personal experiences that such a thing existed, and their gradual realization that it was affecting, them to an extent that could not be ignored. The onset of the bendings was a long time, as match as three years, after the first Geller performances. The Frenchman Jean-Pierre Girard and the Bernese Silvio Mayer are examples of this second generation. The attitudes of the children and of the second generation of benders are rather different from each other and from that of Geller himself. There is no longer much possibility, as there was with Geller, of becoming an international ‘star’ or entertainer. They do not spend their entire life demonstrating the effect; they continue with their careers and as far as possible co-operate with researchers and the media in their spare time.
At this time it cannot be said that thinking people, and especially the scientific community, are convinced of the reality of these phenomena. One important reason is that the phenomena do not connect up with physical science, and that as yet there have been no good hypotheses for such a connection. Hypotheses must wait until definitive quantitative information regarding metal-bending becomes available. To this information I attempt to contribute in the forthcoming chapters; and I shall follow this with some speculation about the possible physical basis of metal-bending.
Another reason for popular scepticism is that the metal-bending is rare and spontaneous, and cannot be reproduced to order. Many times I have been approached by television producers with the request that one of the metal-bending children demonstrate his or her ‘powers’ in front of the television camera. I have nearly always advised the family not to allow such a ‘performance’, because the chance of success is usually small. Nevertheless some successful television recordings of metal-bendings by children and also of strain gauge experiments (chapter 4) have been made, and have appeared in various countries. But there have also been unsuccessful attempts, and these have caused great frustration and unhappiness. Nearly always the metal-bending effects must be taken to be ‘spontaneous’ and not readily reproducible to order.
How did I reach the conclusion that the metal-bending phenomena are genuinely paranormal, or inexplicable? By accumulation of observations of events in which it was my good luck to participate. A few of these I shall describe below; some are simply retained in my notebooks.
When metal is bent paranormally the yield strength becomes temporarily abnormally low; in other words, the metal softens. It is difficult to observe this directly, because the effect does not have to be large for bending to occur, and usually it is not such a large effect that it is obvious to the observers. On rare occasions, however, the metal becomes as soft as putty. The first time that I saw such a phenomenon, it made a deep impression on me. I wrote at the time:
Before he [Uri Geller] had been in my office for two minutes, I spoke of my experiences with the children, and handed him one of the stainless steel spoons which had been bent by the girl.(Valerie P. Actually it was her brother, Graham P., who had bent it.) Geller held the handle and did not touch the bend.( It has been supposed that Geller performed the wellknown conjuring trick to prepare a nearfracture by working the spoon to and fro, covering it between the finger and thumb, and gradually revealing that the spoon is bending.) Within a few seconds, and under my close scrutiny, the bend in the spoon became plastic. It quickly softened so much that the spoon could be held with one end in either hand and gently moved to and fro. I had never seen Geller produce a really plastic bend before, and I asked him to hand the spoon to me in one piece. I took one end from his left hand into my right and one end from his right hand into my left. The acute angle, about 60°, was essentially unchanged in the handing over.( A photograph of myself holding this spoon appears in Geller’s book, My Story.) I could sense the plasticity myself, by gently moving my hands. It was as though the bent part of the spoon was as soft as chewinggum, and yet its appearance was normal. I continued a gentle bending movement for about ten seconds, and then decided that it might be more interesting to try and preserve the spoon in one piece than to pull it apart. As carefully as I could, I laid it on the desk. It was not appreciably warm. I did not dare touch the bent part for fear of breaking it, and it lay on the desk apparently in one piece for a few minutes; but on attempting to move it I was unable to prevent it from falling apart, a ‘neck’ having developed.
This was the first time I had clearly seen a really ‘plastic bend’, since these are much rarer than the slow bends I had observed previously. I do not think there can be any question of fraud when a really plastic bend is produced under close scrutiny, unless there is serious chemical corrosion, such as that produced by mercuric salts. Even then, the metal behaves quite differently, becoming wet, discoloured and brittle, but hardly plastic. Chemical corrosion is accompanied by a change in weight; therefore I was pleased that I had recorded the weight of this spoon as follows:
Original weight 24.3526 g
Weight after bend by child 24.3533 g
Combined weight of pieces after fracture 24.3529 g
These variations are within the limits of weight hanges, both up and down, which have been observed in other bent specimens. The errors are due to dirt and to moisture condensation and evaporation.
To be quite sure of such softening, one must be able to inspect it at close quarters both with the eye and by handling.
A piece of metal that has been critically weakened by bending to and fro can be held rigid at the weak point between finger and thumb. A gradual series of bends can be made apparent by suitable manipulation, but all the time the weak point is held firm, and the movements are made against the restraining force of the flesh of the ball of finger and thumb. The conjurer Mr Randi has demonstrated this trick to me, and it is most effective. It caused me to pause and think: was the Uri Geller spoonsoftening, or others that I have observed, of the same character? No, the character was not the same, in two important details: first, there had been no opportunity for Geller to weaken the spoon by working it to and fro; and second, the part of the spoon which softened and bent was clearly exposed to view, and not held firm. In fact, I was able to hold the end of the spoon myself, and sensitively probe the softening by movements of the hands against the resistance of the metal. It was an uncanny experience.
I have more recently obtained a videotape record of a vertically mounted stainless steel teaspoon in a floppy condition. Metalbender Stephen North succeeded in softening a point on the spoon without even touching it. He then gently pushed and pulled the bowl about, so as to demonstrate the floppiness. Eventually the bowl fell off.
I have obtained similar videorecords of the bending of long thin aluminium strips, which are mounted vertically by standing them on pieces of Plasticine. Stephen holds his hand close to the metal but does not touch it. Suddenly a softening at one point causes a sharp bend, the upper end of the metal strip collapsing to one side under gravity. This type of rapid metalbending event, which can be seen on only a few frames of the videorecord, is not infrequent. It almost seems as though metalbending takes place either too slowly or too fast for the viewers to have an easy task observing it. No doubt this has contributed much to the slowness of its acceptance by sceptical people.
When a strange physical phenomenon is reliably observed and even instrumented, the possible causes must be assessed. First, there may be a natural physical cause, such as the relaxation of previously developed internal stress. In many cases of metalbending, such causes have been eliminated by previously annealing the metal. Second, there may be the conscious or unconscious ‘action’, by means as yet unknown, of one or more humans (or animals). Third, such action may be brought about by one or more discarnate entities-‘spirits’ of living or dead humans (or animals) or, alternatively, deities. Finally, the action may be brought about by one or more inanimate physical objects, such as haunted houses. In principle, any one of the above, or any combination of more than one, could have been the cause of the phenomenon.
It is difficult to see what proof might be offered of the responsibility of these entities. Even if communications were received, repeated demonstrations would have to be given, with the communicated message before each one.
The most that can be expected at present is that a link with a human can be established. Uri Geller is said to cause metalbending because it happens frequently in his presence, and sometimes when he thinks that he is intending it. But the phenomenon is said to be ‘spontaneous’ because sometimes it occurs when he thinks that he is not intending it.
A sudden event observed in an early session of Uri Geller in my laboratory was the bending without touch of a discshaped single crystal of molybdenum of about 1 cm diameter. This had been provided by Dr Anthony Lee of the Cavendish Laboratory, and I personally kept it secure in a plastic box in my pocket before its exposure to Geller’s ‘action’. Physicists David Bohm, Ted Bastin, Jack Sarfatt and also Brendan O’Regan were present as witnesses. Geller asked for small metal objects to be placed for him on a large metal plate, so we placed on the table a machineshop working plate. I took the crystal from its box and put it absolutely flat on the plate. Sarfatt extended his hand a few inches above the crystal and the other objects on the plate. Geller moved his hand above Sarfatt’s, until a tingling sensation was reported by the latter. Geller tried to ‘concentrate his action’, and it was suddenly seen by the observers that the crystal had changed its shape, and was now slightly bent, through an angle of about 20°. I could not swear that the bending was not accompanied by a tiny metallic sound. But I was absolutely certain that neither Geller nor anyone else had touched the crystal since I placed it on the metal plate; nor did he drop anything on the metal plate.
I replaced the crystal in its box, which I returned to my pocket; a physical examination of the crystal would be necessary. I eventually found that a physical property (the magnetic susceptibility) of the crystal was anomalous, but I have not previously published this fact. It will be discussed in chapter 11.
Unfortunately a precise account of this event never appeared at the time, partly because an unauthorised and imprecise account was released to the press by one of those present. Sceptics had a fieldday on the basis of this account, and even now it is doubtful if many readers who remember it will be much influenced by my own version. But I myself was impressed by what I had seen, and was reasonably certain that it could not have been a piece of conjuring. This is partly because conjurors do not know about how to change the physical properties of very pure molybdenum; nor could it have been known just what investigation I was going to make.
But it must be admitted that there were no conjurors present at our session, and that numbers of that profession have written very sceptically about metalbending. Notwithstanding this, there is a less vocal minority of conjurors who are convinced of the reality of the phenomenon. Particularly is this the case in Frenchspeaking Europe, where metalbender JeanPierre Girard has given many ‘demonstrations’.
One of the deepest impressions I received came from the observation of a bend by JeanPierre Girard. I had been asked by chemical physicist Dr Wolkowski of the University of Paris to participate in a discussion on the French radio, and the next day he telephoned to say that as a result of the broadcast a young man had come forward and demonstrated that he could bend metal. Girard was employed in selling pharmaceuticals, but was interested in conjuring and had performed as an amateur. He found himself able to concentrate deeply on pieces of metal, so that eventually they would bend. Very soon there was a television demonstration, of which I received a filmed version. Girard was seen to handle metal rods which bent; it was clear that manual force was not involved. Those of us who watched the film immediately saw that it could have represented a previously bent rod being slowly rotated so that the bend appeared. Such a procedure would have to have involved the film technicians, and when I mentioned this fact in a public lecture, the television company threatened legal action. Although the film was perhaps suspect, I determined to see Girard for myself. The opportunity came as late as July 1977, when I monitored a similar filming in Paris for Alan Neuman and the National Broadcasting Company of America (NBC). We made sure that the protocol was tight; large identified aluminium alloy bars were provided by the Pechiney Aluminium Company, and a suitable one was chosen on camera; after a filmed bending, it was returned on camera. The subsequent tests showed that the manual force that would have been required to make this bend was equivalent to 17 Newton metres (Nm) moment. The average limit of human strength under these conditions is 25 Nm, but a case has been reported of a man achieving a 38 Nm bend by force. The witnesses were unanimous that manual force was not used, and the published film shows this clearly (NBC holds the complete footage of the bending, and a report from me). Girard’s pulserate was monitored during the event, and at the critical period it was as high as 160 beats per minute. The entire proceedings took place with Girard sitting at a flimsy glass table, which could very easily have been broken if strong force had been used on the metal bar.
It is never easy to achieve a metalbending event under the conditions required in the television studio. The delays and adjustments which are necessary to the production contrive to develop an atmosphere of excitement, impatience, confrontation and even stagefright. If video evidence is desired, it is much better to allow a child metalbender to accustom himself to the equipment for several days in his home, and practise metalbending in view of the camera, with one of the family operating the equipment. I have then been able to visit and monitor (for example, from Stephen North and Julie Knowles) the recording of stroking bends, and of bends without touch; also of strain gauge records of the type described in chapter 4.
One very unusual record was obtained by my colleague David Robertson of the action of the metalbender Julie Knowles on a very long thin strip of aluminium (50 cm X 8 mm X 0.8 mm). Such strips can be waved about flexibly and are bent very easily, so I have used them for practice and encouragement of the metalbending children whom I have studied. Julie held the strip upright by one end and remained still; it soon became apparent that the top end was forcing itself towards her, and then springing back again. She was able to press the strip quite hard against this invisible force, and also to move the strip about and turn it to the horizontal; it was obvious from the videorecord that the ‘invisible force’ was not in fact produced by a thread or ‘moti’, as it is called by Indian conjurors. Eventually Julie forced the strip sufficiently hard against the ‘invisible force’ to bend it right over in a smooth arc of nearly 180°.
Here is a final example which illustrates well the spontaneity, even capriciousness, of metalbending happenings; also the difficulties that we encounter in bringing ourselves to come to terms with them.
During 1978 a Japanese boy, Masuaki Kiyota, was invited by a television company to visit London and attempt to ‘demonstrate’ some optical phenomena of the type to be described in chapter 22. I decided to examine his metalbending, and brought with me two freshly purchased stainless steel teaspoons and two of my own household dessert spoons; all of these I quickly identified by nicking their bowls in various places, using wirecutters. I also traced their outlines on paper and located their magnetic poles (chapter 11). I kept them securely in my pockets during Masuaki’s visit.
On the first day I pulled out a dessert spoon from my pocket, quickly checked the identification by touch and offered it to him during a break in the filming at Birkbeck College; he straightway placed it in his lefthand trouser pocket and withdrew his hand; I could see a bulge, presumably (but not certainly) made by the spoon. No one else who might have received the spoon from him came near us. He then asked to be shown to the toilet, so I took him there myself, unaccompanied. Before we had reached the toilet, while we were walking together along the basement corridor of the College, Masuaki pulled a spoon from his pocket and gave it to me; there was a single 180° twist in its neck, which appears in Plate l.la (2). By touching the nick in the bowl, I found that it was my spoon, and I kept it in my hands until I returned it to my pocket. Of course I did not see the twist take place, but my observation was that the necessary tools (such as hand vices or wrenches) could not have been used on his person without my noticing; therefore I deduced that Masuaki’s twisting of the spoon, whether carried out with two hands, with one, or with none, must have involved local softening of the metal.
Similar twisting of the spoons shown in Plate l.la (1 and 3) took place during Masuaki’s visit, but I was not personally responsible for observing them. The last teaspoon I continued to keep in my pocket, and after checking the identification I offered it to Masuaki two days later in a taxi while I was sitting beside him. He played with the spoon onehanded, all the time in my field of vision; within two minutes it became twisted (Plate l.la (4)). It happened too fast for me to get a really clear visual image of the happening. I again checked my nicking and returned it to my pocket.
The identification of a spoon by touching the nicked bowl is easy and quick, perhaps embarrassingly so. Later during the day I pulled a teaspoon from my pocket without checking it and showed it as evidence of the taxi event to another investigator. I had earlier explained my identification technique, and he was able to see that it was in fact another teaspoon altogether (Plate l.la (1))! I pulled out the ‘taxi’ teaspoon and this time there was no trouble with the identification. My face was undoubtedly red, but this is no reason why the observation should be invalidated.
I describe these events in order to show the difficulties of observing spontaneous phenomena. Had Masuaki been sat down in front of the television cameras and invited to bend metal, there would not have been a very high chance of success. But Nippon Television in Tokyo have during 1979 achieved some good videorecordings of twists.
My description of metalbending events will not in subsequent chapters be arranged in correct historical order, but rather by classification of the different types of physical phenomena and the experiments necessary to obtain some understanding of them; these ‘notouch’ experiments have mostly taken place in the homes of metalbending children, to which I have carried portable equipment, attempting to approximate to ‘laboratory conditions’ without removing the child from his natural environment.
The chapters will read as though the sessions have been one continuous success story, but in fact this has not been the case. There have been many long hours of observations without any ‘paranormal effects’ to show for them. My policy has been to set up the most suitable social and psychological conditions for metalbending to occur. I have no detailed recipe for success, nor do I consider that public demonstrations are likely to be successful, except in rare cases.
Plate 1.1a (Opposite above) Stainless steel spoons twisted by Masuaki Kiyota Plate 1.1b (Opposite left) Enlargement of twist in spoon 1
Plate 1.1c (Opposite right) Enlargement of twist in spoon 4
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