Chapter 20


The paranormal movement of objects: psychokinesis

We have seen that in poltergeist cases the actual movement of objects can take place by paranormal means; and we have inferred that these movements might be brought about by the action of paranormal quasi-forces; such a phenomenon is termed psychokinesis (PK). It is important to determine whether psychic subjects could produce such movements, or quasi-forces, in a reasonably controlled way. As we shall see, it is possible that in metal-bending there is a psychokinetic, as well as the paranormal softening, component.

Since it is rare for heavy objects (requiring large quasi-forces) to be moved, the approach by experimenters investigating psychokinesis has been to construct simple apparatus in which only a very small quasi-force is necessary to bring about observable motion; they have used as light and mobile objects as possible. The simplest experiment is to suspend a very light horizontal pointer, such as a matchstick or a quill, from a fine thread, silk or man-made fibre; the psychic is required to rotate it, at a distance. Alternatives are to float the pointer on water, or mount it on a needle-point.

The first serious recorded experiments of this sort were those made by Sir William Crookes(50) during the nineteenth century. To avoid pointer movements due to currents of air, he enclosed the apparatus under a sealed glass dome. Being an extremely capable experimental scientist, he quickly reaised the magnitudes of the quasi-random movements of pointers due to air currents within the dome, thermal gradients or electrostatic and electromagnetic forces. He decided to evacuate the dome and then observed movements due to visible radiation. These were appreciable only when the pointer was coloured white on one side and dark on the other, and was shaped for maximum effect in the form of a thin vertical pair of discs. Visible or infrared radiation falling on the discs would bring about movement only when the dome was evacuated, and we know now that a very high vacuum also inhibits movement just as efficiently as does atmospheric pressure.

This device is well-known as the ‘Crookes Radiometer’ and is available commercially as a novelty; when it is exposed to a bright light or to an electric fire the paddles rotate, often rapidly. The physical mechanism is still understood only in outline, but apparently the temperature differential between light and dark surfaces affects the residual gas molecules, whose mean free paths are sufficiently long for the increased speeds of the hotter molecules to impart increased momentum to the surface they subsequently impact; hence the inhibition both by very high vacuum and by atmospheric pressure. Crookes accepted this explanation, although he had at first thought he had actually measured the electromagnetic radiation pressure.

In order to avoid movements of our psychic pointers due to this cause, we must avoid colour differentials between the two sides; indeed it is unnecessary to make the pointer in the form of a vertical disc – the vertical area can be made comparatively small. Crookes, using an enclosed dynamometer, reported that the psychic Daniel Dunglass Home was able to exert quasi-force upon it, without touch.

Since the time of Crookes, various investigators have offered similar ‘light mobile objects’ to psychics, in order to test whether they could move them from a distance.
One reason for the rejection of what may well have been genuine psychokinetic phenomena reported by qualified scientists has been the unfortunate tendency by the authors to dress the effects up with fancy names, and attribute to them properties which could have been those of hallucinatory phenomena, or of real paranormal physical phenomena, but inextricably associated with ritualistic processes necessary to the subject’s unconscious; for example, the association of various physical phenomena with large and beautiful single crystals.
Thus history records the apparent success, and later rejection, of such things as animal magnetism, Reichenbach’s ‘Od’, N-rays, X^X-rays, Rigid rays and the Orgone. We shall probably never know just how many, if any, of these physical phenomena really occurred.

One modern British researcher, who has made careful observations with such psychics as Suzanne Padfield, is Benson Herbert.(54) Members of the Toronto Society for Psychic Research have experimented with Jan Merta.(55) Merta chose fairly large feathers as pointers, and was able to produce rotation from distances of several metres. By means of a horizontal capacitor vane of metal foil attached to the suspension, the rotation of the feather pointers could be registered as a varying capacitance between the rotating vane and fixed vane. Records exist of the background fluctuations and of the deflections produced at command; their internal consistency has become available to me for analysis.

A Czechoslovak physicist who has psychokinetic abilities and has successfully experimented on himself is Dr Julius Krmessky. I have visited him at his home in Bratislava and seen him successfully move such pointers under l0-in. diameter domes. I determined to apply the technical experience I had gained to experiments, using the metal-bending children.

I learned to minimize normal movements of the pointers in the following ways. Electrostatic and electromagnetic forces are the easiest to guard against. The dome should be made of glass and not of transparent plastic; the latter more easily accepts and retains locaised electric charge, which produces an electrostatic force field. A conductive dome distributes the charge and destroys the horizontal electric field; the surface electrical conductivities of both sodaglass and Pyrex are usually sufficient to distribute charge in a small fraction of a second. An experiment with frictionally induced charge, which on a plastic dome can move the pointer but on a glass dome should not, must be carried out as verification. If there is still movement, then the glass must be coated with antistatic ointment; an alternative is to coat the glass with a silver film of about 20 microns thickness; the transparency is not destroyed, and the dome takes on a beautiful mauve tint. The base on which the dome stands must also have sufficient conductivity for horizontal electrostatic fields to be avoided.

The base should also make an airtight seal with the dome, standard techniques such as a vacuum wax or soft sealing compound being adequate for this purpose. In this way the air currents from the room are excluded from the interior, so that it is necessary to worry only about air currents generated by thermal gradients within the dome itself. These can of course be eliminated by evacuation, but if care is taken to avoid external heat sources (such as the psychic’s body or electric fires), this will be necessary only when the paranormal movements to be detected are very small. Experiments should be carried out to see what pointer movements, if any, are produced by artificial heat sources. With sufficient experience it should be possible to avoid evacuation of the dome.

Movements of the pointer arising from instability of the mounting of the dome and its base should also be investigated. Preferably the apparatus should be left stationary for several hours, or overnight, in the absence of the psychic. In an evacuated system no unexplained pointer movements occur. Very slight movements over a period of weeks may be traceable to instability of the mounting, or to mechanical relaxation effects in the suspension fibre. Alternatively, one can actually suspend the entire dome.

Only when we are certain of having a stable piece of equipment should we expose it to the action of the psychic. Since the quasi-force required to rotate in the horizontal plane a pointer suspended from a fine thread can be as small as 10^-4 N. I imagined at first that the task should not be difficult for paranormal metal-benders. Nevertheless they did not have great success in moving pointers under domes. Andrew and Willie G. both produced very little pointer movement, but Julie Knowles has produced sudden rotations of the pointer through as much as 90°; evacuation of the dome was not possible, but care was taken to avoid thermal convection. No metal-bender came near the performance of Dr Krmessky, who produced rotations in either direction at will for the Czech physicist Dr Adamec and myself. Dr Krmessky almost (but not quite) induced me to believe that in his presence I was myself having some effect on the pointer. When l asked him if this ability induced in others (see chapter 17) persisted after he had left them, he gave the opinion that as soon as they were completely alone the induced ability left them. Suzanne Padfield, the English girl who has several years’ experience of being able to move pointers, told me that she once induced the ability in another person in such a way that it lasted for several hours after she herself had departed.

One feature I have noticed with Dr Krmessky and Uri Geller is that the psychic cannot be certain of the direction in which the pointer will start to move when he begins his concentration. But once the movement has started, in either direction, he is able to change the direction at will; he is uncertain which way it will go in the first place, and there is sometimes a very small oscillation before the movement takes place.

When Jan Merta applied his pointer movement device, which was made of two horizontal chicken feathers, to the interruption of a light beam falling on a photocell and thereby closing an electrical circuit for a remote control ‘wish-switch’, he was careful to design it bi-directionally so as to allow for this effect. Application for patent rights to the ‘wish-switch’ was attempted, but abandoned.

Another feature of the ballistic pointer motion produced by psychics is that we cannot be certain how jerky is the quasi-force producing it. With both Julius Krmessky and Julie Knowles I had the impression that the force was produced in bursts or pulses; but it is very difficult to be certain of this because the suspended pointer behaves in a ballistic manner; it moves freely, with a very long period of oscillation (perhaps 15 sec) when it receives just one short pulse of torque. Only with accurate recording of the motion is it possible to make some analysis of the time-dependence of the quasi-forces.

If the pointer were restrained by some normal force field, then it would, if displaced, oscillate with a shorter period (perhaps 1-3 sec). Hence the pointer would be easier to control, and the time-dependence of any quasi-force would be easier to infer. But this would be at the expense of sensitivity of the apparatus. More quasi-force, of the order of 0.01 N. would be necessary to move the pointer.

Such an arrangement is provided by the magnetized pointer of a ship’s compass, which is normally constrained in the horizontal component of the earth’s magnetic field. It is adequately shielded from air currents and is not prone to electrostatic effects. The commercial liquid-filled variety is particularly stable, but of course can easily be rotated by the movement of a small bar magnet concealed about the person. But the movement of such a magnet is detectable by magnetometer, which can easily be made sensitive to fields as small as a milligauss. It is necessary not only to search the subject with the magnetometer probe, but also to leave the probe in a fixed position near to the compass during the psychokinetic experiment. The movement of the compass will itself cause a variation of magnetic field to be registered at the magnetometer probe, since the compass needle is itself magnetized. The time-varying field must be thoroughly understood, by previous experimentation, before the psychokinetic experiment; if the liquid in the ship’s compass is caused to rotate by hydrodynamic action, the needle will rotate with it and the sinusoidal variation of magnetic field can be recorded.

With the assistance of Dr Kobayashi of Tokyo Metropolitan University, I was able to monitor the paranormal movements of a ship’s compass brought about by Uri Geller in Tokyo in 1975. There was no anomalous magnetic field present during the paranormal movements of the compass needle. While Geller was in Tokyo, ten compass rotation events were observed by me, and I was satisfied that there was no cheating either by Geller or by anyone else when the magnetometer was used.

Nevertheless I much prefer an unmagnetized suspended pointer to a ship’s compass for this type of work. To me it appears that the magnetic properties of the compass needle are an unnecessary complication, an extra factor which can introduce difficulties not present in the simpler experiment. There might be confusion about a possible paranormal production of magnetic field. The Tokyo evidence suggests that there was no magnetic field produced when the compass needle was deflected, other than the change in field due to the movement of the needle; but this may not always turn out to be true. Arrays of small compasses have been used by the French researchers, and the results are even more complicated.

Some well-known experiments on the paranormal deflection of a compass needle were carried out in Leningrad with the psychic Nina Kulagina.(56) A moving picture has been widely shown in the West, in which not only is a compass needle deflected, but the compass case itself is seen to rotate on the table. Movement of a non-magnetic compass case would of course not arise from the variation of magnetic field, whether paranormally or normally produced, unless the needle was locked on its axis in some way.

It requires very much more force to rotate a compass case on a table than it does to rotate a suspended pointer. In order that the required force be minimized, and thereby the task made easier for the subject, a compass case can be mounted so as to be very easily rotatable. I have found that a simple arrangement is to attach a needle-point to the centre of its base, and float the compass case on sufficient liquid mercury to ensure that the rim of the base does not touch the bottom of the mercury trough. The needle-point, however, remains in contact with the bottom. The compass can then be rotated by a very small torque, not very much larger than that required to rotate the needle.
I have offered a liquid-filled ship’s compass on a mercury bearing to Uri Geller, and he produced small movements of the compass case; the needle did not move from its alignment with the earth’s magnetic field. No video-record was taken of this event, but it was observed by several people. However, no success has been achieved by metal-bending children on either stationary or mobile compasses.

Lest we should be lulled into a complacent attitude to our understanding of this particular psychic phenomenon in terms of a relatively simple ‘paranormal quasi-force field’, a report by Suzanne Padfield suggests that there is more complication. She reported that she could deflect her compass for comparatively long periods of time (minutes); moreover the compass experienced long periods of deflection only when it was placed in certain areas of the room. Although this sounds exactly like the action of local anomalous magnetic fields, I am assured that this explanation was examined and rejected. The proposed phenomenon opens up interesting new possibilities.

An interesting experiment was observed by an engineer, Dr A.S., when Uri Geller visited Professor Taylor’s laboratory at King’s College, London. An unevacuated plastic dome had been prepared, in which was a 10-cm pointer made of stout brass wire, suspended from a fine thread. Uri Geller was allowed to touch, but not to move, the dome. Violent rotations of the pointer were observed (?electrostatic). An impressive event ensued: the metal pointer slowly curled into a 45° bend inside the dome, without moving on its suspension. Such events are very rare; they demonstrate clearly the difference between the internal origin of the metal-bending action, which does not greatly disturb the centre of mass of the metal, and the apparent external origin of the quasi-forces which are responsible for the movement of light objects.

Another form of paranormal movement experiment, not usually carried out under a dome, is on the sliding movements of light objects resting on a table. Many people have seen the moving picture of the Russian psychic Nina Kulagina demonstrating these movements, without touching the objects themselves. Since the Russian scientists also claim that electrostatic fields can be produced paranormally, it is important to make certain that the cause of this motion is not electrostatic. This can be done by rendering the working surface and the objects themselves slightly conducting. Low-loss polymers should not be used. There is also the important issue of fraud by the use of fine threads, particularly when these are passed round static objects in such a way that a hand movement causes a movement of the object in the opposite direction.

l became interested in the possible ability of metal-benders to produce this effect when l was told by Mrs Nemeth that a plastic cup had moved on the tea-table near where David (then aged eight) was sitting. ‘But that is something I don’t talk about,’ she said.

The opportunity to witness Jean-Pierre Girard attempt such an effect came to me in the summer of 1977, when I was asked to monitor film material being made in Paris for NBC television (in the United States) by Alan Neuman.(30) My task was to view the experiments, which were carried out on a glass table under camera, from a distance of about five feet; I concentrated particularly on the possible use of threads, even though there was a relatively long filming period (more than one hour); but I found no evidence of fraud. I also found it impossible to move objects on the table by frictional electrostatic means. The objects which moved paranormally in camera were a brandy glass (45 g weight) and a lipstick case (20 g weight). The movements recorded, and now widely seen by audiences, were jerky and only of a few inches’ distance. I lodged a detailed report with the television company.

I adhere to my general conclusion that some psychics, including some metal-benders, are able to produce temporary quasi-forces which act locally on neighbouring sensitive mobile apparatus.

Since my studies of psychokinesis have concentrated on the physics of the phenomenon, I have avoided conducting the orthodox psychokinetic experiments on influencing the throw of dice, or of their placement in certain areas on a working surface. It is quite possible that the success achieved by some subjects in throwing dice is attributable to paranormal actions similar to those l have been investigating. Stephen North has been able to produce signals on a pair of strain gauges actually mounted on a die, but of course the die was suspended and not being thrown at the time.

Dice-throwing and placement experiments(57) might be influenced by many physical factors, some or all of which could be open to a ‘primary’ paranormal action. There could be electrostatic forces induced piezo-electricity, tribologically or paranormally; mechanical forces induced either on the die or in the mechanical thrower by tribological artefacts, air currents, thermal effects, or paranormal changes in elastic properties; as well as the mechanical distortions produced apparently paranormally in dice strain gauge experiments by Stephen North. I find it difficult to assess dice-placement experiments, because the control of these factors is technically difficult and is not usually described in great physical detail.

One result reported by dice experimenters is that the paranormal successes achieved by some subjects are equally great when heavier dice of equal size are used. This is not disturbing to parapsychologists, but is puzzling to physicists; the finding may not be so difficult to understand if it is remembered that it holds only over a certain range of masses, and that the exact extent of this range is not yet known. A really large-scale experiment has recently been reported with a very large lead die weighing ten thousand times heavier than normal – quite an impressive feat of engineering, the motion being achieved with the use of a robust inclined plane. But no paranormal action was achieved. This is in line with our experience that really powerful psychokinesis is exceedingly rare, whereas quasi-forces of small magnitude may not be so uncommon.

These quasi-forces may also play a part in metal-bending, quite distinct from the internal action, softening, deformation, structural change and so on which we have been discussing in earlier chapters. Qualitative evidence for this exists in our video-records of the elastic paranormal bending of a long flexible metal strip held in the hand of Julie Knowles. Quantitative evidence comes from the published work of Professor Sasaki and his colleagues(58) in Japan on the conduct of mechanical stress-strain experiments in the presence and absence of metal-bending children. A stress-strain graph from his data is shown in Figure 20.1. In the experiment, a metal wire starts from the very small strain corresponding to a very small stress and is taken in stages up the sigma (as a function of epsilon) curve. At a certain moment the metal-bender is ‘introduced’ and succeeds without touch in distorting the specimen elastically so that the strain, epsilon, increases whilst the normal applied stress sigma is unchanged. When the normal stress is increased and the metal-bender ceases his action, the metal returns to its original stress-strain graph. Thus the paranormal action was elastic and did not cause yield or, presumably, any change of physical properties. It could be described as the action, without touch, of a quasi-force.

The question of whether a psychokinetic quasi-force is responsible for the movement of the water-diviner’s cleft stick is a difficult one to answer. In this method of ‘dowsing’, one stick is held in each hand, and normally the system is maintained under stress in two different ways. Each of the two sticks is bent into a curve, with the cleft joint forming a cusp. The hands prevent their straightening. In addition, each of the two sticks is slightly twisted, the directions being opposed. Untwisting is prevented by the cleft joint and by the action of the fingers. This combination of stresses, bending and torsional, is maintained by the muscular action of the dowser; if he were to relax the appropriate muscles suddenly then the system would move. In good adjustment, the cleft stick and dowser’s hands are in metastable static equilibrium. A small displacement to this equilibrium causes a rapid movement to a different static equilibrium position. This displacement could be of three types:
(a) a slight unconscious relaxation of certain muscles;
(b) a psychokinetic force applied principally at the cleft joint;
(c) a temporary paranormal modification of the elastic properties of the cleft stick, similar to paranormal metal-bending action.

The second and third possibilities would be impossible to prove by instrumentation, except in the absence of the first; alternatively if the extent of the first contribution could be measured, the magnitudes of the contributions from the second and third possibilities might be estimated. At present this is out of the question, and l must conclude that there is no evidence for psychokinetic contributions; the muscular relaxation hypothesis remains the most plausible. This is also the case for angle-rod dowsing.

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