IS CHAOS NECESSARY?
URIGELLER IN THE LABORATORY
There was magic in the world. There was the magic of day and night, of springtime and winter, of buds creaming into bloom, of first grains cleaving their green shoots through the unviolated earth, and of rivers flowing down to the sea. There was the magic of winds and clouds, and of the tides, which were alive and moved at the thunderbidding of unknown gods.
-From the Preface of Greater Magic, by John Northern Hilliard
I (R.T.) was sound asleep on a Sunday morning in September, 1972, when events began to conspire to bring Uri Geller into our lives. It was seven o’clock in the morning, which is a time that I consider all phone calls to be somewhat unwelcome. But especially unwelcome are calls that require me to get out of bed and be elsewhere in half an hour. The caller was an old friend, Jean Mayo, a doctoral candidate with the Humanistic Psychology Institute, who had an extra ticket to an all-day conference on psychic healing. Would I like to come? She would pick me up in thirty minutes if I could be ready.
Although we are willing to consider that some percentage of the patients who go to psychic healers do get the help they are seeking, we have always felt that this area was too complicated for a pair of physicists to get involved in. But since my friend added that Andrija Puharich and Stan Krippner, both well known in the field of parapsychology, had been looking for me on the previous day, I decided that I would pull myself together and go. Even if the lectures were a little murky, I would be very happy to see my friends from New York.
In the morning, we heard papers on Kirlian photography, laying on of hands, and even a paper dealing with our ESP teaching machine. Finally, it was lunchtime-a time that all conference attendees look forward to. We rounded up Andrija Puharich and several of the entourage who seem to accompany him everywhere.
We all settled down in a comfortably dark restaurant where we divided our attention between some pitchers of beer and Andrija’s description of his remarkable discovery, Uri Geller. Andrija had just returned to the United States from Israel, where he had been investigating the apparent psychic ability of Uri. Andrija could not find enough words to praise Uri’s “power,” believing that Uri could bend rings without touching them and cause objects to move using only his mental powers. According to Andrija, Uri could cause objects to disappear, or dematerialize, from closed containers and reappear elsewhere. There was even something about the disappearance of Andrija’s Mercedes from the front of his house in Tel Aviv and its reappearance at the edge of a lake a hundred yards away. Andrija told us more, and it was fascinating.
Although I was skeptical, I have had dealings with Andrija Puharich intermittently since 1965, and I consider him to be an exceptionally intelligent and imaginative scientist and medical researcher. Having kept up to date on his reports and patents, we were also aware of his background in microminiature electronics.
Later that night, Hal, Andrija, and I tried to put it all together. The prospect of working with a “gifted” subject was exciting. Since Uri could “do anything,” there should be no problem in designing experiments that could satisfy us. We would do the work at SRI with everything recorded on videotape and film. The principal thing we all wanted to record was Uri bending something without touching it. The objects would be under a bell jar, so that if they disappeared during an experiment we wouldn’t have to worry about whether Uri had just palmed them off the table.
Uri did come to SRI. In the course of his six weeks with us, we saw many wild and wonderful things. We shot thirty thousand feet of 16 mm movie film and thirty hours of videotape, although we did not ever photograph what we had set out to observe. But that’s getting ahead of the story.
The end of October found us ready for Uri’s arrival at SRI. He was to arrive at San Francisco International Airport accompanied by Andrija and Shipi Shtrang. Shipi remained in California with Uri for his entire stay, while Andrija returned to New York after only two days. Because of past experience, he felt that his mere presence in California would cast doubt on anything Uri might do in the laboratory.
Shipi had been a good friend of Uri’s for some time and was a comfortable traveling companion for him. At the time Uri was with us, he was twenty-five, Shipi, nineteen. Because of their youth, we were especially wary. I could remember back to my own activities at nineteen, when I was earning money performing magic myself. We were fully aware of the negative possibilities of the situation.
Hal and I picked up our four visitors in my brand-new station wagon. Uri is a very engaging and perceptive fellow, and we had an upbeat and cheery ride back to Palo Alto.
Uri explained how it was important that we all work together to make the experiments a success. We must have faith in each other. So that we could start off together on the right foot, Uri said he would drive my car the rest of the way home himself – blindfolded!
Now this posed a dilemma for me, since we had had a very hard time convincing Uri to take part in laboratory tests at all. He had told us through Andrija that the entities through whom be gets his power don’t want him to get involved in anything as unequivocal as laboratory tests yet. We were never really sure he would show up until we saw him at the airport.
I am very familiar with techniques for blindfold driving, and had every confidence that Uri could do that trick as well as any of the dozens of other magicians who do it. My concern was only that he might misjudge because of the enormous size of my car and have an accident for nonparanormal reasons.
However, at the risk of being a spoilsport, I offered the use of astronaut Edgar Mitchell’s rented car as soon as we got to Uri’s new home, an apartment in south Palo Alto. So, shortly after arriving at Uri’s apartment, we had an exciting blindfold drive at high speed through the streets of residential Palo Alto with Uri calling out the color of passing cars, the color of houses, and the presence of stop signs – all in rapid succession. It was accomplished with flair and style. After this initiation rite, we agreed to meet later that evening for a planning session. During dinner, I briefed my family on the events of the afternoon. My youngest son, Nicholas, who had been listening to our plans for the past several weeks, expressed some worry – not about the driving adventure, since that was obviously a thrill-a-minute opportunity to a seven-year-old, but about the dematerialization.
The question was: “If Uri makes a ball of string disappear, and you are holding onto the end of the string, do you go wherever the ball goes?” That was one of the best questions I had heard in some time. I filed that one away to ask Uri at some later time.
In due course, we assembled at Uri’s apartment. Uri, Shipi, and Andrija were just finishing their dinner when Hal and I arrived. Shortly after us came Edgar Mitchell, who had agreed to raise the money to pay for the experiments. With him was Dr. Wilbur Franklin from Kent State University. Dr. Franklin had seen Uri bend and break some metal objects at an earlier meeting in New York. Since he is a metallurgist, he rightly considered any such goings-on to be in his province.
What followed might have been called a sitting in the days of Sir Oliver Lodge, except that there were no spirits present (or so we assume). Since this is the twentieth century, I hardly need to add that the lights remained on. What followed was not considered by us to be an experiment, but rather a happening at a special kind of party.
Hal and I had brought with us some rings which we had cut from metal tubing at SRI. About an inch in diameter and made of fifty mil stock (fifty thousandths of an inch), anywhere from fifty to a hundred pounds of force arc required to bend them. It is obviously impossible for most people to bend them at all, but a person does not have to be outside the range of human variation to do so. These rings had been weighed and given stamped serial numbers.
Our plan was to take out one ring, show it to Uri, but not let him hold it. According to many newspaper accounts of Uri’s exploits in Europe, that was his standard routine. “A girl takes off her ring, holds it in her fist. She then reports that her hand gets ‘all tingly.’ She opens her hand and the ring is bent.” That is the “effect.” In the magic business, there are two parts to every trick. The “effect” is what the observer thinks is happening. It’s what he will report as having taken place, even under cross-examination, because this is all he has actually seen. The other part of the trick is aptly called the “secret” and it is this that actually happens to cause the “effect.” Such is the analysis from the standpoint of magic.
Magic tricks fall into two general categories which I will call “sleights” and “illusions.”
Sleight-of-hand tricks are simply misdirections of the observer’s attention by the performer. A magician can take a half-dollar and appear to put it into your hand. As long as you keep your hand closed, you will think you have the coin in your fist. When you open your hand, you will find a rabbit made of sponge, a dime, or any other small object the magician has decided to give you.
In magic, as in psychic research, attention is everything. If you can keep your attention fixed on what is happening, you have a good chance of not being fooled.
However, attention will not help you keep track of the other form of trick, an illusion. I am not as dexterous as most practicing professional magicians, so I make more use of this latter category of tricks. An illusion, which need not be a big stage production, is any trick in which the observer is invited to greatly underestimate the amount of preparation necessary to create the “effect.” Even simple-seeming card tricks can have days of preparation and be tailor-made for the particular person who is going to see them. This preparation may have begun the moment the magician learned that on a particular day in the next month he will have a meeting with a given person who just might ask to be shown some magic. And with a month to prepare for a meeting, a magician can do anything. A magician will spend that kind of time to prepare a single trick, because that’s what he does for a living.
Why all of this attention to magic? Although our critics would have the public believe that we were too naive to consider that such a nice young man as Uri would try to fool us, actually we were cautious to the point of paranoia. After all, we already had a successful project under way and a number of outstanding proposals for tens of thousands of dollars under consideration. Perhaps a potential client had sent not just a masterful magician, but a Six-Million-Dollar Man with a Mission Impossible backup team to see if our system could be cracked.
To return to Uri: In general, we can give an accurate description of the “effects” we saw that night. But, because these effects were carried out on Uri’s terms (unlike our later experiments) we are unable to explain what really happened.
When the time seemed appropriate, Hal took out one of our SRI rings, which happened to be copper. He showed it to Uri, but kept it in his own hand. Uri said, “I need more metal,” and we knew that although this was only the beginning, it was also the beginning of the end of anything like a controlled observation.
As bracelets, watches, and other rings were added to the pile, it became apparent that it was not going to be possible to tell what was “really” happening. We no longer had control of the “effect.” The unspoken protocol at this informal social event was that if anything bent, we should be grateful and consider it a small miracle. Uri picked up all the metal things and put them into Hal’s open hand. He held his hand over Hal’s and asked us all to help him. After a period of apparent effort, Uri said that he thought something should have bent. Sure enough, Hal’s copper ring was bent into a slightly elliptical shape! This was a cause for much excitement. It was taken as a sign that “they” were willing for Uri to work with us.
We made another attempt at carrying out a reasonably, “uncluttered” experiment with only one object at a time. Uri willingly, agreed. He picked up Hal’s intact heavy silver bracelet, laid it on the table, and stroked it with his finger. The observant reader will notice who is again directing the experiment. Uri kept up a verbal barrage as he concentrated, saving, “It’s too heavy” and “I can’t do it,” etc. When he removed his finger, the bracelet was broken in two places.
We did not conclude from these demonstrations that Uri had paranormal ability. Neither did we conclude that he was attempting to deceive us. Just because a man is found at the scene of the crime with a smoking gun in his hand, the law doesn’t say unequivocally that he was the one who did the deed. Uri creates confusion around himself, even when he is not performing. Weeks later, we were able to deal with this problem by obtaining Uri’s consent to remain in an electrically shielded, soundproof booth while experiments were in progress outside. That, of course, limited the kind of experiments we could do with him, but scientists have to work with phenomena under controlled conditions.
We were unhappy with our initial encounter and felt that little would be accomplished while sitting around Uri’s kitchen table.
I thought nothing could be lost by engaging Uri in a little card magic. I produced a brand-new deck of my own from my, pocket and broke the seal on the cellophane wrapper. I made a full fan of the deck and looked at the backs and faces of the cards. All this was recorded on film by Andrija. While casually shuffling the cards overhand, I asked Uri about the partial dematerialization question raised by my son earlier. With a real non sequitur, he asked me for the cards, which he continued to shuffle overhand for about fifteen seconds while we watched him most attentively. He was shuffling rather inelegantly – a ruse perhaps. At that point, he fumbled the cards. They appeared to fall from his hands, hitting the table edge. All this would be of very little interest, except that the cards appeared to penetrate the top of the Formica-covered table. When they fell over, we grabbed the deck immediately. All the cards were there, but five of them had pieces missing. Furthermore, the missing pieces were nowhere to be found.
The reason that the deck looked as though it had penetrated the table was that a slice amounting to about 25 percent of the card was missing from each of the five cards. Since the cards had a large missing diagonal slice, they were able to fall beyond the rest of the cards as they hit the table.
This was the first definitely nonregular event that we had seen during our interaction with Uri. We had just asked Uri about partial dematerialization and fifteen seconds later he presented a handful of cards with pieces missing.
It wasn’t until the next day that we solved that puzzle. We solved it by generating a larger, more global puzzle. A possible explanation is that this deck of cards, which I got on an airplane coming home from Amsterdam and had kept for two months without opening, could have had some of its cards struck twice by the die cutter in the playing-card factory, once the normal way and a second time with the cards slightly rotated. Such a double strike would produce exactly the defect we observed – namely an extra pair of parallel cuts. The missing pieces from the cards were never found, and the simplest explanation is that the cards came from the factory just the way we observed them. We have probably had almost five hundred decks of cards pass through our hands as bridge players and card shufflers, and we have never seen such a fractured deck before. Neither has any of the professional magicians whom we have queried on the point. Nonetheless, we consider this the most likely solution. But it’s still a very improbable occurrence for those cards to travel through time and space to find themselves in Uri’s hands at just the moment he needed them.
This whole question of coincidences is one that plagues psychic research. For example, if you ask a psychic to tell you the serial number engraved on the inside of your watch, and he correctly gives you the six digits in their proper order, do you conclude that he is psychic or that it was just his lucky- day? How many, times would you have to see such a one-in-a-million event repeated before you conclude that he is psychic? That is the essence of what we have come to call the “Lucky Day” hypothesis. In the case of Uri and the cards, because of the exactitude of the separation of the parallel cuts, we must conclude that it was coincidence at work.
Arthur Koestler deals with this problem at length in his book The Roots of Coincidence. He argues that to ascribe such occurrences to “just coincidence” is to misunderstand this small reminder of a universal order that overlays all activity, even though we have the illusion of complete person/event independence.
By this argument, it might be impossible to work with Uri and not be plagued with these occurrences. Immediately after the discovery of the sliced cards, Uri said that before he could continue with us he would need a sign from “Spectra,” which is the code name for his “extraterrestrial intelligence” and claimed source of his power. With the words “I need a sign,” Andrija turned on his movie lights and began filming Uri, since if a miracle were about to occur, he didn’t want to miss recording it on film. Seconds after he began filming, we heard a clear, loud dingdong from the next room, which was unoccupied except for our ESP testing machine, a four-choice random number generator. As described in Chapter 6, the machine rewards a subject who makes a correct guess with a dingdong from an internal door chime. Although we have never before, or since, heard the chime from the machine for any reason except a correct button push, it is certainly possible that the switched-on movie lights could have produced a transient current flow in the house wiring that caused “the sign.” We were unable to cause any further chimes by turning the lights on and off in subsequent attempts. But electrical transients are like that sometimes.
At this point, we found that the copper ring had become further bent. It had gone from a slight ellipse to a definite oval, and later became a definite dumbbell shape. It seemed as though this was all taking place spontaneously, though of course none of us was focused on the little ring while large-scale miracles were seemingly taking place around us!
We drank some coffee, which we stirred with bent spoons, and discussed the work we would try to do in the coming weeks.
As Hal and I walked down Uri’s driveway to our car, we observed a stop sign quite logically placed at the end of the driveway, which intersected a busy cross street. What was illogical was the unusual condition of the sign, which had been supported by, the usual five-foot iron stand. The sign, however, was now only two feet off the ground. That was because its support had been bent and twisted to form three complete loops around an imaginary center of rotation, as if to form a spiral slide about the right size for a mouse. As there was no possibility that we would have missed such an object as we entered Uri’s house, the twisting must have occurred during our eight-to-midnight bending session. It was difficult to imagine how such a neat job could have been done without the use of heavy machinery.
On the first morning with Uri in the laboratory, we had a lot of learning to do. We learned that a large, hyperactive twenty-five-year-old Uri was not going to sit quietly, like a piece of laboratory equipment waiting for an experiment to be set up and tested.
One of our first efforts in measuring Uri’s ability was to ask him to attempt to change the meter reading on a magnetometer which measured the magnetic field near a sensitive probe taped to a tabletop. We used this same probe to go over Uri’s hands and body to make sure he didn’t have any magnets hidden away, although an implanted, intermittently powered electromagnet might have escaped detection. This whole operation was both filmed and videotaped. The film clearly shows Uri bringing open hands up to the magnetometer probe, and causing the meter to deflect full-scale several times by an amount about equal to the earth’s magnetic field of roughly a half gauss. Toward the end of the experiment, an unfortunate thing occurred. The two delicate ink pens of our strip chart recorder were observed to have bent off the chart paper toward the end of the run, a seemingly inexplicable event since Uri was under continuous filming some distance away and no potential accomplices were present. While in this mutilated condition, the pens were bleeding red ink down the graph, indicating Uri’s accomplishment.
At lunch, there was much good fellowship, since Uri felt he had accomplished one of the main goals we had set for our project with him. Using the magnetometer, he had apparently generated a psychokinetic event in the laboratory under controlled conditions. He had not yet bent a ring without touching it, but after all, this was only the first morning. (He never did manage ring bending under controlled conditions in our laboratory, although we didn’t then suspect that this event was to evade us for the next six weeks.)
At lunch on that first day, we had a chance to observe an abundance of remarkable occurrences. We had a bent spoon for almost everybody at the table. The spoons didn’t exactly bend before our eyes, but that’s what it seemed like. Typical was astronaut Mitchell’s observation that the spoon in his coffee cup had its bowl bent up at a right angle to its handle, and he was sure that it hadn’t been that way when he used it to stir his coffee. We never had a chance to pick up a spoon, look at it and make sure that it hadn’t been pre-bent or fatigued by repeated bending, and then have it bend while watched. This was of course our fondest wish, but it never happened.
On another day, on the way toward lunch, Uri saw a group of people working in a nearby laboratory. These engineers were crowded around a television monitor where an ultrasonic visualization system was being tested. (This is a device that allows one to see inside people without the use of X rays. The system uses sound waves and doesn’t present the hazard that repeated use of X rays does. It also permits the doctor to observe soft tissues in addition to bones.) Uri stood in the doorway, looking at a picture on the TV screen. He said, “Let me show you what I can do” – a declaration we were to hear many times. He held up his fist like a threatening boxer as he looked at the TV screen fifteen feet away. We were amazed to hear him shout, “Up,” “Down,” “Up,” “Down.” We were even more amazed to see that the picture moved up and down, and right off the screen in time to his shouted commands. He then continued on toward lunch, the entire episode having taken a couple of minutes.
To determine whether such observations might occur under more controlled conditions, we arranged for a great performance that afternoon, this time with videotape surveillance. Furthermore, in our continuing paranoia we arranged for an SRI scientist to be stationed at every switch, every piece of electronic equipment. To be certain they recognized the seriousness of our endeavors, they were required to write up affidavits to account for their positions and activities during the replication experiment. The phenomenon repeated itself right on schedule and also on videotape. System failure of this type had never been observed before and has never been observed since. Nonetheless, with such complex equipment what can be said? Psychokinesis? Hidden electronics? In the end, it is an observation and nothing more should be said.
A simpler experiment (and therefore better experiment from our point of view) involved Uri’s efforts to affect the weight of a one-gram weight placed on an electrical scale. It was covered by an aluminum can, also on the scale, and then the entire scale with weight was covered by a glass bell jar to eliminate the possibility of deflection by air currents. The entire experiment was filmed. The first part of our protocol involved tapping the bell jar; next tapping the table on which the apparatus rested; then kicking the table; and finally jumping on the floor, with a record made on strip chart of what these artifacts looked like.
In this experiment Geller’s efforts resulted in deflections corresponding to weight gains and losses on the order of one gram, well out of the noise level. The signals he produced were single-sided pulses of about one-fifth-second duration., unlike the artifacts, which resulted in two-sided oscillations that slowly died out. In tests following this experimental run, a magnet was brought near the apparatus, static electricity was discharged against the apparatus, and controlled runs of day-long operation were obtained. In no case were artifacts obtained that resembled the effects that occurred during Geller’s efforts, nor could anyone else duplicate the effects. We have no ready hypothesis on how these signals might have been produced.
Although the focus of our work with Uri was on his psychokinetic ability, there was another aspect which is somehow always left unsaid in discussions of Uri’s achievements: his telepathic talent. Every morning before we would begin our day’s scheduled adventures, Uri would suggest that we start with some kind of telepathy experiment. Not really an experiment, just something to warm up and develop a little good feeling. In the beginning, Uri would ask us to draw something. It took us only one day to counter the old “watching the top of the pencil trick” by showing up with predrawn targets made at home and carried to work in a combination-locked briefcase, to be withdrawn only at warm-up time. Much to our surprise, this gambit did not dampen his near-perfect (greater than 90 percent) ability to reproduce simple line drawings. In order to remove the burden of this observation from our shoulders alone, we encouraged other skeptical SRI laboratory personnel to show up from time to time with predrawn targets not to be removed from their pockets-and still success continued unabated.
On many days, our cameraman and constant companion, Zev Pressman, would bring in a little something from home for Uri to identify telepathically. Zev would select some unlikely object, like a chess knight or a Mexican peso, and put it in his pants pocket or inside jacket pocket. Uri would try to describe what Zev had. Uri never failed to do this correctly when he made a guess, although he would pass (that is, decline to guess) about 20 percent of the time. One day we all found particularly remarkable. Zev asked Uri to try to guess what he had brought in. Uri saw sets of concentric semicircles on a thin strip. None of us could imagine what that represented. It turned out the object was a collar stay that Zev had made from an old credit card cut into thin strips; the semicircles had been part of the design of the Master Charge card.
Why, you might reasonably ask, if Uri could daily demonstrate almost perfect telepathy, did we not pursue that line of investigation and leave the elusive psychokinesis for another time? That is what we eventually did, although Uri resisted this, maintaining that “anyone can do telepathy.” He argued that what makes him special is his psychokinetic ability.
We spent the next several weeks attempting to film or videotape any sort of metal bending under controlled laboratory. conditions. One of Geller’s main attributes that had been reported to us was that he was able to bend metal from a distance without touching it. In the laboratory we did not find him able to do so. When he was permitted to touch the metal, bending did occur. However, even though the bending was observed under continuous filming, it was never clear whether the spoon or other object was being bent because he had extraordinarily strong fingers and good control of micromanipulatory movements, or whether in fact the spoons “turned to plastic” in his hands as he claimed. Simple photo interpretation was not sufficient to determine whether the metal was bent by normal or paranormal means, and time restrictions prevented us from pursuing it further.
In this fashion, we spent the main part of our initial six weeks with Uri trying to verify his metal bending claims. Although we were not able to do this, we certainly observed a great number of unusual occurrences. One day in the middle of filming Uri’s attempt to bend some wire rings inside a plastic box, we heard a strange noise coming from inside the movie camera. One of the small pulley wheels had disappeared from the film magazine, and four hundred feet of 16 mill film was being crammed into the body of the camera, an event our cameraman considered impossible under the conditions for film loading in use. We have no good explanation for the disappearance of this wheel, although it turned up a day later on the enlarging easel in a neighboring darkroom.
An almost limitless list of equipment failures was associated with our attempts to observe Uri’s paranormal ability. On one of our last days with him, we set up a very elegant experiment in which Uri was to try to deflect a laser beam whose position was accurately monitored by an array of photo detectors. As always, the ultimate record was kept by a chart recorder whose pens make a continuous record on a moving strip of paper.
We explained to Uri that if he moved the light beam even a fraction of a millimeter, he would get a large deflection of the pen on the chart recorder. He said, “Oh, I understand; you want me to move that little pen,” and holding his fist about two feet over the chart recorder, he shouted “Move!” The pen moved all the way across the paper and never moved again. For reasons never determined, the sensitive preamplifiers of both channels of the recorder burned out and had to be replaced.
On one of our last attempts to observe psychokinesis in the lab, a large ball bearing was placed under a bell jar on a glass-topped table. The table was carefully balanced so that the ball bearing would not roll, even when we jumped on the floor next to it. Of course, if one kicked the table, the ball would roll from one side of the inverted bell jar to the other. The table was set tip so that the entire experiment could be observed by our video camera, while the movie camera would watch just the ball and the inverted bell jar.
Uri came in early that day. Zev and I had just finished setting up the experiment and getting it balanced. He said that it was a terrific experiment and was sure he could move the ball. He tried and tried, and he huffed and he puffed. The little ball wouldn’t move. Finally, in despair, Uri turned his eyes heavenward and in a true psychic’s prayer said, “Dear God, help me move this shit.” Uri placed his fist over the bell jar and the ball jiggled back and forth and then rolled across the table.
Unfortunately, in our excitement at having Uri arrive just at the moment when the apparatus was set up, none of the recording instruments was turned on. But the story has a happy ending. An hour later when the rest of the experimenters arrived, Zev was able to observe the ball through the cross hairs of his camera. The video recorder was able to watch the whole table and the rest of the room, and I was able to watch Uri, who said, “Lets pray that this thing works again.” Hal and Uri put their hands over the top of the bell jar and waited quietly. The ball, as before, started a little jiggling dance and then rolled across the table, recorded by film and videotape.
Although the rolling of a steel ball and the deflection of the TV picture clearly seemed to us evidence of paranormal activity, they fell into a general category of funny things that happened in the laboratory, rather than into the much preferred category of controlled experiments.
The basic problem is perhaps best illustrated by the following example. The task was to deflect a compass needle, which indeed Geller did. Before and after the experiment he was gone over with a magnetometer probe, and his hands were continuously filmed from above and below as he worked over a compass resting on a special glass-topped experimental table. As a result of these precautions we were certain there were no obvious pieces of metal or magnets in his possession. However, according to our protocol, if we could in any way debunk the experiment and produce the effect by other means, then that experiment was considered null and void even if there were no indications that anything untoward had happened. In this case, we found later that these types of deflections could be produced by a small piece of metal, so small in fact that it could not be detected by the magnetometer. Therefore, even though we had no evidence of this, we still considered the experiment inconclusive and an unsatisfactory type of experiment altogether.
The line we are drawing is one that gives us no pleasure, and it provides a lot of discomfort. It is our impression that Uri possibly did perform a number of genuine psychokinetic feats in the laboratory, but in the world of science no one at all cares what we think possibly may have happened. “Possibly” is not good enough. And it never happened under good experimental conditions.
For that reason, we continued to look for an area in which Geller felt he had ability, and in which we felt that a systematic investigation could be carried out. The eventual answer came through our looking at Geller’s most pervasive ability – telepathy.
We had satisfied ourselves that Geller had a good functioning telepathic ability. Our job was to conduct experiments in such a manner that we could learn something about the information rate, or about how much detail he could pick up, and how fast. A more important consideration, of course, was that the experiments be carried out under thoroughly controlled laboratory conditions.
The first requirement for having a well-controlled experiment was to get Uri out of the way. To accomplish this we made use of a special isolation chamber in another building at SRI. The room was designed for recording brain waves and was ideally suited as a temporary home for our charismatic subject fitted as it was with a comfortable reclining chair. The double walls were made of metal separated from each other by four inches of acoustic insulation which provided electrical shielding and soundproofing. The room also had an inner and an outer door, both of which fastened with a type of locking mechanism found on large walk-in refrigerators. The object was to have Uri safely, tucked away inside with a pencil and paper while we (In another room) made drawings for him to receive telepathically and reproduce. The shielded room is shown below.
The formal protocol for these experiments is very simple to describe. First, since even the best shielded room will pass electromagnetic waves at extremely low and extremely high frequencies, and recalling Puharich’s expertise in microminiature electronics, we permitted no one in the target area so as to eliminate the possibility of a confederate radioing information. In particular, Uri’s friend Shipi was never in a position to observe the target picture before or during an experiment. Second, silence was maintained in the target area so that even if all the rooms had been bugged, there would have been nothing to overhear.
The authors had the assistance of doctoral candidate Jean Mayo in several of the experiments because of her ability as a professional artist. The experiments were conducted as follows: Uri was locked in the shielded room while one of the experimenters watched the door on the outside. The other two experimenters would then go to a large 1,700-page college dictionary and choose a page by inserting a file card at random. The dictionary would then be opened and the first item in the first column that could be drawn was selected as the target picture.
If, for instance, the dictionary was opened to “taciturn,” it would not be possible to draw this adjective. However, the next entry on the page would be “tack,” and this object could be drawn. When we finally published the results of these experiments in Nature,1 some referees felt that this method of target selection might not be sufficiently random, a spurious argument in our estimation. Here we will merely describe some of these individual drawings to give a feeling of how the experiments were conducted.
In this series, the target pictures were drawn and then hung up on the wall in a neighboring room down the hall or in a room in another building. We communicated with Uri through an intercom that operated with a push-to-talk switch so that we could hear him at all times, but he could hear us only when we depressed the switch. During the first experiment, moments after we told him that we were ready, he announced that he saw “a cylinder with noise coming out of it.” That could be taken to have something to do with a firecracker – “fuse” was the target word and Jean had, in fact, drawn a firecracker – but the drawings he made speak for themselves (see Figure 22). During the experiments when he said he had drawn as much as he felt he could, one of the experimenters would open the door and obtain the drawings from Uri before showing him the target.
To determine if Uri was indeed perceiving the target picture, and to eliminate the charge of biased interpretations on our part, we would, at the end of the series, enlist the aid of two SRI scientists who, as independent judges, had nothing otherwise to do with the experiments. Everything that Uri drew in response to a given picture was stapled together. A judge was then confronted with ten sets of Uri’s drawings in one pile, and ten target drawings, randomized, in another. The task of the judges was to match the corresponding pairs of target and response drawings. The two judges were able to match correctly all ten of the drawing pairs, at odds of greater than 1,000,000:1 against such an event happening by chance for either judge alone.
Although reasonable men may differ over whether Uri’s response to “fuse” has anything to do with the target picture, almost everyone will agree that his second attempt produced a good match. The target word from the dictionary was “bunch” and Jean drew a bunch of grapes. After some incoherent mumbling from Uri, he said he “saw some purple circles.” (Since the grapes, and all the other drawings, were made with black felt pen on white paper, it would appear that either it is information content, not literal anatomical detail, that is carried by the channel of interest, or else there is significant internal processing before the image reaches awareness.) When Uri said that he was finished, we opened his door and received a drawing that very much seemed to resemble Jean’s. In fact, Uri’s drawing of “purple circles” had the twenty-four grapes of the target picture.
The third drawing made under these ground rules involved two of the investigators, Jean and I (R.T.) going into the shielded room with the dictionary and leaving Hal on the outside with Uri. This surprise switch on Uri was in many ways a more satisfactory arrangement, since it allowed an experimenter to watch Uri as he made his drawing. The intercom was of course turned off for this experiment. This time the target obtained with the random dictionary technique was “solar system,” which Jean drew within the crowded confines of the shielded room. Uri then spent almost a half hour puzzling over what to draw, all under the watchful eyes of Hal, who was of course ignorant of the target selection. After struggling to capture a feeling of vast space, he made his drawing of the solar system and submitted it to Hal, who then knocked on the door to signal the end of the experiment. Uri’s drawing greatly resembles the one drawn in the shielded room, except that the center is full of a variety of space trash including the 2001: A Space Odyssey monolith and an angel thrown in for good measure.
It was evident that some sort of communication channel existed. We therefore decided to move our artist from the life sciences building, where the shielded room was located, to the engineering building a quarter of a mile away. Uri was put safely back in his shielded room, while Jean and I returned with the dictionary to my office in the engineering building, leaving Hal to guard Uri.
The target selection proceeded as before. This time the dictionary yielded “farmer,” which in the drawing looked more like a devil than the Grant Wood farmer of American Gothic. I called Hal to tell him that Uri could begin, but of course did not say what the target picture was. After twenty minutes, Hal called back to say that Uri had finished, although Uri was very unhappy about the target. I asked Hal to collect Uri’s pictures and said we would come over with the target picture, still not telling Hal what the target was. In the comparison that took place when we arrived, we saw that Uri had drawn the tablets of the ten commandments, a worm coming out of an apple, and symbolic representations of God, but he said he couldn’t figure out what the target was supposed to be. Upon seeing that the target was the devil, Uri became extremely agitated, complaining that in an Israeli household mention of the devil was taboo.
Thirteen experiments of this type were carried out. Uri always had the opportunity to pass, that is, to refuse to submit drawings if he felt that he didn’t have any idea what the target was. The decision had to be made before the target was made known, of course. We feel that it is the mark of an individual with well-developed psychic functioning to be able to know when all he is seeing is his own self-generated images of memory and imagination and not the external target. We always encourage subjects not to guess if they don’t have an answer that feels right to them. The three times that Uri exercised the pass option special circumstances were involved. In one case, the possibility of a telepathic link was eliminated by arranging for a drawing unknown to the experimenters with Uri to be placed inside the shielded room; then he was brought to the room and asked to draw the picture hidden there. Uri said that he got no clear impression and did not submit a drawing. In the other two cases, we attempted to record Uri’s EEG with a maze of electrodes during his efforts to perceive the target pictures. He found it difficult to hold adequately still for good EEG records, said that he experienced difficulty in getting impressions of the targets, and again submitted no drawings.
In the final three experiments of this series, Uri was closeted in a different shielded room on the second floor of the engineering building, which houses a number of large digital computers. The purpose of these experiments was to determine if Uri could obtain pictorial information from the face of a TV tube or from a computer memory instead of from a conventional drawing. The shielded room in this case was about a hundred yards down a hall and around a corner from the computer room
The target pictures were selected and drawn by three computer scientists who were not otherwise associated with either our experimentation or Geller, and who agreed to help us with the research. They first used a light pen to draw a kite on the face of the video terminal of their PDP-11 computer graphics system. Uri seemed very interested in the idea of getting information from a computer. In this first case, the kite was displayed on a TV display screen at the computer location. Uri felt very confident that he had the kite drawing correct and even signed his name over it. In the remaining two experiments, there was no visible picture. One picture was typed directly into the computer’s memory and existed only as a set of program instructions, while a second was displayed on the TV screen with zero intensity; in both cases there was no visible display. Uri felt less confident about these two, which were nonetheless successfully matched by our judges. The computer targets along with Geller’s responses are shown in Figure 23
In the above experiments no experimenter in contact with Geller knew what the target was, so it was possible to conclude that the information came from the target area. The question then arose as to whether it was necessary for anyone at the target end to be aware of the target. That is, was it necessary to have a potential telepathic link, or could Uri obtain the information directly from the target itself, that is, clairvoyantly?
One experiment carried out to clarify this issue went as follows. An individual not otherwise associated with our research entered the laboratory, placed a small object in one of ten aluminum film cans, screwed on numbered steel lids at random, lined them up at random and then left the area. We would then enter the lab with Uri, with none of us knowing which can contained the object. Geller’s task now was to identify the target can, which he must do without touching the cans or table upon which the cans rest. (Should he touch a can or the table accidentally that would count as an automatic miss.) The experiments were observed by a number of researchers besides ourselves, and some of them were filmed. Some times he would slowly pass his hands over the cans at a height of a few inches; other times he would just enter the room and call out the can-top number.
We repeated this experiment fourteen times. Five times the target was a small permanent magnet affixed to the inside of the steel lid, five times a steel ball bearing, twice room-temperature water, once a paper-wrapped ball bearing, and once a sugar cube. On the latter two Uri got no impression and passed. On the remaining twelve he did make a guess as to the target location and was correct in every instance, a result significant at odds of a trillion to one. Although a stage magician can produce a similar effect if the props and protocol are under his control, consulting magicians have not been able to detect any chicanery in our experiment, even though they had available stop-motion photography frame by frame. Although we have no hypothesis at this point as to whether this is a heightened sense of some normal sense (i.e., sensitivity to acoustic patterns, temperature, etc.), or whether it is some “paranormal” sense, we are confident that it was not done by trickery.
In a second experiment a single 3/4-inch die was placed in a 3 x 4 x 5-inch steel file box; both box and die, the latter stamped with a serial number, were supplied by SRI. The box was then vigorously shaken by one of the experimenters and placed on a table, a technique found in control runs to produce a distribution of die faces differing nonsignificantly from chance. Geller’s task was then to write down which die face was uppermost, the answer at that point being unknown to all involved in the experiment. This experiment was performed ten times, with Uri passing twice and giving a response eight times, each experiment taking about thirty seconds. In the eight times he gave a response, he was correct each time. The probability of this occurring by chance is about one in a million. (Contrary to what some critics have suggested, at no time did Uri have an opportunity to “peek” into the box, nor were there additional unreported throws of the die: these ten trials were the only ten, and were not selected out of a longer run.) Thus it appeared that it was not necessary for someone to know an answer in order for Uri to get it. A possible alternative to clairvoyance, of course, is precognition, since in these cases Uri found out when the box was opened just what the answer was. To settle this issue would require more extensive testing.
To summarize our work with Uri, in the total time that we spent working with him, we must have seen dozens of objects move, bend, and break. It often looked as though they were bent by paranormal means. However, our job was to separate the wheat from the chaff, and we summarily rejected any data obtained under circumstances which might in principle permit a nonparanormal hypothesis, even in those cases in which there was no evidence for the proposed alternative. Critics of our work often overlook the fact that as physicists we are the ones who have the greatest motivation to insure that we do not waste the next ten years of our lives writing equations for possibly nonexistent phenomena. Thus we consider only those data we observed under controlled conditions where there was no known possibility for error.
The experiments conducted under rigid conditions left no doubt as to Uri’s paranormal perceptual ability. We are not saying that he doesn’t have psychokinetic ability also; we simply were not able to establish it to our satisfaction. The response to our reported results is about evenly divided between those who are upset with us for finding Uri has any paranormal ability and those who are upset with us for not finding more.
It is worth repeating that Uri feels that his telepathic ability is the least of his gifts and that anyone can exercise telepathy to some degree, which our combined data would indicate is probably right.
Thus far in our psychic research, we have worked with more than a dozen individuals in addition to Uri Geller. All exhibited psychic functioning in the remote viewing perceptual task described earlier. From our present viewpoint, we would have been surprised if Uri Geller was so unique as to be the only one lacking such ability.
The particular ability that Geller demonstrates is not unusual in the field of paranormal functioning. Picture drawing experiments are the traditional test offered to anyone who claims to have telepathic ability. The experiments we carried out with Geller are neither the first nor the most successful of this genre; they are not even the best publicized. It is important not to lose perspective with regard to the antecedents to this work.
The following are two extensive series of experiments giving results very similar to the results we obtained with Geller. We are presenting this material in order to indicate the generality of this ability and thereby place Geller’s work in perspective.
In 1930, the well-known author Upton Sinclair published a book entitled Mental Radio.2 In it he presented more than a hundred picture drawing experiments he and others had carried out with his wife, Mary Craig. In the book she describes in very convincing fashion her technique for picking up the mental images. Figure 24 shows eight picture pairs selected from more than one hundred fifty such line drawings in the book.
We were especially interested in the general analytic confusion about the meaning of the pictures, in contrast to the correctly perceived patterns. This greatly resembles what we see regularly in our own experiments, both in picture drawing and in remote viewing.
Sinclair lived in Princeton, New Jersey, at the time, and was a friend of Albert Einstein, who observed some of the experiments. In fact, Sinclair’s book has a preface written by Einstein in which he says:
The results of the telepathic experiments carefully and plainly set forth in this book stand surely far beyond those which a nature investigator holds to be thinkable. On the other hand, it is out of the question in the case of so conscientious an observer and writer as Upton Sinclair that he is carrying on a conscious deception of the reading world; his good faith and dependability are not to be questioned.
Why then has this treasure trove of a book been neglected for the past forty-five years? Precisely because we do not have a comfortable physical model to describe the mechanism responsible for such phenomena. As soon as we can explain telepathy in terms that we use to explain other phenomena we feel we understand, the Sinclair work and others will no doubt be rediscovered.
A second more recent example is the research work of Musso and Granero published in the March, 1973, Journal of Parapsychology.3 The two authors are both psychology professors at the National University of Rosario in Argentina. They had observed certain coincidences and had heard anecdotes about one of their colleagues, Dr. José Muratti, a practicing psychiatrist, that led them to consider carrying out some informal telepathy tests with him to see if he really had any unusual perceptual ability of the type suggested by his stories.
On the basis of informal observations, Dr. Muratti appeared to be a remarkable subject, and a formal series of experiments was initiated. In these experiments, the subject and sender were at all times in different rooms. The ninety experiments were divided into three randomly intermixed groups. One group consisted of pure clairvoyance trials in which no one knew the contents of a target envelope chosen at random from a previously prepared set. In a second group, the sender in a room across the hall would draw the target picture at the same time as Dr. Muratti was trying to perceive it in his room with the second experimenter. In the third group, the sender held a picture previously drawn by himself, chosen at random from a set, and looked at it while Dr. Muratti, still across the hall, tried to perceive it and make a copy. All three modes of perception were highly significant, and no important difference among the three was found. That is, it didn’t matter whether or not anyone knew the contents of the target envelope, nor did it matter whether the target picture was being drawn during the experiment or had been drawn previously. Figure 25 shows the experimenters’ selection from each of the three experimental modes used in their work.
With the inspiration of these two excellent studies, we would encourage the reader to try some simple experiments for himself. A good beginning guide to entering the proper frame of mind is provided by Sinclair’s wife, Mary Craig:
You have to inhibit the impulse to think things about the object, to examine it, or appraise it, or to allow memory trains to attach themselves to it. The average person has never heard of such a form of concentration and so has to learn how to do it. Simultaneously we must learn how to relax, for strangely enough a part of concentration is complete relaxation.
The Coincidence Factor
Since our Geller experiments, we have talked with many other scientists who have worked with Uri. One of the threads which seems to run through experiments with Uri is the strange chain of coincidences that appear to follow him around. The incident of the fractional cards described at the beginning of this chapter is certainly remarkable and fortuitous. However, we recently had a series of events take place around us that we found just as striking.
One night in April, 1975, we met with an East Coast colleague who was collecting information about the different scientists who had worked with Uri. We met with him just after our plane landed in Washington, D.C. and our meeting began around eleven-thirty in our hotel room.
Our friend asked our opinion about some unexplained “Uri phenomenon” at another laboratory where Uri had been investigated. Some photographs had been taken of Uri trying to cause an iron rod to bend – a familiar task. The photo, however, seemed to show an additional arm suspended over Uri’s head. “What,” we were asked, “do you make of that?” Since we are accustomed to people calling us at least once a week with private information about the “end of the world” and the like, we answered somewhat facetiously that “the arm was probably just a helping hand for Uri.” Our colleague was not amused. He told us that this was a serious matter because the photographer who took the picture had recently been awakened from his sleep to see an apparition of just such an arm floating above his bed in the middle of the night. “The arm,” we were told, “was totally real-looking, covered with plain gray cloth, and was rotating with a hook at the hand end. What about that?” That sounded more sinister to me, but Hal said lightheartedly, “That’s the sort of thing that you could expect from a three-dimensional hologram projected by a second-class extraterrestrial civilization who wanted to scare a man in bed.”
By this time, it was almost midnight and we were all feeling a little silly from the jet lag and late hour. At that point, we heard a rattle at the door. Somebody had just put a key into the lock and was opening our hotel room door. After a half hour of ghost stories, we were frozen in an instant. The door continued to swing open, and a man walked into our room – a man who wore a plain gray suit and had only one arm.
The explanation was simple, of course. He was only looking for his suitcase which had been moved elsewhere when the hotel had shifted his room to make a place for us. The hotel had unfortunately neglected to tell him of the move. We assumed our colleague had set us up. He assumed we had set him up. Neither of us could find evidence to support our respective hypotheses. Of such coincidences are the lives of psychical researchers made.
What does that have to do with Uri Geller? We don’t know the whole answer to that either, but we find that working with him not only allows one to observe unusual events but also to experience them.
As though our experiences with Geller will never end, the single Xerox copy of this chapter turned into dusty gray pages without a trace of print while safely stored away in our files. We presume this dematerialization was caused by a faulty Xerox machine….
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“There is no spoon!”
“The world needs your amazing talents. I need them”
“Uri Geller gave an absolutely resonating talk on his life and career. He had every single magician in the room on the edge of their seats trying to digest as much information as they could. Uri emphasized that the path to frame is through uniqueness and charisma and that professional entertainers must be creative in their pursuits of success and never shy away from publicity.”
Tannens Magic Blog
“The man is a natural magician. He does everything with great care, meticulous misdirection and flawless instinct. The nails are real, the keys are really borrowed, the envelopes are actually sealed, there are no stooges, there are no secret radio devices and there are no props from the magic catalogues.”
James Randi (In an open letter to Abracadabra Magazine)
Sir Elton John
“Eternity is down the hall And you sit there bending spoons In your mind, in your mind”
“I Have watched Uri Geller… I have seen that so I am a believer. It was my house key and the only way I would be able to use it is get a hammer and beat it out back flat again.”
“Better than watching Geller bending silver spoons, better than witnessing new born nebulae’s in bloom”