Journal of Occult Studies
A Mass Public Experiment in Psychokinesis and Telepathy at a Distance with Uri Geller as Agent
by Howard Smukler and Marc Seifer
Abstract: Approximately one hundred and fifty people responded to a mass psychic experiment using the picture of Uri Geller on the cover of ESP magazine as a triggering device. Eight bent objects were received and analyzed to determine their authenticity. Only one was felt to be psychokinetically influenced beyond a reasonable doubt. Results of a simultaneous telepathy experiment indicated highly successful responses suggestive of thought transference over a long distance. Three of approximately one hundred parapsychologists reported favorable results.
While there have been many popular and successful psychics, no one can compare to Uri Geller in his ability to use the mass media to convey his message. Much like Muhammad Ali, he combines calculated success with showmanship into an attractive and convincing package. (Geller reveals in his autobiography that he discussed techniques with Ali at the Pennsylvania training camp.)
Geller also has the ability to be all things to all people. He has involved himself in the widest spectrum of exposure. Favorable articles about him appear in such diverse publications as the National Enquirerand the Mind/Brain Journal. He appears equally at home demonstrating his talents at a crowded high school auditorium or at the Stanford Research Institute. Explanations for his powers range from an extraterrestrial source (Puharich, 1974) to an as yet unknown magic technique break-through (Randi, 1975).
Despite this exposure, the Geller controversy is as strong today as it was in the early 1970 s There is almost a pattern of successes and failures which accompany his activities. The dramatic failure on the Johnny Carson Show was matched with impressive displays on Merv Griffith and Tom Snyder. A convincing article in Psychology Today (June, 1974) is followed immediately by an equally convincing criticism (July, 1974) by the same author. A complicated watch-starting experiment with William Cox (JP, 1974) is balanced with an inconclusive experience with Dr. Pratt (ASPR, 1976).
Geller personally feels that this controversy is a positive element in the growing belief in psychic ability. Just as a dialectic of opposites can produce a creative synthesis, so too does the constant interaction of skeptics and believers produce a more durable understanding of his powers. He has expressed to H.S. a feeling that the forces which direct his powers use controversy as a vehicle for creating attention and from this attention will follow proof and belief.
Our interest in Geller was not in resolving any of the major disputes surrounding his abilities. We were involved in a specific talent which he has exhibited in other countries, namely the ability to focus his energy to a picture of himself and trigger psychic ability in distant participants.
This talent for long range psychic projection takes on several variations. Whenever Geller appears on television or radio the switchboard of the station lights up with people reporting unusual phenomena. Another aspect of this ability involves the transference through prerecorded sound. In this case Geller’s voice is put on a tape and at a later date the participant merely plays the voice and produces the psychic effect.
Geller takes special pride in his magazine cover experiments. His apartment is filled with about twenty framed magazines with his picture on the cover. Some give instructions for using the cover in mass experiments with Geller’s eyes as a triggering mechanism. In England such an experiment with Sunday People produced over 1,000 responses and similar success was reported in Germany and Japan. To our knowledge the experiment had never been performed in America and through a series of fortunate coincidences we were able to conduct the following study.
The vehicle for the experiment was a magazine called ESP of which H.S. was then editor. The September issue had a circulation of approximately 155,000 copies and is distributed on newsstands in America and Canada. It was inexpensive and generally was bought by an average, mass publication audience.
Geller suggested the experiment and provided a picture of himself to be used on the cover. The following words were printed in red across his forehead, “This Cover Can Bend Your Key on September 1, 1976 at 11:00 EDT.” There were other distracting cover lines on the magazine over which we had no control and it was felt that they would have a minimal effect.
Inside the issue was a positive, illustrated article about Geller by M.S., reporting favorably on his powers and including book reviews and pictures of people and objects that had been affected by his powers. Two pages described in simple terms how the experiment was to be performed. Participants were told to place keys, silverware and broken watches and appliances on the cover They were then instructed to concentrate, saying the words bend and work over and over.
A brief statement should be made about Geller’s involvement in writing the directions. First, he insisted on using the words which had been successful in the English experiment. He did not want to disturb the formula that had worked successfully for him before. He also made sure that no promises were made in the article. Thus anytime a phrase said “your key will bend”, he changed it to “your key may or canbend.” He was extremely precise about the wording maintaining the potential for his power and not offering a concrete promise.
Shortly after the magazine was in print, Geller went to Brazil where he stayed during the experiment on September 1st. He mailed us a sealed envelope containing a telepathic picture during the later part of August. He was frequently informed of the operations of the experiment, but we only have his word that he did in fact project his energy to the cover at the appropriate time. Considering the importance he placed on the project, we have no reason to doubt his honesty in this situation.
Approximately 100 copies of the magazines were mailed to the parapsychologists appearing in the ASPR’s education directory. Another 200 copies were sent to selected radio and TV stations, editors and prominent personalities. This mailing took place about three weeks in advance of the experiment and included a cover letter explaining the procedures involved.
In addition to these mailings, M.S. designed several experiments which were to take place at the appropriate hour. Pharmacist Kenneth Gozdowski placed keys and a broken watch on the magazine and placed them in a safety deposit box in a local bank. Biophysicist Dr. Marsha Walsh placed viral cultures on the magazine and willed them to die. Newspaper reporter Tony Lioce took the key to the city of Providence and placed it on the magazine in the newspaper’s vault. Finally M.S. personally appeared live on the evening news with a broken watch and a key.
We began to receive feedback shortly before the experiment took place. About ten letters trickled in from magazine readers, saying that they had already picked up telepathic images and requests for special help from Geller on the night of the experiment.
There was no response from the parapsychologists before the experiment either acknowledging the receipt of the magazine or offering any assistance. On August 28th Alan Vaughn of Psychic magazine commented to H.S. that ‘There isn’t a parapsychologist in the country who will try this experiment.” A similar attitude was expressed by one of the science editors at the New York Post who would not do the experiment without the presence of a professional magician. When told that she could do the experiment alone she responded quite seriously, “I don’t trust myself.” Robert Nelson, the director of the Central Premonitions Bureau and an employee of the New York Times, said there was absolutely no chance that any member of the Times’ science staff would even consider taking part in the experiment.
Positive responses came from WJW-TV in Cleveland, WMRO in Aurora, Illinois, WJAR-TV in Providence and WEHR in Pennsylvania. These stations agreed to participate on the air with the experiment and return the results to us.
On September 2nd we received our first verbal indications of the results. No experiment that was performed live on television or radio proved to be successful; also no experiment that was performed in front of either of us was successful. Thus there was no direct observation of a paranormal phenomena by first hand experience.
Two cases stand out on the first day which provided some encouragement for us. Another editor from the company that publishes ESP came to H.S. and displayed a house key bent in the typical Geller fashion. This person took the magazine home and claims to have thrown his keys on top of it without any further thought of the experiment. In the morning the key to his apartment was so badly bent he could not lock the door. This person had absolutely no interest in psychic phenomena and has always displayed a very honest personal style with H.S.
Another case occurred with a friend of M.S. This woman is a high school teacher with a history of psychic experiences. During the experiment she had no results with a watch or a key, but at 11:20 she noticed that a nail file on an adjoining table had developed a ripple. She had never touched the file, but was convinced that it was in perfect condition before the experiment.
We include these stories because they involved people we felt we could trust and because they were the first positive results that we received.
Because of the lack of response from any parapsychologists we felt a follow-up postcard was necessary. These cards were sent out three weeks after the experiment and asked if the magazine was received, if the experiment was performed and if there were any results or comments. Twenty-eight cards were returned (approximately 30%) and of these six indicated that the magazine did not arrive in time or did not arrive at all. Twenty-two of the remaining parapsychologists had received ESP and were aware of the experiment.
Of the follow-up group, nine people (43 % ) did not participate, four of whom simply forgot. Stanley Krippner felt it was “inadequate control day”, but did not elaborate on that statement. Dr. M. Wagner suggested that Geller was a fraud and did not participate William Cox who had published a successful Geller experiment (JP, 1974) felt Geller was “burnt out.” Charles Panati, editor of an important collection of Geller research (Panati, 1976) could “not in any way” participate because he was involved in other writing commitments.
Eleven of the follow-up group (50%) performed the experiment and got no results. Two of these thought Geller’s
abilities were authentic, one doubted his claims and one was disappointed with no results after a “good try”. One expressed interest in the possible UFO link and said Geller’s abilities “resembled a coded message from an incredible source.” Gertrude Schmeidler gave as her comments on Geller, “only the usual opinions.”
Three parapsychologists reported positive results, Eloise Sheilds a school psychologist from Hawthorn, California, Claudette Kiely, Director of Parasensory Awareness Research Organization at Amhurst College and Arthur Lyons of the Mesa Parapsychology Center.
Ms. Sheilds had her children participate with her, but was called away from the room during the experiment. When she returned a broken watch was working. She concludes, unfortunately, that she was “unable to score due to lack of supervision, but suggestive of some PK.”
She further comments, “I feel that your experiment is only good for locating possible subjects for later experiments, but could not be considered scientific enough to report results where you were not present and were depending on the testimony of unreliable witnesses who may mean well, but are not accurate observers.
Considering the phenomena of the Geller children’ mentioned by Taylor (Superminds, 1977), we agree that this type of mass experiment would be a viable way to search for psychic individuals for later testing.
Claudette Kiely, (one of the psychics successfully tested by Karlis Osis in his well known OOBE “fly in ‘ experiments) states: We (9 people, mixed ages and both sexes) began to prepare about 10:40 by meditation, holding the objects, laying them on the cover of the book. By 11 p.m. we felt attuned and prepared for success. A slight click was heard in the watch only briefly as Jane Thompson held it.” No other paranormal occurrences took place. Ms. Kiely concludes, ”Needless to say, we were all disappointed.”
The most dramatic results came from a research group known as MESA in Toledo, Ohio. Arthur Lyons one of the research coordinators states, “We started the experiment by yelling, work-work-work, bend-bend-bend. We kept up the experiment for 20 minutes and at the end of this period . . . 5 keys bent (one, a skeleton key bent in three ways, another bent in about a 45 degree angle. The key that bent the most was bent while a ten year old boy, Artie Huff, was holding it in his hand.”
The group was amazed by their success and credited it to “Confidence plus Expectation plus Excitement.” They concluded “In all, this was a very memorable experiment and experience. ‘
We had no way of directly verifying any of these successes and had to rely on the professional integrity of the participants for an accurate description of the events.
The sales on this issue of ESP were approximately 40,000 copies and it could be assumed that many of the buyers did so on the basis of the cover story. It is also possible that one copy was used by several people performing the experiment. The estimated number of people performing the experiment could range from about 15,000 to 50,000 individuals. One hundred twenty-seven coupons were returned from approximately one hundred forty two participants. Of this group we concluded that seventy-seven were female and sixty-five were males (from names only) and that the letters showed a generally even distribution throughout the country.
ixteen coupons claimed bent, broken or twisted keys involving twenty-nine people, nine female and twenty male. Because we felt these objects best lent themselves to analysis, a follow-up letter was sent to the participants requesting the objects. Six people responded with the following objects.
1. One large nail about 3 inches long and l/2 inch in diameter with a barely perceptible bend.
2. Two twisted keys on a chain with 3 keys on it; one key was twisted more than the other.
3. A skeleton key that was markedly bent and slightly twisted.
4. A bent aluminum key.
5. One metal nail file with a ‘ripple” in it.
6. One jewelry box key broken in half.
7. The base half of a broken key with the edge smoothed.
8. The bent key to the city of Providence, Rhode Island, provided by Mayor Vincent Cianci.
Photographs provided by Dr. Thomas Rockett and Dr. Kenneth Mairs of the University of Rhode Island using a scanning electron microscope – Hitachi-Perkin-Elmer model.
a: This key is new and was broken mechanically in the laboratory. It shows a typical fracture surface with lateral cracks along the shaft at the right of the picture (small arrows). The initial fatigue that caused the break is the smooth section near the right side of the photo. Plastic distortion on the left 2/3 of the picture is typical of ductal fracture of brass. Magnification 500 times.
b: This key is the magnification of the photograph f. It shows lateral cracks along the shaft similar to a on the right side and similar fracture surface in the depressed area in the middle (small arrow). The smoothed over sections on raised sections at top and bottom of the fracture (large arrows) are indicative of the key having been rubbed or polished over a period of time. Dr. Rockett felt that this worn surface did not show high temperature melting due to the localisation of the smoothed areas and the flatness of the surface. The similarity of the depressed area with a suggests that the key had been normally broken and the smoothed areas indicated that it probably was done some time ago thus wearing the rough edge.
c and d: These two photographs are different pictures of the same steel jewelry key shown in photo h. Dr. Mairs analysed the composition of the key by polishing it and viewing it with a microscope. He stated that there were enormous elongated grains in the cross-wise direction of the key. This indicated a low carbon content and therefore the strength of the key was limited since pure iron is weaker without carbon.
c: This cross-section of the key in photo h shows successive lines of cracking in the ridges on the top and right (small arrows). The dark spots in the middle and top left are iron oxide rust spots. The bottom right section devoid of the ridge pattern is flat and suggestive of a quick break.
d: This picture is of the same key as above, only farther down the shaft. Both were taken at 100 times magnification. The ridged pattern which starts at the top left and goes across the key (small arrow) indicates the series of numerous cracks which occurred before the Geller experiment. The smooth area starting in the middle left and going half-way across the key is the area which indicates the quick and recent break. The cracks on the bottom left are part of the tooth of the key and indicates its frequent use and the type of stress that it undergoes.
Photographs by Steffan Aletti
e: The cover of ESP magazine prominently displayed Uri Geller’s eyes along with the caption in red, “On September 1, 1976 at 11:00 EDT This Cover Can Bend Your Key.” Additional cover lines tended to distract from the over-all effect of the picture and it is possible that better results might have been received if the picture had appeared by itself.
f: This top portion of a broken key was submitted with the statement that the bottom half had been misplaced. Investigation revealed that it is common for keys to break-off in a lock in this fashion and result in the permanent loss of the bottom shaft. Magnification showed polished marks on the crack surface indicating that the key had been broken for some time (see photo b).
g: These twisted keys were submitted with a very convincing letter describing the owner’s experience. There were no witnesses to the event and the participant did not want her name used. Laboratory attempts to duplicate this effect were highly successful. A locksmith indicated that this type of twist is common in keys incorrectly inserted in locks and then twisted.
h: This jewelry box key broke under carefully observed conditions. The small size makes it extremely difficult to secure the required leverage for a manual bend. Magnification indicated that as much as 60% of the key may have been fractured before the experiment with no one’s knowledge (see photo c and d).
i: This skeleton key is slightly twisted in addition to being bent. It is made of a moderately strong alloy and was – supposed to have been bent more significantly at the time of the experiment, but has resumed some of its normal shape over time. There was no feasible way to test the authenticity of this sample.
k: Probably the most convincing submission was the rippled nail file. Even though the file is made from a soft metal, the ripple is extremely difficult to duplicate. The reliability of the experimenter was considered high, but no one saw the ripple actually develop.
m: This picture from the Providence Journal shows reporter Tony Lioce holding the key to the city just as it was taken off the cover of ESP magazine. Even though the top of the key is extremely soft, Lioce places his finger on it and from the position of the knuckle appears to put pressure on it. The caption stated that the key was not bent when it came out of the vault.
n: In this sequel picture, Lioce is shown measuring the bend he claims took place over a five minute period. The 3/8 inch bend apparently took place while the key was taken from the vault to the newsroom. Interviews with the participants indicated no conscious intention of fraud only a lack of adequate controls.
These objects were examined using an interdisciplinary approach. A variety of experts in different fields were consulted and each one, utilizing the experience and measuring devices of his particular specialty, gave us his opinions. Because of the uniqueness of having a large collection of ”Geller affected” objects, we enclose a detailed analysis of their findings.
Item 1: The large nail was almost imperceptibly bent even though the sender claimed great excitement at the feat. He felt this was the first time anything like this had ever happened to him. A small nick was evident in the center of the bend and this was highly suggestive that this point had been used as a fulcrum and manual pressure could have created the desired effect.
Item 2: The two twisted keys initially looked quite impressive. The accompanying description was equally convincing since it came from a woman who did not wish to have her name mentioned. The keys belonged to her son who was in the service and although she thought the experiment was silly, she went by herself into an empty room of the house at 11:00. Accordingly she wrote, “So I picked up the keys and just held one between my fingers and thought, come on Uri you can do it. A weird feeling came over my body. I felt numb, yet my whole body had a tingling sensation and the key I was holding between my fingers started bending. I had thought earlier that if by some streak of luck the keys bent, that I would be scared out of my wits, but it wasn’t like that at all. In fact I felt calm, relaxed and amazed at what had happened.”
The set of keys was taken to a locksmith who stated that both looked like they had been twisted in a lock. He explained that this was a very common accident with keys and demonstrated how it could be done. We then took a new key, inserted it partially into the lock and began turning. The result was almost a duplication of the effect on the keys that had been sent to us.
Item 3: This skeleton key was submitted as one of five keys bent by the group called MESA. It has a marked, gradual bend with a slight twist to it. It was claimed that originally this key had two bends in it, but that one returned to normalcy. Two other keys apparently experienced a complete return to their normal shape after bending, but these were not submitted.
There was no technical way of investigating this key further.
We saw no unusual marks on the key that might have indicated the use of a pliers or vise. The key was extremely strong and the long gradual curve was unlike the kind of bend created by using a fixed fulcrum or mechanical pressure-point.
Item 4: This aluminum key was also submitted by the MESA group. The metal was extremely soft and the bend which was about 45 degrees came from a fixed point high on the shaft. We tried to duplicate this feat using a new aluminum key and found that we could do so quite easily with just the use of our fingers.
Item 5: We consider the metal file to be the most believable example of a psychokinetic phenomena that was reported to us. The reliability of the participant is extremely high and the type of “ripple” created was of a very unusual nature. The file was made of a soft metal and was perfectly straight everywhere except at a 1 1/2 inch ripple. This effect was similar to one which could be created by heating a phonograph record. An attempt was made to duplicate the ripple, but we could not find a file of similar quality. A tool and die expert felt that it would be necessary to use a forming hammer and a soft piece of lead backing in order to produce an identical shape. He also felt that the ripple could not have been produced without the use of several specialized tools.
The only negative factor associated with this example is that no one apparently saw the file bend. The participant Nancy Folgo reported that the file was sitting untouched on a table next to the magazine. After twenty minutes of meditation with an especially intense friend, she was disappointed that nothing had happened to the key and watch she was holding. It was only then that she noticed the altered file. She specifically remembers that the file was straight before the experiment, although her friend believes this point to be in doubt.
Item 6: This broken jewelry key came to us from the Hammond Psychic Club. According to their report, Wilma Frey took the key (still on a necklace) and held it in her hand. The key was to her only jewelry box and she actually did not want to bend it. From concentrating so hard on the cover she soon noticed a third eye appear. After about fifteen minutes, she noticed a very bright light appear on the cover above Uri’s eyes, which slowly turned into a star or sun – very brilliant. At 10:20 she noticed for the first time that the key had not only bent, but broken in a peculiar fashion. Mrs. Frey complained of a severe headache afterwards. The key was examined by metallurgists Dr. Rockett and Dr. Mairs from the University of Rhode Island under 400 power magnification. They found lateral cracks and rust specks along 80% of the broken edge. From this they concluded that the key had been used extensively and had contained a hairline fracture for a long time. They theorized that the key was actually held together by a very thin strip of metal at the point where no rust occurred. To the naked eye the key looked solid, but it really wasn’t. Either the pressure or the heat of Ms. Frey’s hand was in their opinion sufficient to break the remaining metal holding the key together.
One factor tends to modify this judgment. The key does appear to have a slight bend in it when the halves are placed together. Under magnification we observed an “orange peel” effect similar to the one described by Taylor (Supersenses, 1977) in cases he felt were suggestive of PK activity. Thus while the rust area indicates an old break, it is conceivable that the final breaking was preceded by a psychic bending.
Item 7: This half of a broken key was accompanied by a sincere letter concerning the participant’s inadvertent misplacing of the other half. Assuming no one would be interested in the key, she had set it aside and simply lost the front shaft. A locksmith provided an interesting insight into the problem. He stated that frequently people jam their keys into a lock and then are unable to pull them out. In their anger, they bend the key back and forth several times and it snaps off leaving the shaft permanently in the lock. We performed just such a duplication and found that the key snaps quite quickly with only one or two motions of the hand.
Under a microscope the broken edge appeared to be polished and had almost no rough metal fibers. In comparison, a freshly broken key easily demonstrates its newly fractured state. Our metallurgists felt that this key had been broken as long as five years ago and left on a key ring that was regularly put into someone’s pocket. The continual rubbing of cloth against the broken edge polished it over time.
Item 8: The most newsworthy result of the experiment occurred with the Key to the City of Providence, Rhode Island. According to accounts of Providence Journal reporter Tony Lioce, the seven inch pewter key was locked in the newspaper’s vault on the night of September 1st. In the morning he removed a still straight key from the cover of the magazine and carefully carried it to the newsroom where it was shown to several other reporters. After approximately 5-10 minutes a 3/8 inch bend was observed in the top portion of the key. The evening paper carried the story on the front page with eight columns of pictures and commentary.
It was almost a month later that we were able to get a hold of the key which proudly set in a velvet lined box on the mayor’s desk. A caption above it mentioned the unusual circumstances for its altered shape. As a preliminary step to determine its strength, H.S. pushed slightly on the bent crown of the key. It moved about an inch without any pressure at all. It was then that we noticed that the pewter not only was extremely soft, but had been engraved with the emblem of the city and thus was attached with only a small amount of metal.
Mr. Lioce was contacted and confirmed that that the top of the key was extremely soft, but he was definitely convinced that it had bent without any physical touch. Being aware of its soft nature he had taken extreme care in handling it. The picture on the cover of the newspaper however does indicate that at some point in time he did touch the top of the key, but before or after the bending is unknown.
Sixteen letters claimed bent knives, spoons or forks. Fourteen people involved were women and five were men. We felt that because of the ease of faking bent silverware, it would not be helpful to follow-up on these reported cases. Here however is an example of the types of descriptions we did receive.
One woman said she saw a vision of a prong of a fork bend then looked at the fork handle and it bent. Another stated, ”I took a spoon and rubbed it and after a short time the spoon started bending in my hand like putty.” A third mentioned that her husband jokingly took a fork and physically bent it. She then held it in her hands where it resumed its normal shape.
Thirty-seven people claimed to have broken watches and clocks start. There were twenty-five female responses and twelve males. No effort was made to follow-up these reports, but many of them were accompanied by extensive descriptions. Here is a sample of some of the more interesting letters.
A convincing story came from a woman in Florida who wrote, “I have a wrist watch which I believe belonged to a grandmother. It was not in working order and a watch repairman said it could not be fixed. There was no discernible change when I cooperated with the experiment. The following afternoon however I was able to set the watch and it ran for about twenty-one hours. Friday it returned to its dormant state and has remained so since.
Poltergeist phenomena erupted when another watch started for a woman in Missouri. She said, “It sounded like someone was trying to open the front door and then side door. There was also a kind of thumping sound at one point. ” Another woman wrote, ”At two minutes after 11 my watch started to tick. This is a watch that is fifteen years old and hasn’t run in ten years. I’ve kept it as a keepsake for its the first watch I ever got as a little girl.”
An excellent example of Geller’s watch repairing ability was described by William Cox (JP, 1974) and appears to be one of his more convincing talents. Our letters frequently mentioned that the watches had been inspected by repair personnel and in many cases had not worked for some years.
Seven people claimed to have had appliances started. Three of these were male and four female. The appliances included one hair dryer, a television, an electric movie camera, an ice cream maker, a tape recorder and an electric typewriter. One man stated that his TV had horizontal lines on it from 11-11:30, a case similarly reported in the English magazine experiment.
A woman from North Carolina reported that her daughter had tipped over an electric typewriter a year ago. “After that not even the motor would respond to the on switch. Shortly before the hour of 11, someone reached over and turned the typewriter on and the motor came on at once.” One man claimed he took the TV to a repairman who couldn’t fix it and it began to work during the Geller experiment.
It has become a standard response for people to call radio and television stations reporting paranormal activity following a Uri Geller appearance. In the cases where our experiment was broadcast live, we received reports of listeners calling the stations and claiming that objects had bent or that watches and appliances were repaired.
At WEHR in State College, Pennsylvania approximately ten people called the radio station. At WJAR-TV in Rhode Island about fifteen people reported unusual psychic results. In Cleveland WJW-TV received over one hundred calls. It was impossible for us to make a detailed follow-up of these reports, but we did receive some additional information on this aspect of the “Geller effect.”
M.S. had performed the experiment live on WJAR-TV and was unsuccessful. A number of names were collected by the station following the experiment. One man who was given a key to the city for twenty years of public service reported that it had bent. A camera crew filmed his story and it was presented as a sequel on the news. Because of our negative experience with another key to the city we tended to view this episode sceptically.
In Cleveland Dr. Sheridan Speeth attempted to follow-up the many calls he received after performing the experiment unsuccessfully on television. He collected twelve descriptions from people who claimed paranormal experiences. The difficulty of verifying these claims was illustrated in the case of a man who called to report the bending of all the silverware in his house. When Dr. Speeth’s researchers arrived they found that the silverware was indeed bent, but that it had stopped doing so shortly before they arrived. This was simply another example of how elusive the proof for the Geller phenomena can be.
Dr. Marcia Walsh, a biologist at the University of Rhode Island, placed two test tubes on the ESP cover and two control samples in a separate room. The first tube contained an intestinal bacillus in a metallic solution, the other contained silver nitrate. She reasoned that if Geller could influence metal the bacteria growth pattern would vary and the silver nitrate change color.
In the morning she compared the pairs of test tubes and concluded, “under the conditions of this experiment, Geller’s ESP powers had no affect on either the growth of E. Coli or silver nitrate solution.” She cautioned against hasty conclusions from such a limited experiment and recommended further tests.
Figure 1: Simulated drawing of Geller’s telepathy targets and the word he wrote “Star”.
|pictures with triangles in them:
|triangles and circles
|sailboats and suns
|direct star hits
|moon and triangle
|pictures with circles in them:
|abstracts with no discernible shapes
|animals, mostly birds
|six pointed Star of David
|five pointed star
Near the end of August, H.S. received a double sealed envelope from Geller sent from Brazil. At 1 1:30 p.m. on September 1st, he opened the envelope and found a drawing of a large five pointed star and a large six pointed star. The lines were drawn with a black magic marker and the word “star” was written along side of them.
Ninety-five people sent in drawings, made up of approximately fifty-six females and thirty-nine males. 85 % of these pictures were from people who only participated in the telepathy experiment.
There were only two letters which exactly identified the target. One contained the drawing of the six pointed Jewish star, the other the drawing of the five pointed star. No picture was received containing both stars. Initially we felt this indicated a failure of the telepathy test. M.S. developed a thesis, however, which provided a fuller explanation of the results.
According to his analysis, two conceptual ideas can be extracted from Geller’s drawings. The first is the idea of a star and could be expressed visually as a “sun” or some form of mandala with rays. The other concept was that of a triangle since the target drawings contained at least eleven clearly recognizable triangles. Thus a prominence of objects which are made up of triangles could be considered significant.
There is some justification for assuming that Geller’s two stars could become translated into images as different as a picture of the sun or the drawing of a triangle. Because the subconscious tends to express itself in symbols, it could receive the image in the form Geller sent it, but express it in personally meaningful symbols. It is common in telepathy experiments for subjects to break images down into their component parts and then reassemble the material into a synthesis utilizing the essential concepts of the target.
Using this model we found that the submitted pictures showed a high degree of relationship to Geller’s targets. Under the “star” concept there were six suns, one moon, three star-like mandalas and the two star hits.
A more convincing number was attained by using the concept of the “triangle”. There were over twenty pictures which had some kind of triangle shape in them; seven of these had plain identifiable triangles and seven were sailboats with three-sided sails. It can be seen that several drawings combined both the sun and triangle concepts within the same image.
Altogether 33 % of the pictures contained some symbol which seemed to us to be directly related to Geller’s target, whether seen as a star or using M.S.’s modifications. It is interesting to note that in the British experiment Geller drew a simple daisy-like flower. Although the magazine received six flower-like pictures and at least one direct hit, we received no pictures of flowers.
We found the abundance of sailboats unusual and asked Geller about this after the experiment. He stated that on the day of the experiment he had spent the entire afternoon sailing on a lake in Brazil and his secretary confirmed that she had been with him during that time. His recall of this event was quite spontaneous and although we can not prove or disprove it, the statement appeared to be honest. He felt and we agreed that because of the distances and times involved, it is possible to believe that many participants actually received impressions of the sailing event and recorded them as their telepathic images.
It was one of our goals in this experiment to provide an opportunity for parapsychologists to participate in a unique mass psychic experiment. As many as two hundred copies of ESP were mailed in advance to people we felt could have made this possible. The effect of a large majority of parapsychologists either confirming or denying Geller-type results, we felt would have been a significant contribution to the field. Unfortunately the response of this group was less than enthusiastic.
One of the major problems in this area was the poor timing of the event. September 1st found many people either on summer vacation or without their normal group of fall semester students. Our follow-up postcard which was sent in October had a thirty percent return and much of this we felt was caused because school was in session. In the future any such experiment should take in consideration the school schedules of most of the academic people.
Another purpose of our experiment was to try and refine the continual controversy which surrounds Geller’s psychic demonstrations. We had hoped some very dramatic and convincing event would have happened to a prominent personality. Copies of ESP were sent to as many important people as we could think of. These included President Ford, Governor Carter, Senators, newspersonnel and the editors of every major news periodical. As the results indicate, nothing extraordinary happened with these individuals. We believe this was more a failure to perform the experiment rather than a failure of the experiment itself.
Rather than decreasing the Geller controversy, we now recognize that we have probably just added another dimension to it. The inconclusive nature of our results show that well-meaning people are capable of providing evidence of a questionable nature. So often we pursued an interesting experience related to the experiment, only to find that it fell just short of the reliability required in serious scientific investigation.
An interesting account is provided by William Cox of the Foundation for Research on the Nature of Man in a letter to H.S. He describes how a group of researchers performed a Geller experiment similar to ours in a December issue of the National Enquirer. In an experience similar to Pratt’s (ASPR, 1974) he tells how half the group thought a key had bent while the other half was unable to verify the event. Finally they agreed that the key was bent before the experiment and that the confusion had been caused by lack of attentiveness and an optical illusion.
It is unfortunate that the key has become associated with Geller’s powers for it provides researchers with a whole host of additional problems. As our discussions with a locksmith revealed, keys are far from standardized. A close look at your personal set of keys will reveal marks, twists, bends and even minute cracks which you never have noticed before. It is variables of this kind that make reliable investigation more difficult.
Fraud and the “Geller effect”
We feel a final statement about fraud is appropriate at this point, Psychic researchers have long had to deal with this problem in a number of different guises. The particular variation which we encountered was not surprisingly the desire to fake the bending of a metal object. A characteristic story will demonstrate how this desire is expressed.
In early December we joined a group of friends who were participating in the National Enquirer’s duplication of the Geller experiment. Everyone began concentrating on bending a key and about eight minutes into the experiment a woman in the group stated that her key had bent. The man next to her (whom we shall call Hank) immediately verified that he had seen it bend about 45 degrees. Since this was a trusted group of people, H.S. initially had no reason to doubt the validity of the experience. About a minute later, M.S. saw “Hank” bend another key on the side of his shoe and then handed it to H.S. Because M.S. had witnessed the deception, the fraud was short-lived and the incident was placed in a humorous context.
Anyone who has participated in a key bending experiment knows how strong the desire for results becomes. As you close your eyes, holding the keys you can imagine the metal becoming soft, your fingers apply more pressure and you become convinced that it is in fact bending. With one application of the “Hank effect”, you are the proud owner of a psychically bent object and reap all the psychological and sociological advantages that it can bring. It is irrelevant whether this act is done consciously or unconsciously; the results are the same.
Another illustration of this phenomena occurred with an eleven year old boy who was directed to us because of his knife-bending abilities. The boy’s mother gave us a large electric knife which had a long, gradual bend in it. The boy, who had no knowledge of Geller, claims it took two hours to create the bend through the use of mental imagery.
M.S. took the knife to a party where it quickly attracted the attention of a young woman. Viewing the object with a bit of envy, she proceeded to gently rub her hand along the blade. About ten minutes later M.S. asked to see the knife and found it practically straight. The woman claimed that she had put no pressure on it and this seemed plausible to M.S. even though he found the incident quite perplexing.
Now that the knife was straight, M.S. thought this would be a good opportunity to attempt to manually duplicate the bend and he proceeded to pull down on the top of the blade. As he bent the knife, it broke into three pieces, a middle section of about 1 1/2 inches went flying across the room.
Meanwhile, H.S. had shown the boy a picture of a fork that Geller had bent and included in his autobiography (Geller, 1976). A week later the boy produced a fork that was bent exactly as the Geller fork had been and this time he claimed it had taken six hours to psychically create the effect. Needless to say we were greatly discouraged that such a promising subject had so quickly engaged in a questionable display of his abilities.
The existence of fraud is nothing new, but what makes these possible instances interesting is their rapid adaptation to what Geller is claiming as his authentic ability. A similar situation has probably developed in the area of psychic surgery in which a legitimate practitioner may have been immediately initiated by a group of capable frauds. It would probably be possible to analyze the history of new psychic phenomena in these terms, i.e. the first authentic levitation or first successful seance was immediately followed by convincing frauds. As a result of this practice it becomes almost impossible to separate the real phenomena from the contrived imitations.
1. When readers of ESP magazine were encouraged to take part in a psychic experiment using the picture of Uri Geller as a trigger mechanism, approximately one-hundred and fifty people reported participation in the experiment.
2. Three out of approximately one hundred parapsychologists contacted reported some kind of paranormal activity and only in one of these cases were the results significant.
3. Eight bent objects were mailed in for analysis and of these only one appeared to be authentic beyond a reasonable doubt. Two other keys, however, were suggestive of PK activity, but this could not be verified completely.
4. Ninety-five people submitted telepathic drawings which they claimed to have received from Geller. While only two of these could be considered exact hits, a third of the pictures were correct in symbolic content and we considered this to be a significant indication of telepathic activity.
5. Our experiment tended to replicate under more scientifically controlled conditions the experiences of other mass media who have had varying success in creating Geller-type effects in their audiences.
Ebon, Martin, editor, The Amazing Uri Geller, New American Library, New York, 1975.
Geller, Uri, My Story, Warner Books, New York, 1976.
Panati, Charles, The Geller Papers, Scientific observations on the paranormal powers of Uri Geller, Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1976.
Puharich, Andrija, URI, A Journal of the Mystery of Uri Geller, Bantam, 1974.
Randi, James, The Magic of Uri Geller, Ballantine Books, New York, 1975.
Taylor, John, Superminds, Warner, New York, 1977.
Berendt, H.C., Uri Geller, Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, December 1974.
Dr. Puharich and Uri Geller, Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, June 1976. p. 315-321 .
Cox, William, Note on Some Experiments with Uri Geller, Journal of Parapsychology, December, 1974.
Hanlon, Joseph, Uri Geller, New Scientist, October 17, 1974.
Hasted, J.B., New Scientist, October 31, 1974. p. 408-411.
Pratt, J. G. and Stevenson, Ian, An instance of possible metal-bending indirectly related to Uri Geller, Journal of the American Society of Psychical Research, January, 1976. p. 79-93.
Targ, Russell, and Puthoff, Harold, Information Transmission Under Conditions of Sensory Shielding, Nature, Oct. 18,
1974. p. 602-607.
Wiklund, Nils and Jacobson, Nils Olof, A Public Experiment with Precognition, Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, September, 1976. p. 293-300.
C. Popular Media
ESP, Uri Geller – A Psychic Analysis, Marc Seifer, Sept., 1976.
The Uri Geller Results, Howard Smukler, January, 1977.
More Exciting Geller Results, Howard Smukler, March, 1977.
Esquire, A Charming Evening with Uri Geller, Mr., 1976, p. 116.
New Horizons, Uri Geller’s Mental Phenomena, An Eyewitness Account, A.R.G. Owen, Vol. 1, No. 4, 1974, p. 164.
New York Times, Editorial on Geller Research, Nov. 6, 1974, p. 2.
Magicians Discussion of Uri Geller, December 13, 1975, p. 5.
New York Times Magazine, Parapsychology and Beyond,
Francine du Plessix Gray, August 11, 1974, p. 13.
Newsweek, No Guesswork, October 28, 1974, p.72.
Popular Photography, Uri Geller’s Photos, Real or Fake?, June, 1974, p. 73.
Psychic, Interview with Uri Geller, A. Vaughan, June 1973, p. 6.
The Phenomena of Uri Geller, A. Vaughan, June, 1973, p. 13.
Uri Geller and Extraterrestrials, Andrija Puharich, Ju, 1974, p. 13.
Through the Looking Glass with Uri Geller, Ila Zeibell, Feb., 1976,p. 17.
Psychology Today, Search for the True Geller, Andrew Weil, June, 1974, p. 45.
Search for the True Geller, Part TWO, July, 1974, p. 74.
Science News, Geller Performs for ‘Physicists, July 20, 1974, p. 46
Time, Magician and the Think Tank, March 12, 1973, p. 110.
New Flap over Uri, November 4, 1974, p. 100.
Today’s Health, Behind Science’s Growing Fascination with Psychic Phenomena, November, 1973, p. 24.
Howard Smukler: MA (Political Science) New York University is a member of the faculty of the New School for Social Research. He is the former editor of ESP and Ancient Astronaut magazines.
PSI the twenty-third letter of the Greek alphabet has been chosen as the descriptive symbol for psychic phenomena such as telepathy, psychokinesis and prophecy.
Journal of Occult Studies: Marc Seifer, Box 32, Kingston, Rhode Island 02881
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“There is no spoon!”
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“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”