Reader’s Digest

Is He Charlatan or Miracle Worker?


Author of “Arigo: Surgeon of the Rusty Knife,” “Fever!” etc.

The strange “powers” of this young Israeli seem to defy the laws of physics. Here is the startling – and controversial – story of Uri Geller

THE Geiger counter clicked at a steady 0.5 counts per second. The scene: the physics lab of Birkbeck College, University of Lon don. The date: June 21, 1974. Gathered there: a handful of scientists, clustered around a strapping, handsome Israeli ex-paratrooper named Uri Geller. He was holding the Geiger counter and concentrating intensely to see if he could increase the number of counts per second.

Suddenly, the clicking chattered faster. Within moments, the chart recorder zoomed to 200 times the normal rate. Nothing was influencing the Geiger counter except Geller’s mental concentration. If the clicks had represented real nuclear radiation, the people present would have been in danger.

But the only cause of the phenomenon, according to the British scientists, stemmed from Geller’s mind. In further tests, all under strictly controlled laboratory conditions, metals were bent by the slightest touch of Geller’s finger; crystals, tightly sealed in plastic containers, were shattered when Geller held his hand inches above them; a compass needle was moved 40 degrees, and a magnetometer recorded major changes simply as a result of Geller’s concentration.

The reaction from the university scientists was direct. Prof. John Taylor, of the University of London’s King’s College department of mathematics, stated, “The Geller effect [bending metal] is clearly not brought about by fraud. It is so exceptional that it presents a crucial challenge to modern science.”

The tests indicated that a human mind was distorting matter on the atomic and molecular level through activity patterns of the brain. Prof. John Hasted, chairman of Birkbeck’s department of physics, and David Bohm, professor of theoretical physics, stated that with future tests more instances of this kind may accumulate so that there will be “no room for reasonable doubt that some new process is involved here, which cannot be accounted for or explained in terms of the present known laws of Physics.” Other scientists, like Professor Taylor, however, disagree and hope to explain the Geller effect satisfactorily in terms of present-day physics.

Grape for Grape. The ebullient, 28-year-old Geller had startled scientists before. Nature magazine, the most venerable of British scientific journals, provided a muffled shock for the world of science when it printed an October 1974 paper which reported on tests begun in 1972 by California’s prestigious Stanford Research Institute.

Parts of the SRI tests were experiments in telepathy (thought transference from mind to mind). They were conducted with Geller insulated from the material to be transmitted to him by a double-walled steel chamber, which provided a visual, acoustical and electrical shield.

Outside the room, the Stanford experimenters selected drawings at random. Inside, Geller concentrated and scratched out on paper what he received telepathically. The drawings in the test included a firecracker, a cluster of grapes, a devil, a camel, the solar system, and a flying bird. Geller’s drawings closely corresponded with the experimenters’ drawings. In fact, Geller drew 24 grapes in his bunch – the exact number that were on the original. Geller scored in the test series against odds of up to a million to one.

But controversy had begun even before the tests’ results were announced. According to consultants hired by Nature, the Stanford scientists’ report was “weak in design and presentation,” and details of precautions against fraud were “uncomfortably vague.” Also, Geller’s stiff fee for the lecture-demonstrations he gives all over the world has led to charges that he is simply a clever magician who is outsmarting scientists through illusion for a handsome profit. The principal attack came from physicist Joseph Hanlon. Writing in the popular British scientific magazine, New Scientist, he blasted SRI experimenters for being taken in by simple magic. The scientists who have studied Geller first-hand dispute this by stating that they have set up their tests so carefully that there is absolutely no possibility of fraud.

Another critic, magician Milbourne Christopher, has written a book in which he names conjurers who have performed many of the same feats as Geller. He also mentions past exposés of Geller’s use of trickery, his refusal to appear with magicians, and instances of Geller’s inability to perform after magicians have been consulted.

Geller himself, who refuses to be billed as a magician, ignores his critics, pointing out that their arrows are based on speculation, while the forces that are apparently channelled through him are documented by two leading scientific laboratories in Europe and America.

Entertaining the Troops. Geller’s early years were full of confusion resulting from the phenomena that occurred around him. His father, an Israeli tank commander, bought him his first watch in grade school; inexplicably, he remembers, it would jump ahead nearly every time he wore it. The hands of a second watch curled up against the crystal and became useless. This, together with the constant bending of silverware or keys around his home, puzzled his parents. He was the constant butt of classmates’ jokes, and ran into further complications when he began picking up exam answers from the brightest student in his class by seeing them in his mind’s eye. For a while, in Cyprus, where he and his mother had moved after his parents’ divorce, young Geller tried to keep secret his strange “powers.”

At the age of 20, Geller became an Israeli paratrooper. Wounded in the Six Day War, he ended up in a military hospital. As he recuperated, he began entertaining comrades by bending metal objects for them (through stroking with a finger), doing telepathic demonstrations, and starting up broken watches by merely touching them. Later, he entertained troops in the front lines. The performances caught on, and soon a professional manager booked Geller in auditoriums throughout Israel.

Several American scientists got wind of Geller’s purported powers, including former astronaut Edgar Mitchell and Dr. Andrija Puharich, a medical doctor and researcher who has spent many years studying in the field of parapsychology. After preliminary tests in Israel, they persuaded Geller to come to the Stanford Research Institute for a full spectrum of tests.

New Energy Forces? In the course of his preliminary tests on Geller, Puharich reported strange materializations and dematerializations of objects, including ashtrays, paperweights, suitcases, cameras and other paraphernalia.

I experienced things like this in my home in Connecticut while interviewing Geller. An ashtray lifted off the table about a foot in the air, disappeared, and instantly reappeared 15 feet away. A paperweight from my desk dropped lightly behind my ankle as I walked on the lawn. Geller was at least ten feet ahead of me, carrying a full tray of food, and no one else was in the vicinity. These things, Geller states, happen constantly.

One of the most startling events that occurred in my house was an experiment he did with my 14-year-old son, Judd. Geller sat across the room from him and drew concealed line drawings of a cat and an automobile. He told Judd that he was going to “fire” these pictures into his mind, without letting Judd see what he had drawn. Judd shrugged, and drew the first two things that occurred to him. They were not only the same two subjects, but were in the exact same perspective. Geller then asked Judd to draw a picture. Judd drew a simple, smile-button-type face. Geller asked him to keep it hidden, and to concentrate on it. Geller then drew a picture. When the two drawings were compared, there was a remarkable resemblance.

The strangest report from Puharich involves a series of communications from computerized-sounding voices that have suddenly intruded on taped interviews with Geller. The voices claim that they are extraterrestrial sources using Geller as a channel to demonstrate new energy forces. Geller confirms these communications, but feels that it is hard to expect anyone to believe them.

Britain-Bending. The most dramatic aspect of the “Geller effect” resulted from a television broadcast by Geller over the British Broadcasting Corporation network in November 1973. He was demonstrating the bending of keys and the starting up of broken watches. Within minutes, the BBC switchboard was clogged with phone calls from listeners reporting that knives, forks, spoons and keys were bending in their homes, and that watches and clocks that had not run for years were ticking away. Newspapers reported that a soup ladle bent in the hands of a woman from Harrow as she stirred. A gold bracelet warped and twisted on a Surrey girl’s arm.

The incredible phenomenon repeated itself after Geller broadcasts throughout Europe. (In Britain, a broadcast was taped and shown after Geller had left the country.)

The University of London’s John Taylor, taking the phenomenon as a challenge to science, found 15 subjects, most of them under the age of 16, reported to have been influenced by the Geller broadcasts. He put them through exhaustive metal-bending tests at King’s College laboratories. Results showed that the subjects could bend metal strips repeatedly under strict controls with only light stroking of the metals at room temperature, at angles of up to 178 degrees.

No Verdict Yet. With so much at stake for the world of physics, caution is important. Geller has failed time and again at critical moments, to his great embarrassment, as he did on the Johnny Carson show one night. He finds failure painful, but says he can do nothing about it except keep trying for his concentration to work. If he has enough time, it usually does. Geller allows time for scientific testing by others only sporadically. Using an associate’s East Side Manhattan apartment as an infrequent home port, he spends most of his time travelling around the world. He states that his demonstrations are necessary not only to make a living, but to bring public pressure on scientists who have not yet been willing to accept the idea that the “Geller effect” may shake the foundations of modern science.

Scientists who have studied him would be happier if he gave them more time. Instead, Geller vents his strong creative impulses in poetry (he writes of time and space in strong but unpolished diction); speaking his poems in a new record album, backed by a full orchestra; painting abstracts (now being presented at shows throughout Europe); promoting his autobiography and preparing to act in a film on his life; and pondering the source of these strange energy forces. He feels, without being evangelical, that he is a fortuitous channel for superior intelligences in the universe.

Time will speak the final word. Whatever the verdict, Geller has brought exciting challenges to the supposedly immutable laws of physics, and to the layman who must wait until a consensus of scientific experts tells him what to believe.


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