A PRELIMINARY SCRUTINY OF URI GELLER
by William E. Cox, The Institute for Parapsychology, Foundation for Research on the Nature of Man, Durham, North Carolina.
William E. Cox is a research associate at the Institute for Parapsychology, Durham, North Carolina, and a specialist in psychokinesis. He is also a semi-professional magician, an associate of the Society of American Magicians, and formerly a member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians. He is a Fellow of both the American and British Societies for Psychical Research. Mr. Cox has been active in the fields of both magic and parapsychology for over forty years, and is the author of numerous parapsychological research papers, as well as an advisory booklet for magicians on ESP. He has organized a committee within the Society of American Magicians to investigate fake claims of ESP.
The following investigation of Geller took place on April 24, 1974, at Geller’s New York City apartment. Cox’s paper is the first of three reports by magicians. It has been suggested that the design of many parapsychological experiments can be tightened and enhanced through consultation with magicians, for a magician brings his own rigorous standards to testing procedures – standards that can help rule out any form of trickery or deception. Thus the reports by magicians in this book are of particular interest. Where several of the scientists whose papers appear here state that they cannot guarantee that sleight of hand did not occur under their eyes, all four magicians (William Cox, Artur Zorka and Abb Dickson, and Leo Leslie) are convinced that Geller did not use any magic tricks to accomplish the events they witnessed. In fact, the statements made by the magicians in their respective papers are among some of the most positive and forceful claims to the genuineness of Geller’s talents. However, not all magicians are convinced by the affirmative words of their colleagues. In talking with several conjurers who have not had the opportunity to work with Geller, it has become clear that each magician wants to see for himself what Geller can do before he will draw any conclusions. Theoretically this is commendable. It is, however, an impracticable procedure. It has been suggested, therefore, that a committee of magicians be formed to test Geller and that their collective report be taken as the “final word.” At the time of this writing such a committee has not been convened.
Published for the first time, with the permission of the author. A shorter version of this paper was published in the Journal of Parapsychology, VOL 38, Dec. 1974, pp. 408-11.
THROUGH THE GOOD OFFICES of Mrs. Judith Skutch, President of the Foundation for the Investigation of Parasensory Phenomena, I was able to spend an hour with Uri Geller in the early evening of April 24, 1974. This is a report of my findings, in some detail. A full description often is essential when an effort is made to arrive at a definitive conclusion (if I may call it that) about a personal demonstration of one or more of the strong paranormal claims made by reputed or alleged sensitives.
Although there still is the unfulfilled need for standardized PK-testing with Geller, I felt that my first objective should be a further certification of his chief claims, I already had considered what approach to take. To be too demanding, I reasoned, or equipped with too many arbitrary rules, would not be any wiser than to be extremely lax, since quite likely little or no phenomenal effects would ensue. To give Geller as much freedom as he liked – for a limited portion of the session – was, I felt, the best course. This is not to imply that I had come to any judgement in the matter of his being a genuine psychic or a fraud. It shows mainly the advantage of having some specific objectives. My technique was first to let him in on a novel idea or two concerning proposed test procedures, during a preliminary telephone conversation, and thereby heighten his interest in undergoing semiformal study by a PK research specialist.
One idea was the use of a ten-sided die, both openly and under glass, which he might make roll about in specified directions, or until specified numbers were uppermost (visibly and then blindly). Six-sided dice seemed less appropriate, as well as less novel, nor had Geller been known to have any affinity for throwing dice in the manner of standardized test procedures.
Another static PK novelty was related to his favorite public practice of starting defective watches. I would propose that he start a watch whose internal speed regulator had been adjusted too far to one extreme to allow any continuous function, with the novel objective of letting him get it running and then ask for the back to be opened up to confirm that he had indeed caused the regulator arm to change its position.
I was admitted to Geller’s midtown Manhattan apartment by Mr. Yasha Katz, his associate, who introduced me to another on his staff, Mr. Werner Schmidt, and then to Geller. A fairly large living room was the scene of operations. Geller and I were alone, on either side of a glass-topped coffee table.
1. After a few preliminary remarks, Geller asked if I had a key. I handed him one that looked new; simply a flat, blank key, neither grooved nor toothed. He examined it and asked if I did not have a personal key he could use. I said I did not (though I did), and he agreed to try something with the one I had given him. He directed me in what to do, and within a minute he had bent the key to an angle of 12 1/4 degrees. I was seated at a corner of the table; Geller stood on the other side.
Before describing the event in detail, I should describe the key. It is made of steel, with an overall length of 2 1/4 inches. It was of a commercial quality and was unyielding to efforts at bending it by hand. It is extremely unlikely that such a plain and blank duplicate key of this kind would have been in Geller’s possession. The key was of the safe-deposit box type.
Geller returned the key to me and asked me to place it near the edge of the coffee table, and to put my finger on its larger end. My motive in letting him handle the key was deliberately to allow opportunity for trickery, in the event that Geller had contemplated attempting such means. Being a magician myself (which I did not allow Geller to learn), I was impressed with his general attitude and his lack of interest in details.
The key was flat upon the glass table, touching along its length. My right forefinger pressed upon one end of the key with only a normal force, and Geller’s right forefinger gently stroked the rest of the key as he stood bending over the coffee table.
I took advantage of the table’s transparency to gain a view of the underpart of the key with the aid of a mirror I held in my left hand. Light from a window, at 6:15 P.M. EDT, enabled a relatively clear view. The top of the key, of course, could be seen directly, with Geller’s finger touching it. After making several strokes, he said it was bending, then raised his hand and pressed his end of the key so as to rock it approximately one eighth of an inch. He slid the key from under my finger and again rocked it, expressing some pleasure. I resumed control of my end of the key, bringing the mirror into use at this point. Geller then resumed stroking the key until it bent to an angle of about 12 1/4 degrees. The entire event, I would judge, took less than a minute.
The temperature of the part of the key under my finger did not appear to change. What is more important is that the position of my end of the key did not change, except when Geller first rocked the key. The distance between my eyes and the key throughout the test was no more than one and a half feet. Intentionally, I had exerted no strong pressure on the key, nor did the normal downward pressure of my finger vary more than it might have if Geller had met with complete failure.
Other tests followed the key bending event.
2. From my briefcase I took a plastic ten-sided object, roughly the size of a three-
inch diameter ball. Its faces were numbered in ink from 1 to 10. I proposed that Geller attempt to make this object roll about, and stop with a desired number uppermost. He reacted by saying that he did not like numbers. I replied that he could keep the die and perhaps try it at some later time. The die remained on the coffee table.
3. I had brought with me two other keys, of the skeleton key variety. They were of zinc alloy, and could be bent by hand if enough pressure was applied. When Geller again asked if I had another key, I produced one of these from a previously unopened plastic container within the confines of my briefcase so as not to give the appearance that the key was a recent purchase, for Geller expressed a preference for a “used” key. The key was secured in the same manner as before, except that I held my finger upon the toothed end. A bend soon began to appear, but this time it took place an inch closer to the opposite end instead of right at my finger. The movement was conspicuous, moderately slow, and continuous, until the key was bent to an angle of about thirty-six degrees. Why the bend was located at a relatively isolated spot an inch from my finger is a question in itself. An ordinary upward force at the end of a projection would produce a bend at the fulcrum instead of an inch away. (See Plate 42.)
My angle of vision was about forty-five degrees (for both key events), plus the angles gained by the mirror held in the background. The second key then was laid to one side of the table in order to leave it in view without its being near the hand of either of us. (The first key also was on the table.) This was because Geller and I had discussed his talent for causing silverware, etc., to continue bending after it had been laid down. We both had mused about seeing this happen to the first key, as I recall, and also to the extra skeleton key in my briefcase (which I mentioned but did not use, and which was later found not to have bent). A second reason for thus protecting this key was because it was relatively easy to bend by hand. I also was aware that such a key was easily obtainable by a trickster, but I preferred not to make identification marks on them.
[This account, written two days after the experience, was followed by a metallurgical examination of both keys and of two “control keys.” The examination revealed no abnormalities, since the deformations due to bending were insignificant in comparison with the effects the metals had undergone during manufacture. A detailed report of metallurgical findings is available from the Institute for Parapsychology, Durham, N.C.]
4. Three CESP [GESP means General Extrasensory Perception, that is, ESP that could be telepathy or clairvoyance or both.] Effects made up the next test, which Geller himself suggested. He asked, in his usual lively manner, if I would draw something on a piece of paper. “I’ll go out of the room while you write,” he said. Then he added, “No. Will it be all right if I just turn my head to the wall?” He did the latter, and I did not ask for any further safeguards. This was an objectionably weak precaution against his peeking; but I was not there to test his ESP, which already had been satisfactorily tested at the Stanford Research Institute. Since I had a continuing interest in detecting any signs of deception, I intentionally allowed the upper part of my pencil to be exposed as I wrote on the inside surface of a small envelope, but Geller’s head remained turned completely away (toward a wall). He asked, while trying to perceive the diagram, for me to look at him (rather than at the coffee table), and after a pause he said, “I can’t get it. I think you are thinking of a word. What did you write?” I then showed him figures representing the Greek letters psi and kappa. “Let’s do it again,” he replied, “and please write a geometric figure this time.” The same procedure was repeated. I drew a circle with two lines inside it, and Geller responded, after looking at me a moment, by quickly drawing two diagrams, each containing a circle and lines. His comments were, “I think you drew either this,” as he drew the larger of the two responses, “or a triangle and a circle like this,” as he completed the second with equal speed and an air of certitude. We agreed that the second showed a very good degree of success.
5. A cheap digital counter was used for the next test. I asked Geller to see if he could guess its three exposed numbers. He asked that I change them. I punched all three buttons several times, stopping on the combination 402. His incorrect guess was 332,.
6. I next withdrew from my briefcase five colored dice and told Geller of their usefulness in testing for PK among other subjects. He was asked to think of numbers and then I tossed the dice against the wall. But his thoughts had no effect on which sides of the dice landed face up.
7. I spoke to Geller about his claims for making objects leave a closed room, or a container, and pass through other matter to reappear suddenly in another location. Then I showed him two leather rings, which I had made years earlier for just such an occasion as this. They were oval, about four inches in the greater diameter, having been cut from flat sheets of leather of two different thicknesses. “If these should ever become linked in your hand,” I said, “it would be a most exceptional accomplishment.” He took an interest in the idea, which was quite novel to him, and gladly retained them for the purpose. To my knowledge, nothing since has happened to the rings.
8. The most impressive experiment came next. It involved my own 17- jewel Hamilton pocket watch. Before I list any subsequent actions, a description of the watch itself, and how it was prepared, is in order.
Advance preparation of the watch: Plate 43 shows how the inside of the watch appeared when I gave it to Geller. It was intentionally Placed in his hands without any instructions. The back has two covers, both hinged to the case. The outer one is very easy to open. The inner one is very difficult to open without a knife.
A deliberate obstruction – a piece of aluminum foil – projected into the balance wheel and prevented normal operation of the watch. The strip of foil was about 3/32 of an inch wide and an inch long. It had been laid flat upon the balance wheel bridge and beneath the regulator arm. This regulator was set slightly beyond the letter F (for Fast), on the left side of its range of movement when the watch is held with the stem downward. Projecting directly to the left of this arm, and extending over the balance wheel, was a 3/16-inch strip of foil. The remaining foil projected down and to the left, having been folded over upon the mainspring barrel plate, though not fully touching it, to form a figure 7.
Installation was done by me at a jewelry shop in my hotel (the Commodore) during the afternoon. To prevent damage to the foil, a folded paper containing the foil was first inserted beneath the regulator arm and then removed. The source of the foil was a candy wrapper, whose thin layer of wax paper was allowed to remain on one side of the narrow strip. The strip had been cut approximately one third of an inch wide and then folded along its length. This was done somewhat off-center, which allowed the white waxed surface to make up nearly half of the underside. The short end projected over the balance wheel, but did not touch it at this time.
At 5:50 P.m., ten minutes before arriving at Geller’s apartment, I had opened the back of the watch and depressed the short projecting foil strip in between the spokes of the balance wheel. (The regulator already was at F.) Apparently no amount of shaking would dislodge the foil obstruction.
I told Geller that I had fixed the watch so that it would not work, but I did not mention having employed a foreign obstruction. The watch and chain were placed in Geller’s hands, even though he has claimed to repair watches without having to touch them. He held it to his ear, shook it gently, and discovered that the outer back could easily be opened. He made no move to start the watch by any ordinary twisting of it – nor would it have worked if he had. The watch was never out of my sight, nor was it even partly concealed by Geller’s fingers.
Geller’s only remark was that he did not know if he could make it work, since he often fails. He already knew that I had pushed the speed regulator to an extreme. Within half a minute, he held the watch to his ear for the second time and exclaimed, “It’s ticking, it’s ticking” He handed the watch to me, I confirmed the ticking, and promptly opened the back of the watch; I encountered some difficulty with the inner lid.
I discovered the, F-S regulator had moved completely to the S side of the gauge and beyond (to the right when the watch is held stem down). The 3/16-inch piece of foil that had been positioned between the balance wheel spokes had also moved. This was not all that occurred within the watch, for the remainder of the narrow foil strip, that is, the 3/4-inch length, which had been folded by me to form a figure 7, had been severed and was now lodged with its nearer end half an inch away from the F position, at an angle of approximately ninety degrees from its original position. (See Plate 44.) The end looked as if it had been “pulled” from the remainder. It adhered to the plate surface of the works when gently lifted part way with my fingernail. A knife was used to complete the removal, care being taken to detect to what degree the waxed foil was stuck upon the plate. It was not loose, but appeared to adhere slightly. This I tentatively attributed to some sort of gum upon the plate (unlikely), to gum upon the wax-paper underside of the foil strip (almost as unlikely), or to softened or melted wax. Tests for the latter were later made upon a similar foil wrapper and resulted in a similar adherence to a metal
It would appear that Geller personally appreciates a challenge, if my experience is any criterion. He is aware, to be sure, that if he is not interested in someone’s proposed experiment he will not be likely to succeed in it. Since success is what he earnestly desires, at this stage of what I would suppose to be a search for identity, he apparently can rely on his paranormal proclivities to achieve it. Further research should help to answer this question, if it is designed toward that objective. Equally as important, certainly, is the necessity of measuring the extent to which he can effect PK through conventional techniques.
As for my opinion on the question of paranormality in the events I observed, I so far have failed to find any support for hypotheses of fraud and deception of any variety. Of the three major types of effects I have seen (GESP with drawings, key bendings, and starting a watch) the one that was most impressive was the last, and the next most impressive was that of the keys.
There is no doubt in my mind concerning the events I observed when Geller was under my close scrutiny. I do not consider the absence of an assistant or coexperimenter to be sufficient reason to invalidate the accuracy of my observations of the key phenomena at this stage, inasmuch as they were limited to uncomplicated movements at fairly close range, in good light, upon a clear glass table surface, and with the aid of a mirror. Furthermore, the chance of Geller’s having had his own untoothed safe-deposit box key is most remote. If there had been such a bent key available to Geller, his substituting it under the procedural conditions outlined would have been quite out of the question, as the bending I saw occurred in two distinct steps. The force that normally would be required for the first and more difficult of my two keys is nearly 40 pounds upward at Geller’s end, and some 100 pounds downward at my fulcrum end. This is two or three times the force that an ordinary Corbin-type key would require. In this problematical issue, Geller’s lack of interest (which would have been unthinkable to a deceptionist) was obvious.
Concerning the watch, there are particulars that would appear to support strongly my contention that the effect was no more dubious than were the key phenomena; it was the result of static PK alone:
1. In subsequent test efforts, as well as in previous experiments, the balance wheel spokes could not be caused to disturb a similar piece of foil, inserted downward as before, if the watch was shaken in any manner. The spoke-striking force thereby produced was decidedly insufficient.
2. Even so, the implications of this scientific finding (1) are obviously weaker than those drawn from the positive movement of the regulator itself from the F to S position, against the confirmed normal tightness of the arm. The distance was slightly in excess of the lettered and gauged area, for a total of forty degrees counterclockwise. Its exceeding the normal limits was the result of my set-
screws’ having been permanently removed.
3.. The impossibility of Geller’s opening the inner back cover has already been described.
4. The transference of the superficial 3/4-inch long extension of the narrow foil strip to a secured position 1/2 inch farther away and at an angle of nearly ninety degrees from the original (which had been on a line from balance wheel to stem) was unmistakable.
If this record is read by others, some discount for what might appear to be a prejudicial view on my part in the above, or in this accounting of it, could hardly surprise me, for it clearly would appear that I am reporting occurrences that are “manifestly impossible.” Confirmation of the effects I have observed with Geller will, of course, be necessary by other experimenters.
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