EXPERIMENTS ON PSYCHOKINETIC PHENOMENA
by John B. Hasted, Ph.D., Department of Physics,
Birkbeck College, University of London.
David Bohm, Ph.D., Department of Physics,
Birkbeck College, University of London.
Edward W. Bastin, Ph.D., Language Research Unit,
Brendan O’Regan, M.S., Institute of Noetic Sciences,
Palo Alto, California.
John B. Hasted is Professor of Experimental Physics and Head of the Physics Department at Birkbeck College, University of London. He began his professional training as a chemist and moved into physics at the Clarendon Laboratory, Oxford, during wartime work on radar. He did pioneering work in opening up the microwave region of the electromagnetic spectrum in communications, was reader in physics at the University College of London, and has published books on atomic collisions and on dielectrics.
David Bohm has been professor of theoretical physics at Birkbeck College since 1961. He obtained his Ph.D. at the University of California, Berkeley, and was the last student to study under the atomic bomb-pioneering physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer. Professor Bohm has worked in the field of plasma physics, extending the concepts of this field to the many-body system, and he spent several years at the Institute of Advanced Study at Princeton, New Jersey, during which time he worked with Albert Einstein. Partly through his discussions with Einstein, Professor Bohm was led to challenge the orthodox views on quantum mechanics, which he has continued to expand and refine to this day. He has published books on quantum theory, relativity, and on the role of causality and chance in modem physics.
Edward W. Bastin holds doctorate degrees in both physics and mathematics. He won an Isaac Newton studentship to Cambridge University, and for a time was Visiting Fellow at Stanford University, California. Dr. Bastin’s current interests are in physics, mathematics, and parapsychology.
Brendan O’Regan is a member of the Institute of Noetic Sciences, Palo Alto, California, and a consultant to R. Buckminster Fuller’s Design Science Institute in Philadelphia. He has performed work in biochemistry and brain research and has written on acupuncture, Kirlian photography, and various areas of psychic research.
The experiments presented in the following three papers were designed to investigate Geller’s ability to bend metal, deform crystals, and activate a Geiger counter. The first paper here presents a summary of the events that took place between Geller and the Birkbeck team on four different occasions: February 5, June 21 and 22, and September 10, 1974. The authors’ focus is on the results of their experiments and not necessarily on the laboratory circumstances that surrounded their research. These circumstances are, of course of crucial importance in determining the overall validity of the information reported in the first paper. This paper, therefore, is followed by two pertinent excerpts from John Hasted’s unpublished manuscript.. “My Geller Notebooks,” which present a fuller description of the Birkbeck investigation.
The first part of this paper, which gives experimental results, is published for the first time, with the permission of the authors. The second part of the paper, an essay on the nature of paranormal talents, was first published in Nature, Vol. 254, April 10, 1975.
REPORTS of psychokinetic events produced by Uri Geller at the Stanford Research Institute (see pages 35-66) have prompted us to investigate the authenticity of such phenomena.
The phenomena fall under the following headings;
1. Bends produced in polycrystalline metal specimens, i.e., spoons and Yale keys, by gentle handling.
2. Plasticity, similarly produced, in which a part of the metal specimen becomes soft, and easily fractures.
3. Brittle fractures of metal and cleavages of single crystals, similarly produced.
4. “Dematerialization.” or apparent vanishing of part of a single crystal of metal.
5. Electromagnetic phenomena.
Table 1 summarizes phenomena of types 1,2,4 recorded by us, mostly under supervised conditions, at sessions 1-4. Specimens were previously prepared and in most cases numbered and weighed to within ñ0.2 mg. “Supervised conditions,” under which the majority of phenomena were observed, signifies that the gentle handling of weighed specimens by Mr. Geller was carried out on a tabletop under the close scrutiny of a small number of seated witnesses, [Witnesses at sessions 2 and 3 included the authors and Dr. K. Birkinshaw, Dr. J. A. Sarfatti, Messrs. Arthur Koestler, Arthur C. Clarke, K. A. Appiah, and N. Nikola; at session 1 only the authors; at session 4 only the authors and Mr. N. Nikola.] with subsequent reweighing of the specimens; written and sometimes sound records were taken, but there was no video-recording. The other phenomena were witnessed, but not so closely that the conditions could be described as supervised. The “gentle handling” of the specimens consisted of a stroking action by forefinger and thumb of either hand, or sometimes by forefinger alone, with the specimen resting on the table and steadied by the thumb. A phenomenon generally took several minutes to complete. The bends in the Yale keys occurred gradually, sometimes continuing after the stroking had ceased; the specimen would then rest on the table with one end appearing to rise very slowly. Being made of rolled metal, the keys are probably under internal stress.
It is not improbable that manual forces play a part in assisting some alleged psychokinetic bending phenomena, since it is not always easy to ensure that these forces are negligible. However, we are confident that they can be neglected in phenomena 1, 2, 3, 7, and 8.
The mean grain size and grain orientation at the bent Yale key surfaces has been compared with those in mechanically bent parts of the same specimens, using x-ray reflection; no significant differences were noted. Thus the hypothesis that the grains coalesce and produce internal stress is untenable, so far as the relatively small (ten- to thirty-degree) bends in these keys are concerned.
The plasticization, by handling, of about 2 cm of the neck of a stainless steel teaspoon (phenomenon 7) took place in the course of informal conversation around a desk. The teaspoon, which had previously been handled and bent through about thirty degrees by a child who also displays PK ability, was taken by Mr. Geller for a few seconds, when the center became floppy. A witness was able to take from Mr. Geller the two ends of the spoon in either hand while the center was still plastic. It was then handled very much as a heated glass tube is when it is bent to a desired angle in the laboratory. In this way the plasticity could be clearly verified by movement of the hands of the witness. The witness attempted to set the spoon at an acute angle, and to put it down on the table; it retained itself in one piece on the table for a few minutes, but due, presumably, to thinning of the neck by the flow of metal, its strength was so small that a slight disturbance fractured it. The weight loss of the fractured spoon was almost within the estimated experimental error. Electron micrographs of this fracture are under preparation; the procedures used are similar to those used in another study of a similar fracture obtained in the experiments of Professor J. G. Taylor. (See pages 213-217.)
No conventional physical or chemical explanation of the bending and plasticization phenomena is readily apparent. Chemical corrosion is ruled out by the constancy of weight, and by, the absence of change of appearance of the metal surfaces; neutron activation and electron-probe microanalysis are in progress as an additional cheek.
Similar phenomena were observed by one author (J. B. H.) in the course of work carried out on several children by a larger group of researchers. These phenomena included a .0001 axis cleavage of a 7.0 cm x 0.635 cm diameter cylindrical crystal of zinc that was being gently handled by a child under supervised conditions. Such a crystal requires symmetrical three-point loading with a weight of about 4 kg to produce a cleavage at laboratory temperature 20 degrees C so that it might be broken by hand by exercise of strength. One advantage of using an expensive crystal is that the unexpected cleavage could reveal, as the usual gradual bending does not, the presence of excessive manual forces; their presence was not noted in the observation of the cleavage phenomenon.
The important “dematerialization” event 8 was observed by us in session 4 with Mr. Geller. Two encapsulated vanadium carbide V6C5 electron microscope foils had been provided by Dr. A. Lee; these are single crystal discs about 2.0 mm in diameter and 0.4 mm thick, with central orifices surrounded by thinned sections. They had been examined by electron microscope. Each had been placed by Dr. Lee in a plastic pharmaceutical capsule about 1 cm long; the capsules were not opened by us until they were returned to Dr. Lee; the discs were not weighed. Vanadium carbide is a very hard material, but a fracture of these discs by hand, with a tool, would be possible, although it would require dexterity. A number of metal objects of various sizes were then placed randomly on a metal surface plate, some encapsulated and some not; the vanadium carbide crystals were among the former. Under scrutiny of three witnesses, one witness covered the group of objects lightly with his open hand, on which Mr. Geller’s hand rested for a few seconds. Mr. Geller then clasped both hands together above the witness’s hand. One capsule was seen to move by a few millimeters, rather like a jumping bean.
On examination, about one half of the vanadium carbide disc was seen to be missing. (See Plate 52.) Next day the capsule was unsealed and examined by Dr. Lee, who identified the disc and confirmed that half of it was missing; electron micrographs showed that the missing part included most of the thinned section. A brittle fracture, with a small amount of conchoidal fracture, had taken place in the 100 plane; a very low density of dislocations was found, which is typical of mechanical failure. A search for vanadium in the surroundings of the experiments is in progress. (Ed.’s note: See Excerpt Two from “My Geller Notebooks,” by Dr. J. B. Hasted, which follows this report.)
The bending of the disc of molybdenum crystal, also provided by Dr. Lee, occurred, following very much the same procedure, at session 2. A sudden bend, possibly accompanied by slight movement, took place. (See Plate 53.) Mild physical sensations were experienced in the hands of both witnesses.
The disc was of 1 cm diameter and 0.22 mm thickness, so it could just about be bent by hand. Such crystals are unusual in that they become more brittle with increasing temperature; our laboratory temperature was 20 degrees C. The bend induced apparently psychokinetically was through an angle of twenty-one degrees.
At sessions 2, and 3 Mr. Geller attempted to produce counts on a nuclear radiation monitor held in his hands. The monitor consists of a Geiger counter partly surrounded by a stainless steel screen, which acts as return path for the electrical circuit. It is sensitive to gamma radiation, for which the background count rate in the laboratory was about 0.5 counts per second.
The counter is connected by screened cable to an amplifier, whose output was fed to a Harwell 2000 series ratemeter and chart recorder. During a total period of about fifty minutes, eight count-rate pulses of duration of the order of a second were recorded, some of them of magnitudes corresponding to more than fifty counts/sec. (See Plate 54.) However, the radiation monitor loudspeaker clicking, which was recorded on magnetic tape, did not always accelerate during the chart- recorded pulses, nor did a second radiation monitor record clicks consistently. Moreover, two of the largest chart-recorded pulses corresponded in time to recorded pulses of a magnetic field (about 1 mG) at a fluxgate magnetometer about 1 m distant from the counter. [In another experiment Mr. Geller was able to deflect a compass needle held in his hand, at the same time producing a chart-recorded pulse of magnetic field at the magnetometer head. However, magnetic field experiments are notoriously sensitive to bodily movements.]
Mr. Geller held the Geiger counter screen continuously in his hands during the recordings; the recorded count-rate pulses were not associated with any appreciable bodily movement, nor, of course, could pulses be produced by witnesses. Although Mr. Geller has informally indicated that there has been some learning in producing psychokinetic phenomena, attempts to use the chart recorder readings as biological feedback were unsuccessful in this case.
The least unorthodox hypothesis with which these Geiger counter observations are consistent is that Mr. Geller produced through his hands occasional unpredictable pulses of electromotive force across metal conductors. These pulses are apparently much larger than normal body static electricity. The particular model of radiation monitor used will respond in a similar manner when a 90-volt battery is shorted along the stainless steel screen that surrounds the Geiger counter and forms the return path of the electrical circuit. A current of several amps will then flow through the screen, whose resistance is about 3 Ohms. It appears that a Geiger counter connected in this way is a sensitive detector of voltage transients, since they force it off the plateau of its characteristic.
Phenom- Phenom- Number Weight Session enon enon Condi- of Wit- differ- number number Specimen type tions nesses ence (mg)
1 1 2 Yale 1 Super- 4 -0.1 ñ 0.2
keys vised -0.1 simul- taneous)
2 2 Molyb- 1 Super- 8 Unknown
2 3 Yale key 1 Super- 8 -1.1 ñ 1.0
2 4 Stainless 1 Not 2 Unknown
paper knife vised
2 5 Yale key 1 Not 3 Unknown
3 6 Yale key 1 Super- 4 Unknown vised
4 7 Stainless 2 Super- 3 +0.4 ñ 0.2 steel vised spoon
4 8 Vanadium 4 Super- 4 Unknown carbide vised single crys- tal disc
The Approach to Experimentation
We have come to reaise that in certain ways the traditional ideal of the completely impersonal approach of the natural sciences to experimentation will not be adequate in this domain. Rather, there is a personal aspect that has to be taken into account in a way that is somewhat similar to that needed in the disciplines of psychology and medicine. This does not mean, of course, that it is not possible to establish facts on which we can count securely. Rather, it means that we have to be sensitive and observant, to discover what is a right approach, which will properly allow for the subjective element and yet permit us to draw reliable inferences.
One of the first things that reveals itself as one observes is that psychokinetic phenomena cannot in general be produced unless all who participate are in a relaxed state. A feeling of tension, fear, or hostility on the part of any of those present generally communicates itself to the whole group. The entire process goes most easily when all those present actively want things to work well. In addition, matters seem to be greatly facilitated when the experimental arrangement is aesthetically or imaginatively appealing to the person with apparent psychokinetic powers.
We have found also that it is generally difficult to produce a predetermined set of phenomena. Although this may sometimes be done, what happens is often surprising and unexpected. We have observed that the attempt to concentrate strongly in order to obtain a desired result (e.g., the bending of a piece of metal) tends to interfere with the relaxed state of mind needed to produce such phenomena. It appears that what is actually done is mainly an unconscious function of the mind, and that once the intention to do something has been firmly established, the conscious functions of the mind, insofar as they have bearing on the goal, tend to become more of a hindrance than a help. Indeed, we have sometimes found it useful at this stage to talk of, or think about, something not closely related to what is happening, so as to decrease the tendency to excessive conscious concentration on the intended aim of the experiment. A comparison might be made with the process of trying to go to sleep, for which one needs a firm intention, without subsequent efforts.
Many of the conditions described above are also required for fruitful research in the natural sciences. Thus, if any of those who participate in a physical experiment are tense or hostile, and do not really want the experiment to work, the chances of success are greatly diminished. Likewise, the aesthetic appeal of the experimental setup often helps to maintain interest and enthusiasm, but an attitude that consistently tends to damp these is evidently detrimental to the whole enterprise. In the study of psychokinetic phenomena, such conditions are much more important than in the natural sciences, because the person who produces these phenomena is not an instrument or a machine. Any attempt to treat him as such will almost certainly lead to failure. Rather, he must be considered to be one of the group, actively cooperating in the experiment, and not a “subject” whose behavior is to he observed “from the outside” in as cold and impersonal manner as possible.
The following analogy may help to give a more orderly overall description of the phenomena in the field. Consider a person whose hand has been paralyzed as a result of destruction of nervous tissue. If this person is to regain the use of his hand, he must somehow activate new nervous pathways. As to how he is to do this, he does not know. All he can do is, with all his energy, to feel out the possibilities of movement and to observe with great attention and alertness what movements actually take place. He cannot describe, or even think about, just what it is that he does in getting his hand to move. Moreover, he cannot at first produce controlled movements, which bring about consciously intended results. Rather, it is clear that the contact between brain and hand is brought about almost entirely by unconscious functions of the mind, which tend to be erratic and fortuitous. Of course, if he works with sustained interest and energy, he will generally find that his movements do begin to come closer to what he intended them to be. But it is also clear that if he is surrounded by people who do not believe that he can move his hand, or who, through hostility, bring about a state of psychological tension, then he will he less likely to be able to sustain the interest and energy needed for learning how to move his hand.
Those who work with such a person (e.g., the physiotherapist) must evidently share in the confidence that the ability to move the hand will eventually come about. The thoughts in the paralyzed person’s mind, and those in the minds of his colleagues, are both important factors in bringing about success. The necessary confidence about the ultimate result must be maintained in the minds of all concerned, while at the same time there is a healthful capacity to be tentative and open-minded in statements about what particular results may have been achieved at a certain stage. And so reliable inferences can be made in physiotherapy, though by methods that are rather different from those used traditionally in the natural sciences.
The analogy between this field and that of psychokinetic research is fairly clear. The main difference is this: We can account for, and to some extent explain, the connection between the brain and the hand in the case of the paralyzed person (through the nerves that link them), but we have no way either to account for, or to explain, the connection between the brain and the object that is moved, bent, etc., in terms of what is now known to science. However, if we suppose that there is some at present unknown force, energy, or mode of connection, then we may also suppose that psychokinetic power may function in a way that is essentially similar to the power to move the hand. Thus, one might suggest that perhaps there is an unconscious “feeling out” of the connection. In many cases there is a visible “feedback” that enables a person to recognize that he has done something, and that permits him to try to go further along the same (indescribable and undefinable) lines. But there may be other forms of feedback. Thus, if the metal can respond to the brain in an unknown way, the brain may similarly respond to the metal. By being sensitively aware of this response, the person concerned might be able to tell when something had actually happened, even though the object in question was not sensually perceptible to him.
It is important, at this point, not to insist on having a potential theoretical explanation before one will seriously consider observing the phenomena themselves. Thus, when magnetic and electrostatic effects were first observed, it was impossible to account for them in terms of the then known forces, which were considered to arise only when bodies are in mechanical contact. Evidently, this did not prevent their being observed. The main aim of such observation is to give rise to an orderly account of the phenomena, which is first qualitative and then quantitative, e.g., first the qualitative observation that like charges repel, unlike charges attract, and then the quantitative observation that the force is inversely proportional to the square of the distance. On the basis of such an account, current field-theoretical explanations of electromagnetic phenomena were later developed. We propose a similar approach to psychokinetic phenomena, and in ways described earlier in this article, we have begun to carry it out.
In such research an attitude of mutual trust and confidence is needed; we should not treat the person with psychokinetic powers as an “object” to be observed with suspicion. Instead, as indicated earlier, we have to look on him as one who is working with us. Consider how difficult it would be to do a physical experiment if each person were constantly watching his colleagues to be sure that they did not trick him. How, then, are we to avoid the possibility being tricked? It should be possible to design experimental arrangements that are beyond any reasonable possibility of trickery, and that magicians will generally acknowledge to be so. In the first stages of our work we did, in fact, present Mr. Geller with several such arrangements, but these proved to be aesthetically unappealing to him. From our early failures, we learned that Mr. Geller worked best when presented with many possible objects, all together, on a metal surface; at least one of these objects might appeal to him sufficiently to stimulate his energies. In our fourth session, we had such a setup, which included, as described earlier, two small plastic capsules, each containing a thin disc of vanadium, carbide single crystal. A clearly observable change in the disc within one of the capsules was brought about when Mr. Geller held, his hands near them.
In discussions with magicians we have learned that the best conditions for a conjuring trick arise when the happening significantly precedes the observation. In the above instance we believe that the conditions were such that the failure to observe and record the precise moment of change is of no importance, because there is no known way of producing this effect within the closed capsule and no possibility of substitution. For this reason we conclude that this was something that no magician could have done.
Nevertheless, we reaise that conditions such as we have described in this paper are just those in which a conjuring trick may easily be carried out. We understand also that we are not conjuring experts, so if there should be an intention to deceive, we may be as readily fooled as any person. Moreover, there has been a great of public criticism, in which the possibility of such tricks has been strongly suggested. For this reason it has often been proposed that a skilled magician should be present, to help to see to it that there will be no possibility of deception.
It is in the nature of the case, however, that no such assurance can actually be given. For a skilled magician is able to exploit each new situation as it arises in a different and generally unpredictable way. The corpus of tricks is not fixed, but rather continually changes and evolves. A particular magician could therefore say at most that he knew of no tricks that could have brought about a given set of observed phenomena. Of course, if several magicians of recognized proficiency were to conclude that what was done on a certain occasion did not involve any tricks, this could help create a presumption in favor of the notion that the phenomena are genuine. In principle, we would welcome help of this kind in decreasing the possibility of deception. It has been our observation, however, that magicians are often hostile to the whole purpose of this sort of investigation, so they tend to bring about an atmosphere of tension in which little or nothing can be done. Indeed, even if some magicians were found who were not disposed in this way, it does not follow that their testimony will convince those who are hostile, since the latter can always suppose that new tricks were involved, beyond the capacity of those particular magicians to see through them. Because of all of this, it seems unlikely that significant progress toward clearing up this particular question could be made by actually having magicians present at the sessions, though we have found it useful to have their help in a consultative capacity. We have learned in such consultations not to stop watching the identified specimen from the first moment when it reaches the hand of the subject until the bend occurs. We are familiar with the use of the human hair in producing small movements, with the use of mercuric salts in alcohol to corrode metals, and with the weakening in metals produced by continued bending to and fro. We recognize that there is a genuine difficulty in obtaining an adequate answer to criticisms concerning the possibility of tricks, and that a certain healthy skepticism or doubt on the part of, the reader may be appropriate at this point. Indeed, it would be inappropriate if the scientific community did not at first react in such a way. However, we believe that our approach can adequately meet this situation.
It is essential that in at least some experiments conditions must be controlled in such a way that the possibility of deception is insignificant. Metal-bending and cleavage experiments are particularly suitable for this approach. Encapsulated specimens can play an important part, although up to the present we have been able to achieve success with only one such specimen.
We feel that if similar sessions continue to be held, instances of this kind might accumulate, and 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 laws of physics at present known. Indeed, we already feel that we have very nearly reached this point. We expect, however, to carry out more tests along these general lines and to report on them when results are available.
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