MY GELLER NOTEBOOKS
by John B. Hasted, Ph.D., Department of Physics,
Birkbeck College, University of London.
What follow are two excerpts from an unpublished manuscript: “My Geller Notebooks,” by John B. Hasted, Birkbeck College, University of London. They recount in considerably more detail the events that took place during two of Uri Geller’s visits to Birkbeck College. The excerpts are important addenda to the previous paper because in them Dr. Hasted discusses not only more of the technical details of the experiments that he conducted, but also candidly evaluates the “controlled conditions” under which the work was performed, and some shortcomings in the experimental procedures.
The following two excerpts are published for the first time, with the permission of Dr. John B. Hasted.
We had originally planned that only myself, Bohm, O’Regan, Bastin, Nicola, and Birkinshaw be present, but three other people were added to this number: Arthur Koestler, physicist Jack Sarfatti, and composer Mr. K. A. Appiah, who was writing music for Geller’s gramophone record. Thus, the fifteen-square-foot room was a little crowded, although with discipline we managed to avoid too many difficulties. I had been fending off the press all day; not that they would have behaved irresponsibly, but because we needed all the peace and quiet we could get. The short periods during which Geller would be available to us must not be wasted.
When Geller arrived we showed him the equipment we had set up, and he asked to make a start with the radiation monitor.[This session marks Geller’s first visit to Birkbeck College: June 21, 1974.] This was a commercial instrument, made by Mini-Instruments, consisting of a Geiger counter enclosed in a stainless steel sheath, and connected by cable to a control panel that registered the nuclear radiation pulses both on a ratemeter and as audible clicks on a loudspeaker. The counter is sensitive to gamma-rays through the metal sheath, but for use with beta radiation a part of the sheath could be slid open to allow the less penetrating radiation through.
Beta- and gamma-rays are emitted by radioactive sources when the nuclei of the atoms decay spontaneously. Although the average number of decays in a given time is well known for each radioactive source, the precise moment at which each beta- or gamma-ray is emitted cannot be predicted from physical theory. It is a truly random event. Thus, if these moments could be changed by mental concentration, and an unusual number of beta- or gamma-rays counted, then we might have a clue to the understanding of this apparent randomness. Of course, there are ways in which a Geiger counter might be activated normally – for example, by a radioactive source concealed about one’s person. I used the Geiger counter itself to search Geller for such a source, and found none.
When there is no radioactive source near the Geiger counter, only a few counts are registered each second; under our laboratory conditions, about one every two seconds. This radiation reaches the earth from extraterrestrial sources and is known as cosmic radiation. Thus, the instrument would record the time variation of the background count rate of cosmic radiation.
The pulse counts from the control panel of the Geiger counter were taken to a Harwell 2000 series ratemeter whose output was chart-recorded. (See Plate 54.) When the time constant is set at one second, pulse counts appear as small individual “noise” peaks on the chart (see Plate 54), provided that their rate is sufficiently slow. But when the count rate reaches, say, ten or a hundred per second, and remains there for several seconds, then much larger peaks appear on the chart, as is also shown in Plate 54.
The correct operation of this system was checked by exposing the counter close to a radioactive source; readings of the order of twenty-five counts per second were recorded (see Plate 54: test pulse). Care was taken to check that in the absence of the source the background radiation was not excessive, and that false pulses could not be produced by rough handling of the Geiger counter or its cable. Twenty minutes of constant background radiation were followed by a test pulse from the radioactive source, then by a further ten minutes of constant background radiation.
Then I handed the counter to Geller, who held it in both hands and tried to concentrate. We drew on the blackboard a picture of a mushroom cloud to help him to think of nuclear radiation. All the outward signs indicated that Geller was concentrating as hard as he could.
Within two minutes, two count-rate pulses, one of about twenty-five counts per second, were recorded (see Plate 54: a, b). Geller said that he felt some sort of shock, which I thought might have been electrical. But Geller did not see the chart record at this stage; we made no attempt to use “biofeedback,” that is, to allow him to learn by watching the chart recorder. I was attempting to watch both Geller and the chart recorder. After sixteen minutes there was another pulse, c, and after a further five minutes a large pulse, d, during which Geller reported feeling a prickly sensation. We then allowed the apparatus to run for a further ten minutes without Geller’s holding the counter. There was only background radiation recorded, and the apparatus was switched off.
During the experiment the gaussmeter and its chart recorder had been kept running, with the probe fixed to a table about two feet away from Geller. Nicola had been supervising the chart record, but I did not watch it myself. There had been small movements in the gaussmeter chart record, as there often are when people do not keep quite still. But there were two noticeable pulses, which Nicola told me had corresponded exactly in time with the count-rate pulses c and d.
I was already beginning to suspect that the origin of the Geiger counter pulses could be electrical rather than nuclear; we conducted further experiments on the following day. During a twenty-five minute session, four count-rate pulses, e, f, g, and h, were recorded, reaching maximum rates of about ten per second. A second Geiger counter was also exposed, but it was not touched, by Geller, and it did not register either audibly or visibly during these pulses. Only the counter Geller actually held in his hands registered. A tape record of the loudspeaker clicks from this counter was also made, and although there were clicks corresponding to the first two chart record pulses, there were very few corresponding to the last two. The effects on the Geiger counter were not quite those that nuclear radiation would have produced.
After twenty-five minutes, all the witnesses except Arthur Koestler and me left the room, and Geller decided to make an extraordinary effort to produce a large pulse. Within three minutes he produced a count-rate pulse, k, which was well off the scale of the chart, and may have been as high as 200 counts per second (see Plate 54: k). What is interesting about this pulse was that it arrived before Geller intended it to. The transcription of the audio tape reads as follows:
Geller.. “I’m gonna shout!….. All right . . . (knocking) . . . (deep breath out)….. I’m gonna count to ten and on ten it’s gonna go one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine”
Hasted (simultaneously): “It’s going already.”
Geller (shouting): “ten!”
Koestler (shouting simultaneously): “Um-ho . . . did you see
Hasted. “I saw nothing, but it was ten times harder than anything we’ve had yet.”
The peak on the chart recorder started when I said, “It’s going already.” No clicks were audible. The pen stayed off-scale until “did you see that?” at which point it returned to zero, and some clicks were audible. Geller felt some sort of shock, and Koestler also experienced a shock. They both were temporarily exhausted.
I verified that the Geiger counter was still operational, and was still proof against mechanical effects, such as a pulling of the cable or a knocking of the counter. Everyone came back into the room and Geller relaxed. My conviction was growing that the pulses were electrical in origin, but I did not see how electrical pulses could have entered into the circuit. Next day I reaised that the stainless steel screening case constituted a return path for the circuit; I tried the effect of short-circuiting a 90-volt battery along the screening case. Even though the window was closed so that the screening case completely surrounded the counter, a count-rate pulse was produced every time I passed current through the case.
A Geiger counter is essentially a metal cylinder with a fine wire mounted axially (see Plate 54). It contains gas at a pressure of about 5 torr (about 1% of atmospheric pressure), and a steady voltage is maintained between wire and cylinder, just insufficient to cause spontaneous electrical breakdown. The entry of nuclear radiation is sufficient to trigger such breakdown by collisional ionization. The electrical energy of the breakdown is rapidly dissipated, but the counter produces an electrical pulse, which is registered at a suitable amplifier. The counter quickly returns to pre-breakdown conditions and awaits the next pulse.
But when a 90-volt battery is momentarily connected in the circuit, albeit across a piece of stainless steel, spontaneous breakdown occurs, and an electrical pulse will he registered irrespective of whether nuclear radiation enters. It may be that the dissipation of this energy produces secondary electrical effects, causing subsidiary breakdowns and further loudspeaker clicks, such as were heard after the largest chart record pulse. The ratemeter is simply an integrating circuit that would respond to a continuous breakdown much as it would to a series of pulses.
The most likely hypothesis to explain these experiments is that Geller’s hands produced transient voltages of the order of 50-100 volts.
These transients are about a million times stronger than typical potential differences that develop, for example, between one human wrist and the other, are several hundred microvolts, but they vary in time with both heartbeat and breath, according to experiments that Dr. Birkinshaw conducted at the time. Presumably they are short-circuited when the body is immersed in a bath containing bath salts. Other areas of skin do not show these time-varying potentials; there is probably the equivalent, of a high impedance separating these areas from the source of the time varying potentials. But it follows that such a high impedance would protect the source, that is, the interior of the body, against shocks from surface effects. It seems likely that the source of Geller’s potentials lies close to the surface of the body.
Let us consider the possibility that the effects are due simply to static electricity at the skin surface. Friction on very good electrical insulators produces a static charge, which can sometimes be discharged with the production of a spark. It would have to be an extremely powerful static charge to produce a voltage along the stainless steel case sufficient for the Geiger counter to break down. Frictional production of static charge acts by removing surface electrons from the insulator or adding them to it. Nevertheless, Geller had no cloth to produce the friction, and he was squeezing, rather than rubbing the Geiger counter case; he held it quite still in his hands. His feet were not moving on the carpet. Those of us who have tried to produce static on metal surfaces without friction have had no success. There must be some mechanism by which the charge was produced, and since normal subjects cannot produce it one can legitimately call it paranormal. There have been reports, from the USSR of subjects who have been able to produce static charge without friction and use it to apply forces to objects without touching them. Geller’s Geiger counter pulses seem to have been phenomena of the same sort. But the hypothesis I wish to put forward to explain the source will have to await the description of even more surprising phenomena that occurred later in the year.
At the first Birkbeck session, the Geiger counter experiment was followed by an attempt to record any changes of magnetic field that Geller might be able to produce. We used a Hall-effect gaussmeter with the output signal chart recorded; the full scale of the chart corresponded to a 10-milligauss field.
Time variations of magnetic field are constantly occurring normally. The earth’s magnetic field is more than 100 milligauss, and the Post Office Underground trains, which use an earth return, produce field variations of more than 1 milligauss when they pass underneath our laboratory. When metal objects are moved around, the balance of local electromagnetic fields can be disturbed sufficiently to register a change of magnetic field, which may also be about 1 milligauss. On one occasion H. M. the Queen Mother visited our laboratory, and I demonstrated how the departure of an underground train affected one of our electron spectrometers, which was sensitive to fields rather smaller than 1 milligauss. Suddenly there was an unexplained effect. When she had gone we found a hairpin on the floor.
Small changes in magnetic field are so easily produced by normal means that they are not very good phenomena for psychic research. Nevertheless, something might be learned from the chart record, provided that all present kept fairly still, and provided that Geller himself had no metal on his person. These conditions we secured, except for a small brass buckle on Geller’s belt. We fixed the magnetometer probe to a table top, and asked Geller to concentrate on it and attempt to produce a variation of magnetic field. The probe was set at a forty-five-degree angle so that horizontal and vertical components of a field would contribute equally to the signal. For eight minutes the chart recorder trace was reasonably steady, although its response was more sluggish than that of the Geiger counter chart recorder. Then it became apparent to us that Geller had very little idea of what a magnetic field actually was, so we gave him a compass needle and asked him to concentrate on deflecting it toward him. There followed six more minutes of calm, although people were getting restive and producing a few small pulses, which were obviously due to the movements of metal.
Geller held the compass flat on the table, between his finger and thumb, and he moved very little in his wooden chair. Suddenly there was a jerk at the compass needle and a 2-milligauss deflection on the chart, which did not seem to arise from human movements. After seven more minutes, there was another apparently genuine, pulse of about 2 milligauss, and the compass spindle jerked out of its bearings. These pulses are shown in Figure 1.
Fig. 1. Part of the chart record of time-variation of magnetic field measured by gaussmeter in vicinity of Geller’s hands.
The compass we used was of unusual design; it consisted of a circular metal band with both top and bottom covered with a glass disc. The compass needle was carried on a spindle mounted in holes drilled in the center of the two discs. Thus it had no metal base.
If Geller’s finger and thumb were to produce a voltage transient then a current would flow through the metal band, and magnetic flux would be produced, essentially perpendicular to the compass needle. The latter might not be deflected strongly, but the vertical couple could well upset the spindle from its bearings. A magnetic field would be produced at the gaussmeter probe, which was about one foot away from Geller’s hands. This corresponds to what was observed.
Although I cannot be certain that this is the correct interpretation of the experiment, it does confirm the hypothesis that Geller can produce voltage transients at his fingers when he concentrates sufficiently.
Encouraged by these early successes, we conducted an experiment to determine whether Geller could remotely exert a mechanical force on a delicate membrane. We used a capacitance manometer, the membrane of which responds to minute differences of pressure between the gas in two tubes. When both tubes are exposed to the atmosphere, as was the case here, the membrane is so sensitive that a wave of the hand several feet from one tube will be registered on the chart recorder. Both Geller and the witnesses refrained from moving, but several minutes of mental concentration by Geller failed to produce any result. We now switched on a helium-neon laser, which directed a spot of orange radiation in a parallel beam right across the room. The position of the tiny spot, which appeared on squared paper four m away, could be measured to better than 1 mm. Geller concentrated for a few minutes on bending the beam of light, but without success. I did not want Geller to get discouraged by too much failure, so did not continue any further.
Unexpectedly, Geller was not discouraged; in fact, he seemed to be growing in confidence. We talked about metal bending and I gave him latch keys, which encouraged him still further. When he reached what is sometimes called a “contact high,” he wanted to attempt to make a bend without touching the specimen. Geller likes to have such specimens on a metal plate, so a sheet of steel was laid on the table, and the following selection of metal objects placed together on it:
1. Two key rings with keys attached to them.
2. Four loose latchkeys.
3. A thin steel tube containing a thermocouple.
4. A stainless steel paper knife.
5. A single crystal ingot of vanadium carbide.
6. A single crystal disc of molybdenum, 0.22 mm thick and 1 cm in diameter.
7. A single crystal bar of silicon,
8. A length of steel rod, one inch in diameter.
9. An annealed copper disc with a hole in the middle.
None of these objects had been in Geller’s hands, and he did not touch them while they were laid out. Jack Sarfatti stretched hand out above the objects, and Geller then put his hand on top of Sarfatti’s. After a few seconds, Jack reported feeling a sharp tingle in his hand, and when both hands were withdrawn we examined the objects. The only one showing an obvious change was the molybdenum single crystal disc, which had been perfectly flat beforehand, but was now bent slightly. (See Plate 53.)
This single crystal, and some others we have used, had been given to us by Dr. Tony Lee, of the Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge. It was of high purity, better than 0.99999. Some weeks later, when I showed the crystal to David Rooks, who was going to photograph it, we noticed that it was very slightly attracted to the tweezers he was using. Of course molybdenum should not be ferromagnetic, so I suspended the crystal between the poles of an electromagnet and found it to be quite as ferromagnetic as commercial molybdenum, which contains eighty parts per million of iron. I therefore sent the single crystal for neutron activation analysis to the Scottish Universities Reactor Centre. How this impurity got into pure crystal is still a puzzle.
The bending of the molybdenum crystal was impressive, and the witnesses became excited. It was difficult for me to maintain “controlled conditions,” since Geller had worked very hard and now started to enjoy himself. He bent two latchkeys and my stainless steel paper knife, but not while sitting at the table; he walked into David Bohm’s office, and later held the latchkeys under a tap; so I did not see the bendings sufficiently clearly. I weighed the keys, and in my excitement I made a mistake and concluded that one of the keys had lost weight. It was not until the next day that I discovered what I had done wrong with the balance. When I checked, I found that the key was actually unchanged in weight within 0.2 mg. Geller works well when he is excited, but unfortunately scientists do not. The afternoon’s session concluded soon afterward; we had made several observations, the validity of which we were reasonably confident of, and everyone regarded the session as a success.
On September 9, Brendan O’Regan telephoned from the U.S. to say that Uri Geller was coming to London to work with a film company. We quickly made contact, and at 4:45 P.M. On the next day Geller arrived on his own at Birkbeck. [This visit marked Geller’s last session at Birkbeck College: Sept. 10, 1974.] David Bohm and Nicola were with me, and Ted Bastin arrived soon afterward. We were by now sensitive to the disadvantages of crowded laboratories. Although the Geiger counter equipment had been made ready, we decided to concentrate on metal specimens.
Before he had been in my office for two minutes, I spoke of my experiences with the children [Elsewhere in Hasted’s “My Geller Notebooks” he presents evidence of psychokinetic abilities found in children who had either seen or heard of Uri Geller’s metal-bending feats. Similar evidence is reported by Dr. John Taylor, Dr. Thelma Moss, and Dr. E. Alan Price in The Geller Papers.] and handed him one of the stainless steel spoons that had been bent by the girl (under “controlled conditions”). Geller held the handle and did not touch the bend. Within a few seconds, and under our close scrutiny, the bend in the spoon became plastic. It quickly softened so much that the spoon could be held with one end in either hand and gently moved to and fro. I had never seen Geller produce a really plastic bend before, and I asked him to hand the spoon to me in one piece. I took one end from his left hand into my right and one end from his right hand into my left. The acute angle, about slxty degrees, was essentially unchanged in the handing over. I could sense the plasticity myself, by gently moving my hands. It was as though the bent part of the spoon was as soft as chewing gum, and yet its appearance normal. I continued a gentle bending movement for about ten seconds, and then decided that it might be more interesting to try to preserve the spoon in one piece than to pull it apart. As carefully as I could, I laid it on the desk. It was not appreciably warm. I did, not dare to touch the bent part for fear of breaking it, and it lay on the desk apparently in one piece for a few minutes; but a attempting to move it I was unable to prevent it from falling apart, a “neck” having developed.
This was the first time that I had clearly seen a really “plastic bend,” since these are much rarer than the slow bends I had observed previously. I do not think there can be any question of fraud when a really plastic bend is produced under close scrutiny, unless there is serious chemical corrosion, such as that produced by mercuric salts. Even then, the metal would behave quite differently, becoming wet, discolored, and brittle, but hardly plastic.
Chemical corrosion is accompanied by a change in weight; therefore I was pleased that I had recorded the weight of this spoon, as follows:
Original weight 24.3526 g
Weight after bend by child 24.3533 g
Combined weight of pieces
after fracture 24.3529 g
These variations are within the limits of weight changes, both and down, that have been observed in other bent specimens. The errors are due to dirt and to moisture condensation and evaporation.
We have not yet learned very much from the appearance of the fracture of this and other plastic bends. A stainless steel spoon, or a brass key, when broken by physical force, will display a brittle fracture in which the metal surface is formed into tiny cup- and cone-shaped patches. But the plastic bend fracture looks rather different from this, especially when viewed in the high magnification of the electron microscope. Paul Barnes arranged for his postgraduate students to take electron micrographs of a fractured spoon, and when these were examined various anomalies were found but no very definite new knowledge was gained.
Geller was interested to learn that the fractured spoon had not lost weight, and he concentrated on causing a loss of weight in a piece of zinc crystal, but with no success. However, the bent copper crystal, which was lying untouched nearby, appeared twisted as well as bent when I examined it. The twist was through an angle of ten degrees. Since the bent crystal was lying flat before it twisted, the producing of this twist without any touching of the crystal is difficult to understand, even assuming softening. But the mechanical properties of a copper single crystal are anisotropic, that is, they are different in three perpendicular directions. The x-ray analysis of the crystal may throw some light on the event, but has not yet been completed. (Ed.’s note: At the time this book went to press the analysis was still incomplete.)
The copper crystal had been resting on a machinist’s metal surface plate, a hard steel block, fifteen inches by ten inches and about one-inch thick. Geller finds that his powers are improved by working on a large block of metal, and he soon felt sufficiently activated to attempt a bending without touching, in the same way as he had bent the molybdenum crystal. We laid out a collection of metal objects on the metal surface plate, and this time there was only one key; all the other objects were single crystals. These were of copper, zinc, silicon, germanium, chromium, nickel, and vanadium carbide.
In addition I laid out three encapsulated electron microscope foils, which Tony Lee had provided. When a specimen is viewed under an electron microscope, it must be thinned down to an extent that allows the beam of electrons to pass right through it. The specimen is formed into a disc of about 2.0 mm diameter, and 0.2 mm thickness; it is thinned down by special techniques until only ten or twenty atoms thick in the center, although its thickness at the edge is unchanged. I had been given three nickel crystal foils, and two of crystals of vanadium carbide V6C5. This material has the appearance of a metal, but it is harder than glass and rather brittle. The foils had been examined in the electron microscope, and so could be easily identified in a similar instrument. As is customary, each foil was encapsulated in a cellulose pill case, the sort that dissolves in the stomach and releases the powdered drug inside. These pill cases are made in two halves, one of which slides into the other. I had looked at the capsules when Geller had telephoned and had found the foils in good order, but I did not actually examine them closely when putting them out on the surface plate. The capsules had remained in their plastic box in a closed drawer of my desk in the meantime, and I had been in the room all the time. There was a strong presumption that they were unchanged, but in view of what was to happen I now regret this oversight; it detracts from an otherwise perfect session.
When all the specimens were laid out on the surface plate, I held my right hand, palm downward with outstretched fingers, a few inches above them, and Geller passed his right hand slowly above it. He said that the “power” could well be strongest in one particular place, and I might be able to sense where this was by feeling in my hand. Jack Sarfatti had experienced a sensation in his hand during the bending of the molybdenum, and Geller himself claims to have experienced sensations in his hands.
When Geller’s hand was directly above my knuckles, I swear I felt in them a warm sensation, as though I were experiencing strong diathermic heating. I wondered if this might be radiant heat from Geller’s hand being unusually hot, but a quick touch with my other hand told me that it was as cool as my own. So I said to Geller, “This is the exact place. Try to increase the ‘power’ here.” He concentrated, with his hand still above my knuckles, and the capsule that was directly below them gave a little jump, like a jumping bean. I did not see this, since I could not see through my own hand; Ted Bastin reported it. Then I removed my hand, and I myself saw, below where my knuckles bad been, the capsule give a little jump. Geller removed his hand, which had been about eight inches above the surface plate. Bastin and I examined the capsule without opening it, and found that although the capsule was undamaged only half the foil was there. A photograph of the fractured foil appears in Plate 52. Bastin took the capsule containing the fractured foil at once, and Geller never touched it. Bastin did not open it; he was going to Cambridge, and could ask Tony Lee to view it in the electron microscope.
I did not know quite how seriously to take my warmed knuckles, or how to answer the question of whether the effect was of physical origin or was purely psychological. I did experience slight discomfort in the knuckles for about two hours.
We searched the desk, which had been cleared for the session, and as much of the office as we could, but we could not find the other half of the foil. We decided to leave the office immediately, and arrange for a thorough vacuum cleaning of the desk and carpet. Fortunately, vanadium is fairly rare and small quantities of it can be detected by neutron activation analysis.
It is true that we never saw the half-foil reappear, but it did disappear under circumstances that led us to think conjuring was out of the question.
Next day Ted Bastin telephoned me from Cambridge; he said that Tony Lee and he had opened the capsule and examined the half-foil under the electron microscope. No substitution had taken place. The foil displayed a brittle fracture in the 100 plane, with a small proportion of conchoidal fracture. This would be typical of the mechanical failure of a brittle crystal such as vanadium carbide. The crystal is face-centered-cubic (as is common salt), with a superlattice of vacancies sufficient to make up the stoichiometric formula V6C5. Some small facets or ridges about 200 Angstrom across were recognized running along the crystal; these might have arisen from a previous heat treatment, or as remnants of a cleavage in the 100 plane, or from polish damage, or they may have been oxide.
Lee and Bastin also examined the other encapsulated vanadium carbide foil, and tried to fracture it with pliers, holding it in tissue paper in a vise. It was a slow and delicate operation, and despite great care the broken half of the foil flew in the air and could not be found. The crystals are extremely springy, being under internal stress, so that they will fly apart rather than fall apart.
I supervised the vacuum cleaning of the office floor; the sweepings were sent off to Professor Henry Wilson at the Scottish Universities Reactor Centre for vanadium analysis by neutron activation. His colleague Dr. Mitley reported a high level (29 ± 6 micro grams vanadium in a 5 g sample), which at first surprised me. However, my shoes might have deposited this amount after my visits to the college workshops. Vanadium is present in small quantities in many types of steel, and therefore in the turnings and filings on a workshop floor. I am still sampling my floor sweepings to see what the typical vanadium level is.
David Bohm pointed out that the vanadium might actually have passed into the steel of the surface plate; I therefore arranged for drillings both from the center and from the edge of the underside of the surface plate to be analyzed. The levels were both 0.270 ± 0.016% of vanadium; this figure is below the maximum of 0.4% found in some types of steel. I concluded that there was no evidence that the vanadium had passed into the surface plate.
But from the session I had learned that genuinely rare elements and tracer elements may be useful in the study of metal-bending and disappearance phenomena.
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