ON THE ISSUE OF URI GELLER AND HIS CLAIMS
by William E. Cox, The Institute for Parapsychology, Foundation for Research on the Nature of Man, Durham, North Carolina.
This paper is a follow-up to the previous article by the same author. In it, Cox presents a more detailed and thoughtful discussion of Geller’s talents and personality; Cox also suggests fruitful routes for future research. Can Geller, for instance, heal wounds that have been intentionally inflicted on laboratory mice? Can Geller affect the growth rate of plants? (Researchers working with other subjects have reported such phenomena. See Bernard Grad, “Some biological effects of the ‘laying on of hands’. A review of experiments with animals and plants,” Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, Vol. 50, 1965, 95-127.) And can Geller, by his mere presence, transmit a temporary paranormal ability to a person physically near him – a phenomenon, if it exists, that parapsychologists call telergy?
Published for the first time, with the permission of the author.
WHEN ONE CONSIDERS the effects reportedly produced by Uri Geller, there are a number of factors, both pro and con, that seem to stand out. It may be helpful for any future study if these are brought together in brief outline.
First, there is the fact that in GESP, just as in his PK efforts at metal bending, etc., Geller appears quite gifted. His clairvoyant drawings have been demonstrated to about the same high degree of significance as has been shown in past experience with selected psychic sensitives This parallel excellence in both physical and mental psi domains supports the view that favors the existence of a basic relation, and interaction, between these two traditionally distinct divisions. It is interesting to note that a number of other sensitives have also displayed both mental and physical psi phenomena.
One thing that is needed now is a study to determine the limiting factors in Geller’s psi capacities. The scope of his ability should be examined, using not only metals (as has been done), but film and the possible movement or levitation of selected objects, and by investigating other effects that Geller has not yet displayed (such as healing, which, for example, could be tried out on laboratory mice).
One effect Geller does claim to have, but one that occurs so infrequently that no bounds of credibility can be established, [The nature of these bounds is a question to be pursued, granted one gains Geller’s cooperation and understanding.] is the acceleration of plant growth and plant withering.
The only effect of Geller’s that is quite novel in the history of psi phenomena appears to be his bending of metal. (In the case of a steel key bent by Geller while the key was under my direct control, it was later determined that a pressure of forty pounds at the point of the bend was required to cause such a deformation; or 100 pounds beneath my finger, that is, near the actual key-end fulcrum, could have caused the bend. But I felt no increase in upward pressure throughout the test.)[ See the previous paper by W. E. Cox for a description of the test.]
Another important route that should be pursued with Geller, both in ESP and PK, is “telergy,” that is, the telepathic transmitting of a psi percept to other persons – such as clairvoyant card-hitting suddenly manifesting itself in the investigator. Unlike some practitioners discussed in the literature, Geller may not know if he can do this except during television performances. The latter example, assuming that some of the reports concerning it are reliable, is itself another Geller innovation because it involves PK rather than GESP.
Perusal of available literature on the scientific study of Geller has shown that investigators confined their attention mainly to the question of how fraud conceivably might have been employed, and presumed it on slight evidence (some quite absurd), excluding much analytical scrutiny. Perhaps this is because physics researchers, teachers, and writers seem, to date, to have taken a greater interest in Geller than have parapsychologists. It also may be one of the reasons why he has been both disillusioned and, in my opinion, underinvestigated.
A helpful means of partially settling the question of fraud and deception would be a study of the video-tape records that have been made of the efforts of skilled magicians in competition with Geller on television – provided Geller’s performance, which a magician replicates, is included in the sequence (inserted from earlier films or, preferably, conducted on the same occasion). The chief value of video sequences, I believe, is not just certification, nor is it the providing of means for subsequent scrutiny, by skeptics, of Geller’s every move and manipulation. Its value is that it would allow for a comparison of manipulations. Superiority of one over others is not difficult to detect if they are seen together.
To the question, “Will there be a distinct difference in the outward appearance if Geller uses psi and a magician uses sleights?” the answer is exceedingly likely to be yes. Take ESP drawings, for example: if only ESP is involved, Geller here could (and he does) draw his design in advance of the opening of a sealed target design, and be carefully filmed as he does so. The magician seen replicating that specific effect a few moments later cannot allow actual film coverage of his own drawing (unless he bribes the investigator and camera technicians), and would be forced to conceal from others and from camera the face of his drawing board until shortly after the hidden target has been exposed for checkup. (Note: There are means of invisibly copying a target. If there were not, he would fail to score a hit at all.)
When the magician, alone, has used the technique of concealing the drawing board, it may be deemed impressive evidence against Geller’s claims “to do the same thing” paranormally. When, however, both performers are seen, the fraudulent means of the magician probably will differ so distinctly from Geller’s as to be easily distinguished as inferior; nor, in this situation, is any training in sleight of hand very necessary to spot the differences.
In the several competitive TV demonstrations I have watched, the magician was excelled by Geller. The demonstrations included metal bendings. Here the most significant of several differences, which seemed implicit to me, was that the magician was more concerned than Geller about knowing (probably in advance) exactly what was to be bent.
Another good example of a conspicuous difference between the “skill” of Geller and that of magicians happens to lie in the abnormal movements of watch hands. I have seen magicians Kreskin and the Amazing Randi on television hold a borrowed watch, point to the time, turn it over, return it to the owner while making some patter, then successfully “command” the hands to move. In both cases there was clear opportunity for them surreptitiously to twist the winding crown and push it back in from the setting position to which it could have been pulled at the moment they received it. This is so crude, since it is patently the only practical means, that almost any viewer could figure how it was done; and accordingly the trick has literally died aborning among Geller’s imitators.
If, however, at Geller’s hands, this “trick” has become a classic (and he has, as often as not, refrained from touching watches), then there obviously are very good odds that this is not simply because he is a more adroit magician.
It is not possible to answer the question of whether Geller has ever resorted to trickery. There are precedents for this among known psi sensitives in the past. My own negative opinion is only deductive: why would he use such sleights for unique effects that are not easy to palm off without skill – a skill he is not reliably known to have learned, accusations to the contrary notwithstanding. Even if rumors to this effect, which stem from early stage appearances, were substantiated, they would have no specific bearing on whether he did or did not use deceit on a given occasion. If it should develop that on some occasion he is indeed caught doing so, one need only recall that there are various precedents; such human tendencies exist, however unfortunately. Hence, “Once a fraud, always a fraud” may be inaccurate and a wasteful theory.
Magicians in particular can be as rigidly prejudiced against ESP and PK, and just as unwilling to refrain from holding any opinion, as were the clergy when, for example, Galileo tried to convince them that the sun was the real center of our universe. There are two attitudes strongly held by an inordinate number of magicians, as I have said in a paper on the subject. [“Parapsychology and Magicians,” W. E. Cox, Parapsychology Review, Vol. 5, No. 3, May-June, 1974.] One is expressed in their derisive reaction – “What’s the gimmick?” – when a paranormal claim (such as Geller’s) is called to their attention. The other, a fairly pervasive attitude (though often concealed) manifests itself in the “I can, you can’t” syndrome. Perhaps, however, the second of the two is also held by most ESP sensitives as well, including Geller.
There still remain some dichotomies, and one cited here may be useful. If Geller is competent at ESP and PK, and therein certified to the degrees claimed, why is there so seldom any evidence for his claim of the passage of matter through matter? Enough of this has been reported by Geller to be tantalizing, [“A Brief Outline of the Psi Phenomena Reportedly Effected by Uri Geller,” W. E. Cox, Feb. 1974. Unpublished. Case Nos. 29, 34, and 36.] but it has been done so, nearly always, unexpectedly or informally and cannot, therefore, be considered as adequately and reliably witnessed. Furthermore, Geller now has the pair of unlinked rings, made of unseamed leathers, that he gladly accepted from me nearly a year ago. He conceded that the value of linking them permanently, without damage, would exceed that of any other matter-through-matter effect; but to date I have heard nothing more about the rings.
The psychological requirements for the production of psi effects are known to be very delicate, and particularly so for the production of comparatively strong psi evidence. Accordingly, there is no element of surprise in the fact that Uri Geller is relatively ineffective in the presence of magicians, if they are known to him to be such. At times, too, he has been very hesitant about honoring requests from organized or ad hoc research groups, being naturally concerned about the possibility of failure and its imagined effects. On the occasion when I myself examined his physical claims in a private demonstration, Geller had not been told that I was either an amateur magician or associated with the Institute for Parapsychology, but only that I had a special interest in the physical branch of psychical research; and he gave no reason to think he suspected either of my associations (notwithstanding his apparent mind-reading abilities).
In due time, the suggestions in this paper will perhaps be added to those of other investigators, and the necessary arrangements made for a more intensive study of this exceptionally gifted individual, Uri Geller. If he is not, in fact, possessed of inordinate psi capacities, then he is unquestionably more expert a magician than any professional twice his age – if my experience during four decades in the fields of both magic and parapsychology is any criterion.
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