URI GELLER’S METAL PHENOMENA: AN EYEWITNESS ACCOUNT
by A. R. G. Owen, Ph.D., Executive Director,
New Horizons Research Foundation, Toronto, Ontario.
A. R. G. Owen has been a lecturer in mathematics at the University of Bristol, England, and Head of the Department of Genetics at Cambridge University, England. He has published more than twenty papers on mathematics, genetics, and parapsychological research. Currently, Dr. Owen is Vice-President and Executive Director of the New Horizons Research Foundation in Canada, an organization that performs parapsychological research.
The reader will understand, from this paper, that Dr. Owen’s observations of Geller were obtained under less than desirable conditions: in a television studio before a live audience. This is not to say that Owen was deceived or that Geller accomplished his feats through legerdemain. Rather, these words of caution are given only to make it clear that Owen’s report on Geller does not constitute proof of paranormal happenings. As is true of the other informal reports contained in this book, Owen’s paper appears here because he is a respected scientist who is completely convinced of the genuineness of Geller’s talents.
Published in New Horizons journal, vol. 1, No. 4, July 1974.
The purpose of this paper is to report observations of Mr. Uri Geller’s metal-
bending and -breaking phenomena made by myself and others on the afternoon of Friday, March 8, 1974. The conditions in which these phenomena occurred were such as to convince the audience that these phenomena were paranormal and totally genuine. This, by itself, is well worth putting on record. However, there are certain additional circumstances, which, so far as I and my wife (Iris Owen) were concerned, had the effect of making Uri’s presentation not merely a convincing demonstration, but also an experiment with a considerable degree of control. To put the matter simply: in the event, out of the large number of metal objects present in the room, it so happened that the objects – a fork and two keys – that were bent or divided were ones that my wife and I had brought to the studio. As will be explained, we knew their condition right up to the moment when Uri’s presentation commenced. The nature of the objects was also so highly individual that there was no possibility of anyone’s having substituted like, but prepared, objects for them without the substitution having been subsequently detected. Thus, from the viewpoint of my wife and myself the presentation constituted an experiment in which beyond reasonable doubt Mr. Geller’s metal phenomena were genuine and paranormal. Having reached this conclusion, we feel it to be our duty to say so, both in fairness to Mr. Geller and because what we have to say may be of value to those serious students of paranormal phenomena who will place some reliance on our opinion. The progress of parapsychology has, I believe, often been retarded by the failure of responsible investigators sometimes to report what they have found.
The Background to the Presentation
Mr. Geller arrived in Toronto about Tuesday, March 5. It had been previously agreed with Miss Joan Schafer, producer of several programs for CITY-TV (Channel 79), that, if possible, he would record an interview that would be broadcast in due course. In the event, Uri’s schedule in Toronto proved to be a heavy one. Finally, however, he agreed to the interview, provided that there was only a small audience, which should include the “Philip” group, [The “Philip” group is a collection of eight people who have trained themselves over a number of years jointly to produce psychokinetic phenomena. In 1975, after hearing of the exploits of Uri Geller, they added metal-bending to their PK repertoire. For further information see: New Horizons Journal Vol. 1. No. 3, Jan. 1974; Vol. 2, No. 1, Apr. 1975.] of whose work in producing physical phenomena (see Owen and Sparrow, 1974) he had learned, and in which he expressed great interest. It had further been agreed by Joan Schafer that the Toronto Society for Psychical Research should advise on how the interview and any experiment or demonstration should be set up.
I should explain that prior to this I had seen no demonstrations of metal- bending phenomena by Uri either alive or recorded except the bending of a spoon shown in a film made at the Stanford Research Institute. However, I had formed an estimate of Uri based on informative articles such as those of Alan Vaughan (1974), the direct testimony of investigators who had experienced his phenomena at very close quarters, and finally from a television interview by Miss Pat Murphy of Toronto CTV, broadcast live on the morning of March 7. Though I had not yet met him in person, I gained the impression that Uri is an honest and sincere person, and that his phenomena were quite likely to be paranormal and genuine. Indeed, the oddities and vagaries of some of the phenomena and the way in which they were manifested were in themselves exceptionally convincing, as these peculiarities entirely fitted the general picture of paranormal phenomena that I had built up over the years.
In a discussion with Joan Schafer and Pat Murphy (who was to conduct the interview) I therefore impressed on them my conviction that Uri’s phenomena might well be totally genuine. It was agreed, therefore, that the presentation should be conducted entirely as a sympathetic interview, without overtly expressed hostility (and, so far as could be managed, without suppressed hostility, because, as I pointed out, Uri could possibly sense our thoughts). The aim would be primarily to let Uri talk about his phenomena and how they seemed to him both in their mode of occurrence and in their possible significance. This alone would be thoroughly worthwhile. However, we also thought it likely that in a genuinely friendly atmosphere Uri might well successfully demonstrate some of his phenomena. It was agreed that members of the audience should bring their own metal objects and that during the interview these should lie on a low table in front of Uri and Pat Murphy, in full view of the audience.
The Experimental Material
About 3:00 P.M. on Friday, March 8, my wife and I and five members of the Philip group, with two other members of the Toronto S.P.R., convened at CITY-TV studio. The audience was otherwise made up of some friends of Uri and some friends of Joan Schafer. On arrival I met Uri in the corridor and introduced myself briefly to him. He asked me to collect together plenty of “stuff” for him to work on, and to ask the audience to be actively “willing” for things to happen so that good phenomena would result. I looked through my own pockets and found some extra keys, while Uri went down to the make-up room. He passed through the basement cafe where the audience was congregated, and briefly said hello to them, and again asked them to actively “will” him to succeed.
The objects I had collected previously had been handed to Miss Valerie Elia of CITY-TV, who had put them with the other material brought by the audience on a bronze tray, which was resting on a low glass-topped table on the dais in front of the two chairs in which Uri and Pat Murphy would be seated during the interview. I deposited the extra keys on it; there were already about twenty metal articles and a few watches. The metal objects were some nails and large screws, spoons and knives, forks, car keys and door keys. I verified that all the objects I had brought (which will be specified later) were there. Also, I spent a few moments handling every object and verified that, so far as could be disclosed by visual inspection and application of moderate manual pressure, each object was a normal one of its type, not made of especially soft metal. It seemed clear to me that none of them had been prepared by cutting and rejoining with soft metal, glue, or pliable material.
Though I was not continuously in the studio thereafter I did, in fact, visit it several times while the studio was being made ready and the lights and cameras positioned. (Needless to say, during this period technical crews were in the studio all the time, and the focus of attention was the dais – so it would have been impossible for anyone to do anything to the objects on the tray without being observed.) Each time I came in I went to the tray and verified by a coup d’oeil that the objects were the same ones I had last seen. Finally, about two minutes before Uri and Pat Murphy took their places on the dais, I made a last inspection, confirming the objects were the same ones I had looked at originally. Meanwhile, Mrs. Adrienne Henwood had talked to Uri, who asked her to get still more material. She went to the basement and commandeered a further batch of house and car keys from the Philip group. Returning to the studio, she dropped this material on the tray and took her place in the studio audience only a matter of seconds before recording started. Uri and Pat had taken their places on the platform only a short time before. The tray on its table was at all times in the full view of the audience (and also of the TV cameras when they were on wide angle). After my final inspection I had kept the tray under continuous observation and saw that none of the objects had subsequently been handled by Uri or Pat or anyone else.
Until the first commercial break, the interview concerned itself with mental phenomena (telepathy, clairvoyance, etc.). It included an illustration of Uri’s ESP ability, which Uri stressed was only an illustration, not a rigorous experiment.
During the first commercial, matters began to take a different turn. My wife, who was sitting with Mrs. Sparrow and Bernice Mandryk on the top row of the set of wooden terraces provided for the accommodation of the audience, opened her purse and inspected her bunch of six keys of various kinds. Previously they had all been inspected by herself, Mrs. Henwood, Mrs. Sparrow, and Bernice Mandryk, and declared normal; this was in the basement after Uri had gone up to the studio. Though my wife and Uri might have passed one another in the studio while he and the audience were getting to their respective stations, there was certainly no further conversation or physical contact between them. She did not open her purse until the first break. To her surprise one of the six keys was noticeably bent at a point about a quarter of an inch from the haft. This key was of the Yale type and was stamped “Reilly’s Lock Corp. Ltd. Toronto.” The angle of bending appeared to me to be about twenty-five degrees of arc. The key (which was not removed from the bunch) was inspected by myself, Iris, Mrs. Sparrow, and Bernice. We called out to Uri, who asked that it be brought down to him. He looked at it, held it in front of the cameras, then tossed the whole bunch of keys to a point on the carpeted floor about four feet away from him, and said, “Let’s look at it again later.” It should be reiterated that this was the only occasion on which he had touched or even seen this key.
When the interview was resumed, Uri discussed his ability to rehabilitate broken watches. He picked out two “fob,” or “turnip,” watches (which Pat confirmed were not working), placed them on the table top, and made about two passes over them with his hands. Pat testified to the fact that they immediately started ticking. I mention this for interest only, as the matter was not investigated in depth.
Uri next talked about his metal-bending ability. He casually picked up and replaced several of the spoons and forks on the tray. Finally, he selected a fork about seven inches in length. He asked Pat to hold it in such a way that the whole of the stem would be visible to the audience and cameras. This was achieved by Pat’s holding the blade part of the fork between her thumb and forefinger, these digits being in contact with the outermost prongs of the fork. The blade was thus broadside to these fingers. The fork was oriented broadside to the audience. Then Uri, using the tips of the thumb and forefinger of his right hand, gently “massaged” a section of the stem of the fork, the traverse of his fingertips being about three quarters of an inch. The portion of the stem that he stroked was situated just below the blade. It was the part narrowest in width. However (as we ascertained later), the thickness was the same as that of the rest of the stem, which in this respect was uniform throughout its length. Uri first said that he thought nothing was going to happen. Then he smiled and nodded and said, “It’s going” (or words to that effect). With the thumb and finger of his right hand he held the bottom of the stem and gently waggled it. The stem moved relative to the blade (which Pat kept immobile), thus showing the audience that the section he was stroking had lost its rigidity. So that this could be seen more clearly Uri asked Pat to present the profile of the fork to the audience. Then, holding the narrow portion of the stem in the thumb and finger of his right hand and the end of the stem with his left thumb and finger, with what appeared to be minimal effort he waggled the stem to and fro, the blade being kept immobile. The total angle traversed between extreme positions appeared to me to exceed forty degrees. After five or six wagglings he released the bottom of the stem and pushed it lightly with his fingertip. The stem suddenly parted at a point in the portion that Uri had stroked, and fell to the floor of the dais. Uri picked it up and handed the two parts to Pat Murphy. When the applause had subsided she read the inscription on the stem; it said “Koba, Stainless, Japan.” It was at this stage that I reaised the fork was one that I myself had brought from home.
The day previous to the interview I had taken this fork, together with two others (of dull gray metal not matching the first one and stamped “1847 Rogers Bros., I.S.”) from the kitchen cutlery, also two old spoons. I supplemented this collection of expendable material with a couple of long steel screws and some derelict watches. Oddly enough, I did not notice that among the forks of various vintages we had a second “Koba” fork – the exact mate of the one that Uri had divided. I discovered this only on returning home with my material, which I had recovered from the tray the moment that the recording ceased. I was pleased that the divided fork had a mate because it affords a good comparison of the “before and after” states of the object. I need hardly point out that the “Koba” forks are somewhat out of date and so are relatively individual objects. Even if, for the sake of argument, it were supposed that despite the considerable evidence to the contrary Uri had substituted a prepared “Koba” fork for the one on the tray, the odds against his selecting one by chance for this purpose are astronomically large. A severe critic might argue that conceivably Uri knew by extrasensory perception that a “Koba” fork would be there and obtained one by teleportation; but this would be a rather self-defeating criticism.
After his success with the fork, Uri noticed two keys on the tray. These I immediately recognized because they were not on a key ring but were tied by string to a buff-colored cardboard label. These keys were, in fact, unique. They were both of the long variety stamped “YALE, The Yale and Towne Mfg. Co., Made in England.” One of them was stamped “RKC 25A 13.” It was a Fellow’s key of Trinity College, Cambridge, issued to me many years before. The number 13 was its own individual number and is registered as issued to: me personally. The other key is also a unique object. It formerly opened a door in the Department of Genetics, Cambridge, and bore the individual number 6 as well as a type number, 8150. The label bore an annotation in my handwriting done in (now rather faded) blue ink: “T.C.C. Gen. Cambridge U.K.” Remarking that these seemed an interesting pair of keys, Uri picked them up by the label without touching the keys themselves. It was then noticed that the Genetics Department key was in process of bending. This was actually seen by the audience and by the TV cameras in close-up. Uri supported this key with a finger of his other hand. It continued to bend and finally stopped at about fifteen degrees of are. (See Plates 49 and 50.)
By now we had reached the second commercial break. Uri suggested that the bunch of keys, including the bent: Reilly key, be put, together with other material that the audience still had in its pockets, in a pile at the back of the audience. This was done; the pile was made on the back seat between Mrs. Sparrow and me. Uri then answered three questions put by members of the audience. Then he suggested that the pile be looked at. It was discovered that only the top half of the Reilly key was still attached to the bunch. The blade had separated from it, the metal being divided at a point close to the original bend, an operation that normally would require either a hacksaw or a cold chisel and mallet. The blade was found among the other keys in the pile.
When the fork and the Reilly key were examined, it was noted that they were divided at their narrowest points, which suggests that the paranormal forces responsible tend to be applied in conformity with a principle of least effort.
The selection of our own fork can doubtless be put down to chance. The pair of Cambridge keys were eye-catching and it may well be that Uri picked them out just because they looked interesting. It is just conceivable that Uri chose these objects intuitively. I was certainly concerned that the interview should constitute what, for me, would be a good experiment, After the recording Uri talked to various members of the audience. He said to Iris that it was she who had (paranormally) bent and broken the Reilly key. This is indeed possible, though mysterious, because similar events, reported from England, suggest that Uri can temporarily endow other people with the metalbending ability. Among the items on the tray was an old-fashioned teaspoon contributed by Mrs. Sparrow. It was of a very standard design and previously had nested in perfect congruity with a spoon of similar vintage. When Mrs. Sparrow retrieved it, it appeared normal, but back at home, after a period of an hour or so, it was visibly bent. When inspected later it was still more curved. When the process terminated there was a gap of half an inch between the middle of this spoon and its mate when they were in juxtaposition. (See Plate 51.)
Owen, Iris M. and Margaret H. Sparrow, “Generation of paranormal physical phenomena in connection with an imaginary communicator,” New Horizons Journal, 1, No. 3, 6-18, 1974.
Vaughan, Alan, “The phenomena of Uri Geller,” Psychic, 4, No. 5, June, 13-18, 1973.
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“There is no spoon!”
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“Uri Geller gave an absolutely resonating talk on his life and career. He had every single magician in the room on the edge of their seats trying to digest as much information as they could. Uri emphasized that the path to frame is through uniqueness and charisma and that professional entertainers must be creative in their pursuits of success and never shy away from publicity.”
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“The man is a natural magician. He does everything with great care, meticulous misdirection and flawless instinct. The nails are real, the keys are really borrowed, the envelopes are actually sealed, there are no stooges, there are no secret radio devices and there are no props from the magic catalogues.”
James Randi (In an open letter to Abracadabra Magazine)
Sir Elton John
“Eternity is down the hall And you sit there bending spoons In your mind, in your mind”
“I Have watched Uri Geller… I have seen that so I am a believer. It was my house key and the only way I would be able to use it is get a hammer and beat it out back flat again.”
“Better than watching Geller bending silver spoons, better than witnessing new born nebulae’s in bloom”