by Thelma Moss, Ph.D., The Neuropsychiatric Institute,
Center for the Health Sciences,
University of California at Los Angeles.
Thelma Moss is a psychologist and head of parapsychological research at the U.C.L.A. Neuropsychiatric Institute. Her first book, Myself and I, was a groundbreaker on the use of LSD in psychotherapy, and her most recent book, The Probability of the Impossible, surveys current research in parapsychology throughout the world. She is well known for her pioneering work in Kirlian photography, and was among the first American scientists to visit behind the Iron Curtain with Russian parapsychologists.
The work reported here was conducted in June 1975. Thelma Moss makes it clear in her own introduction to the paper that it was not possible to impose “adequate scientific controls” during the experimentation. Geller visited the UCLA laboratory without giving much advance notice, and Moss had to improvise a good many of the tests that were conducted. Another drawback to the Kirlian photography research presented here, and one made clear by Moss, is that the color photographs had to be taken in a darkroom, making it impossible to absolutely rule out any sleight of hand that may have been attempted by Geller or by a research assistant. Though Moss believes that no such trick occurred, she admits that she cannot offer proof. Her paper appears here as a “subjective description” of the events that took place in her laboratory.
Published for the first time, with the permission of the author.
It becomes increasingly clear that the most significant thing about Uri Geller is not Uri Geller. Rather, it is his influence on various persons around the world, This is the simple fact now being studied by distinguished scientists in England, Japan, Germany, and the United States. Some of these scientists have been fortunate enough have to work for weeks or months with Geller – or persons who have learned to emulate the Geller Effect – under controlled laboratory conditions and can offer splendid scientific data to substantiate their findings. Our UCLA lab cannot. We had only two brief sessions with Geller in which we seemed to see several paranormal events – all without adequate scientific controls. Therefore, we simply wish to present a subjective description of the events that took place in our lab first on a Saturday afternoon in June 1975, from 3:00 P.M. to 5:30 P.M. and then on the following Monday night from 10:30 P.M. to midnight.
After which report some observations:
When we heard, suddenly that Uri Geller had agreed to visit the lab, we were caught off-guard. Naturally we were all familiar with his repertoire of Amazing Acts: bending and breaking heavy metals by stroking them, starting watches and appliances that had not functioned for years, sending and receiving telepathic messages, materializing and dematerializing objects, etc. Many magicians had, of course, claimed they could perform these “miracles,” which were simply magic tricks. Certainly in conservative scientific circles, Geller was more infamous than famous, and the popular hypothesis was that he represented the Complete Charlatan. We reaised that in one session (which was all that had been promised) it would be impossible to answer the numerous charges of fraud, sleight of hand, and chicanery. We merely hoped to witness one or two of his more celebrated phenomena firsthand. Although we doubted even that possibility. For in our research we have learned, that psychics cannot turn their talents on and off on command, and they seem especially impotent in the laboratory, unless there is a trusting, comfortable atmosphere in which success is not demanded. On one occasion, Geller had been unable to perform any of his talents on a national TV program. Why assume he could demonstrate them in our lab, under more rigorous conditions, in a space of two hours?
Nevertheless, we had made arrangements for some controlled studies. We knew Geller claimed to bend, and break, heavy metal objects by stroking them. Could he bend or break them without touching the metal? Barry Taff, in cooperation with the Physics Department, had obtained various metals, which had been encased in glass vials and tightly sealed. They were ready in the lab. Previous experiments by Grad, Smith, Dean, and others(1,2,3) had shown that chemicals could change markedly as the result of psychic healers’ “charging” such substances through glass bottles. Since Geller seemed dramatically to change metals, could he also change the chemistry of liquids? John Hubacher had obtained some vials of ethyl alcohol, and they were, too, ready in the lab. Since Geller was famous for mending broken watches, and since we typically obtain best results by starting with a task at which a psychic is most at ease, associates had brought to the lab two wrist watches and two clocks, none of which had functioned in over a year. Also ready to be stroked was a large quantity of heavy stainless steel cutlery.
A major research interest in the lab is Kirlian photography, which requires neither camera nor lens to record its curious pictures; it sends an electrical charge into the object being photographed. Kirlian photography is probably as controversial a research area as Uri Geller, some scientists claiming that the emanations that appear around fingers, leaves, metals (or anything at all) are merely an electrical artifact, or the commonplace “corona discharge.” (In our experience we have found that corona discharge is indeed a major component, but does nothing to explain results like the “phantom leaf effect ” as illustrated in Plate 19.) We knew that Geller had participated in a few Kirlian experiments; in fact, we had in the lab the slides shown in Plates 20 and 21, taken two years previously by Henry Dakin and James Hickman in San Francisco.(4) Plate 20 shows Geller’s fingertip at rest, below Dakin’s watch. Plate 21 shows Geller “sending energy” toward the watch. One can see a “spurt” emerging from the fingertip. In the hope that Geller would agree to a similar study, our Kirlian equipment was ready in the isolation booth (which also serves as a photographic studio and darkroom). Also ready in the booth were chemicals for instant development of the film, should Geller agree.
By two-thirty, last-minute details were being set straight, accompanied by scoffing comments to the effect that Geller was notoriously unreliable and would fail to appear. At which time the phone rang. It was a friend of Geller’s, announcing that they had just finished lunch at the village drugstore and were unable to find the lab. Immediately two attractive volunteers were sent to bring them. Uri arrived, therefore, not promptly but ahead of time. First surprise.
The second surprise was his enthusiasm and knowledge of our research. The third was his immediate appraisal of the lab. He looked at the array of cutlery and watches on the table and said he was not interested in demonstrating his usual bag of tricks. He wanted, rather, to see if any kind of energy, emanating from him, could be photographed with the Kirlian device. “What kind of controlled study can I do with Kirlian?” he asked. Immediately I flashed on the projector and showed the two Dakin/Hickman slides (Plates 20 and 21). Uri studied the slides, puzzled. “But what are, these pictures?” he asked. Apparently, when this study had been done, in Geller’s hotel, the film had been taken away to be processed, and Uri had never seen the results. I expressed surprise, but Uri shrugged, explaining that he had done only casual work with Kirlian photography, with “inconclusive results.” He was hoping for controlled studies with us.
I was suddenly, oddly, off-guard. Typically we spend thirty minutes making a psychic comfortable. After ten minutes, Uri was suggesting research in an area with which he was unfamiliar (and threatened because, he told us, he had been afraid of electricity ever since, as a child, he had been badly shocked while playing with his mother’s electric sewing machine). I suggested a variation of the Dakin/Hickman study: we would bring a broken clock into the booth, place it on film, and Uri would attempt to “heal” it by placing his finger on the film, not touching the clock, but “sending energy” into it. Uri agreed and entered the booth eagerly -but was immediately intimidated by the machinery inside. It took many trials before he was convinced he would not be shocked. When he finally saw that the device was harmless, he asked to begin. Approximately ten observers (chiefly lab associates) crowded into the booth, the door was closed, and all the lights turned out except for the red safe light, which can be on when we use special orthochromatic film.
There began a long series of trials, which were failures. Uri tried to “send energy” into the broken clock. When he felt that the energy was there, he would shout “NOW!!” and I would press the button to take the picture. Then I picked up the clock with one hand, and with the other hand picked up the film and handed it to John, who was developing each piece of film after each trial. We were searching for the “spurt of energy,” like the one in Plate 21. It did not appear for twenty-two trials. Perhaps to relieve the mounting frustration, Ruth Williams, who had brought the clock, picked it up and announced, “It’s going!” Uri shouted, “NO!!” grabbed the clock from her and held it to his ear, then promptly held it to my ear. I could hear it ticking loudly and steadily. Everyone in the booth took turns listening to its regular ticking, making excited comments.
Here, an interlude to complete the watch phenomenon. That clock kept perfect time for five weeks before it stopped again. What was more peculiar, a second travelling clock, which had been brought into the booth and put aside as unsuitable for the experiment, started going, without ever being touched. Uri also mended two wrist watches that afternoon, one of which had not worked in eight years. But by far the most inexplicable phenomenon happened the following
Monday afternoon, when my daughter Pauli and I watched Uri on a local TV program. On the show, Uri asked people in their homes to bring watches or clocks or broken appliances in front of their TV sets, saying that this phenomenon of repair was not his exclusive power, since somehow – he did not know how – people in the TV audience could perform the same “healing.” On impulse, I went to my jewel box and brought to the TV set a gold watch that I had been wearing as a pendant for the past sixteen years, since in all that time it had never functioned as a timepiece. I gave the watch to Pauli to hold. She did, but toward the end of the demonstration it was still not working. Pauli handed the watch to me, saying it was very pretty and she would like it as a birthday present. I agreed. She added that she would like me to have it repaired, and I agreed again. Then, as Uri was saying his goodbyes, I absently lifted the watch to my car. It was ticking steadily. I said to Pauli, “It’s going.” She said, “Don’t be silly.” I handed it to her, and she heard it. Startled, she said, “But how could that happen?!” (She is a Harvard student.) I couldn’t answer her, of course. The watch has been functioning ever since.
Uri had repaired five watches and clocks taken from our lab alone. Let us freely grant that he may have been performing some legerdemain in the lab. That explanation cannot suffice for the remote TV watch repair, a phenomenon, incidentally, that has been repeated in many cities and countries. (See Appendix.)
In spite of the general excitement, I felt disappointed. I had hoped that whatever energy Uri had used to start that first travelling, clock would be recorded in the Kirlian photography. It was not. Uri was similarly dissatisfied, and suggested we continue to try for the Kirlian effect. He felt he could succeed in demonstrating the energy on film, but that it might take one hundred failures before we obtained one success. Would that be all right? Of course. Usually, in psychical research, we achieve at least a dozen failures for each success.
Uri now began working with a key placed at the top of the film; his finger was at the bottom. Again a long series of failures. But eventually John, who had been developing each piece of film as I handed it to him, suddenly said quietly, “It’s there.” Uri shouted his characteristic “NO!!” And reached to see the film. But the red light in the booth is dim, and he could not make out what was on the film. I suggested a break, so that we could go into the light and study the picture. But Uri, with his swift impatience, rejected the idea. He felt he might now have a handle on the “energy,” and he proposed a series of trials, three of which would be control pictures (for which he would not attempt to send energy), and three experimental pictures (for which he would try to achieve the effect). On each of the “energy” pictures the effect appeared, to a greater or lesser degree, and nothing unusual was observed in the control pictures. The best of this series is printed here in Plate 22; and Plate 23 gives a close-up of Uri’s finger pad, with energy spurt.
It should be strongly emphasized that the red dimness in the booth makes sleight of hand easy indeed. There is no way, therefore, that we can rule out fraud in these Kirlian pictures.
We left the booth to examine the negatives in the light. Uri was delighted with what he saw and asked me to explain the phenomenon. I laughed and asked him to explain what he had done. He shook his head and laughed, too. Stimulated by the success, he said he would like to try a telepathy experiment. We had made plans for such an experiment, should the opportunity for it arise. Three students – Judy Orloff, Kerry Gaynor, and Ruth Brady – were to go to my office, five floors below the lab. There, when they received my phone call, they were to draw on a piece of paper a number between one and ten (chosen randomly, of course). Uri would try to receive the number in the isolation booth, where he would remain with me. During this time, Uri agreed to keep his finger on a Kirlian device that we use to take moving pictures. (It was hoped that the number, should Uri receive it, would appear in the emanations around his fingertip. We obtained good movies of his finger which looked no different from a normal, healthy fingertip in Kirlian cinematography.)
After the telephone signal was given, Uri reported seeing the Star of David, and after a few more minutes said that the only other impression he received was the infinity sign (oo). Finally he said he had failed in the experiment, for he had received no other impressions. He asked me to call down to the office to find out what the number was. When Judy answered the phone, I said, “Uri didn’t get a number, His only impressions were the Star of David and the infinity sign.” Judy laughed. “We all said he’d get the infinity sign! The number was eight – and as we looked at it, we said it looked like the infinity sign.”
Success? We like to think so – even though the telepathic impression had arrived, as it frequently does, with primary process distortion. We felt more secure about the success when the students brought to the lab the piece of paper on which the eight had been written. It looked very similar to the infinity sign Uri had written in the booth.
Collusion? Possible, certainly. Scientific research – and, recently, parapsychological research – has been plagued with a few dishonest scientists. Another possibility, widely hypothesized, is that Geller wears a miniature transistor radio in his teeth and can hear what is occurring in remote places. More plausible, perhaps, is that Geller was employing a magic trick. Magicians claim this is an effect they can easily duplicate. This was the best controlled of our studies that day – and one can see how easily the controls can be shot down.
The “infinity sign” success had charged the lab with excitement. But suddenly the sweet sounds of success were drowned by friction. It was discovered that an observer in the lab, a professional photographer from a magazine that had published exposes on Geller, had been taking pictures of the day’s events. Geller was angry that the photographer had been allowed in the lab. (I had agreed that he come, with the provision that he take no pictures.) During this fracas, Uri and the photographer went into the hall. While I was wondering what to do, they reappeared. Uri was now holding the photographer’s key chain, saying he would bend whichever key the photographer selected. (Barry Taff quickly turned on the video tape to record the event, should it occur. It did.) The photographer, delighted, chose a key, which Uri stroked gently. Barry exclaimed, “I can see it bending” Uri replied quietly, focusing on the key, “No, no. No one can see it bend.” Eventually, we could all easily see that the key had been deformed to an angle of approximately forty degrees. The photographer was so enchanted that he surrendered the roll of film he had shot.
Another collusion? Between Uri and the photographer, a “stooge”? Why not? Their violent argument could have been contrived so that they would disappear into the hall, where Uri could rub chemicals on the key (another frequently offered hypothesis). Once again, we had no adequate controls for this example of psychokinesis.
After all this excitement, Uri had developed a headache. I suggested that one of our lab members, a medical doctor doing research on the “laying on of hands,” give Uri a healing. Uri went into the isolation booth with the doctor, who emerged in less than a minute, smiling and saying, “Uri’s pain is gone.” Uri came to the door of the booth, a bemused expression on his face. “How does he do that?” he asked.
A high point: Uri Geller asking how someone else can do something . . .
More than two hours had passed and I had to leave for an evening lecture. Uri was exhilarated, and stood in the hall with John and Barry, talking about the possibility of returning for further experiments. (Neither Barry’s metals encased in glass nor john’s chemicals had been touched.) I left them chatting and missed a dramatic episode:
Early in the day a physics student, Jim, had brought to the lab a sophisticated electronic device in the hope that Geller would be able to distort the 100-cps sine wave it had been programmed to produce. This sine wave was shown to me on an oscilloscope; it could also be printed on a chart recorder. I agreed, after trying vainly to distort the sine wave on the oscilloscope, that it would be an excellent test for PK, but that we had already too crowded and busy a schedule. Also, the device was too large to fit into our small lab and must be left in the hall (with someone standing guard over it). Naturally, Geller saw it right away and knew what would be expected of him. But he dismissed the idea, saying he had never been able to affect electronic instruments voluntarily – only spontaneously. (Reports from Harold Puthoff and Russell Targ from the Stanford Research Institute confirm this lack of voluntary control in Geller, although they admit to several spontaneous occurrences in which electronic devices went berserk in Geller’s presence.)
While John and Barry chatted with Uri in the hall, Jim surreptitiously turned on the machine and chart recorder. No one was aware that he had done so, or that anything unusual occurred. But a very excited Jim arrived on Monday morning, bringing with him the chart of the 100-cps sine wave, which had accelerated to 4,000,000 cps, going through four modifications in shape, and ending in a triangular wave, at which point the machine suddenly stopped working. Jim had gone to his professor with this fascinating data, only to be told that sophisticated electronic gear will quite often suddenly malfunction, and that it was merely a coincidence that Geller was standing near it when the malfunction occurred.
Uri telephoned the next afternoon (Sunday), saying he was so intrigued by the Kirlian pictures, he would like to return for another session, this time to obtain color pictures. The only satisfactory time proved to be 10:30 P.M. on Monday night.
And Monday night Uri arrived, again a little ahead of time. For this session, Uri and I remained alone in the isolation booth, while John Hubacher stayed outside, trying to send telepathic messages. Our goal was to obtain, on color film, any impressions Uri might receive and channel through his fingertip. Since we were working with color film, which cannot be processed immediately, Uri knew he had to leave Los Angeles before learning the results. Nevertheless, he worked very hard, insisting that for every experimental trial (to channel his telepathic impression on film), there would be a control picture (when he was inactive).
Once more it must be stressed that for color film, no light at all is possible. Uri and I worked in the booth in total darkness. Therefore, some kind of chicanery was conceivable.
There were many trials in which Uri tried to receive a number, or a geometric figure, or a letter of the alphabet. He was never successful. On one occasion he reported feeling an “electric sensation” travelling up from the film into his arm. On that trial he had been trying to receive a number, but had felt unsure and did not say the number aloud – although he wrote it on a box top, in the dark, and showed it to me after John told us the number was five. Uri did not claim success for the telepathy, but felt something might appear on the film. Several times after that Uri felt an “electric sensation,” and I made notes of those trials. In three of them, unusual effects did appear. They are shown here in Plates 24, 25, and 26.
And, of course, all of these effects could be tricks, easily performed in the dark. The result of manipulating a fine wire, for example. Attempting to duplicate the effect, one of our lab associates obtained the picture in Plate 27 by plucking a hair from his head and holding it under the tip of his finger. The effect is as interesting as the Geller pictures.
On the other hand, on rare occasions in the lab, we have obtained pictures, which look similar to the Geller Effect, from ordinary subjects doing routine experiments. We have labelled these “Kirlian anomalies,” and two of them are shown here in Plates 28 and 29, depicting what we call “unexplained eruptions.”
Toward midnight Uri was tired, as indeed were we. But John was not quite satisfied. He asked if Uri would mind trying to send energy into the vials of ethyl alcohol he had placed in the booth. Uri obliged, commenting that he did not know the purpose of the experiment and did not care to find out. While he held his hands above the vials, I quickly left the booth and snipped a leaf from a plant. I handed the leaf to John, who grinned and cut off a small section of the leaf, and then asked Uri if he would mind one last Kirlian study. Uri sighed and nodded. When John asked him to send energy into the cut leaf, Uri did as requested, remarking that he had never tried to energize a leaf. As soon as the picture was taken, Uri left, without waiting to see the result of that final black-and-white leaf picture. But John and I were quick to develop it – and we found a “phantom leaf effect.” As one can see in Plate 30, it is not a vivid or exciting “phantom” effect, but it is there. As I write this, I reaise Uri was never told about the purpose of this last study – nor about his success.
OK. What had come of those two Uri Geller sessions? Five mended watches, one bent key, one successful telepathic experiment at a distance, several very interesting Kirlian photographs, including one “phantom leaf,” an oscilloscope that went berserk and broke – and, finally, a chemical analysis that showed striking changes in the composition of the ethyl alcohol (changes that were not conclusive, because the chemicals had not been adequately analyzed before the experiment). And, of course, without rigorous controls, as we have said, we can offer no scientific evidence that any one of these effects was genuine.
But scientific evidence is not the theme of our paper. The essential theme is this:
Since Geller’s appearance in Los Angeles, our lab has been visited by several persons who claim that they, too, can bend metals by stroking them. And they have successfully demonstrated their ability. The most remarkable episode of this kind, in our experience, occurred in August, when a young woman named Cindy visited us and succeeded in dramatically distorting a heavy fork. It took her two hours to complete the job, during which time two high school boys came into the lab and watched the proceedings. I suggested they try to bend something, too, since the talent seems to transfer to others who watch. The boys took out keys and began stroking them. At the end of the session, the fork had gone through several transformations. Plate 31 shows the fork at the end of an hour; Plate 32 shows it after one and a half hours; and Plate 33 at the end of two hours. In addition, one of the boys had made a small bend in the key. He felt rather sheepish about his accomplishment, compared to Cindy’s. I suggested he look at the key later on, since sometimes the object continues to bend after the stroking. He called a few hours later to tell us excitedly that when he took the key out of his pocket to look at it, it had bent double. And the next morning he called, aghast, to say that when he woke up and looked at the key, he saw it break in two pieces. (I believe he was frightened by this episode, because when I phoned to ask him to bring the key in, his mother promised to have him return the call. He never did.)
Here is an interesting chain reaction. Geller had performed on Los Angeles TV. A sixteen-year-old, Colleen, saw him and discovered she could bend metal. Cindy saw Colleen (never Geller) and found out that she could do the same thing. A high school student watched Cindy and found out he could do it, too. We saw it in our lab.
Other scientists in other countries have seen it in their labs. And they have documented their findings with many persons (usually, but not always, between the ages of ten and twenty). In particular, Professor John Taylor, in his book Superminds,(5) gives excellent hard data on the mysterious qualities found in the metals deformed by these subjects.
What is it that these subjects do? No one knows. Not even the subjects themselves. (Not even Uri Geller, who asked me very seriously, “What does all this mean?”)
This faculty – bending and/or breaking metals by gentle manipulation – is considered by many to be nothing but a parlor trick. In my opinion, it might be likened to the inane game, played in Ancient Greece, in which people would amuse themselves by rubbing amber and then picking up light objects with the amber, sometimes to the accompaniment of little sparks and crackles.
Amber, in Greek, is called elektron. From which root word we have derived our words electron and electricity. Although it took eighteen hundred years to proceed from the game of rubbing amber to pick up objects all the way to the creation of the huge dynamos that serve today’s complex technology.
It is conceivable that this foolish TV entertainment of metal bending is the emergence into our awareness of another powerful energy, an energy emitted by the human body, an energy that thus far science has overlooked. Physicists are puzzled by the deformed metals they have analyzed. For, to obtain such twists and turns in metal, intense heat (hundreds, if not thousands, of degrees) would seem to be required. But nothing more than body heat has been recorded.
Can so powerful an energy be emitted effortlessly by the human body? Is there a bioenergy capable of so much work? Properly understood and harnessed, an energy like this could offer vast new areas of exploration in medicine, metallurgy, and biology – not to mention psychokinesis, which has generally been ignored by science until now.
These are powerful implications. And it is just because of these implications that Uri Geller’s magic may prove to be quite marvelous.
Of the numerous anecdotes reported to our lab about broken watches, clocks, and other appliances repaired in front of a TV set when Uri Geller was performing, this report – a letter received from Mrs. Pauline Figer of San Francisco – is the most remarkable:
Dear Dr. Moss,
I have been reading about your tests with Uri Geller. And your findings are amazing. But I think my experience concerning Mr. Geller is even more amazing. He was on TV Channel 2 in Oakland, Calif., not so long ago. During the interview all of us at home were asked to get out our watches that needed repairing. I had a bunch of old watches I have had for years. Six began to run for me. Out of the six, five are still running. However, the most amazing experience is as follows: I had forgotten all about my grandfather’s watch that hasn’t worked for years and years. My dad kept it in a glass container on a table in his living room as just a keepsake from his dad who died when I was 13 years old. I am now 55. When my dad died the watch was given to me. The watch was in my dresser drawer, and I couldn’t have told you just exactly where! After watching Mr. Geller I turned off the TV and decided to go to bed. I knelt down and said my prayers as usual. Then as I started to pull back the covers on my side of the bed, something fell to the floor. (The lights were off.) I picked up the object and took it to the light to see what it was. It was my grandfather’s watch and it was running!!! It had been transposed some way from the drawer to the bed while I was in the living room! The watch is still running. I wrote to Mr. Geller because I thought he would like to know. However perhaps you also can relate the experience to him for I thought he would be pleased to know it.
It is a delight to relate this experience for Mrs. Figer.
1. Dr. Grad’s research has been published in various scientific journals. The Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 61, 286-305, 1967, article contains a good bibliography.
2. Sister Justa Smith’s research with enzymes is published in the Proceedings of the Dimensions of Healing Symposium, Academy of Parapsychology and Medicine, Los Altos, California, 1972.
3. Douglas Dean and Ed Beame’s paper, “Physical Changes in Water by the Laying on of Hands,” is published in the Proceedings of the Second International Psychotronics Conference Monaco, 1975.
4. Dakin, H. S. High-Voltage Photography. The quotation may be found on page 30. This monograph, published in San Francisco, 1975, may be purchased from the Edmund Scientific Company, Barrington, New jersey, 08007.
5. Taylor, John. Superminds: An Inquiry into the Paranormal (New York: Macmillan, 1975). This book contains the best experimentation yet published on the Geller Effect, performed by a well-known physicist.
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