THE LOYAL OPPOSITION
WHAT ARE THEY LOYAL TO?
Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.
Now we deal with such unsavory matters as charlatans and dupes, hoaxes and conspiracies, terms not unfamiliar in the field of parapsychology. Such epithets are often thrown at those who would affirm or even investigate the existence of paranormal functioning.
We assume that critics can be taken at face value, that is, that they are individuals who, in good faith, genuinely believe in the nonexistence of paranormal functioning, and as a corollary, genuinely believe that those who entertain the possibility of paranormal functioning must be mistaken, misguided, or worse.
The reason we are interested in examining the statements of the Loyal Opposition is that they provide a sociological commentary on man’s difficulty in facing up to those aspects of reality which have not yet been fully integrated into the social fabric at the level of underlying beliefs. The Loyal Opposition is not monolithic, however, but is more like a mosaic, each piece representing a different form of resistance, and it is necessary to look at each piece separately.
“It is the province of natural science to investigate nature, impartially and without prejudice.”1 This is a statement that even the Loyal Opposition agrees with, at least in principle. In practice, however, nowhere in scientific inquiry has this dictum met as great a challenge as in the area of so-called paranormal functioning.
Such phenomena, although under scientific consideration for over a century, have historically been fraught with unreliability and controversy, and validation of the phenomena by accepted scientific methodology has been slow in coming. Even so, a recent survey conducted by Christopher Evans and published in the British magazine New Scientist revealed some interesting results. Evans found that 67 percent of the nearly 1,500 responding readers (the majority of whom are working scientists and technologists) considered ESP to be an established fact or a likely possibility, and 88 percent held the investigation of ESP to be a legitimate scientific undertaking.2 What, then, are the problems in the scientific community? The answer lies on many levels.
The most severe criticism is that leveled by the well-known British parapsychology critic C. E. M. Hansel.3 He began his examination of the ESP hypothesis with the stated assumption, “In view of the a priori arguments against it we know in advance that telepathy, etc. cannot occur.” Therefore, Hansel’s examination of the literature centered primarily on a search for possible fraud, by subjects or investigators. He reviewed in depth four experiments that he regarded as providing the best evidence of ESP: the Pearce-Pratt distance series,4 and the Pratt-Woodruff series,5 both conducted at Duke; Soal’s work with Mrs. Stewart and Basil Shackleton;6 and a more recent series by Soal and Bowden.7 Hansel showed how fraud could have been committed (by the experimenters in the Pratt-Woodruff and Soal-Bateman series, or by the subjects in the Pearce-Pratt and Soal-Bateman experiments). He gave no evidence that fraud was in fact committed in these experiments, but said, “If the results could have arisen through a trick, the experiment must be considered unsatisfactory proof of ESP, whether or not it is finally decided that such a trick was in fact used.”8 As discussed by Honorton in a review of the field,9 Hansel’s conclusion after 241 pages of careful scrutiny was that these experiments were not “fraud proof” and therefore could not in principle serve as conclusive proof of ESP.
As damning as the above argument may seem, it could be applied equally well to any other scientific endeavor. It is therefore the a priori assumption of the nonexistence of paranormal functioning that makes this argument appear damaging, and not anything in the argument itself.
Although a review of the literature reveals that experiments by reputable researchers yielding positive results were begun over a century ago, many consider that there is not yet any clear evidence for paranormal functioning.
One reason for this is that no satisfactory theoretical framework has been advanced to correlate data or to predict new experimental outcomes. Consequently, the area in question has remained for a long time in the observational stage reminiscent of electricity when all we had to go on were spontaneous lightning strokes and the static effects produced by rubbing silk on glass.
The difficulty in accepting, or even thinking about, phenomena that do not fit into an accepted hierarchy of scientific beliefs has been discussed at length by Gunther Stent in a Scientific American article entitled “Prematurity and Uniqueness in Scientific Discovery.”10 Reflecting on what it means to say a discovery is “ahead of its time,” Stent argues that any discovery which does not arise in a logically connected fashion from the already existing body of generally accepted knowledge will necessarily constitute a premature discovery. Although writing as a molecular geneticist on premature discovery in the field of DNA research, he cites ESP as an example of here-and-now prematurity. He points out that “until it is possible to connect ESP with canonical knowledge of, say, electromagnetic radiation and neurophysiology, no demonstration of its occurrence can be appreciated.”
Stent goes on to ask:
Is this lack of appreciation of premature discoveries merely attributable to the intellectual shortcomings or innate conservatism of scientists who, if they were only more perceptive or more open-minded, would give immediate recognition to any well documented scientific proposition?
[Scientist-philosopher Michael] Polanyi is not of this opinion. He declared, “. . . There must be at all times a predominantly accepted scientific view of the nature of things, in the light of which, research is jointly conducted by members of a community of scientists. A strong presumption that any evidence which contradicts this view is invalid, must prevail. Such evidence must be disregarded, even if it cannot be accounted for, in the hope that it will eventually turn out to be false or irrelevant.”
This view of the operation of science is rather different from the one commonly held, under which acceptance of authority is seen as something to be avoided at all costs. The good scientist is seen as an unprejudiced man with an open mind who is ready to embrace any new idea that is supported by facts. The history of science shows, however, that its practitioners do not appear to act according to that popular view.
To put the problem in its clearest perspective, we were recently told by a journal editor to whom we had submitted a paper that an individual consulted by the editor said, “This is the kind of thing that I would not believe in even if it existed.”11
However, there is still hope for a rational consideration of paranormal functioning, since many contemporary physicists are now of the opinion that these phenomena are not at all inconsistent with the framework of modern physics: the often-held view that observations of this type are incompatible with known laws is not only outdated but false, being based on the naive realism prevalent before the development of modern physics. Since the early days of psychical research, information theory, quantum theory, and neurophysiological research have developed considerably, and these disciplines have begun to provide powerful conceptual tools that appear to bear directly on the issues of interest. In the emerging view, it is accepted that research in the area of the paranormal can be conducted so as to uncover not just a catalog of interesting events, but rather patterns of cause-effect relationships. These patterns would then lend themselves to analysis and hypothesis in the forms with which we are familiar in the physical and psychological sciences.
For example, one hypothesis for remote viewing is that information is carried by extremely low frequency (ELF) electromagnetic waves, a proposal that does not at the outset seem to be ruled out by any obvious physical or biological facts. As discussed in Chapter 2, is the hypothesis favored by Kogan of the USSR and by Persinger of Canada.12 Experimental support is claimed on the basis of (1) little if any observable decrease in accuracy with increases in distance, (2) the apparent ineffectiveness of ordinary electromagnetic shielding, and (3) the observed low data rate—all factors in common between ELF and ESP. A paper by the authors may be referred to for a discussion of the pros and cons of this hypothesis.13
An alternative viewpoint held by many physicists (including the authors) is that the reconciliation of observed data with modern theory may take place at a more fundamental level—namely, at the level of the foundations of quantum theory. There is a continuing dialogue, for example, on the proper interpretation of the effect of an observer (consciousness) on experimental measurement.14 There is also considerable current scientific interest in the implications for our world view, brought on by the recent experimental observation of “quantum interconnectedness,”15 an apparent connection between distant events.16 This Quantum Connection is codified in a theorem of great elegance known as Bell’s Theorem.17 This theorem emphasizes that “no theory of reality compatible with quantum theory can require spatially separated events to be independent.”18 Rather it must permit physically separated events to interact with each other in a manner that is contrary to ordinary experience.19 This aspect of modern theory, which has been experimentally tested and confirmed,20 reveals that parts of the universe apparently separated from each other can nonetheless act together as parts of a larger whole, a statement perhaps more expected to be found in mystical writing than in a theory of physics.
With arguments such as these being put forward and examined, rejection of the possibility of paranormal functioning by the scientific community is fading rapidly. Physics seminars on the possible mechanisms involved in paranormal functioning are becoming part of the current scene.
As an example, we attended an international conference on quantum physics and parapsychology held in Geneva, Switzerland, in August, 1974. We presented papers on remote viewing,21 and on our magnetometer work and its implications for physics.22 The conference brought together papers by such internationally known scientists as Gerald Feinberg of Columbia University, O. Costa de Beauregard of the Poincare Institute in Paris, and C. T. K. Chari of Madras Christian College in India to discuss possible models for paranormal functioning.23 The Loyal Opposition thus numbers fewer and fewer scientists among its ranks, the physicists by and large are leaving first, the psychologists last.
On the basis of the above, one might think that the Loyal Opposition would crumble, but such is not the case. There is always a cultural lag between the generation of new ideas by those on the forefront, and their acceptance by those further removed from where the action is. This should be expected, since those not directly involved in day-to-day research find themselves forced to struggle just to get on top of yesterday’s paradigm, let alone today’s. This is not necessarily a completely negative factor, however. In fact, in the light of Polanyi’s analysis referred to earlier, it is healthy for this second echelon to resist innovation, and to require that the burden of proof lie with the innovator who would seemingly bring chaos into the previously established order. Nonetheless, it can be trying at the personal level, as is shown in the following events that have occurred in connection with our own work. Although some of the events may seem incredible, it is useful to keep in mind that members of the Loyal Opposition see their role as saving science from our form of heresy, and therefore from their viewpoint high stakes ride on the outcome.
The Loyal Opposition in Action
One of the first indications that our work would be met by other than straightforward scientific interest came when we wrote a personal letter (“. . . hope you will treat this letter as confidential and personal. . . “) to Gerald Piel, publisher of Scientific American, in December, 1972. In that letter we inquired whether his publication would in principle be interested in receiving a survey paper on the field of ESP, pointing out that the previous article on this subject published by them was in July, 1934.24 Since that time, a great many additional investigations had been conducted. In support of our desire to submit such a paper, we cited some of our own preliminary results which indicated to us that this was an important area of research. We stressed that our goal in research was to explore the relationship between ESP functioning and the physical and psychological variables with which we are familiar.
Unfortunately, we found that “premature discovery” can lead to “premature publicity.” The letter was leaked to Leon Jaroff of Time magazine, who soon after cited its contents in a March, 1973, Time article critical of our doing research with Uri Geller even though we had not yet published or described our results.25
The Time article was of necessity based on hearsay, since we were maintaining a sealed-lips policy until ready to publish our findings in an appropriate scientific forum. One of the major sources of hearsay for the Time article was yet another leak, this time, incredibly, as a result of a privileged, confidential visit requested by George Lawrence, at that time a projects manager for the Department of Defense’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA). Lawrence had visited SRI accompanied by two of his consultants, Ray Hyman, a psychology professor from the University of Oregon, and Robert Van de Castle, a University of Virginia psychologist. Their stated aim was to determine whether anything in our study would be of interest to ARPA.
As they arrived during the time of Geller’s stay at SRI, they requested an opportunity to see an experiment in progress. We denied their request for two reasons. First, we had had several such requests per week and had previously concluded that it would be impossible to carry out controlled experimentation under such conditions, and our time with Geller was running out. Second, we were at that time still suspicious that Geller might have been sent to try through trickery to crack the protocols of our ongoing program, and we did not want to provide an opportunity for any collusion to take place. (This was before the controlled experiments that were eventually published in Nature.)
As an alternative to watching one of our experiments, we suggested that they conduct some experiments of their own with Geller. That way, whatever they observed could not be laid at our door. They then spent an engaging couple of hours with Geller in which they observed the informal coffee-table type of demonstration that Uri favors. They tried a number of their own, and from our standpoint largely uncontrolled, experiments (which we have on videotape). Van de Castle did, however, carry out one experiment under good control in which Geller reproduced a drawing made by Van de Castle himself and sealed in double envelopes, out of Geller’s sight. From that, Van de Castle concluded that Geller was “an interesting subject for further study.” Hyman and Lawrence were not impressed by the results obtained in their experiments, however, which were not as controlled as Van de Castle’s, and left feeling that Geller was probably simply a clever magician; not an altogether unreasonable conclusion given what they saw and the informal manner in which they chose to interact with Geller.
Nonetheless, we were amazed when a Time article came out with quotes from a letter by Hyman in which he wrote that the SRI tests of Geller were performed with “incredible sloppiness.” First of all, we could hardly believe the lack of professional responsibility that would permit a straight line between a privileged visit to a laboratory involved in sensitive and controversial work, not yet published, and the pages of a popular newsweekly. Beyond that, however the only tests of Geller observed by Hyman at SRI were those conducted by himself and his colleagues, which, whatever he thought of them, could hardly be our responsibility. Not yet understanding the deep emotional reactions to be touched off by this area of research, we could only wonder at the turn of events. We eventually obtained a copy of Hyman’s letter describing his visit to SRI, and it was clear that the encounter had impacted him strongly at the emotional level; in fact, to such a degree that although he had interacted face to face with Geller for a number of hours, he came away from the interaction describing Geller’s eyes as blue (they are dark brown ).
We were to find that our initial negative experience with Time was only a taste of what was to come. The most perfidious series of interactions with a representative of the news media that we have so far encountered began innocently enough with a request for a visit to our laboratory by science reporter Joe Hanlon of the British weekly science magazine New Scientist. He knew that we had done work with Geller and that we were preparing a lengthy publication on our findings. Assuring us that he was not coming as a reporter, he presented himself as a member of a New Scientist panel that had been set up to investigate Geller in a series of their own experiments,26 a series Geller had reportedly agreed to.
Since we had just completed a series of experiments with Geller that were partially successful, but not yet published, we welcomed the opportunity to cooperate with such a panel, for we reaised that an independent investigation would in all probability yield results similar to ours.
Hanlon arrived at SRI in January, 1974. After some preliminary discussion, he suggested that we might consider publishing our results with Geller in the New Scientist and asked to see an advance copy of whatever we had written up. We let him see a copy, but declined the invitation, indicating that we had put together a technical paper of journal quality and planned to submit it to Nature. (Nature had run an editorial challenging us to publish our results, which we took as an invitation. )27
Since there was a possibility that Hanlon would work directly with Geller, we got right to the heart of the matter, passing on to him the strategies and precautions that magicians and other consultants had cautioned us to employ. These included the necessity of generating target drawings out of sight; the requirement that no one in Geller’s presence before or during an experiment should have knowledge of the target (to avoid the possibility of subliminal cueing by body language, subvocalization, etc.); the elimination of potential confederates from the target area (to prevent radio reception by means of an implanted receiver); the necessity of maintaining silence in the target area (to foil “bugging” of the target area, a potentially useful strategy on the part of a subject should he have an implanted receiver); the necessity in die-in-the-box experiments to use one’s own die and box, marked and continually checked by the experimenter; the absolute requirement that target responses be obtained from Geller on paper and be in the experimenter’s physical possession before the target was revealed to Geller (to prevent post hoc alteration of the data); etc., etc., etc. During Hanlon’s two-day visit, he watched the videotapes that we made available to him, took copious notes, including notes on the paper to be submitted to Nature, expressed his thanks, and left.
The next we heard of Hanlon was a few months later when New Scientist published as its cover story a long (fifteen-page), impassioned negative article on Geller28 (which was timed for release on the day before our Nature publication). The long article was put together by Hanlon on the basis of the interviews he had had with those who had seen or worked with Geller. On the one hand, we felt betrayed, given Hanlon’s expressed purpose for the SRI visit; on the other hand, we felt he had a right to express his opinion.
As we scanned the issue, it looked at first glance like a reasonable effort on the part of a member of the Loyal Opposition to place in perspective some of the exaggerations in the press, which, especially in England, seemed bent on sensationalizing the whole area of the paranormal. (“We are hurt more by our would-be friends than by our enemies” is a popular saying among researchers in our field.)
The material discussed by Hanlon was anecdotal in nature, since Geller had not shown up for testing by the New Scientist panel. The descriptions therefore consisted primarily of what happened on this television show, what happened at that press conference, etc., written with a view of how Geller could have cheated here, gotten cues there, and so on.
From a scientific standpoint, of course, anecdotal material is not very helpful. If a researcher tried to use material obtained under uncontrolled conditions as proof of paranormal functioning, he would be considered derelict in his scientific responsibility. From the standpoint of a serious researcher or accurate journalist, that sword is double-edged. Anecdotal material, no matter how circumstantial, must be handled with the same caution and restraint with regard to refuting a phenomenon as with regard to validating it.
When we got to Hanlon’s remarks on the SRI work, however, we began to reaise that there might be more to the article than met the eye. The SRI work was substantially distorted, and in ways that were difficult to account for on the basis of simple skepticism.
To begin with, Hanlon repeated the Time version of the Lawrence-Hyman story, even though it had already been corrected in a previous issue of New Scientist itself,(29) and he had heard our rebuttal in person. (We could have shown him the videotapes of the Lawrence visit had he expressed any doubts about our version of the story.) But that was a minor point in comparison with what followed. The article went on to say that Puharich, or Geller’s friend Shippi, had probably acted as a confederate in our picture drawing experiments, even though Hanlon knew from our conversation that Puharich was in New York at the time of the tests, and we had discussed at length the elaborate precautions we had taken to prevent access to the target area by Shippi or any other potential confederate. In the article, he justified his allegation on the basis that Ed Mitchell (who also was not present at the Geller tests reported in Nature) told him that one problem in doing anything with Geller was that Shippi is generally underfoot (true). Hanlon altered this a bit to say that Shippi was underfoot at SRI during the Nature tests (false).
The denouement of the article, however, was an elaborate description of how Geller might have used a receiver implanted in his tooth (including a reproduction of Puharich’s patent), but with no mention of the fact that Hanlon knew that we had been aware of that possibility and had taken specific precautions against it! He went on to say that shielded rooms are not perfect with regard to foiling radio transmission, but will permit electromagnetic radiation to penetrate at extremely high and extremely low frequencies. That is of course true, but clearly the implication of his long description was that we might not know it, even though we had made our knowledge of this obvious in the very Nature paper he was criticizing by publishing the frequency characteristics of the Faraday cage shield, showing the pass and stop bands! The security lay in the protocols, not the rooms, and Hanlon knew it. Geller could have had a mouth full of receivers and it wouldn’t have helped him.(A New York City dentist who examined Geller in 1974 attested that Geller not only had no foreign objects implanted, but had had no prior dental restorations whatsoever. See The Geller Papers, Charles Panati, ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1976), p. 18.)
We decided to confront the issue head-on. We were of course not at all interested in defending Geller with regard to what he does under uncontrolled conditions; we could, however, speak for what he did at SRI under the conditions we imposed. Our letter to the editor of New Scientist read in part, “In view of the above we take great exception to the allegations that we were heedless of these possibilities, and we consider such reporting to be a substantial and deliberate misrepresentation of the facts.”
As the letters to the editor began to pour in, it became obvious that we were not the only ones who felt this way. Other labs and individuals found themselves in the same position.30 One of the letters that did not get published, but which we have on file, was from Brendan O’Regan, now research director of the Institute of Noetic Sciences, the organization set up by Astronaut Mitchell to fund frontier research. In his letter, setting aside minor distortions, O’Regan cited no less than forty-two major errors in the New Scientist article that he was personally aware of.
As the dust has settled and time has passed, the article has become somewhat of an embarrassment in science reporting, even for members of the Loyal Opposition. Many of them excuse Hanlon’s excesses with a shrug, and say simply, “Well, the passions and excitements of the time were high.”
The real answer is, however, more involved than that. At first, we spun paranoid theories with Cold War overtones. Perhaps there really was a developing ESP gap as implied by the Ostrander-Schroeder book Psychic Discoveries Behind the Iron Curtain.31 Perhaps United States efforts in the study of the paranormal were the target of a deliberate program of disinformation, with the press the unwitting accomplice.
The Psychology of the Loyal
As titillating as such theories are, however, the deep-rooted distrust of apparent paranormal functioning precedes the Cold War struggle by at least a century. No, the opposition to even the possibility of paranormal functioning is probably more psychological than sociological.
Critics suggest that those inclined to accept the possibility of paranormal functioning do so more out of psychological need than out of sound observation, even maintaining that such individuals have a strong, almost religious, commitment to promote a belief structure that includes the possibility of paranormal functioning.
When we look more closely, however, we find that such statements apply more accurately to the hardened skeptic than to the parapsychological researcher. It is the skeptic, not the researcher, who is short on rigorous observation and long on theory. It is the hardened skeptic who betrays a strong emotional commitment to an a priori belief structure, being motivated as he is to go out of his way to criticize a field of research about which he has little firsthand data. Furthermore, in these days of gravitational waves, ELF propagation, and “quantum interconnectedness,” the burden of proof with regard to excluding the possibility of paranormal functioning now lies with the skeptics.
A detailed study carried out under the direction of Dr. Leon Festinger of the New School for Social Research in New York City summarizes the dynamics of the more vehement members of the Loyal Opposition quite succinctly. The study, reported by Emenegger,32 dealt in part with how a confirmed skeptic about some given phenomenon could be expected to respond to escalating proof that the phenomenon in question is, in fact, true. (In the study, the target phenomenon was the hypothesized existence of extraterrestrial intelligence rather than the hypothesized existence of paranormal functioning, but the principles are the same.) The sequence of responses given is for a “hard case,” that is, one who does not change his opinion, regardless of the facts which confront him, and of course not all members of the Loyal Opposition fall into this class by any means.
First, our apocryphal skeptic, upon hearing of a new report of paranormal functioning, will, according to Festinger, simply assert that it is not true. The individual involved is, it is asserted, gullible at best, perpetrating a hoax at worst. If pressed that the conditions are such that these interpretations are unlikely, our skeptic will react by quoting an authority, such as Hansel, who showed that even under conditions that seemed unlikely to permit error or fraud, there was always at least the possibility of such in principle; therefore the new data probably falls into this category and, as a result, cannot be considered definitive. Should it then be shown that the data as reported are apparently authoritative enough to withstand even this criticism, then our superskeptic must denigrate and dispose of this new authority directly (they are lying for some purpose, or it is an elaborate plot, etc.). Under this pressure, the skeptic will seek out those who think as he does, and seek to convince others that his original position was correct.
The evidence underlying this reasoning stems largely from the theory of cognitive dissonance.33 If an event occurs that is compatible with one’s belief structure or prior commitments, one feels happy and affirmed. If, on the other hand, events occur that run counter to the person’s beliefs and commitments, he experiences cognitive dissonance and strives to reduce that dissonance. One way to reduce the dissonance is to deny the fact that the event in question actually occurred, constructing a plausible explanation for the apparent occurrence that is consistent with the primary belief. One must then bolster that explanation by seeking out the company of those who believe the same way, and by trying to convince others as well.
A case in point, almost classically textbook in nature, is provided by one of the staunchest members of the Loyal Opposition, Martin Gardner, author of In the Name of: Science,34 and staff writer for Scientific American (“Mathematical Games” column). He began with a long series of letters to various members of the SRI management, asserting that SRI was becoming a laughingstock because of our work, and culminated his efforts in a critical review of our ESP teaching machine (random target generator) project in his column.35 In his eighth and final letter (this one to the director of SRI public relations), he made one last plea that Mr. Charles Anderson, president of SRI, should reconsider where his loyalty lay after reading the column.
Gardner’s a priori belief structure is expressed best in his own words. His chapter on ESP research begins, “There is obviously an enormous irrational prejudice on the part of most American psychologists—much greater than in England, for example—against even the possibility of extrasensory mental power. It is a prejudice which I myself, to-a certain degree, share.”35
Gardner’s first assumption upon hearing of possible success in the teaching machine project was that it was not true, and his early letters accuse SRI of suppressing the final report to NASA because our results were probably negative. (“An attempt to suppress the report because of its negative results would be far more damaging to SRI, from a public standpoint, than to allow its continued distribution.”)
In fact, the results were not negative, and we were endeavoring to publish them. Six of the 147 volunteer subjects had learning performances significant at the 0.01 (odds of l00:1) level or better; the probability of this occurring by chance is less than 1 in 250. At the other extreme, no subject had a negative learning experience of equal significance. In our report, we took these findings to indicate that “there is evidence for paranormal functioning from our work with the ESP teaching machine.” The evidence included our work with Elgin, who achieved scores significant at odds of better than
Upon being confronted with the report that indicated that in fact positive results had been obtained, Gardner must then move to position two, that of constructing a plausible explanation, consistent with his primary belief, for the apparent occurrence of paranormal functioning. The explanation offered in his article is fraud on the part of subjects, who, he suggests, probably turned in the good runs and threw away the bad (impossible because of automatic recording on the continuous fanfold paper tape). The movement into position three, the need to convince others, speaks for itself with the publication of his article.
As stated in our letter of rebuttal to Scientific American:
Gardner’s major criticism of the experiments is based on an error in fact, namely his misconception of the manner in which data were collected. Subjects made runs of 25 trials. These trials were automatically printed on continuous fanfold paper tape, which carries a permanent record of every trial, machine state, and trial number from 1 to 25 for each run. After a series of eight to ten runs, the subject would bring the continuous fanfold tape to one of the experimenters for entry into the experimental log. The tapes were always delivered to us intact with all runs recorded. They were never torn into “disconnected bits and pieces” as Gardner asserts (implying that an individual could, post hoc, select which runs he turned in). Since we were interested in evidence of learning within each day’s session, it was of particular importance to us to have the complete intact tape.36
In response to this, Gardner says simply that someone told him that the tapes were turned in in bits and pieces. So we have a major U.S. science publication presumably exposing the inadequacies of a major research effort on the basis of a piece of erroneous hearsay, anonymously authored!
Of course, the greatest disappointment to researchers like ourselves is not that a Gardner or anyone else would write a negative article per se, but that few members of the Loyal Opposition are really up to the task of significant scientific criticism. After all, the accepted scientific approach is the carrying out of experiments, the analysis of data, and the reporting of results. What we looked for in Gardner’s criticism was perhaps a discussion of a scientifically controlled effort at replication with negative results, or at least an independent analysis of statistics (he had all the data) which in principle might be capable of showing error. Instead, we were disappointed to find the usual misstatement of experimental protocols, allegations of fraud and incompetence, etc. Thus Gardner fell back on the “believerism” approach, the taking of a position on the basis of an a priori belief, in this case a belief in the nonexistence of paranormal functioning. All this is not very encouraging to researchers like ourselves who dream of a world in which observations count, not belief structure.
Extreme Members of the Loyal Opposition
On the far extreme of the Loyal Opposition are those who do not even pretend to maintain a stance of objectivity with regard to the possibility of paranormal functioning. These are individuals who, by and large, earn their livelihood playing the role of Professional Skeptic. They are usually not a serious factor as far as the scientific issues are concerned, but their potential for spreading misinformation among the public is inordinately large. This is due in part to the fact that they are not burdened with the necessity of spending long hours of experimentation in the laboratory to decide an issue on the basis of observation. The basic issues are already settled in their mind, so their energies can be turned almost entirely toward espousing their views before the public, on talk shows and in books and articles. It is this relatively easy access to the media which often makes their position appear quite strong to an uninformed public.
An individual in this category who has been making the rounds denigrating Uri Geller and his claims to the paranormal is a magician who calls himself the Amazing Randi. In his recent book, The Magic Uri Geller, and on talk shows, Randi purports to explain how it is all done by trickery. His knowledge of the art of magicianship stands him in good stead, and indeed he performs a valuable service in demonstrating to those unfamiliar with the art of conjuring how chicanery can be used to duplicate effects often taken to be paranormal by an unsuspecting observer.
To observe a good magician creating effects under conditions he controls can be quite an education on the limitations of the powers of observation. The only conclusion that can be reached, and a correct one it is, is that essentially anything can be done by a magician if the conditions are under his control.
Now of course it is a logical fallacy to say that if it could have been done by magic, it was done by magic. Nonetheless, the only appropriate attitude in a case like this is “buyer beware.”
So far, so good. Where the reasoning of a Randi goes awry is the generalization to a laboratory situation where the conditions are under the control of the experimenters. The difficulty with a Randi lies in the fact that his guesses as to how a particular experiment in the laboratory was foiled by trickery are made with great authority, find their way to print, and finally become part of the public lore. And all this, even though the particular hypothesis put forward might have been anticipated and countermeasured from the beginning. What could have been dialog has now become polemic. As Randi expressed to me in a letter recently, “I’ve been told that you are very ‘hard-nosed.’ Dr. Puthoff, you don’t know noses until you’ve known mine.”
Two examples from Randi’s book and our fact-sheet rebuttal will illustrate the problem.
RANDI: And finally, as if there were not enough doubts about the procedure used to conduct this “test” [die-in-the-box test], Time’s Wilhelm has reported that the set of tries with the die actually consisted of MANY HUNDREDS OF THROWS, the object being to get a run of consecutive wins.
FACT: There was no selection of a good run out of “hundreds of throws.” There were ten throws only, as reported in the Nature paper, eight of which were correctly guessed by Geller, two of which were passed. All throws were reported.
RANDI: Few of the Geller experiments, especially the famous tests at SRI in which Geller performed apparent miracles of ESP, include in their reports the fact that one Shippi Strang was present. [This is followed by descriptions of how Shippi might have acted as a confederate.]
FACT: During the SRI experimentation, neither Shippi nor any other potential confederate was permitted in the target area, a precondition for experimentation adopted on the basis of advice by project consulting magicians.
And so on. When pressed in a KPFA radio interview with regard to Shippi’s alleged presence to say either we were lying, or else admit that in fact he didn’t know what happened at SRI in this regard, Randi admitted he didn’t know.
As bad as such misinformation is with regard to muddying up the issues in the public, as researchers we are in fact encouraged when we read Randi’s book, or listen to his arguments on talk shows, for we find that Randi, in his efforts to fault the SRI experiments with Geller, is in every instance driven to hypothesize the existence of a loophole condition that did not in fact exist.
The way one can assess for oneself what is fact and what is fantasy is simply by tracing to its source any statement which, on the face of it, sounds unlikely. Example (a true one): One reads a review in Scientific American by a respected scientist, Philip Morrison.37 The review is of a book written by a; magician, the Amazing Randi, which purports to indicate that ESP experiments carried out at a major research laboratory, SRI, were flawed because a confederate passed the answer to the subject through a hole in the wall while the experimenters were watching. Even for a hardened skeptic, such a statement sounds unlikely. One looks in the book, where he finds a reference to a statement made by science reporter Joe Hanlon in a New Scientist magazine article. In the article, one finds the statement that Shippi, friend and companion to subject Geller, was underfoot at SRI during the Nature series-of tests. The statement is ascribed to one of the project sponsors, Ed Mitchell. One contacts Mitchell, only to find that the statement was a generality taken out of context, not at all meant to apply to the series of controlled experiments in question. The mystery is solved! General statement, which is true, is altered and expanded into an article, picked up and expanded into a book, and finally given the stamp of scientific respectability by a positive review in a semitechnical publication. And nowhere on the track could the train of runaway skepticism be braked.
I summed up our position in a letter to Randi this way:
. . . To give you more perspective on our work with Geller, I should point out some additional salient points. First, when we were contacted to investigate Geller’s abilities, rather than being naive with regard to the possibility of chicanery, quite the opposite was the case. Since we had a lot at stake with regard to a program that had already been going on for some time in this area on a low profile basis, we were concerned that he might be a highly trained magician being sent by potential sponsors of our work to try to crack our protocols. Therefore, before we began our work with him we talked to people from Israel who had observed him, looked over Puharich’s latest work, consulted with magicians, etc., resulting in our emphasis on strict protocols, multiple surveillance techniques, etc. In particular, we were encouraged to see that in your book in every case you hypothesized a loophole condition that did not in fact exist, simply because we thought of the same possibilities before experimentation (along with others requiring more technology) and were thus able to take appropriate safeguard measures. What perhaps you don’t appreciate is that we are more highly motivated than anyone to ensure that we don’t waste the next ten years of our lives writing equations for phenomena that don’t exist. Given the lack of viable alternative hypotheses: under the conditions we instituted, we continue to stand by our modest and very measured response with regard to Geller’s abilities; the nature of honesty in scientific work is that what is observed, and the conditions: under which it was observed, should be reported no matter how unpopular it might be….
Concerning our work with Geller, I am of course not at all interested in defending him with regard to what he does under uncontrolled conditions; I can only speak for what he did at SRI under conditions we imposed. From our published work and interviews it should be clear that, rather than providing a blanket endorsement or condemnation of Geller’s abilities, we simply found him unable to perform satisfactorily in some areas of claimed abilities (e.g., metal bending), but possessing some ability in an area that is not unusual in the field of so-called paranormal functioning, picture drawing (see enclosed paper)38 or Upton Sinclair’s book Mental Radio with foreword by Einstein.39 . . . We shall, of course, continue to be interested in entertaining any further hypotheses you and others might have with regard to how Geller might have cheated. However, although Geller has become a “cause celebre” for you, his interaction with us constitutes only 3 percent of our overall program effort in so-called paranormal functioning, and, therefore, in the absence of viable criticism applicable to the conditions under which we investigated his abilities, we shall continue to go forward with other research in this field which is of far more interest. . . .
H. E. Puthoff, Ph.D.
Electronics and Bioengineering Lab.
Who Cares About the Loyal Opposition?
And what is the response of the subjects to all this criticism? In general, they take it in good stride for the simple reason that they have a unique advantage over their critics—they know they didn’t cheat. Confident in their abilities, they look on those who criticize their efforts as would a sighted person in the land of the blind. With a mixture of compassion and frustration, they listen with incredulity to the arguments that it’s impossible, and that if some can do it, why can’t everybody? In fact, gifted individuals sometimes feel that it is they who are the effect of some giant hoax, having committed a social faux pas in admitting to seeing the emperor without his clothes. When the heat is truly hot and heavy, they will remark, with a trace of bitterness, that it is at least some consolation to know that those who are the most critical will be the last to develop their own paranormal abilities. It is a hollow victory, though, for it reminds them of the gulf that separates them from many of their contemporaries.
In the last analysis, what can be said with regard to accusations of fraud and incompetence that are hurled at researchers who find evidence in the laboratory for paranormal functioning? Is it simply that in each generation a new researcher must take his place on the stage and deliver again the speech of Sir William Crookes?
Will not my critics give me credit for some amount of common sense? Do they not imagine that the obvious precautions, which occur to them as soon as they sit down to pick holes in my experiments, have occurred to me also in the course of my prolonged and patient investigation? The answer to this, as to all other objections is, prove it to be an error, by showing where the error lies, or if a trick, by showing how the trick is performed. Try the experiment fully and fairly. If then fraud be found, expose it; if it be a truth, proclaim it. This is the only scientific procedure, and it is that I propose steadily to pursue.40
As eloquent as the above may be, the answer to the spurious accusations of fraud and incompetence (as opposed to legitimate scientific criticism) must lie elsewhere, for until paranormal functioning is an integral part of our world view, the accusations will continue, and it is clear that the eloquence of neither the detractors nor the defenders is capable of resolving the controversy. No, the eventual rejection of the accusations will come not from the researchers, but rather from a new quarter, an informed and sophisticated public, aided by the press, who by and large deal fairly with this area of research.
Paranormal functioning is a sensitive and controversial topic. The facts of the matter are very subtle and complex. Every piece of false data places an obstacle in the way of nurturing such functioning by an individual who must overcome each and every piece of false data on a one-by-one basis as he struggles up through the layers of mass conditioning in his efforts to be an autonomous human being. That is the reason it behooves all who would comment on this field, researcher and critic alike, to take care with their every statement to avoid betraying the public trust. We take this edict to be one of the most serious requirements of our work.
1. J. R. Smythies, ed., Science and ESP (London, England: Routledge, 1967).
2. C. Evans, “Parapsychology—What the questionnaire revealed,” in New Scientist (January 25, 1973), 209.
3. G. E. M. Hansel, ESP: A Scientific Evaluation (New York: Scribners, 1966).
4. J. B. Rhine and J. G. Pratt, “A review of the Pearce-Pratt distance series of ESP tests,” in J. Parapsychol., XVIII (1954), 165-177.
5. J. G. Pratt and J. L. Woodruff, “Size of stimulus symbols in extrasensory perception,” in J. Parapsychol., III (1939), 121-158.
6. S. G. Soal and F. Bateman, Modern Experiments in Telepathy (London, England: Faber and Faber, 1954).
7. S. G. Soal and H. T. Bowden, The Mind Readers: Recent Experiments in Telepathy (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1954)
8. C. E. M. Hansel, ESP: A Scientific Evaluation (New York: Scribners, 1966), p. 18.
9. C. Honorton, “Error some place!,” J. Commun., XXV (Annenberg School of Commun.: Winter, 1975), no. 1.
10. G. Stent, “Prematurity and Uniqueness in Scientific Discovery,” in Scientific American (December, 1972 ), 84-93.
11. Editorial, “Scanning the Issue,” in Proceedings of the IEEE, LXIV (March, 1976), no. 3, 291.
12. I. M. Kogan, “Information theory analysis of telepathic communication experiments,” in Radio Eng., XXIII (March, 1968), 122; M. A. Persinger, “The Paranormal P. II: Mechanisms and models” (New York: M.S.S. Information Corp., 1974).
13. H. E. Puthoff and R. Targ, “A Perceptual Channel for Information Transfer over Kilometer Distances: Historical Perspective and Recent Research,” in Proceedings of the IEEE, LXIV (March, 1976), no. 3, 329-354
14. E. P. Wigner, “The problem of measurement,” in Am. J. Physics, XXXI (1963 ), no. 1, 6.
15. J. J. Freedman and J. F. Clauser, “Experimental test of local hidden variable theories,” in Phys. Rev. Letters, XXVIII (April 3, 1972), no. 14, 938; J. F. Clauser and M. A. Horne, “Experimental consequences of objective local theories,” in Phys. Rev. D., X (`July 15, 1974), no. 2, 526
16. D. Bohm and B. Hiley, “On the intuitive understanding of non-locality as implied by quantum theory,” Preprint (London, England: Birkbeck College, February, 1974).
17. J. S. Bell, “On the problem of hidden variables in quantum theory,” in Rev. Modern Physics, XXXVIII (July, 1966), no 3, 447.
18. H. Stapp, “Theory of reality” (Berkeley, California: University of California, April, 1975), Lawrence-Berkeley Laboratory Report No. LBL-3837.
19. A. Einstein, B. Podolsky, and N. Rosen, “Can quantum mechanical description of physical reality be considered complete?,” in Phys. Rev., XLVII (May 15, 1935), 777; R. H. Dicke and J. P. Wittke, Introduction to quantum mechanics (Reading, Mass: Addison-Wesley Publishing Co., Inc., 1960), ch.7.
20. E. H. Walker, “Foundations of paraphysical and parapsychological phenomena,” in Proc. Conf. on Quantum Physics and Parapsychology (Geneva, Switzerland); (New York: Parapsychology Foundation, 1975; O. Costa de Beauregard, “Time symmetry and interpretation of quantum mechanics,” in Foundations of Physics (Lecture delivered at Boston Colloquium for Philosophy of Science, February, 1974).
21. R. Targ and H. E. Puthoff, “Remote Viewing of Natural Targets,” in Proc. Conf. on Quantum Physics and Parapsychology (Geneva, Switzerland); (New York: Parapsychology Foundation, 1975.
24 W. F. Prince, “Extra Sensory Perception,” in Scientific American (July, 1934).
25. “The Magician and the Think Tank,” in Time (March 12, 1973)
26. “Uri Geller and Science,” Editorial, in New Scientist (November 29, 1973).
27. “Challenge to Scientists,” Editorial, in Nature, CCXLVI (December 7,1973).
28. “Uri Geller and Science,” Ed. in New Scientist (October 17, 1974)
29. “Geller Experimenters Reply,” Letters, in New Scientist (November 7, 1974)
30. See, for example, “The Geller Correspondence,” in New Scientist, LXIV (October 31, 1974); Letters, New Scientist (November 7, 1974)
31. S. Ostrander and L. Schroeder, Psychic Discoveries Behind the Iron Curtain (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1970).
32. R. Emenegger, UFO’s Past, Present and Future (New York: Ballantine Books, 1974).
33. L. Festinger, A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance (Evanston, Ill.: Row, Peterson, 1957).
34. M. Gardner, In the Name of Science (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons’ 1952).
35. M. Gardner, “Mathematical Games,” Scientific American (October, 1975).
36. R. Targ and H. E. Puthoff, Letters, Scientific American (January, 1976)
37. P. Morrison, Book Reviews, Scientific American (February, 1976) .
38. J. R. Musso and M. Granero J. Parapsychology (1973), vol. 37, 13-37.
39. Upton Sinclair, Mental Radio (New York: Collier, 1971).
40. A. Gauld, The Founders of Psychical Research (New York: Schocken Books,1968).
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"There is no spoon!"
"The world needs your amazing talents. I need them"
"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
"The Geller Effect is one of those "para" phenomena which changed the world of phusics. What the most outstanding physicists of the last decades of this country colud grasp only as theoretical implication, Uri brought as fact into everyday life.."
Dr. Walter A. Frank. Bonn University - Germany
"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"