‘A book about those twisted forks!
What could be more absurd?
No matter how the Professor talks,
‘Twas trickery, on my word!
‘Twas but a quiz; a clever hoax,
Played by some lad, or lass;
Or both, perhaps; and wiser folks
Will let the matter pass.’
Thus, peradventure, some may prate.
Reader, with courteous grace,
Ere thou shall give thy judgment, wait
Till thou hast read the case.
Facts, simple facts alone we state.
We’ve studied them in vain,
And having stated them, we wait
Till you their cause explain.
‘A book about those Bealings Bells’, wrote the Suffolk poet Bernard Barton in 1841, when his friend Major Edward Moor, FRS begged of him a prelude to the book(1) he had written about the haunting of the great house at Bealings; something ‘preternatural’ had been ringing the domestic bells. We can now conjecture that the bursts of ringing could have been bursts of metal-bending action on the bell springs; indeed, the author (who is Major Moor’s great-great-great-nephew) obtained near a metal-bender similar spring movements, made visible by means of a galvanometer mirror and laser beam. Realizing later that poor Major Moor may have entertained a metal-bender unawares, he mutilated the two sets of verses for your edification.
Psychic research is an underrated branch of science; it is likely to lead to a depth of understanding of reality greater than that which we already have; and the social consequences of such an understanding could be very great. Yet the number of serious scientists willing to devote time to it is at present small. And this has usually been the case throughout modern history; but there have nevertheless been times when the most far-sighted and competent scientists have seen fit to devote serious effort to it – one is reminded of Boyle, Faraday, Wallace, Weber, Crookes, Rayleigh, Langevin and others. There have been certain periods when interest has been aroused, usually as a result of publicity given to a psychic subject of remarkable power. In a matter of years the interest subsided, only to revive when another set of social circumstances arose. Yet although many observations have been made and some valuable knowledge obtained about the patterns of psychic behaviour, there is next to nothing which could be described as physical theory by which the phenomena might be interpreted. The lack of such a theory has led to the observations themselves being discredited, and indeed there are various social and psychological pressures which reinforce this discredit. It is an interesting example of the thesis that scientific observations are often judged by social criteria.
The subtlety and elusiveness of the psychic phenomena are very great, as great as any in the history of science. Unfortunately, the polarization of opinions not only among the population at large, but among scientists themselves, is also great. It would be presumptuous to claim that these chapters will set all this to rights. But they may spread some seed of influence, from which theoretical advance could come; before many years our outlook on these phenomena will probably have changed beyond recognition.
It is from the standpoint of an experimental physicist that this book is written. Always to some extent dissatisfied with existing physical theory, I became interested in psychic research when the young Uri Geller visited England to demonstrate paranormal metal-bending on television. Once I became committed by my own observations to recognizing that these peculiar physical phenomena really took place, I started to spend time on observations, in the belief that the phenomena demanded a new approach in physics in order to explain them. The study has therefore a rather different aim from the usual parapsychological studies descended from the pioneer work of Rhine. I am more concerned here with physical than with mental phenomena. Very probably the two types of study are different sides of the same coin; but it is more befitting that the physicist should concentrate on investigations in which he has most experience and expertise.
Physical scientists are on the whole ignorant of the concepts used by psychologists, and the neurological bases for these concepts are very far from being understood. I shall find it necessary to distinguish between mind and brain, without claiming that the mind is necessarily non-material. In interpreting psychic and parapsychological phenomena, I shall claim that mind is unlike the rest of matter in having characteristics which are apparently trans-spatial and trans-temporal. The importance of these phenomena lies partly in their evidence for what has been called a dualistic mind-matter interaction.
Validation of psychic phenomena – that is, the observational proof of their reality by many instrumentalists in agreement – is an important part of psychic research. Orthodox techniques of physics provide the basis for this validation.
The backbone of the study is the detailed instrumental observation of ‘the metal-bending phenomenon’. But having described this, I feel entitled to speculate about its interpretation. And immediately I am confronted, by the most serious implications for physical theory. What is needed is a minimum hypothesis required for the interpretation of physical psychic phenomena. I rashly attempt to explore one such hypothesis, and comment on other possibilities. This is my apologia for writing what might be claimed to be a book containing not only reports of observation, but speculation.
There remains the possibility that my own observations have been grossly in error, or alternatively that I have personally indulged in scientific fraud, of the kind occasionally described in the novels of C.P. Snow.(2) The second alternative has been to a large extent ruled out by my policy of involving other scientists directly in my experiments; but the first alternative must be considered more seriously. To what extent have I been deceived in my observations? The instrumentation of metal-bending phenomena is technically straightforward. The difficulty lies in ‘social components involved in the assessment of scientific findings, a process normally thought of as being in some way immune from social forces’.(3) The reader must make his own assessment of my competence as an observer and experimenter. Alas, a lifetime’s experience of these things has left me only too conscious of my own shortcomings. But I would take issue with those who assert that experimental scientists are especially gullible and unqualified to investigate psychic phenomena. Nearly all of those who first investigated Uri Geller have been subject to smear attack by people unwilling to consider the possibility of the existence of anything which is not entirely materialistic or behaviouristic. Such attacks are more familiar in party politics than in scientific investigation, and it may be that their comparative rarity in science is connected with the fact that politics is much as it was two thousand years ago, whereas science has been able to make advances.
These chapters are not the place to refute such attacks as have been made on me, but I have answered (4) in detail elsewhere one particularly inaccurate account of my activities.
Although Uri Geller has not been caught red-handed in faking a paranormal physical phenomenon, yet adverse circumstantial evidence about his public performances has been given wide publicity. This exercise has created an atmosphere in which not only Geller but also the researchers into metal-bending have come to be regarded as suspect by the scientific community. Colleagues have been polite, but blasts of icy wind have often reached me.
It has sometimes been difficult for me to maintain an objective attitude in such an atmosphere. The reactive response of becoming partisan has had to be avoided. But it is also difficult to avoid feeling aggrieved that much uninformed as well as informed criticism has appeared. If my caution has in any way been strengthened by affairs in the public arena, then it is all to the good. But it will be clear to experimental parapsychologists reading this manuscript that my attitude is not ‘hard line’. My approach yields apparent results quickly, but for this reason the greater caution is necessary. The consequences of the teleportation phenomenon for physics are so serious and fundamental that it is necessary to be very careful before accepting the evidence for its existence. The worst thing that could happen would be the polarization of the scientific community into professional sceptics and professional believers.
Yet this polarization has to some extent appeared, and has been promoted and encouraged by popular writings. It is stated by the science writer Martin Gardner that ‘the researchers, almost without exception, are emotionally committed to finding phenomena’. But we might with equal justice claim that many science journalists are emotionally committed to finding that there are no phenomena. I have become just as sceptical of such reporting as I am bound to be of reports of paranormal physical phenomena.
After five years’ work I am still largely committed to the policy outlined in chapter 1: ‘Believe nothing that you hear and only half of what you see.’ But if this policy is universally accepted, then who is going to believe me? And if someone is sufficiently trusting to spend time doing similar work, then who is going to believe him? There is thus a ‘regression of disbelief’, similar to the ‘regression of observation’ in the quantum theory of measurement. The regression of disbelief is surmountable only by a more intensive concentration of orthodox scientific effort on these alleged phenomena. But it is also true that scientists are emotionally committed: to a belief in their own scientific method.
A criticism I have often heard is that ‘we all wanted the events to happen.’ This is in some degree true, and it may be that this is why they did happen. There is an unmeasured parameter in the experiments, namely the attitude of the observers. But I did not always know exactly what it was that I wanted to take place; and sometimes what did take place was different from what I expected.
It is of course not possible for an investigator of psychic physical phenomena to choose exactly the field in which he makes his observations; to a great extent he must accept what turns up, and subject this to rigorous test.
But it must be admitted that when it comes to a choice of paranormal physical effects to investigate, the metal crystal lattice has several advantages. It is both stable against thermal and other normal external changes, and its own physical behaviour is well understood. It does not require isolation in a container, as does a liquid or gas, and its high electrical conductivity damps out potential gradient and electrostatic charge. By contrast, biomolecular systems and living organisms are less well understood structurally and are rather more difficult to maintain in a completely stable state. Gases, liquids and especially plasma are subject to various instabilities. For example, ‘Kirlian photography’ of high frequency discharges around the body can show interesting effects, but such discharges are complex and difficult to understand quantitatively even in the absence of possible psychic influences.
Effects due to impurities, and in particular surface effects, are equally troublesome in all materials; they represent the principal source of awkwardness in physical science, and should be avoided as far as possible. It is well-known among scientists that ‘God made matter, but the Devil made surfaces.’ At least the surface area can be minimized for a metal crystal, and much is already known about the effects due to impurities in metals and semiconductors.
So although paranormal physical phenomena (sometimes known as ‘occult phenomena’) represent possibly the greatest challenge to physics at the present time, at least metal-bending can be said to be the easiest part of that challenge.
In collecting the observations I have called on the help of many people, and it has been generously granted. I gratefully acknowledge finances for the research which have come from Mr Instone Bloomfield, through the London Society for Psychical Research, and more recently from Mr Donald Webster, through the New Horizons Research Foundation of Toronto. My colleagues in research have included above all David Robertson; and I have had the expert assistance of Nick Nicola, Sadeq Kadifachi, Ken Jacobs, Brian Warford, Tony Walker and two Bill Marshes. Charles Lane has performed the glassblowing. Much encouragement and advice have come from David Bohm, Arthur Ellison, Arthur Koestler, Brian Inglis and George Owen. The excellence of the photographs has been due to David Rookes, and of the drawings to Roy Abrahams. Computer programming and numerical analysis are largely by Lech Jankowski. In the preparation of the text the burden of typing has fallen on my wife, Lynn.
But it is to the metal-benders themselves and their families that the greatest debt of gratitude is owing. There could have been no study of the phenomena if they had not spent long patient hours with me, waiting for things to happen. I will not single out any for special mention at this point since there are so many who have contributed; but it will be clear from the text how generous with their time and effort many of them have been.
Thank you, metal-benders.
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