TRIBUTE TO A MAVERICK
A regular reader of this column asked me the other day why I don’t write more about myself in it. Well, there are two reasons. One is that there is plenty about me in print already including Andrija Puharich’s biography of me (now on my website) and Jonathan Margolis’ more recent one, which brings the story right up to date. The other is that since this is a technical magazine, I try to concentrate on matters that are more to do with the frontiers of science than what some people see as the fringes of mysticism.
However, I am going to break my rule here. A book popped through my letterbox recently entitled Memories of a Maverick by H.G.M. Hermans (Pi Publications, P.O. Box 11, 3140 AA Maassluis, Netherlands). The maverick in question was Andrija Puharich (1918-1995) and the author, ‘Bep’ Hermans was his second wife. Her book has prompted this tribute to a great and much misunderstood scientist of great vision, versatility and courage and a wonderful human being. But for him, nobody outside Israel would probably ever have heard of me, and it is no exaggeration to say that I owe my career and my success to him.
We first met on August 17th, 1971 when he came along to the night-club in Tel Aviv where I was doing my show. I trust my first impressions of people, and the very first words I remember saying to him were “I think we can work together”, and so we did – starting right away and continuing for several years in and out of dozens of laboratories (as you can read in Charles Panati’s The Geller Papers). One of those lab reports, “Information transmission under conditions of sensory shielding” was published in the world’s leading scientific journal Nature (October 18th, 1974). None of this would have happened if Andrija had not set the ball rolling.
When we met, Andrija already had quite a track record in ‘straight’ science. He had dozens of patents for his miniaturised hearing aids. He had two university degrees (in medicine and philosophy). He did pioneering work in blood coagulation and the extraction of energy from water by hydrolysis. He was Senior Research Scientist at New York University Medical School. He was no amateur scientist.
He was an unusual one, though. Fascinated since his college days by the powers of the mind, he tramped the world in search of people who could show him what it can do. First came experiments in telepathy with Eileen Garrett, Peter Hurkos and others in his own lab. Then he was off to Mexico in search of ‘sacred’ mushrooms used by shamans to obtain information. Next stop was Brazil, where he made a detailed study of the psychic surgeon known as Arigó. Typically, Andrija wanted to get close to the action and he offered himself as guinea-pig. A lipoma was duly hacked out of his arm in a few seconds, with a very rusty-looking knife and no kind of anaesthetics or antiseptic precautions.
He was devastated when Arigó died in a road accident in 1971, a few months before we met, though he later managed to study an equally unconventional healer, Pachita, in Mexico.
He still found time for more conventional research, notably into the effects of ultra low-frequency waves on the human brain. He was the first to investigate the mysterious signal known as the Woodpecker (which is what it sounded like) coming from two huge transmitters in the Soviet Union that was disrupting radio broadcasts all over the world. Their purpose has never been revealed, and he was convinced that the Soviets were testing a new type of psychological weapon based on technology developed by Nikola Tesla.
In 1983 he announced the successful treatment of tumours in mice with gaseous superoxide anion and ozone, a discovery that seems to have been swept under the rug. Towards the end of his life he was working on a theory of a common scientific basis for all kinds of healing, both conventional and unconventional. His last public presentation, in 1990, had the typically forward-looking title “Unification of the four forces of nature with the human mind: theory and experiment”
I have to admit that there was a strange side to Andrija. Back in the early fifties, after a meeting with an Indian mystic, he became convinced that human affairs were being directed by a bunch of extraterrestrials called The Nine. He really believed this, and seems to have unwittingly founded a kind of Nine cult (of which I am not a member). Many of these utterances came through hypnotised people, including me, and he included several pages of them in his book about me, well aware that this wouldn’t do his scientific reputation much good, as indeed it didn’t. Yet he was like that – a true maverick who refused to run with the herd.
In his letters to Bep and in his personal papers, Andrija gave fascinating accounts of his mushroom-hunts in remote parts of Mexico, and of the bizarre events that followed the delivery of his 1,200-page biography of Tesla to his publisher, Dell. They never published it, following alleged intervention by the CIA which, to add to the confusion, then invited him to become a research director. He flatly refused to have anything to do with them.
The most poignant item that Bep unearthed was the prize-winning essay on George Washington that Andrija wrote when he was 19. In its opening sentence, he seems to have written his own epitaph:
“When a man belongs to posterity, he is an alien to his contemporaries, since the effects of his work are too far-reaching to be appreciated by his own generation… There is too much of the visionary about such a man to convince the practical-minded”
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