PRIOR TO LAST April 23, I had never met Uri Geller; I had not even seen him perform live. I was aware of the "Gellermania" of the 1970s, but ó since my involvement in matters parapsychological at that time was very sporadicóI had failed to keep track of Uri Gellerís career as it went, more or less, underground.
Since 1982, when my work with Archaeus Project put me into almost full-time preoccupation with psychic matters. I have occasionally discussed the Uri-phenomenon with various skeptics and believers. I was somewhat surprised to learn that many of these people were "certain" that Uri had been exposed as a fraud. They had "heard it somewhere." I am as happy as anybody when fraud is exposed; I pressed them for details, but heard nothing substantial. Since my job permitted me to travel widely and to meet most of those individuals who might know the facts, I took the opportunity to ask, over and over again, what the exact circumstances of Uriís debunking had been. Over and over again I was met with knowing looks and firm statements about Uriís trickery. No one, however, could give me any solid, well-documented proof of their allegations. Even the reasons for suspecting Uri of fraud sounded pretty thin. ("Someone told me he saw Geller make a suspicious-looking move when he bent the key"óthat sort of thing.) On the other hand, there were a few fair-minded and serious people who had worked closely with Uri and who stated just as flatly that he was genuine.
This sort of controversy over the "powers" of a psychic is, of course, boringly typical. I was impressed, however, by the fact that here was a very public person who, if he were dealing in tricks, had flaunted those tricks thousands of times at close range without once being caught red-handedóeven when scrutinized by top magicians. In fact, some of those magicians had become convinced that something extraordinary was going on.
Let me say at this point that I am not going to waffle tiresomely about Uriís powers. I will not be using the words "putative," "alleged," "reported," and the rest as I discuss my observations. It is very fashionable for both skeptics and believers to use these terms lavishly and to take the position with regard to Geller that "sometimes Geller cheats, but there is some evidence that he is for real." This manner of expressing oneself may sound scientific, but it really is a kind of self-indulgence, not to say self-aggrandizement. Let me state only that I understand what counts as scientifically adequate evidence and what counts as sufficient evidence for me personally.
WHAT CONVINCES ME of Gellerís genuineness includes a wide variety of observationsómost of them not directly concerned with the cold, clear observation of "paranormal" events. These observations consist of intangibles not readily amenable to laboratory examination, which may be considered as irrelevant to the issue of scientific proofóand rightly so. These intangibles include Gellerís consistent and pervasive ingenuousness, his almost constant state of high excitement around the time of a performance, public or private (he urinates frequently), and the tremendous interest and energy devoted to the production of psychic effects. (He will always ask for confirmation of his efforts, even calling days later to see if one of his relatively trivial predictions came out. The importance for his career of who it was who witnessed these feats seems to make no difference at all.)
URI IS ALSO what a Jungian might call an extraverted feeling-sensation type. His extraversion is strong and obvious. As a friend of mine (a dealer in "normal," not "psychic" books) observed, "Perhaps his extraversion goes outward to the object in such an extreme way that he actually enters it, and it becomes an extension of himself." Uri is extremely charming and expresses genuine interest in oneís personal life and relationships. His "sensa-tion" orientation manifests in the manner in which he handles his time. Uri seems to divide his day up strictly in terms of activities and rarely makes reference to clock time. It is possible that he does not perceive time exclusively in "clock time" terms, as most of the rest of us do, and this may contribute to his ability to occasionally remove himself from its confines. Shipi Shtrang, Uriís business manager and brother-in-law, seems to have taken upon himself the task of keep-ing Uri in touch with time and appointments.
Gellerís ingenuousness is quite genuine. He seems to focus on matters of immediate interest and consequence to himself. He is ignorant ofóin the sense that he ignoresómatters that do not obviously relate to his goals. It has been rumored that when told that magnets might be used to make a compass turn, Uri responded with, "Oh, do magnets affect compasses?" (a statement, by the way, which Uri denies having made). I have also heard of "admissions" by Uri that he sometimes uses trickery (statements he also denies having made). With regard to the compass statement, if it were true, one is reminded of Sherlock Holmesís response when told by Dr. Watson that the earth revolves around the sun: "Now that I know that, I shall do my best to forget it." For Sherlock such information was of no use for the per-formance of his tasks, and such an attitude would be consistent with Uriís personality. However, I strongly suspect that these "quotes" attributed to Uri actually derive from offhand witty remarks that both Uri and Shipi make. Shipi will introduce himself as "the one who makes the holes in the walls and rigs up the lasers" for the purpose of "swindling" the investigators. The pervasive humorlessness and literalism of both skeptics and parapsychologists with regard to these sensitive matters leads me to believe that they are passing around Uriís jokes as though he meant what he said.
Of course, skeptics will regard this ingenuousness as a ploy, a rehearsed method of disarming and distracting Uriís "victims." Perhaps, but I doubt it. Uri was this way all the time I was with him, even when such an attitude, were it artificial, would have made no sense. Many of the more vocal skeptics of Uriís powers are stage magicians, either pro-fessional or amateur. It is from the perspective of the methods of stage magicians and mentalists that many skeptics orient themselves toward psychics in general and Uri in particular. This perspective is their one toolótheir hammeró and so for them everything looks like a nail, i.e., a manifestation of stage trickery. By their compulsive suppositions of manipulation, they tend, willy-nilly, to elevate every psychic to the level of a highly accomplished crowd-manipulator and talented performer of magical and mentalist feats. To persistently try to make us believe that this is the case consti-tutes, I would say, an extraordinary claim in itselfóand one which is, perhaps, impossible to falsify.
WHEN CONFRONTED with an unresolvable issue, one can sometimes look at the secondary evidence. One such aspect is Uri Gellerís accumulation of some $40 million in less than 10 years, having started with no substantial capital. This in itself has more than a whiff of the paranormal about it. I consider his remarkable acquisition of wealth, combined with the patent lack of true evidence of trickery (in spite of constant risk of exposure), to be good secondary evidence that there may be substance to Uriís claims. In a like manner, secondary monetary evidenceóthe receiving of the $272,000 MacArthur "genius" grantóhas gone far toward solidifying (in something of a prorated manner) James Randiís position as a master magician and illusionist.
IT WAS AFTER my tricks on Randi (reported in Curtis Fullerís column, "I See by the Papers," in the September 1983 issue of Fate) that Uri got in touch with me for the first time ó by phone. Since then we have had several telephone conversations, partly about the many slanders that have been circulated about him, but mostly about the welfare of mutual friends and about family matters. As Uriís recent book touróto publicize The Geller Ef-fectówas about to begin, I suggested to him that he put some pressure on Henry Holt (his publisher) to include Minne-apolis on the tour. This he apparently did, and we met for the first time at the bar in the Marquette Inn in downtown Minneapolis.
Uri arrived a bit late, explaining that he was very tired from the long flights. talk show appearances and wall-to-wall interviews and TV programs that had been arranged for him by his publisher. Nevertheless, we spent a good hour together that evening, during which he gave an enthusiastic demonstration of his abilities. He did this in a spirit that one would expect him to reserve for someone who was in a position to declare him genuine once and for all. His first effort wasó you guessed itóto bend a spoon. The spoon was ours, thoughtfully brought along by Archaeus Project managing editor Gail Duke. The spoon was tough and had survived un-scathed through one or two PK parties already. Uri becameóat least by my standardsóquite excited. He lightly grasped the bowl of the spoon (which was facing downward) between the thumb and first finger of his right hand and began to stroke the handle with the index finger of his left hand. The handle immediately began to bend upward. As it bent, I focused not so much on the bend, but on any movements he might make with the thumb and finger of his right hand and on whether he was turning the handle of the spoon in any way. Moving a spoon in certain ways can give the illusion of continuous bending. I saw no such movements. When I got home I stood in front of a full-length mirror and manipulated a spoon in order to produce the illusion of spontaneous bending. I could do this, but only to a limited degree. I did not see any relationship between the small illusion I was able to create and the large, moving bend generated by Uri. So that looked pretty good to me. It looked even better later on when Gail took the spoon from her purse. The handle had bent still further and felt warm to the touch. (Here comes the tedious letter telling all of us dummies how this could have been done by trickery. Maybe so, but I doubt it.)
Uriís next effort was a telepathy routine. He told me to go to the other end of the large, dark barroom and draw a picture. I did so, using one of the small notepads on the tables for customers to doodle on. I put the pictureóa very abstract oneóin my pocket and went back over to Uri, who was talking to Gail. I handed him a notepad I had picked up from another table (not the one I had used to make my drawing). He told me to do it over again, thinking I had handed him the pad I had used. He didnít want to be accused of seeing an imprint on the pad. I explained what I had done, and we went ahead.
I was asked to focus on my drawing and "draw the picture slowly in my mind." I cannot do this very well on the spur of the moment: this and the oddity of my picture may have contributed to Uriís failure to come up with anything. He gave up and asked me just to think of a picture and "draw it slowly" in my mind. Again I did this very poorly. I thought of the Star of David, then decided it was a poor choice because of Uriís Jewish background. But I also thought it would be interesting to see his reaction to something so obvious. As I tried to draw it slowly in my mind, I found that I could do so only by first drawing two triangles and then having them intersect. I also found myself putting the triangles together and taking them apart without letting them stay in fixed position. Uri immediately began to draw angles in the air, then made a drawing on the pad. After a few moments he shrugged and gave up, and we went on to other things. Just as he was leaving (for another interview), he asked what the picture was that I had been thinking of. "The Staró" I began, as he slapped his drawing down on the table, " ó of David."
As I said, there was good reason to guess that I might have picked this particular emblem: however, I was impressed to note that below the star, Uri had drawn some scribbled triangles that seemed to represent the up-and-down intersecting movement I had imaged as forming the star.
What impressed me most about Uriís performance was not the metal-bending or the telepathyóI am, sad to say, already convinced that these things happen. What intrigued me was the alacrity with which Uri went about it. Why would someone fatigued by travel and social events, and who must have bent 10,000 spoons, turn to another as if it were being done in the presence of the Queen of England? It seems to me that Uriís ingenuousness, spontaneity and inex-tinguishable enthusiasm may lie at the roots of his power.
The next day I went over to the KSTP-TV studio to watch Uri on "Twin Cities Live." The host of the show was clearly sympathetic, and began by asking about Uriís ten-year absence from the public eye.
The authorís first drawing in the telepathy experiments. Uri failed to pick up on this one. 2. Uriís drawing of the Star of David suggests the moving angles pictured mentally by the author.Now, Uri has not been as absent as all that: He has been the subject of a number of articles, including a feature story in Forbes. He appeared on the 1983 TV show, "Magic or Miracle," in a debate with James Randi that even skeptics say went in Uriís favor. He also appeared on a lengthy and widely broadcast Japanese television special. In fact, for someone who is said to have. dropped out of sight, Uri has maintained sufficient visibility to make me wonder what he has in mind for the future.
YEARS OF EXPERIENCE have taught Uri how to confuse and undermine debunkers long before they get a chance to attack. He begins his presentation by notifying the audience that he has been called everything in the bookóa fraud, a trickster, a professional magician, even an extraterres-trial. He graciously thanks the skeptics and debunkers for their assistance in promoting him as a celebrity. He says up front that he is a showman and an entertainer. He presents himself as a religious person who believes in God.
He goes on to deny that he has any desire to be a guru, assuring the audience that they too can bend metal psychically and perform all the wonders that he will demon-strate on the show. It is against this image and against Uriís rapport with the audience that debunkers must struggle, and itís not a pretty sight.
On "Twin Cities Live," Uri told viewers to yell "Work! Work! Work!" at broken appliances and watches; several called in reporting their success. Backstage, before the show, the host had drawn a picture of a "smiley face" and put it in his pocket. Geller had not seen it, yet was able to reproduce the picture with an accuracy that would be very hard to achieve from memory, let alone telepathically. If Uri is sneaking glances by using small reflecting devices, he is able to remember the images with striking accuracy in spite of the distortions caused by angles and surfaces. In fact, Uriís drawing was "millimetrically accurate," matching exactly the diameter of the original. These problems with the sup-posed surreptitious viewing of the drawing were conveniently neglected by one of the skeptics present, who attempted to demonstrate that Uri did it with a reflecting pen. He was so insistent about this that he had to be calmed by the host, who gave unmistakable signs that his intelligence was being insulted.
URI ALSO did a demonstration with an old watch he was given by a member of the audience. He shouted, "Work!" at it, but nothing happened. He was about to give up whenóon cameraóthe hands of the watch began to spin wildly. Very effective. Uri did not neglect to mention that merely handling a watch can cause such things to happen, but if the movement of the hands was due to normal factors, Uri was very lucky indeed. He also tried turning a magnetic compass psychokinetically, asking the audience to add their own psychic efforts. The needle of the compass turned about one degree.
In addition to suggesting that the behavior of "psychically repaired" objects might have a normal explanation, Uri also understated his extraordinary talents for dowsing. His efforts, described in The Geller Effect, have earned him most of his $40 million. He says, however, that he "fails more often than he succeeds," that he really seems to be narrowing the range of the search more often than pointing directly to a location.
Near the end of the show, the local skeptics got their shot. The first of these was a tweedy sort who had sat through most of the show with his head hunched down and his arms crossed.
With the genial sarcasm of a judge of the Inquisition he intoned, "I am amazed that you are able to overcome the laws of nature and physics." Another debunker ungraciously inquired as to why Uri felt the need to "bamboozle the public." Uri responded to both antagonists with the utmost charm, saying that the first "looked like a nice man" and asking the second his name so he could address him properly. Uri asked him if he had not, in his whole life, had an experience he could not explain. The man replied, "Iím a statistician. All these things fall within the laws of chance." And he went on, his voice getting louder and louder and higher and higher until the host asked him to sit down.
Finally, Uri was asked to predict the winner of the tenth race, the most important, at the horse track just south of Minneapolis. After passing his hand several times over the racing form, Uri said he got very strong impressions from both "Mr. Rivas," and "Butlerís Revenge." He vacillated between the two, but his first choice fell on "Mr. Rivas" and his second on "Butlerís Revenge."
It was Uri against the skeptics 100 to nothing. He had captured the audience with his seamless charm. I was back-stage in the green room with Shipi and the studio guard, watching the show on a monitor. The guard, unaware that he needed the debunkersí protection, summed it up: "I donít know if I believe it, but it sure is entertaining!"
As I drove Uri and Shipi to the airport, our art editor, Cathryn Stewart, was sitting in back. She later told me (and Cathryn is definitely not a fan of psi) that she felt impelled to look at her watch, which she does rarely. At that instant Uri said, without turning around, "Itís 11:11. Thatís a lucky number for me; youíll find it mentioned in my book." That evening Uri called from New York to ask the result of the tenth race. "Butlerís Revenge" had won; "Mr. Rivas" had been scratched.
© Dennis Stillings - Reproduced with permission