Uri Geller - a bibliography - homepage

Arthur C. Clarke's World of Strange Powers

by John Fairley & Simon Welfare

William Collins Sons & Co., 1984 - ISBN 0002166798

 Foreword - Arthur C. Clarke

 Over the years, lack of any progress in this field made me more and more sceptical but still open minded enough to remain interested in the subject. So when Uri Geller burst upon the scene in 1973, I welcomed the opportunity of meeting him.
 The encounter, at Birkbeck College on 22 June 1974, was typically chaotic, and not at all a controlled scientific experiment (but then it wasn’t supposed to be). Among those present were Dr David Bohm, the well known theoretical physicist; Arthur Koestler (who bequeathed half a million pounds to set up a chair of parapsychology at a British university); physicists Arthur Ellison, John hasted, Ted Bastin, Jack Sarfatti; and my fr5iend the late Val Cleaver (chief engineer, Rolls-Royce Rocket Division).
 To quote from Uri’s own account:

 The scientists were all very attentive, but I couldn’t tell what they were feeling. I sensed that I really wasn’t getting through to Arthur C. Clarke, however.I thought that maybe, if I interrupted my talking and bent his house key for him, Clarke would feel differently. I asked him to hold his key out in his own hand and watch very carefully so that he would know that I wasn’t substituting another key, or taking it away from his hand, or putting pressure on it. Within moments, his key began bending. And he said: “My God, my eyes are seeing it, it’s bending!”

 After performing further marvels (setting a Geiger counter clicking furiously, deflecting a magnetometer, dematerializing a crystal…) Uri was pleased to note:

  By that time, Arthur Clarke seemed to have lost all his scepticism. He said something like, “My God! It’s all coming true! This is what I wrote about in Childhood’s End. I can’t believe it!” Clarke was not there just to scoff. He had wanted things to happen. He just wanted to be completely convinced that everything was legitimate.

  Since it is, of course, utterly inconceivable that Uri could tell an untruth, I am quite prepared to accept his account of my behaviour; most naďve observers react to his performance in exactly this way. But his memory is at fault in one important respect; he did take the door-key out of my hand, and he placed it on a firm metal surface while stroking it. Interesting, to say the least…
  I should also add that two of the most enthusiastic endorsers of Uri’s London demonstrations, Dr Jack Sarfatti and Dr John Taylor (Professor of Mathematics, King’s college) later made a complete volte-face and decided that no paranormal phenomena were involved. And Arthur Koestler, in a note I received from him a year or two later, was also having second thoughts.
 If, after all this, you ask me whether I believe Uri is a total fraud, I’ll refuse to give a straight answer – but will urge you to study the books of his implacable though as yet only partly successful nemesis, the Amazing Randi. Make up your own mind –after you’ve read Flim-Flam and The Truth About Uri Geller. For my own part, I freely admit that I like the scamp, and we exchange friendly notes from time to time. He provided the world with much harmless entertainment during a gloomy period of history, and made some distinguished people look very foolish – always a most enjoyable spectacle from the sidelines. For a superb example of such a group, preserved like flies in amber, see The Geller papers, edited by Charles Panati. Many of the authors of this astounding farrago must now wish that the entire edition had dematerialised.
 My copy is inscribed: To Arthur. I wish you Health! Peace! Love! Happiness! From Uri Geller.
 And the same from me Uri…

Chapter four - Mind Over Matter

 …Most famous of all these manifestations is psychic metal bending, a feat popularised by Uri Geller, who came to public attention in 1973 and left behind him a trail of bent spoons, twisted latchkeys and arguing scientists.
 Despite the doubts cast on Geller’s powers, his reputation as a “psychic superstar” still lingers. In the summer of 1982, for example, America’s mass- circulation National Enquirer announced that Geller would transmit from the observation deck of New York’s World Trade Center “psychic energy that you can use to fix your broken watches, TV’s, radios and other appliances”. The instructions to readers certainly promised to be easier, and cheaper, than calling in the repairman: “If you have a small item that needs repair, place it on top of Geller’s photo on this page of the Enquirer. If you have a large broken appliance, then place Geller’s photo on top of it.
 “Stroke and talk to the broken item for 10 minutes,” Geller advised. “Keep repeating to it, “Work! Mend! Work! Mend!” Don’t be bashful – shout it loudly, believing sincerely that it will be repaired. The results will amaze you.”
 And indeed they did, according to a later issue, which announced that “Hundreds of people all over America received telepathic signals,’ from the helpful Geller. “Almost from the day of the experiment,’ said the report, “readers excitedly reported broken items started to work again as they concentrated with Geller.
 “In Bowen, Illinois, Lynn Schoenherr’s 16-year-old music box that hadn’t played in years whirred into action. “Even the key that winds it was frozen in a fixed position,” she said. “When the time came, I began stroking it and talking to it, saying, “Work, mend, work, mend,’ just like Geller said to do. My family thought I was nuts. But after five minutes, the music box started to play “Lara’s Theme” from Dr Zhivago – slowly at first, then faster! I was astounded!”
 “Margaret Pauley of Carmel, California, psychically cured the slipping clutch on her 19-year-old Mercedes. Mechanics had told me it would cost over $300 to fix,” she said. “I sat in the car, put Geller’s picture under my left foot near the clutch and mentally said, “Mend, mend,’ over and over. Later, when I drove my car, the clutch didn’t slip anymore!”’
 These were just two of the satisfied customers.
 There was a time when Geller’s stunts attracted front-page headlines all over the world – not just an inside page of The National Enquirer. In the decade since he first charmed and amazed his way into the public consciousness, however, the possibility that a few gifted individuals do possess psychokinetic powers has been popularly accepted, and these days only the most bizarre and spectacular manifestations of the PK phenomena catch the attention of the world-weary sub-editor.

 …. In November 1973, when the Great Spoonbending Controversy broke in Britain, no such neatly argued dismissal of psychic claims was possible. From the moment Uri Geller made his British debut, on a BBB television talk show, there were scientists who took his work seriously. Moreover, an excited public lost no time in adding the weight of its testimony to the Israeli’s claims that he could bend metal not only in the studio but also at long- distance. From homes throughout the country came reports of how watches which had stopped years before had suddenly started again, how cutlery had been found in strange contortions and how keys had bent in locks; even the family silver was not immune to Uri’s paranormal powers.
 Geller’s extraordinary demonstrations inspired a field of study which still flourishes; in the jargon of parapsychology it is known as PKMB – Psychokinetic Metal Bending. In Geller’s wake followed a Pied Piper’s army of “mini-Gellers” – children who claimed to be able to bend spoons, to create metal sculptures and to scrunch up paper clips inside glass globes by mind-power. Geller himself had a problem: wherever he went to show off his remarkable powers, the Amazing Randi was seldom far behind.

 …For his first meeting with Geller, in the New York offices of Time magazine in February 1973, Randi posed as a journalist, one of the simpler illusions of his career, for the only equipment he needed was the standard kit of yellow pad and pencil. By the end of the meeting Randi had found a new mission, and summed up the thinking behind it in his investigative book The Truth about Uri Geller. “This writer is convinced that Geller is a clever magician, nothing more – and certainly nothing less…In my view, Geller brings disgrace to the craft I practice. Worse than that, he warps the thinking of a young generation of forming minds. And that is unforgivable.”
 Even amongst conjurors Randi was exceptionally well-placed to challenge the Israeli “boy wonder”. More than 20 years earlier, using his real name of Randall Zwinge, Randi had himself succumbed to the temptation to pose as a psychic, and had confidently and successfully “predicted” the result of the baseball World Series and the exact number of visitors to the Canadian National Exhibition. These “feats” – smallish beer to a practiced conjuror – resulted in newspaper stories which raved about “The man with the mind that functions like a carbon copy of your own and maybe a little ahead of it.”
 Randi gave up trying to pass himself off as a miracle-worker but, after two years of “close observation and careful analysis’, he concluded that Geller had not been so strong willed: the Israeli was doing no more than standard conjuring tricks which depended upon sleight-of-hand, the distraction of the audiences attention at crucial moments, signals from accomplices and the substitution of one object for another. In fact, he realized, Geller’s act consisted of tricks that had he been performing as a conjuror might have been considered rather trivial. But, unlike ordinary stage magicians who merely rejoice in their ability to deceive the eyes and wits of members of their audience, Geller claimed to have genuine paranormal powers.
 Early on, Randi decided that the most effective way to prove his point would be by example; within a short time he claimed that he could replicate any “miracle” in Geller’s repertoire. Assiduously, he sought out journalists who had written starry-eyed articles about the Israeli’s abilities, and his admonitions were always accompanied by a dazzling “psychic” display. On one famous occasion, at the height of the British public’s craze for spoonbending, Randi posed as an unknown psychic and hoaxed Britain’s leading spiritualist weekly, Psychic News, into printing an enthusiastic of the miraculous mayhem he had wrought on a visit to their offices when spoons, forks and a paper knife were bent. Just because an event or action seems to defy normal explanation, there is no reason, Randi believes, to class it as a miracle or evidence of paranormal phenomena: if a conjurer can out-Geller Geller, or at least equal him, trickery must always be involved.
 Sometimes, frustratingly, this argument does not convince PK-believers: Randi is weary of people who, after seeing him perform, insist that he must have psychic gifts, despite his protestations to the contrary. He is impatient, too, with scientists who believe that their training and experience qualify them to judge whether fraud is involved. “Scientists are the people least qualified to detect chicanery,” he told one reporter. “They’re the easiest to fool of all. If you want to catch a burglar you go to a burglar, not to a scientist. If you want to catch a magician, go to a magician.”
 Many of Randi’s exposes of the “Geller Effect” have been both damning and hilarious. For example, he once got his assistant to masquerade as a psychic on a radio show and asked listeners to ring in with reports of any strange manifestations that occurred during the broadcast. The calls that began to flood the switchboard showed that the assistants non-existent “powers” were every bit as dramatic as Geller’s: mirrors cracked, cats ran amok, a light bulb exploded, cracks appeared in a window, an air-conditioner and a refrigerator stopped working, toilet paper fell of the roll, and somewhere in the catchment are a of radio station WMCA, New York City, a spaniel began to sneeze, and a piggy bank broke open, disgorging its hoard of pennies into the night.
 Randi is happy to confront scientists and parapsychologists. He even offers annual awards called “Uri’s” categories include “the scientist who says or does the silliest thing relating to parapsychology in the preceding twelve months” and “the “psychic” performer who fools the greatest number of people with the least effort”. The trophy is a bent spoon, tastefully mounted in perspex, and “winners are notified telepathically and are allowed to predict their victory in advance.” However, he is careful not to offend his fellow magicians and is reluctant to explain how PK tricks can be done. Fortunately, two sociologists from new Zealand, david marks and Richard Kammann, operate under no such restraints.
 After observing Uri Geller both at close quarters and on stage, the New Zealanders listed the methods used by the man they call “as slippery as an eel and as cunning as a fox, but, oh, so phony!” Here is how, they say, Geller contrives to alter the time shown on a watch belonging to a dupe a dupe in the audience: “While handling a borrowed watch from the audience member, Geller moves the hands around, using the winder in the normal manner. He then places it face down in the hand of a small child, too nervous to turn over the watch and check that the time is still true. Distractions galore, and a good delay between the physical wind-on and the final time check, make this an easy but effective feat of mind power.”
 They also marvelled at the number of people who offered their watches for paranormal repair, “like a group of crippled pilgrims on their way to Lourdes.” Jewellers pointed out that about half the watches they are asked to mend are merely clogged up with dust and old oil, and showed that more than half would start if warmed in the hand. Marks and Kammann add: “Probably they do not tick for very long as, in most cases, they need cleaning and lubricating. But that doesn’t matter, as most people accept the sound of the ticking as a miracle of psychic power.”
 Finally, they analysed Geller’s most famous tour de force, metal-bending. Their conclusion: “There are many ways of making small objects bend:

"(1) Distract everybody, bend the object manually, conceal the bend, then reveal it to the now attentive onlookers. This is his usual method. The bend is either made by a two-handed tweak, or by levering it in something tough like a belt buckle or the head of another key with a hole in the top.

"(2) Geller (or an accomplice) pre-stresses the object by bending it many times until it’s nearly at breaking point. Later it can be used to dazzle unsuspecting audiences as it bends, appears to melt, or even snaps in two pieces following the slightest pressure from Uri’s wiry fingers.

"(3)  Quite often collections of metal objects (e.g. a bunch of keys or a drawer of cutlery) containing one or more items that are already bent. Geller tells you he’ll bend something and, when you examine the whole set of objects carefully, the bent item is found and Uri takes credit.

"(4) When an object is already bent, Geller will often say that it will continue to bend. He may move the object slightly to enhance the effect, or place it on a flat surface and push down on one end. But many people will believe they can see an object slowly bending purely as a result of Geller’s suggestion that it is doing so.

"(5) Substitute objects already bent for the ones provided.”

 Although by the mid-1970’s there were already doubts about Uri Geller’s powers, nevertheless he had really started something in the groves of academe. In universities throughout the world – in physics laboratories as well as in parapsychology institutes – research into PK and its manifestations became urgent and fashionable and, for the first time since J.B. Rhine’s dice-throwing days at Duke, experimental results were eagerly anticipated and widely discussed.
 Among the British scientists galvanized into starting investigations into PKMB after meeting Geller were two London University professors, John Taylor of King’s College and John Hasted of Birkbeck College. Taylor, a leading theorist in applied mathematics, was so enthusiastic about metal-bending and the feats of the “mini-Gellers” who emerged after the Israeli’s first television appearances, that he wrote a fulsome book about them called Superminds. Later, however, he seems to have changed his mind, and is now convinced that their powers are not paranormal.
 Not so professor John Hasted, the kindly and respected chairman of Birkbeck’s physics department. He is well aware that his pursuit of the true nature of PK has caused the raising of many an academic eyebrow, but persists in his work, noting wistfully that “adverse circumstantial evidence” about Uri Geller’s public performances has made life uncomfortable for him and his co-workers:
 “This exercise,’ he says, “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.” Nevertheless, undaunted, Hasted has taken refuge from those icy blasts in his specially equipped laboratory deep inside the physics department, cramming his experiments into a busy round of teaching and administration, bolstered by his own conviction that paranormal metal-bending is a proper field of study for a physicist: “Once I became committed to 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.”
 Aware that it is “easier to make mistakes in psychic research than it is in physics”, Hasted has taken great pains to ensure that experimental conditions are as watertight as possible. At an early stage, he decided to concentrate on “no-touch” experiments, which, as the term suggests, means that the PK subjects attempt to bend the metal without having any physical contact with it. Using the practical laboratory expertise of the trained physicist, Professor Hasted has devised all kinds of experimental apparatus, including latch keys with built-in strain gauges sensitive enough to register the smallest of changes in the shape of the metal. Progress has been slow but, over the years, Hasted has claimed a string of successes – one of them, a series of experiments with a teenage boy, Nicholas Williams, who was able to cause bends in keys hung up in a room while he sat well away from them in a chair making model aeroplanes.
 Sometimes, the chart recorders attached to the keys displayed signals which showed that several keys were bending at once. Other tests also gave dramatic results: Hasted left some thin strips of aluminium in a room, and when he and Nicholas returned to it after waiting outside for a few minutes, tight concertina folds had appeared in the metal.
 Another of the children investigated by the professor produced weird “scrunches” from paperclips, which were encased, apparently out of reach, inside a glass globe. It was what Hasted calls an “impossible task” – an experiment in which the precautions against fraud are so stringent that any successful bending of the metal must be due to paranormal agency.
 However, Hasted does acknowledge that not all the problems were eliminated: no scientist actually witnessed the production of the “scrunches”, which took place away from the laboratory. More crucially, a tiny hole was left in the globe, since experiments in which it was completely sealed yielded nothing (perhaps because the glass acted as a barrier to psychokinetic powers). This meant that an “impossible” task became just possible after all: one of Hasted’s colleagues was able to produce a comparable though less tight-knit “scrunch” by poking tools through the hole, and so was the ever vigilant Denys Parsons.
  Today, the globes are kept in a cupboard of Hasted’s Birkbeck laboratory, testimony to his ingenious attempts to discover the truth about PKMB, and symbols, too, of the countless questions that still have to be answered before this distinguished physicist can convince the scientific community that he has found any clear-cut answers.

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