Uri Geller - a bibliography - homepage

The Study of Geller Type Phenomena

A lecture by Prof. Arthur Ellison

The Society for Psychical Research
3 June 1975

Madam Chairman, ladies and Gentlemen. It is a great pleasure to be here once again. I always enjoy talking to fellow members of The SPR because it's a discussion amongst experts, or as near as one ever gets to an expert in our subject, which is of course not too well understood. There has been an enormous interest in our subject, psychical research or parapsychology since Geller started his activities. Especially since of course mainly as a result of radio and TV a number of other people, also, appear to be showing similar phenomena to those developed by Geller. So, what I would like to do this evening, and this is a very large subject, we can't do very much, is to discuss a number of aspects of the Geller phenomena, and make special reference to some investigations made by a group of academics and SPR Council members and others.
 We are, I imagine, all of us very familiar with Uri Geller's life, and I have no intention whatever of giving it to you all over again. I will however, a little later, make a brief reference to the biography of him written by Puharich, because I think that throws quite a lot of light on certain aspects of both Geller and Puharich. And then I'd like to refer very briefly, necessarily, to the Stanford Research Institute investigation and the treatment of that by Nature and by the New scientist and to the New scientist's own investigations. And then I'll refer to various other investigations also because they all contain rather useful lessons for us as researchers and people with an informed interest in the subject. And I thought I must in passing refer very briefly, very briefly indeed, to the recent book written by John Taylor. And I must refer to the views of magicians. The views of magicians are quite important in this subject. And then I shall conclude by making just a few points on what I feel personally is the way ahead for research in this subject.
 All this started of course, in Britain at the "Dimbleby Talk-In". I remember having a discussion, and many of us have long discussions with people who ring us up from the various T.V. companies, I was having a long discussion about a possible programme with someone who rang me up from the B.B.C., and I suggested to them that they might consider brining Geller to this country. I hardly imagined that they would adopt the suggestion. I've since discovered that a number of other people also made that same suggestion and the result was what we all know, the "Dimbleby Talk-In". Of course, that programme, with Dimbleby in the chair, contained no controls of any kind, what we refer to as controls. The demonstrations were not in any way, scientific. And yet the result was rather interesting, sudden, John Wesley type conversion of a well known academic. It reminds one rather of what happened to Saint Paul on the road to Damascus and it all created quite a stir, I remember. The bits of that broadcast I remember best are the lady dowser who wandered about the stage and told us where the bucket of water was, and the fact that the Chairman didn't ever actually tell us whether she was right or not. And I remember the box of assorted cutlery which was lying around and the sealed envelope containing the drawing, made by the lady who talked to Geller after making the drawing and before Geller attempted to guess it. I imagine that a great many SPR members will have been rather sad to see the way that programme was organized. I think probably the bit that impressed me most of all was that any stage magician would have done it a great deal better and so I though well maybe there really is something genuine here to look into. So, following that broadcast I made various abortive attempts with numerous people surrounding Geller to arrange tests. Of course it's very well known now that Geller is not particularly interested in scientific tests. His number one priority is quite something else. However, through the good offices of our distinguished fellow member Mr. Arthur Koestler one of the Sunday newspapers, one of the more respectable Sunday newspapers was going to pay for some tests, promising faithfully not to breath down our necks until it was all over. But sadly it never happened, for various reasons. While we were preparing for those tests we though out carefully what seemed to be the most sensible way to go about it. It seemed to me, and some colleagues too that we should form a multi-disciplinary commitee representing physics, chemistry, metallurgy, electrical engineering, medicine, psychology, the law, magic, but above all considerable experience of parapsychology. (07.03)And we also needed some of the former scientific collaborators of Geller for contacts with him. So, our multi-disiplinary commitee then consisted of a professor of experimental physics, a professor of theoretical physics, both form one university, a lecturer in physics from another univeristy, two psychologists from yet another univerity and a polytechnic, a solicitor, a medical practitioner, two of Uri Geller's collaborators, one a physicist and one a mathematician and chemist, that distinguished author and thinker I mentioned earlier, Mr. Koestler and two colleagues and myself. I am of course an electrical and mechanical enigineer from yet another university and my colleagues are both electrical engineers. The psychologists are SPR Council members, as is the medical practitioner. He is also a member of The Magic Circle and he arranged for us to have a consultant who was a professional magician and a member of the Inner Circle of The Magic Circle, and with special background knowledge in the way phenomena of the kind that Geller was demonstrating could be produced by, I was going to say standard magical methods.
 It seemed to us then that with something so potentially complicated as the Geller phenomena and in the light of scientific and other criticisms which we have already heard it was pointless for anyone to try to do this investigation single-handed. We certainly here in this audience all know the niave foolishness likely to result if one person tries to investigate and explain phenomena of this kind. Particularly if he is a recent convert to the subject without the essential background of many years of experience in parapsychology. And particularly do we know how utterly essential it is for more than one magician to advise on arranging experiments, so that everthing we did could not immediately be made valueless by all the magicians telling us "There's no problem here, we could easily do that by magical methods".
 So much then for the multi-disciplinary commitee. When it was almost formed, as I say with the aim of investigating Geller, we heard of a spate of other subjects, mainly children, claiming similar phenomena.
 One particularly promising family was brought to our attention. An academic relative of this family wrote to Sir Alistair Hardy and to Mr. Koestler and sent notes, many pages of notes made daily by the mother of the children who were demonstrating, apparently, similar phenomena. Now, this seemed to me to be much more promising and certainly easier to arrange than tests with the volatile and rather unreliable Geller. So I went with Mr. & Mrs. Koestler, informally to assess the situation at the children's own home. Now, may I tell you first what was described in the notes that were sent to us. Remember, I'm describing to you what was decribed by the mother of the children in the notes ent to us before we went to look at the subjects. Those subjects were a boy of thirteen, a girl of eleven and a younger girl of seven. The boy and the older girl produced most of the claimed phenomena. And it all started, as did so many others with that t.v. programme showing Geller. The phenomena were as follows: first there was bending of metal by stroking it. Not only spoons and forks but practically every thing else around the house as well, the notes said. And bending of plastic and of wood. The notes said that the children found it rather more difficult to produce bending in plastic and wood than metal. Thirdly, the notes described the disappearance of small objects from a box after concentration. In other words if one of the two children held a matchbox containing a small button the notes written by the mother said that the small button very often disappeared, and sometimes came back later. Fourthly, the notes said there was "translation" of objects, including one of the children, the boy who, the notes said, suddenly found himself on top of the wardrobe whereas previously he'd been in the kitchen. And suddenly found himself packed into the small cupboard under the stairs whereas previously he'd been sitting on his bed upstairs. The mother said in the notes that occasionally the boy appeared to float from place to place. She didn't actually see him doing it but he was at one moment, she said, in front of her the next moment his voice was heard from upstairs and she didn't see him pass.Fithly, there were claimed ESP experiences. The mother said that the little girl could put several blank sheets of paper on top of a folded newspaper and could trace what was several layers down inside the newspaper, with some accuracy. And she also described success at telepathy. The mother made a drawing and looked at it, and one of the children made a drawing which agreed, at the other end of the same room. And she said that the little girl particularly had the ability to read cards by touch. The little boy had visions, the little girl also to some extent, the little boy would occasionally see a flying saucer type object in his visions. Reminds one of Geller. And sixthly, voices were claimed to come from a radio, a little portable radio set which contained no batteries; and the voices repeated the thoughts of the little boy. Both the parents said that they had heard a low pitched voice coming from a radio with no battery. And were nearing the end of the list. You can see why we were rather attracted to these children. There was the attraction of the body of the little boy to objects, usually metal. One or two graphic descriptions of how the little boy would be sitting on his bed and a small metal sphere, a globe of the World would fly across space and hit him on the head raising a large bump and bruise, and occasionally they said the little boy's head was attracted to a wrought iron grill which was a feature of a lounge extension, which the family had. They also describe a occasional display of symptoms rather like epilepsy, headaches and occasional blackouts, which the children had. They describe rapid changes of weight, the scales in the bathroom apparently showed reductions and increases in weight, and the notes also describe the rapid opening of flower buds by the children. A claim that if the children held a closed bud in the cupped hand it would open out in a very very short time.
 So the Koestler's and I made a trip to the children's home to see for ourselves, buying rather heavy gauge tea spoons from an Ironmongers shop on the way. And almost staright after we arrived we saw the children open Tulips by holding an concentrating. The parents I should say the parents seemed to me transparently honest. They may have been deceived of course but they were certainly transparently honest. And they had prepared fairly tight Tulips picked from the garden, and the two children held one each, cupped in the hand, and we watched each one open in just a few minutes, five minutes or so. The Koestler's and I saw this. We each took another tulip, rather similar and we tried it and it didn't make a scrap of difference. I imagine our hands are much the same temerature as the children's hands. Then they tried to produce the disappearance of a button from a matchbox, and they had no success there at all. The two older children, remember there was a little girl of seven, the two older children then gently rubbed the spoons that I had brought, inside the plastic bags that they came in, holding them, rubbing them gently like that with the Koestler's and myself watching them at short range for any signs of force. And one of the spoons appeared to become like plasticine in about one minute and bent round the little girl's finger. Again, we took two more spoons, Koestler and I and we did exactly the same and it didn't make a scrap of difference. We did it for rather longer than the children did.
 Then we took this metal globe of the World that I mentioned and we put it on the carpet and we had the two children laying on the carpet with their heads about a foot away from the globe, hoping that maybe it would roll towards one of them, sadly it didn't do anything of the kind, they didn't have any success with that.
  And we tried some telepathy experiments, making drawings and we didn't have very much success with that either.
  And then, half of these experiments were done the following morning, the first half on the evening when we arrived. I had come in the following morning with a new copy of the Times, the family didn't take the Times and there was no copy of the Times in the house, and it was fairly early, about half past nine in the morning. I then took my copy of the Times, opened it at a page at random, folded it over into four, the print showing, put it down on the table and put three or four sheets of paper which I'd brought with me, blank paper, on the top of this newspaper. The little girl then sat down with a pencil, and closed her eyes, and held her forehead, and then she attempted to draw. I, if any of you are interested I have the drawing that she drew and I also have the bit of the newspaper, but there was a quite remarkable agreement with a diagram in an advertisment which was some pages down inside the newspaper, quite remarkable agreement so that I think that was a remarkable success in clairvoyance because I didn't know what was in the paper either, I hadn't read it before I went along and neither had anyone else too.
 Perhaps another remarkable bit was what we did at the end. While we were doing this Arthur Koestler wandered out of the room and went into the kitchen and he came back and then he said to the two children, "What do you think I've got in my hand, can you draw it?", and the little girl drew a circle with a tiny circle inside it, slightly off centre. He then opened his hand and he was holding a grape. It was an identical drawing of a grape. He could have brought in one of probably a hundred things which were lying around in the kitchen.
 As I said before we were completely reassured regarding the transpaprent honestly of the two parents. They were actually quite worried about the children's health regarding those epileptic type symptoms, blackouts and so on, but they were very glad to be reassured, and they agreed to tests in a laboratory in London, they live well over a hundred miles away, they agreed to tests in a laboratory in London, provided the media were not involved. They didn't want their children on television and in the newspapers and so on. And of course they didn't want paying. So we arranged a little later for a weeks holiday for the whole family in London and we spent half the time testing the children and the other half of the time taking them round London and showing them the sights, they'd never been there before.
 summerizing the preliminary encounter then at the children's home I am quite convinced, personally, that supernormal bending was produced, but I wouldn't expect of course any fellow members to take my word for it, I'm not a professional magician, but remember they were children and we did have our eyes within a foot or so of the occurences and we did try it ourselves without any success.
 Since then I have heard of other academics who have been equally convinced, notably of course Taylor, and I have myself seen another child bend a spoon supernormally in rather the same way, in Rugby, the haunt of an old friend of mine. I'll describe the experiments we did in London later.
 Why children you might say, why so many children? I think I'll just throw in this thought at the moment, maybe it's because do not know what is impossible. Some of you may have read Batchelor's papers; If you think that something is impossible it's much less likely to happen.
 Now, at about this time other investigations were going on and the Stanford report was published. Again, I will not summerize the Stanford Research Institute paper which was published in Nature, I imagine quite a number of you have read it, and it has been quite widely described. I thought those experiments were quite well done by Targ and Puthoff, remembering that this was a piece of pioneering work. Obviously as a result of experience experiments are always improved. Some of the earlier experiments in our subject were carried out by distinguished fellows of the Royal Society look niave to us today, but of course one learns as one goes along. The Nature editor said that he published it not to endore it but for discussion and to stimulate though and other work. And I imagine we would all commend those sentiments. At the same time or one day after the paper was published in Nature the New Scientist, the weekly magazine published there own repoter's investigation of Geller. A long report filling perhaps half of the issue, a long report by Joseph Hanlon. The New Scientist had of course been very put out by Geller's first agreeing to submit to their ivestigation and then later withdrawing. I had had and I imagine fellow workers with psychics have had this sort of experience with a number of well known psychics. Anybody with any experience of parapsychology knows, and psychics know, you can't turn the psychic faculty on like a tap, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't work, and the psychic is very often rather scared to submit to an investigation because they are afraid that the scientific investigator will get null results and rule them out too early without going on long enough and they're afraid that their faculties such as they are may not work on the day or days of the test. And psychics are well known, I imagine most of us know too that we seem to have investigators who help phenomena and other investigators who don't, people who encourage phenomena and others who inhibit. I suppose it's well known that Doanld West one of our distinguished Vice Presidents inhibits phenomena. Other people seem to act as catalysts and phenomena more readily occur in their presence. This doesn't mean that the latter are naive and the earlier I mentioned scientific, this would be ridiculous, but in the SPR we know about things like this. New converts and so called scientific investigators with no parapsychological experience do not know things like that.
 That New Scientist report was quite useful I thought in several ways, very damaging in others and clearly written by someone with no experience whatever of parapsychology. But he had talked to magicians. Clearly I don't have time this evening to deal with that report in detail, but let me say this. Geller's success score is much greater than that of any medium that I have ever known, and I have known some of the best mediums. I am personally therefore pretty confident that Geller uses trickery, not infrequently. He certainly is an entertainer, and the people that pay for entertainment expect results. And Geller has practiced magic. So that all the evidence goes to show that he uses trickery sometimes. This is no proof whatsoever that he doesn't occasionally produce the genuine article which he claims. So anyone experienced in parapsychology wouldn't throw out the baby with the bath water as used to be done so many years ago, and because a medium is caught out in trickery assume that everything that medium has done up to that time is valueless. It is not valueless, it is up to the scientific researchers to have conditions such that the medium cannot use trickery, and then if you get results you'll perhaps have a greater likelyhood that they might be genuine. So, oh and the fact that other people can do similar things to those Geller does is also additional evidence that sometimes, perhaps quite frequently he is genuine. But I'm quite sure myself that he uses trickery not infrequently. Again as I said earlier Geller's awkwardness in connection with the New Scientist tests is not a bit surprising to me [Break in recording]
(30.23)  -- sceptics, and I don't imagine that there's any good psychics any of us know would be terribly happy about working in such an inhibitory atmosphere. As I said we have inhibitors and catalysts in this subject. We know about this, or most of you do, inexperienced people don't.
 Now Hanlon's telepathy tests and his comments also show his inexperience, you remember there were some drawings, what the target was and what Geller actually drew. Geller's unconscious does quite genuinely produce drawings on a "mental screen". I don't know if any of you imagine that he makes up this story, this is the way the unconscious mind works. He closes his eyes he sees a "mental screen" and he sees a point of light which makes drawings. The little girl that we investigated had a similar "mental screen" on which drawings are produced. The drawings are not of course always complete, and not always accurate, the unconscious mind tries to oblige and comes up with a drawing, it's not difficult to train your unconscious to do that sort of thing. The interesting thing is when it comes up with a drawing which is being looked at by someone at the other end of the room. So Geller then sees this point of light making a drawing and he sometimes guessess the last few bits, if they don't appear. His attempts are sometimes remarkably accurate. I remember at Birkbeck College he did one for Arthur Clarke, Arthur Koestler and myself. Quite remarkably accurate. But he got a few wrong as well. But one wouldn't put this forward as evidence.
 Now, may I say only two more things about the New Scientist's report. First, Hanlon describes a Puharich invention regarding hearing with a radio embedded in a tooth, and implies that this might explain some of his telepathy, assuming one of his friends is his accomplice, Shipi Shtrang for example. It's quite easy to have Geller's teeth looked at and I don't imagine, he's rather proud of his appearance, I don't think that he would allow a dentist to get most of the inside out of one of his teeth and put a tooth radio in. I don't take that very seriously but it's perfectly easy to look. Occam's razor is of course important but you have to be rather careful that you don't sever an artery and cut yourself to death with Occam's razor.
 I must mention also Uri's own belief that his powers come from extraterrestrial beings called "Hoova" through a voice called "Spectra". Puharich has often hypnotized Uri, he's trying to find out what happens. I can imagine how rather, perhaps I shouldn't say this, as it was at a private meeting, how an investigator who doesn't at times appear to me to be any too scientific, how he would imply all sorts of things to a subject he'd put into hypnotic trance. Beings in outer space are just the sort of things the unconscious comes up with if you give it half a chance by an implied suggestion. You know some workers recently in Toronto and I refered to them recently, suggest and I'm sure there's a lot in this, that the Ego cannot accept the fact that the Self really has if it really does, this extraordinary power to control objects at a distance. There is a conflict hence this writer suggests, hence guides, spirits, extraterrestrial beings. Uri Geller needs these, perhaps because he can't accept that he does it himself. There's plenty of evidence that we all of us have that tendency, but there isn't time to go much into it now.
 Hanlon was very scathing about a transatlantic telephone test that I did myself from the Daily Mirror office. You know one of the editors rang me up and said would you like to take part in a t.v. test using asatellite across the Atlantic using Uri Geller, and you can lay down how we do it, I could hardly say no. So I said alright then and we had a slap up lunch in the Hilton surrounded by bent forks which were brought along, I don't quite know what for, and afterwards we attempted to do a telepathy test. They told me on arriving in the office that they were unable to get the satellite so we will have to do it by telephone. And we had a rather small amplifier making it very difficult to hear. And of course we did our best, and the result wasn't very good. As every investigator knows you have to try to encourage the psychic doing his best, and one feeds him little bits of information to see if you can get him on the right tracks and what else comes. Of course recording everything that is said all the time for analysis afterwards. Hanlon of course in his article though that I hadn't appreciated that I had fed Geller little bits of information. I really don't think that this sort of so called investigation and reporting needs commenting on further. Of course Hanlon was especially scathing regarding the experiments done with Uri in Birkbeck College and organized by Professors Hasted and Bohm. They invited me to go along and I can confirm, I didn't have any part in the experiments planning, I can confirm that some most interesting things ocured which certainly seemed to me to be ostensibly paranormal. Of course it's perfectly true, and this should be emphasied, that an audience of scientists is just about the easiest audience there is to deceive by a good magician. Any scientist who says "I had three colleagues present watching all the time", is no scientist at least not in parapsychology.
 A few weeks later Bernard Dixon the editor of New Scientist wrote an editorial called "Lessons of the Geller affair". I've read of few more foolish things. very adequately answered by an SPR collague in a letter which the editor of the New Scientist neither acknowledged nor published.
 Now, I must sat a little bit about the Canadian conference on psychokinesis held last summer in Toronto. The proceedings are certainly worth reading, I most warmly recommend them to you in fact Mr. Tikell(?) has asked me to write a review which I'm very glad to do for the Journal.
 Matthew Manning gave demonstrations of metal-bending and the moving of a compass needle without touching it, moving his hands six inches above it. Distinguished scientists were present one of them being Professor Josephson F.R.S, Nobel Laureate, And they checked that no normal means were used and they signed affadavits afterwards to that effect. Now, you might say, "But they had no professional magicians present", there was a professional magician, actually. But Matthew Manning seems to be much more amenable to scientific work than Uri Geller is. He doesn't wander around the place and turn half the audience out, and leave some of the experiments till later and so on so that you hardly no whether you're coming or going. This is not the way young Matthew Manning works. And so he produced I think the report says twenty or thirty or forty bent and broken objects during that conference which were carried away by various distinguished scientists who witnessed it with great pride, and left signed affadavits. So it seems to be rather different from experiments with geller. The whole tapestry seems to be different. Most interesting I felt there was information that the "power spectrum" of Matthew Manning's EEG, that means in rather unscientific terms the ammount of energy in the different frequencies in his Electroencephalogram, going from say half a cycle per second to 30 cycles per second, the ammount of energy was always very high in the Theta region, the lower frequencies, when he was applying his psychic powers. Several other psychics have shown the same predominance in the Theta region when they were producing psychical expressions. It's also that Douglas Dean took Kirlian photographs and you all know the difficulties of doing this properly; Douglas Dean took Kirlian photographs of Matthew Manning's fingers and again a quite different picture resulted when Matthew manning was in this bending frame of mind.
 Using batchelor's method the Toronto group created what they called "Philip" the imaginary ghost. They wrote an imaginary biography of somebody called Philip who had lived in the seventeenth century and who had a long and rather lurid life, then they sat around the table and attempted to communicate with him. They became children and they imagined he was there and they said "Are you there Philip", and so on. And after a relatively short time they were in communication with Philip the imaginary ghost. There will be a book out called "Philip the imaginary ghost", in the Autum of this year written by that Tronto group. But the interesting thing I wanted to mention now is this; those were ordinary people not psychics who cretaed Philip the imaginary ghost, who would answer questions by knocks on the table and so on, quite genuinely. Most of the scientific visitors to that conference sat around and conversed with Philip through knocks on the table. The interesting thing is this; One of them put a key on the table in the middle and said "Will you ask Philip to bend that?". And they tried, and it bent, with nobody touching it. And apparently it went on bending later on.
 That whole Toronto conference with Matthew Manning seemed much more controlled and scientific and organized than the work we've been able to do in this country with Geller.
 Then I wanted mention briefly a paper written by W.E. Cox, and given in August last year to the Parapsychological Association convention in New York. Cox is himself a magician, and went to see Geller in April 1974, went to see him in his room, just the two of them, hoping to see the psychokinesis. He was a magician, and he deliberately allowed opportunity for trickery in case Geller intended to use it. I thought this was an interesting experiment worth mentioning. And Geller did not use trickery. geller did something which was rather like what I saw him do myself at Birkbeck College. He stroked a very hard safe deposit box key held down to a glass topped table by Cox. Much too hard to bend by hand Cox says. He stroked it on a glass coffee table, Cox was looking underneath the table with a mirror in his palm, the other hand, one finger holding down the key, and the key bent about twelve degrees upwards in about one minute. So Cox says. And I believe him. All this took place he says fifteen inches from his eyes and he says that as a magician he detected no sembelance of trickery. He then did a most interesting experiment with a pocket watch. He had a pocket watch with two lids at the back and he'd previously jammed the ballance wheel with a piece of aluminium foil, folded over tucked under the ballance arm and tucked down into the ballance wheel. He said that Geller held the watch to his ear, shook it but no very wildly, and then got the watch going very quickly. And when Cox opened up the two backs, bending and braking his fingernail in the process he says, he found that the regulator arm had been moved by forty degrees, pulling the foil out of the ballance wheel. And Cox he says couldn't see any way of deception in those two tests and neither could other magicians. What a pity he had no other witnesses.
 Finally I must say very briefly what we did in our laboratory with the children that I mentioned earlier. We carried out experiments in the various relevant areas. - [Tape ends here]

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