Uri Geller was the psychic phenomenon of the 1970's, a celebrity carefully nurtured by the sensation hungry media, who still bends metal and minds today. A cabaret performer cum paranormal superstar who can still raise red-faced vitriolic rage among sceptics, cynics and magicians. He is also the man who taught me how to bend spoons.
In December 1938 Margaret and Itzhaak Geller married in Hungary, and then fled to Israel to escape the horrors of the war. Eight years later Margaret gave birth to Uri in Tel Aviv. The Gellers marriage did not last and they were divorced; as a result young Uri and his mother went to Haatzor Ashdod kibbutz where he seems to have been very unhappy. His mother met and married Ladislas Gero, a Hungarian who had once been part of a cabaret dance team and who ran a hotel in Nicosia. They moved to Cyprus, where Geller attended the American school in Larnaca, then a Catholic boarding school in Nicosia. After Gero died, and with Cyprus in turmoil, Geller and his mother returned to Tel Aviv. Uri eventually found himself in the Israeli army, fought in the six day war and subsequently became a counsellor in a camp for children. There he met Shipi Strang and his sister Hannah and in June 1970 began giving professional demonstrations of psychic powers.
Where did those powers come from? According to Geller's autobiography, the source may have been a brilliant light that knocked him unconscious in a garden. In a slightly different version, in Adrija Puharich's book Uri a human-like figure produced the blinding ray.
Puharich proved to be Geller's big break. An electronics expert with a taste for the unusual, a believer in UFO's and mysterious other-worldly entities that dominate his version of his experiences with Geller, Puharich was introduced to him in in 1971and the two carried out research together. The following year Geller began visiting laboratories in the USA and Britain and the controversy really started. Media appearances and verification of his powers in laboratories by scientists respected in their own fields placed him in the limelight and brought about the fame that Geller frankly admits was his aim.
I first heard about him through snippets in the popular science journals of the time and felt that same frisson of thrilled expectancy that every believer in paranormal powers must have experienced at the time. Here was the real McCoy that would change forever the face of science. For the next dozen years or so, I followed Geller's progress and the controversy that surrounded him. I even learned to bend metal by watching videotapes of his television performances.
Although I was fully aware that his stunts could have been done by fraud, an overall view of the evidence showed it to be highly contradictory. The only way to satisfy myself that I was not dealing with a very clever charlatan was to meet him personally, and in the Spring of 1985, while making the "Forbidden Knowledge" radio series with producer Alec Reid, I got that chance. I heard that Geller decided to settle in Britain and had set up a temporary base in a block of flats overlooking Hyde Park. Features written by Stuart White appeared in the News of the World, so Alec Reid and I decided to try and interview Geller for the series.
We were rapidly discovering that even the strictly-focused approach we were taking was producing an enormous amount of interview material, many, many, hours' worth which had to be concentrated into 168 minutes of programme time. There would only be time for a ten minute segment about Geller in one of the programmes. Or so we thought.
One problem was immediately apparent. Geller does not like magicians, and during the winter of 1984-5 I had broadcast a series of Geller-type stunts on BBC Radio 2's "Nightride" which even reproduced the famous long distance Geller effect. I had been described on the front page of Psychic News as a magician and I felt sure that Geller would have seen that press cutting.
His dislike of magicians is certainly justified. In November 1973 a Daily Mail columnist, Richard Herd, asked Billy McComb, a very experienced and highly regarded magician, to visit Geller with him. McComb's opinion was: "That man's a fake." The American magician James Randi and photographer Charles Reynolds insinuated themselves into a Geller demonstration at the offices of Time magazine. Randi described Geller's attempts at telepathy as "the saddest, most transparent act I've ever seen." When Geller bent a spoon Randi claims that both he and Charles Reynolds clearly saw him press the spoon against a table top. Jack Delvin, a British mentalist, a magician specialising in pseudo-psychic effects, saw Geller at an LBC "Night Line" broadcast and reports seeing Geller physically bending a key as walked through a door looking for some metal.
On the other hand, Leo Leslie, a Danish magician, concluded in his book Uri Geller that Geller was genuine, having failed to catch him in any deception, and Arthur Zorka, chairman of the Occult Investigations Committee of the Atlanta Society of Magicians, also concluded in a report to the committee that Geller was authentic. To confuse things even further, the influential British magician Robert Harbin, at first accepted Geller then changed his mind.
But Richard Herd, in another article in the Daily Mail in January 1974, had stated that Geller was born in Hungary, so I wondered what else he might have got wrong. Abb Dickson, who was involved in the Arthur Zorka investigation, is said to have given a significantly different account of what happened during the meeting with Geller and, in view of Leo Leslie's book, one can wonder about his bias in favour of Geller's powers. On the other hand, I was not out to expose Geller, unless he was clearly a fake.
Several magicians have written and published books of varying practicality on what has become known among conjurers as "Gellerism."
At first, we tried to contact Geller through Stuart White, who discovered my conjuring connection, knew that I had accurately reproduced some off Geller's effects and became very suspicious. Letters and telephone calls directed through White came to nothing. Eventually, through another source, I was given a telephone number. When I tried it Geller answered and passed me over to Shipi Strang, his right hand man. Strang has remained a close friend and associate of Geller since his kibbutz days in Israel and is now his brother in law. Sceptics have often implicated Strang in Geller's effects.
I told him, truthfully, that I was writing and presenting the series and wanted to interview Geller. Strang insisted that we should meet Geller at his Kensington flat. Over lunch on the day of the interview I briefed Alec Reid on the possible effects and methodology that might be used if Geller was a fake. We also took some precautions to ensure that we would be able to tell if any of the experimental material available was interfered with.
A drawing had also been prepared and placed between two pieces of black card, the edges bound with adhesive tape. To add a second level of security, the adhesive tape was scored so that, if removed, it would be difficult to replace. This assembly was put into an ordinary envelope. I also took a spoon and a set of keys. Ideally, the metal objects should have undergone metallurgical examination beforehand, but there had been no time to do this as the examination would have taken several days, possibly weeks. But if something really strange was going on, then it ought to become evident in later examinations.
Outside Geller's apartment building we met Rod, the sound engineer. Rod looked at me closely and said, "I've recorded you before, You did a recording with Anna Rossi," referring to a short series of interviews I'd had with Anna about magic and the paranormal. "Do you remember what the recordings were about?" I asked. If challenged, I would have to admit to being a magician, and that might have set up an unpleasantly negative atmosphere which I felt might detract from the interview. "Oh no," he said, "can't remember a thing."
The receptionist telephoned Geller's flat. No answer. He tried again. Still no answer. The three of us began to get tense. Someone was sent up to the flat and reappeared a couple of minutes later to lead us through a double door with remote control locks leading to the lift. We were to be met at the top, he told us. The lift stopped at the sixth floor and Shipi Strang was waiting, looking plumper than in the photographs I'd seen of him. He took us into one of the two apartments Geller rented. It was as soulless as a hotel room. As we entered, I noticed an office area with a circular table covered with papers, a calculator and a telephone close at hand. One wall was lined with a reflective, mirror-like corrugated surface. Potentially useful to a would be mind reader. On the other side of a slated room divider was a sparsely furnished area with a low couch and armchairs against one wall and a television and video equipment lining the opposite wall. At the far end of the room was a window bay with two exercise cycles in it. "Uri will be with you in a minute," said Strang as he left. None of us spoke.
I looked around to see what would be useful if I wanted to cheat. In front of me was a glass-topped table on a heavy metal base. It appeared not to have been wiped properly as there was a white smear across it. I had already warned Alec about the possibilities offered by glass-topped tables and it was soon covered with recording equipment. Then Geller came in. He looked older than he should have done. At thirty nine, there were white flecks in his hair, now cut short, military style. He seemed almost painfully thin - he is a vegetarian - but with a wiry muscularity. Geller works out for ninety minutes every day and his body looks hard. More than anything else, however, I was struck by a deep sense of tiredness. He seemed to carry an enormous, weary burden.
I liked him immediately. He has a boyish vulnerability and charm. It would, indeed, be difficult to blow the gaff on someone as friendly and charming as this. He came in barefoot, wearing shorts and a sports shirt. As we shook hands, I noticed the scars on his arm left by Egyptian bullets in the Six Day War. Rod switched on the Nagra and, as the tape hissed through the recording head, the conversation I'd been waiting fifteen years for began.
Uri Geller talked about how he wanted to give his children a British education and why England was his favourite country. "Let's not forget that England made me. It was David Dimbleby and Jimmy Young many years ago." If he had not succeeded the way he did, Geller believes: "I'd probably be a general in the paratroopers in Israel or maybe an airline pilot."
He discovered his power to bend metal at the age of four. "I always knew somehow I'd incorporate it into my existence. But, strangely, when I started appearing all around the world I saw that it is very hard work to appear every night in a different city on a different stage. I was young then - I'm talking about nine years ago. I wanted fame, I wanted money - that was in my head. Then I diversified my powers. I totally dropped the show-business side of it and I started using my powers for business purposes."
What made the major change in his fortunes, claims Geller, was meeting Sir Val Duncan, chairman of Rio Tinto Zinc, who introduced him to the world of mining and minerals."I retired six years ago. I really don't have to work anymore. I was very successful - when I say very successful, out of ten times, for example, I would find (something) three times. Most of the time I would fail, but if I strike one time, if I find an oil well or a diamond pipe or coal, you're talking about big money."
Indeed he is. According to a report in the Financial Times Geller's terms are for £1m advance against royalties, non-returnable. He is reported to have carried out eleven projects in the past ten years. The report claims that Peter Stirling, then chairman of Zanex, confirmed Geller's prices and that Geller had found "diamond type Kimberlite rock" in 1985. However, Kimberlite is not especially rare, although diamond bearing rock with exploitable diamond content is. But nearly a year later no diamonds had come from the site identified by Geller. In June 1986 the Australian Sceptic reported that Geller had been paid A$350,000 for his work and granted an option of 1,250,000 Zanex shares at 20 cents each until 5 June 1987. Two Austrailian magazines reported, falsely, that Geller's biggest client was RTZ. A geophysicist spoke to told me that Kimberlite has a characteristic footprint and can be spotted on ariel photographs.
I asked Geller if his children had shown the same sort of powers. "With my son, Daniel, I can actually do a little telepathy," he said. "Maybe before you go I'll call him in and we'll write something and I'll transmit it to him." Later, after we had finished recording, Geller called in his son, four-year-old Daniel. Uri wrote "Lufthansa" on my notepad while Daniel stood, his hand on his fathers leg, looking intently at Geller's face and said "Lufthansa!" Geller then went on to show how many airline names his son could remember. They see me bend a spoon and they imitate me."
I'm still very controversial. There are still people who do not believe in what I do and they think that the whole parapsychology field is just fraud, or it's magic, or it just does not exist. I want to keep it that way, for my own gain. Being controversial is always very interesting. If I tell you how a lamp works you won't understand completely but you know it exists, but if I tell you it receives some cosmic energy from the pyramids it will become controversial, people will start arguing, and I like that. For scientists that's very, very bad. But it's an in-built safety device for me. As long as people still do not know whether I'm real or not, I'll always be safe.
Of his critics he says:
I have to send all of these people flowers and love, because, again, they made me. Those people who constantly knock me, made me more famous. There is an old saying that goes: It doesn't matter what they say about you so long as they spell your name right. I hope they'll continue.
If right now a guy like Randi or someone else is sitting in South Africa or Australia saying, "Ah, Uri Geller is just a magician," my name is being mentioned…The accusations are so ridiculous - New Scientist had a whole page, with a diagram, about how I have a transmitter hidden in my tooth. When you go to that extent of transmitters and laser beams and chemicals, it becomes really funny. If I had a laser beam in my belt buckle, it would be a bigger phenomenon than my real powers.
In fact, the New Scientist piece included other possible methodologies too. The tooth radio was put forward just as a possibility, not a probability, and was based on electronics designs by Puharich. The laser-beam idea was a flight of pure imagination on somebody's part and the chemical is a complete invention by scientifically illiterate journalists - no chemical, not even the mercury compounds, would bring about the effects produced by Geller. To be truthful, none of these has been seriously regarded by knowledgeable sceptics.
I asked him about the court case, first reported in the Daily Mail, Britain and the Jerusalem Post in Israel, that found Geller had used sleight of hand in his performances and which resulted in an order to repay the admission fee. Geller replied sharply:
No. If there was such a court case, wouldn't it be very easy for you to fly to Tel Aviv and find that court case? Of course there wasn't a case. This is elementary. Go to Israel, and find out. These are rumours put out by negative people. Listen, you know very well where these rumours generate from…What about the rumours that said I was a magician in Israel then, again, go to Israel and find me a poster, find me a leaflet, find me a brochure - I'll pay you £100,000 if you do that. Can I be more generous than that? None of these things exist saying I was a magician, because I was not.
We asked David McNeil, then the BBC's correspondent in Israel, to check on the story. He found the original direct court report by the Israeli News Agency, according to which a mechanical engineering student, Uri Goldstein, sued Geller in a Beersheba court for breach of contract. The court found that Geller had promised psychic feats but had delivered conjuring tricks. He was ordered to pay the court costs and to reimburse Goldstein for the cost of the ticket. Several weeks after the interview had been broadcast, Geller continued to deny the court case. However, the case, No 37720, was well remembered by the clerk of the courts. In The Geller Effect published in 1986, and a year after his denials, Geller finally admitted that the case did occur, although he was not present at the hearing.
As far as being a magician in Israel is concerned, Geller certainly never billed himself as a magician. But that does not necessarily stop him from being one - a rat-catcher can call himself a brain-surgeon, but he's still a rat-catcher. In the 18 December 1976 issue of Abracadabra, the British weekly for magicians, in an item headed "Uri in Hamburg", a fire-eater and magician called Stromboli, who had appeared on the same bill with Geller in Hamburg the previous year, is credited with having performed watch-stopping feats for several years. Continental and other artists know this and associate Stromboli with such happenings", says the item.
Herb Zarrow, who has also added his name to the vocabulary of conjuring - he devised the Zarrow shuffle - is said to have met a magician called Simon Ruckenstein, in Safed, Israel, who is said to have traded tricks with Geller. However, there are a fair number of magicians who have made similar claims - Geller is even said to have attended meetings of an Israeli magic club. These stories remain unconfirmed, Ruckenstein will not confirm or deny his story, and it would be unwise to accept them all at face value.
A number of people of varying closeness to Geller are reported to have confessed to aiding him in fraudulent effects or catching him cheating, including shipi's sister, Hannah Strang, now Geller's wife; a one time agent and manager, Yasha Katz; a PRO who worked for a year with him, Miri Zichrony; his ex-chauffer, Itzaak Saban; a one-time manager, Baruch Conti; and a showman who worked with Geller, Danny Peltz. Katz has since retracted his statements.
During the interview, Geller was reading my notebook upside down. "If you read all the negative books written by these magicians, 99 per cent of them are lies. Let them write; the more, the better," he commented. About the laboratory work Geller says:
It's very, very hard to work with scientists. The reason that it is so hard to prove psychic power in the laboratory is that for some very strange reason psychic phenomena don't want to be proven. For instance, at Stanford I tried for two months to bend a spoon and it couldn't bend. Telepathy worked, but it worked after weeks. On the stage it works in minutes.
Russell Targ and Harold Puthoff make no mention of these delays in their reports. The only reference that might be so interpreted comes in the narrative to a film of some of the experiments, in which they write: "In the laboratory we did not find him able to (bend metal without touching it)…it was always necessary for him…to have physical contact…it is not clear protocol, he was permitted to touch the metal, in which case the metal did indeed bend."
While Geller talks of "erasing a computer tape" at Tokyo University, reports of the event say only that the computer stopped. The effect took several hours to occur. Indeed, Geller says that it took more than a day, so almost anything, from a slyly applied magnet to static electricity, or the usual glitches that infect all computers, could have caused the stoppage. Ronald Hawke of the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, California saw Geller corrupt magnetic program cards late in 1974. The corrupted cards had been rubbed by Geller and the highly - localised patterns of the corrupted magnetic field are, to me, strongly suggestive of the application of a small magnet. Two of the four cards used in the experiment remained unaffected - one which Geller had touched only momentarily and another which had been sealed inside a glass container.
Uri repeated the assertion that he was now working with security agencies, and there may be cause to believe him. Many magicians have been connected with intelligence agencies over the years and even if Geller is a fake it is possible that the techniques he uses could be of value to them. After all, one American magician, John Mullholland, was paid $3,000 in 1953 to write a book on sleight of hand to aid CIA agents. If we accept Geller's claim to be involved with the CIA, this does not validate him in any way. Quite the opposite, in fact. If the suited spooks of Langley, Virginia or the Pentagon had found anything useful, why does the USA still spend hundreds of millions of dollars launching spy satellites and devote vast amounts of cash to developing the Strategic Defence Initiative hardware and research when they can get it all done for a fraction of the cost using Geller? And why is so little money available for research into an area of potential military use? Less money is spent on psychic research each year than the cost of a single F1-11 fighter-bomber.
Geller went on to tell us about his inventions, a counterfeit bill detector and a gas-leak detector, and claimed that he had designed a submarine net responsible for "catching" a Soviet submarine in Scandinavia.
The interview finished with a couple of minutes' worth of tape still left to run on the reel and Geller suddenly said, "Did you by any chance bring a spoon with you?" Throughout the interview I had been careful not to pressurise him into a performance. Any offer had to come from him and now he had made it. I took the BBC restaurant spoon from my pocket and gave it to him. "I have to be near metal when I do this," he said, and, ignoring the metal table support and the metal content of the recording equipment, insisted that we move to the television set on the other side of the room. Suddenly the hollow that had been there since we met seemed filled with a charismatic sparkle. He was holding the spoon with both hands as he talked and moved, the bowl in his left fingers, the end of the handle in his right. "Come close," he said. Alec Reid and the recording engineer moved towards the television set, taking their eyes off Geller for a couple of seconds as they shuffled for position.? Then it happened. With their attention misdirected Geller pushed in and downwards on the ends of the spoon, making it bend in the middle. It took a split second to do and I've tried it myself many times since with similar misdirection. It works. He looked up and, for what seemed an age, our eyes met. Then he was on the move again, turning the handle in behind his right hand so the bend was hidden. Rubbing the handle, Geller angled it gradually upwards. "There's no sleight of hand, there's no chemicals," he assured us. "The people who don't believe think I have chemicals or laser beams or I prepared the spoon - I can't go around the world doing this to everyone." He gave the spoon to Alec Reid as we moved back to the couch, and several times he took it back, each time bending it a little more using thumb and middle finger with the index finger as a fulcrum.
By now Shipi Strang had returned and Geller asked if I had a sealed drawing. I took the envelope from my pocket but the tape needed changing on the Nagra and he refused to continue.
To confess what I'd seen seemed pointless. Only three entities really know what happened: me, Geller and God. Geller merely denies the incident and God is, as usual, keeping quiet. There was no sense of triumph, just a dreadful feeling of disappointment, one that I exercised later that same day by sitting alone in a quiet room, recording my account of what I'd seen on the end of a half finished reel of tape and then forgetting about it.
For the next few days I wondered what I was going to say, how I was going to write the script. Every form of words I put together sounded bitter and vengeful and I began to realise just how deep the emotional ties of the paranormal run. Then Alec Reid telephoned. He had discovered my private exorcism and wanted to use it. I've listened to that piece of tape several times since and wondered what it might have been like if the events had been different. There still remained one avenue that might reinstate Geller as a possible genuine psychic. He had said that the molecular structure of the metal of the spoon would have changed. Had it?
The Evidence of Science
When the programme "To Geller and back" was broadcast several believers in Geller's powers wrote in to suggest that his talent had been proven in laboratories under the gaze of "some of the worlds most reputable scientists". Geller himself cites The Geller papers, a 1976 compilation by Charles Panati, once science editor of Newsweek, and experiments with Eldon Byrd of the Naval Surface Weapons Centre as scientific proof. Ruth West of the Koestler foundation in Belgrave square, in London, quoting George Owen of Canada, says: "If you want to consider whether Geller is a fraud or not then you must look at these papers.
If Uri Geller considers that the Geller Papers provides the scientific proof of his abilities, then it certainly deserves attention. The Geller Papers consists of reprints from various journals together with some original papers, including the first scientific paper on Geller which appeared in the science journal Nature in 1974. Titled "Information transmission under conditions of sensory shielding", it was written by two laser scientists, Russell Targ and Harold Puthoff, of the Menlo park-based Stanford Research Institute in California. Rumours about the Stanford research had been flying around for several months, gaining in fantasy content every time they circulated. Real scientific papers in real science journals go through a peer review process to ensure that the information in the paper is accurate, that the research methods do what they are supposed to do, that the conclusions are drawn correctly and that the paper is important. Or, at least, that is how the system should work. It is far from ideal and there are built-in dangers. Scientists who have gained sufficient authority in a subject to judge a paper are likely to be past their imaginative prime and unable to view it with an unbiased eye. The chances are that a paper on quantum physics would never have got past Albert Einstein.
It is not easy to get a scientific paper published in mainstream journals, as the standards are usually high. Nature sent the Targ-Puthoff paper for peer review to three referees with the aim of establishing whether or not the paper was worth publishing in its own right, not whether or not it confirmed or denied existing prejudices. As a result Nature decided to publish, but prefaced it with a long editorial. This is reproduced in The Geller Papers in a topped-and-tailed version. Of the three referees, one was against publication, one had no strong feelings on the matter and a third was guardedly in favour. They criticised the paper as "weak in design and presentation"and details of exactly how the experiments were carried out were "disconcertingly vague." Targ and Puthoff had not taken account of established methodology in psychology research. Two of the referees felt that lessons learnt by previous researchers had not been taken into account. The methodology of target selection, opening a dictionary at random, was " a naïve, vague and unnecessarily controversial approach" and revealed a lack of skill which "might have caused them to make some other mistake which is less evident from their writing". Details of safeguards were described as "uncomfortably vague".
"On their own," says the Nature editorial, these highly critical comments could be grounds for rejection of the paper". The decision to publish was taken because the paper was, after all, written by two scientists with the apparently unqualified backing of the Stanford Research Institute; as a matter of debate and dispute in the scientific community at that time the subject was one that needed to be reported; advance publicity had led to a number of rumours and publication would put them into perspective; and it would enable other scientists to judge the quality of the work coming from SRI. So the paper was far from being a major breakthrough in parapsychology.
There have been a number of criticisms of the SRI work by people like James Randi with a number of very damaging claims about how Targ and Puthoff carried out their experiments. But what can be gleaned from the paper itself?
Two special rooms were used for sensory shielding in the experiments, a room with double steel walls which was used for EEG research and a Faraday cage. The latter is good protection against radio transmissions but you can see and hear through it just as you can a sieve - because that is what a Faraday cage is, a sort of large inverted copper sieve. It was used because the experimenters wanted to take advantage of the graphics capabilities of a computer at the SRI. The main shielded room, in addition to double steel walls, had two doors, an inner and an outer one. Surprisingly, considering that the whole of the research carried out in it depends for its validity entirely on the security of this room., Targ and Puthoff give no details whatsoever about it. There isn't even a plan of the room, let alone a photograph. No information is given about how they tested the room's effectiveness. This detail is essential. Was there for instance, a mains plug socket in the room? If so, was it isolated from the rest of the circuit serving the laboratory? If the answers are yes and no respectively, then Geller could have smuggled in a mains intercom operated with an outside accomplice. Targ and Puthoff say that the only communication was a one way audio link operating "only" from inside the room to the outside. Yet in "The Record", published only two years later, they mention that the link had a push-to talk switch to enable communication from outside the room. In other words, it was a two way link; indeed, Geller himself describes it as such in his autobiography. If anyone pushed the talk-back switch outside the room, Geller could have heard any conversation or an accomplice could simply have whispered into the microphone. Since none of this is mentioned in the SRI report, we cannot assume that they protected themselves against fraud using these techniques.
What about those doors? Could the inner one have been opened from the inside? They had refrigerator-type locks and, since logically the inner door must have opened inwards (I may be wrong, but Targ and Puthoff don't mention these doors in any detail), the handle of the inner door must have been inside the room. The sensory shielding of the doors, then, may have depended entirely on the effectiveness of the one outer door. If someone tapped on the outside, could the sound be heard inside? Was it possible to hear conversations through the single door if the inner door was opened? We don't know.
In other words, there is no way that anyone reading the paper can judge how effective the shielding was. Of course, Geller would, in most cases, have needed an accomplice. Apart from the experimenters and Geller, no other person is named, and only other SRI personnel are referred to. Yet, from "The Record", we do know that, in at least one case, there were several people present during one experiment who were not mentioned in the original paper. Who were they? We don't know.
Even to a layman it must appear that this is very sloppy science. It refers to sensory shielding, but says next to nothing about the shielding or about how the room was tested or what precautions were taken against fraud.
When Geller was tested with 100 drawings in envelopes which an accomplice could not have seen, he failed. I found this interesting because, for once, we do have some idea of how the drawings were protected - they were in double envelopes lined with black cardboard. When I presented Geller with a similar set-up, he passed on trying to guess the drawing.
Although ten dice guessing experiments were carried out at SRI using a metal card-filing box, With Geller being correct eight times and passing twice, we know nothing about the protocol from the paper. It says that Geller wrote down his guesses. What was done with these pieces of paper? Did Geller have them? Did he show them to the experimenter before the dice was rattled? Did he touch the card file? Again we don't know.
What really is astonishing about this particular series of experiments is that with a success rate of 100 per cent, the highest level of success achieved, not one single further experiment of this type was carried out. Remarkably, the paper does say, "Although metal-bending by Geller has been observed in our laboratory, we have not been able to combine such observations with adequately controlled experiments to obtain sufficient data to support the paranormal hypothesis." Despite that, a film shown at a 1972 physics colloquium at Columbia University was devoted almost exclusively to experiments not mentioned in the paper, the only exception being the dubious-dice guessing tests. But Targ and Puthoff were decent enough to say that what was seen on the film "should not be interpreted as proof of psychic functioning".
One of the interesting things about "The Geller Papers" is that reports of metal bending and the like come only from short term experiments, in which Geller was present only for a matter of, at most, a couple of hours.
Uri did not mention the SRI tests to me, but he did talk about experiments done at the Naval Surface Weapons Center at White Oak Laboratory at Silver Spring, a few miles north-west of Washington DC. In 1960 researchers at the US Naval Ordinance Laboratory were experimenting with various alloys for use in a new generation of missiles and spacecraft then on the NASA drawing-board.They came up with a nickel-titanium alloy, NiTi. The new alloy was disappointingly soft and a hardness-testing machine made a deep dent in a block of it. To see what effect heat treatment might have, two research workers, W.J Buehler and R.C.W Wiley, warmed up the block and, to their astonishment, the dent simply vanished.
What they had discovered was a new memory metal, a substance that could "remember" its original shape. It was christened "nitinol" from the initials for NIckel TItanium Naval Ordinance Laboratory. The material can be processed into a particular shape at high temperature and allowed to cool. It can then be bent, twisted or battered into any shape, returning with tremendous force to its original shape when heated to what is called its transition temperature. That temperature can be almost anything the user desires. For instance, if it is low then the material is very hard at room temperature and takes a fine edge. Being non magnetic it is ideal for, say, a special forces knife. If the transition temperature is such that the material changes from soft to hard at body heat it can be used in medicine. Another use is for an IUD. The most commonly available type has a transition temperature of between 150 and 200 degrees Fahrenheit.
Eldon Byrd, a physical scientist at the Silver Spring laboratory, decided to test Geller's effect on Nitinol at a private parapsychology laboratory, now defunct, called the Isis center. According to writer Martin Gardener despite what Charles Panati believes, the Isis center was not part of the Silver Spring laboratory. Two other locations are mentioned in Byrd's paper, published in Panati's book for the first time. In theory, Byrd's experiments had two built-in controls which made other controls against fraud unnecessary. He believed that extreme conditions were required to give Nitinol a permanent shape change, and the material itself was in restricted circulation. Byrd was wrong on both counts. For instance, by the time Byrd carried out his experiments in 1973 there was a conjuring trick available in which a spectator wrote a number on a piece of paper. The paper was secured with a paperclip and placed in an envelope which was then burnt. Among the ashes would be found the paperclip, twisted into the figure 4 , matching the number written by the spectator. The clip was made of Nitinol.
At least three years before Byrd's experiments, samples of Nitinol wire were distributed with Battelle Research Outlook, the house magazine of Battelle-Columbus, as well as with press releases distributed in Britain and the USA. According to the literature on Nintol, and to Byrd, the metal needs to be heated to 500 degrees Celsius (932 Fahrenheit) to effect a permanent memory change. However, Harry Rosenberg of the department of physics at Oxford University told me in a telephone conversation that he had discovered that 180 degrees Celsius would do the trick - and it could be done with a match.
At the first session with Byrd, Geller failed to affect a block of the metal or a 1.5mm piece of wire. Byrd then cut a piece of 0.5mm wire into lengths of about 5 inches, into one of which Geller apparently put a kink. What happened to the pieces of wire not used by Geller? How long did he take? Who was present? And what precautions were taken against the switching of one wire for another? Had Byrd's original assumptions been correct, these questions would be irrelevant. Byrd says that the kink produced by Geller could not be removed, even when the wire was heated in a vacuum chamber by metallurgists at the Naval Surface Weapons Center. Unfortunately, there is no record of this stage of the experiment. Byrd may well have had it done informally, in which case there would be no official record. This would be a pity because, if true, it would certainly indicate that something remarkable had happened.
A second test was carried out in November 1973 with two pieces of wire which Geller did bend. When? Where? Under what conditions of observation? We don't know. Again, had Byrd's assumptions about the characteristics of Nitinol been correct, these questions would not matter.
In a third session, in October 1974, Geller and Nitinol got together in the Connecticut home of John G. Fuller, Solvej Clarke and Melanie Toyofuku, friends of Geller, were present. According to Byrd's account, four pieces of wire were prepared, three of which he took to Fuller's home. He says that they were physically characterised. How this was done or whether the pieces were individually identifiable he does not say. Kinks appeared in all three pieces which seemed to remain even when the wires were heated. The question of controls remains unanswered, as usual. How could the effects have been produced? First, of course, a prepared piece of wire could have been taken into the laboratory and simply switched for a piece already present. Second, during the first test one of the unused pieces could have been taken by Geller or an accomplice into, say, the lavatory and a memory shape processed in with a match flame and an improvised clamp as suggested by Gardener in his article mentioned earlier. Using such prepared pieces Geller could, after straightening them, have simply put in a kink using sleight of hand at the point where the prepared wire had its memory kink. When warmed up, the new kink would disappear to be replaced by the memory kink. Even more simply, the kinked wire could have been held so that it appeared to be straight and given a 90 degree twist (see part four - How to be Psychic).
Thanks to Renate Siebrasse of the London office of the Battelle Memorial Institute I was able to get samples of Nitinol wire and discovered that a permanent memory change could be caused by making a loop and, keeping the loop flat, pulling the ends of the wire. This produces bends virtually indistinguishable from some of those produced by Geller. In fact, the Nitinol literature warns against bending the metal too sharply because this induces strain on the outside of the curve from which the wire cannot recover. A permanent loop can be formed by tying the wire in a knot and subjecting it to a match or cigarette-lighter. The knot effectively clamps the wire and prevents the enormous amount of force released from springing it back during heating.
These and the SRI experiments represent the strongest case for Geller's powers. Unfortunately the results are meaningless since the conditions at SRI are unknown and the controls in the Nitinol experiments were based on false assumptions.
Of the remaining papers in Panati's book, professor John Taylor of King's College, London, has withdrawn his support from Geller and professor John Hasted of Birkbeck college remarks, "We realise that such conditions as we have described in this paper are just those in which a conjuring trick can be carried out." Unfortunately, one of the most impressive experiments carried out by Hasted, damage to the very crystals inside pill capsules, was marred because although he had checked the crystals earlier in the day, he did not do so immediately before Geller had overt access to them.
Curiously, Geller turned down seven or eight invitations from the chairman of the Israeli Parapsychological Society, H.C Berendt, then claimed never to have heard of the IPS. Geller also choose not to be investigated by the Society for Psychical Research.
Science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke was present during one meeting between Geller and Hasted. In Geller's autobiography, Uri says that he told Clarke to hold his own house-key in his hand and it bent. Clarke's own recollection is that Geller did touch the key and had it on a firm metal surface when he stroked it. In addition, Jack Sarrfatti, who witnessed some of the Hasted experiments, said in Science News. " I wish to publicly retract my endorsement of Uri Geller's psychoenergetic authenticity."
Hasted, at least, was aware of what magicians and tricksters can do. This is not the case with William Cox of the Institute for Parapsychology, Durham, North Carolina. He claims that a true psychic would be able to allow himself to be filmed making a drawing of a hidden target, while a magician would not. He makes no allowances for different methodologies, and there are numerous methods, even without a tip-off from an accomplice. Cox is so wrong that there is no need even to wonder whether or not he can spot fraud. If he knows so little about magician's techniques then he clearly cannot, despite his claims to forty years experience in magic and parapsychology. In "A preliminary scrutiny of Uri Geller", Cox announces himself, "impressed with his general attitude and his lack of interest in details". An essential part of misdirection is to pay little attention to important detail.
The first test applied by Cox was with a blank steel key which was placed on a glass-topped table. The key was under Geller's sole control twice, just before being placed on the table and again after it had apparently bent by 8 degrees, and Cox's observation was interrupted twice, once when he altered his viewpoint in order to look at the key from underneath the table and a second time when he obtained a mirror to help with his observations. Geller then turned down an experiment with a ten-sided dice. Then a second key was bent by Geller, but there is less detail about his actual handling of it. A third key, placed where it could be seen at all times and untouched, apparently failed to bend, as did a skeleton key in Cox's briefcase.
This was followed by three ESP tests: Cox drew the letters psi and kappa, Uri suggested that he had written a word; Geller asked Cox to "write a geometric figure", Cox drew a circle with two lines and Geller made two responses: the second, a circle and a triangle, "showed a very good degree of success" (see part four - How to be Psychic); Cox presented a digital counter and scrambled the numbers, Geller guessed 332 and the correct number was 402. Geller then failed with a five-coloured dice and was given two leather rings with the suggestion that they might link - they didn't then and have not done so since. Lastly, Geller was presented with a pocket watch prepared by inserting a piece of foil to prevent it working. Although Cox says "The watch was never out of my sight, nor was it even partly concealed by Geller's fingers," this is clearly not true as he cannot have been looking at the watch while also the key bending and other effects. Cox does not say where he kept the watch but everything else came out of the briefcase. Cox gave the watch to Geller without, apparently, checking whether or not it was ticking. Geller twice held the watch to his ear and it was found to be ticking when it was returned to Cox. Not an entirely promising piece of work.
Wilbur Franklin of Kent State University discovered no difference between a Geller-bent spoon and one bent physically. Just before his death Franklin had become aware of a significant error in his metallurgical work with a platinum ring, which had seemed to present remarkable evidence for Geller's powers, and he intended to write up the new findings. He died before he could do so, but it appears that the ring, which apparently broke in the hand of an assistant and showed high temperature melting and a cold fracture next to each other - a seeming impossibility - actually broke at the point where the ring was brazed.
After Geller had bent my BBC spoon he claimed that under investigation its molecular structure would prove to have been changed. Alec Reid contacted Dr. William Plumbridge of the department of engineering at Bristol University and asked him to examine the spoon, together with several others. The spoons were subjected to a scanning electron microscope, a transmission electron microscope and a diamond-tipped hardness-testing machine. After several weeks the results came back. When a piece of metal is physically bent the hardness of the metal at the point of the bend increases, which is precisely what Dr Plumbridge had found to be the case. The only differences between the Geller-bent spoon and the within the limits that could be expected from within different batches. Interestingly, one difference, in the curvature of the bend of the spoon, tended to match what might be expected from the type of bend I saw Uri use. Admittedly, the conditions fell short of the ideal for a scientific examination. A full examination of the spoon before it was bent might possibly have produced interesting information, but, frankly, I doubt it.
All that seems certain is that whatever method Geller uses, the traces it leaves are no different from those left by simply bending metal physically. Plumbridge's conclusion was: "What we found from this metallurgical examination is that there is no evidence that we can see that any spoon has been bent by exceptional powers."
A few weeks after the programme on Uri Geller was broadcast I spoke with him on the telephone. "You have done me a lot of damage", he said. He again denied the existence of the Beersheba court case and denied that he had cheated when bending the spoon in my presence. In the meantime an article had been in Psychic News in which he talked about, and admitted, the fact that he cannot perform in front of sceptics. By his own logic, therefore, he must have bent the spoon by fraud. Towards the end of the telephone conversation, during which he told me he had asked his solicitors to check out the Beersheba incident, I told him that if he could produce evidence that I had done him an injustice I would apologise publicly. He promised to contact me again. He never has.
Today Geller blames his agent for the court case and for faking a photograph of Geller with Sophia Loren; he blames Andrija Puharich for the ridiculous Hoova and men from outer space who appear in Puharich's book, and for an incident with a foreign currency note that was shown to be false by Guy Lyon Playfair; he blames his exposures on mysterious reactionary powers behind his critics, and so it goes on. He has hired detectives to probe the private lives of sceptics and maintains files on them. Above all, he drops names far and wide, with great enthusiasm. Perhaps he wants some of the credibility of those he meets to rub of on him, or maybe he tries to fill the evident void that I noticed in our first meeting with other peoples depth of personality. Maybe he is simply the professional confidence trickster flattering and playing his victims, as a fisherman plays a trout. Or maybe he is still a Peter Pan, unable to grow up, still the lonely child unable to live up to his fathers expectations. Perhaps he genuinely believes in his own powers. I don't know whether they are genuine. All I can say for certain is that the evidence I have points in an entirely different direction.