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The Skeptic [The journal of Australian Skeptics Inc.] - Volume 7 number 1 - 1987

Book Review - The Geller Effect

Reviewed by Ben Harris

While in London in October '86, I managed to read this new Geller book. I didn't buy it, but managed to arrange a copy as a birthday gift (teleport via friendly psychics). The book, which looks impressive with lots of photos showing Geller with some pretty important people, is really quite a farce. It is replete with claims that cannot be proved and lots of little and childish jabs at the skeptics.
 Of the clever points, which can be counted on the fingers of one hand, the highlight is the quote printed on the back cover of the paper sleeve. It reads: "People always used to ask me, ‘If you're so psychic, why aren't you a millionaire?’ This is real clever, because it's actually true. People have always levelled this criticism on the psychics. Well, Geller IS a millionaire. The psychology is brilliant. If he is a millionaire, then we are subliminally forced to accept that he IS psychic! A lovely touch! However, this is the most impressive piece in the book.
 The book is divided into three sections - Parts 1 and 3 are by Playfair, the second is by Geller himself. Playfair plays his part well. He is already a believer, although he comes on as a skeptic. It's a common trap. He believes, and probably quite genuinely, that he could detect a trick if Geller was to use one. Unfortunately, this very attitude traps the observer unless he is specifically trained in detection of psychic fraud.
 Even a magician can be fooled by a clever psychic using tricks. It takes a magician with a very special understanding of this sphere to catch a trickster at work. That's why Geller fooled the magicians he mentions in the book. They were good competent magicians, but NOT specialists in this field. Right from the beginning of the book, Playfair implies that he is a good observer. Let's have a close look and see just how clever he thinks he is.
 Here's a quote from Playfair just prior to Geller bending a spoon: "He was not wearing a watch, 1 noticed, or a ring, or a belt, and the copper bracelet on his right arm was well beyond the reach of the end of the spoon. The more obvious ways of spoon bending by sleight of hand were thus ruled out." See, he misses the point. None of the psychics, especially Geller, require any of those items for the bending trick. It's just not required! But Playfair is implying that sleight of hand is ruled out due to their absence. He is wrong.
 As it turns out, Geller did bend the spoon for Playfair. He was sitting on his exercise bike when the feat took place. Now, there is a point of leverage for you. (Not that Geller would have needed it for the small spoon used in this demonstration.) Note how Playfair failed to acknowledge this bike as a possible tool for deception.
 Next, Playfair participates in a telepathic experiment. He claims to have seen magicians performing the same type of trick and decides to guard against pencil reading. "I held my notebook parallel to my chest and made several movements with my pen that bore no relation to what I drew, adding a few scratches with my thumbnail for good measure. That, I reckoned, would make it difficult for him to guess what I was drawing by watching the top of my pen or by listening to the sounds it made on the paper. What I eventually drew, after Uri had become rather impatient and asked me to hurry up, was a very small head with a three-pointed crown on it."
 Now this is all a little confusing. Playfair first tells us that he did the extra movements and sound effects to conceal what he drew, and then adds "What I eventually drew...". And, he "eventually drew" only after Geller had become impatient. Sounds as if Uri had everything under HIS control as usual. As it turns out, Geller drew a cat with a head and body. Playfair did see some similarities and scored it a success. Yes, Geller's pencil reading was partially successful here. Playfair sums up the two experiments by saying "A spoon had bent (upwards incidentally) and a drawing had been at least partially reproduced without any obvious normal methods being used. Nor had he used any of the magicians' tricks that are just as obvious to somebody who knows what to look for."
 Well, Mr Playfair, you were fooled by these very tricks. Maybe they're not quite as obvious as you'd like them to be!
 So, Mr Playfair turns out to be a weak observer due to his own misplaced confidence in his abilities as an observer.
 The second part of the book is written by Geller. He supplies the details of the times he spent in Mexico and jetting around the world mixing with the jet set. It seems to have been what Uri really wanted to achieve. His apparent exploits with the CIA are mentioned. But, it turns out that his intelligence work is commissioned by individuals and always unofficially. Naturally, no-one wants to be identified. The fiction rolls on.
 It's in this section of the book where it really becomes obvious how dangerous people like Geller can be. Take the following dialogue for example: This is just after Uri had performed his standard drawing reproduction. This time, the victim is Henry Kissinger.
 Says Uri, "Kissinger went a little pale." "What else did you get from my mind?" Kissinger supposedly says. "Oh, I'd better not talk about that here," Geller replies. Now, whether it actually went like this, no-one can say. But if it did, and Kissinger was really concerned, it just goes to show that people like Geller are not harmless. Millions of dollars have been wasted on researching psychic phenomena directly due to such interludes.
 Shrewd operators like Geller can unsettle and mislead the minds of the most powerful men. The resulting irrational thoughts and actions can be very dangerous. As someone said, not so long ago, "I hope that at the moment of truth, Jean Dixon doesn't have her finger on the button!"
 This second chapter continues with more of Geller's tales involving psychic detection, inventions, and computer magic. Yes, Uri has been fooling some of the big computer companies by demonstrating his abilities to alter and erase computer disks. Again, this is nothing more than a magic trick that can be performed by any competent magician. However, it fools the scientists and technicians. Although these writings by Geller are not as airy-fairy as his other works, they are still fantasy.
 Careful reading will indicate that Geller actually admits (in a roundabout fashion) that he is a magician! You see, magicians have certain rules that they must adhere to in order to create their illusions. Geller is constantly referring to these very same rules, although shrouding them beneath various excuses. Geller applies them at exactly the same time and for exactly the same reasons that a magician must. There is no other reason for him to do this except to conceal his trickery! In the final section of the book, Playfair returns again with his defences up. In fact, the entire book is very defensive. Geller claims that he doesn't care about the controversy or what people think, yet this book seems to convey the exact opposite, contrary to the comments put forward. Take the book in toto and it's one big defence job.
 Playfair rushes along crucifying the skeptics, the magicians and almost anyone who has questioned the Geller myth.
 Playfair ends: "The bent spoons may be locked away in filing cabinets. The face [Geller's] may have faded from the screens. But the subversive idea has remained buried in the collective subconscious: things are not what we have been taught they are. [Emphasis in the original.] Sure, Guy, maybe in your dream-world.

Editor's note: Ben Harris is the author of "Gellerism Revealed" which describes the techniques used to bend spoons and keys, start watches, etc.

© Ben Harris /The Skeptic - Reproduced with permission.

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