Journal of the Society for Psychical Research - Volume 49 - number 772 - June 1977 - pp. 537-540
The Geller Papers
Reviewed by Anita Gregory
Few people in the Western world have not heard of Uri Geller, new folk hero
of the psychic frontier. Anyone remotely connected with psychical research is
bound to have been asked whether or not he is genuine. What, for most of us,
began as a dubious TV entertainment has become a scientific issue: the present
volume is a testimony to the seriousness of the interest and the high quality
of the research and calibre of some of the investigators involved. The young
Israeli who appeared on the scene only a few years ago has aroused the interest
of scientists - above all of physicists and engineers - all over the world. Not
all of these findings have been published. A good many have been refused
publication in the scientific literature, others are scattered over a few
scientific and parapsychological journals; yet others remain in notebooks. Dr.
Panati has collected an appreciable number of diverse types of paper and made
out of them an impressive whole. Not that all contributions are of the same
standard: several are first rate scientific contributions but one (the longest)
should in my view have been reconsidered and extensively revised before
As far as the public is concerned, psychical research is apt to be embroiled
in a catch 22 situation: either the phenomena are unique and instantly
evanescent, in which case they can be shrugged off as fluke or fiction; or else
they recur over and over again, in which eventuality they will be challenged by
professional magicians claiming to be able to perform similar marvels. Uri's
phenomena are, of course, of the second type and should quite properly be open
to the question: to what extent could a conjuror simulate the effects?
Several contributions to this volume concern this issue: The
Hasted-Bohm-Bastin-O'Regan paper reprinted from Nature contains
important theoretical reflections on this topic, whilst Cox, Zorka and Leslie
give expert magicians' views - all of them, incidentally, favourable to Geller.
The question is not, of course, just whether anyone could replicate the
phenomena, but whether they could do so given the circumstances; and who is
ultimately the arbiter as to whether a given set of phenomena could have been
replicated given the conditions? One answer is that public shows of
entertainment can never be any thing other than prima facie evidence suggesting
the worthwhileness of further investigation, and that this further research
must ultimately lead to effects which could not reasonably - and preferably
even unreasonably - be attributed to the magicians art. Several papers in the
Panati selection indicate just this sort of further investigation. For
instance, John Taylor in "Analysing the Geller effect" describes his
simple and effective spring balance arrangement by which the pressure exerted
on a specimen can be measured and recorded, whilst the force required to obtain
the bend on the specimen actually observed can be calculated. In the instance
he gives the bend obtained was in the opposite direction from the finger
pressure exerted, and it would have required a force considerably larger even
if it had been in the same direction. It is this type of evidence that the
Amazing Randi should have to come to terms with at the celebrated Royal
Once a medium is removed from a public platform, it becomes possible to
devise tests and to investigate effects which do not lend themselves to
explanations in terms of fraud and deception: unusual substances and unique
specimens rather than household appliances such as forks and spoons can be
employed. There are several very impressive investigations of this type.
Perhaps the most astonishing is given by Eldon Byrd, working at the Naval
Surface Weapons Center in Maryland, first published here. On the face of it,
Uri Geller permanently deformed pieces of "nitinol" wire (a metal
alloy that has a "memory", i.e returns to its original shape) in such
a manner that the metalurgical experts could think of no "explanation of
how these deformations may have occurred under the conditions imposed" (p.
73). Geller would have had either to palm a source of high heat, or else
substituted his own personally manufactured and previously altered pieces of nitinol
for deception to be a possible explanation.
"Nitinol" was a new substance so far as Geller (and I suspect most
of us) were concerned. In Dr. Wilbur Franklin's laboratory at Kent State
University Geller exercised his talents on, among other things, a platinum ring
and produced a double fracture which, on the metallurgical evidence, it would
have been extremely difficult to duplicate at all, fraudulently or otherwise.
It is good to see published for the first time the empirical part of the
Hasted-Bohn-O'Regan paper describing, among much else of great interest, the
ostensible dematerialization of part of a single crystal venadium carbide disc
from inside a pharmaceutical capsule; and also excerpts from John Hasted's
"Geller notebooks" showing the actual difficulties of regarding this
event as conclusively demonstrating dematerialisation. The Geller notebooks
contain several other interesting observations and suggestions: for example: a
single crystal of molybdenum was found to be ferromagnetic - "How this
impurity got into pure crystal is still a puzzle" (p. 206) - on the face
of it apport-cum-permanent-materialisation! (or perhaps matter through
matter"; however, William Cox who specially prepared a device for testing
this effect has so far failed to obtain it). Both the Hasted team and John
Taylor observed the movement of objects and also the affecting of a Geiger
counter and both discount ionising radiation as a likely cause of the latter.
The apparent crumbling and disintegration of substances into a number of pieces
observed by Taylor is an unusual phenomenon; the only other claim to such an
observation I know of was made by that intrepid chemist, Dr. Ludwig
Staudenmaier with, of course, himself as medium.
There is also a brief contribution by Lawrence Fried, president of the
American Society of Media Photographers, describing an example of "thought
photography" in circumstances convincing him that trickery could not have
been involved. He put the cap over the lens, secured it with 2 inch cloth-like
photographers tape across the lens cap and barrel. Uri pointed the camera at
his head and tripped the shutter, whilst Freid was photographing him. Opposite
one frame marker was a "somewhat out of focus and underexposed but
unmistakably a photograph of Geller" (p. 171). Both Freid's and Geller's
photo of Geller are reproduced. It occurs to me to wonder why Geller's should
apparently be reverse mirror-image wise: Freid's photo shows the left side of
Geller's face illuminated, the "thought photo" his right side.
There are too many contributions to discuss fully within the compass of a
review. Geller's talents are of course not confined to physical phenomena. Dr.
panati reprints Puthoff and Targ's important Nature paper, together with
two other contributions from the same authors: The daily log kept during Uri's
visit to the Stanford Research Institute, a document of great interest, and the
narrative accompanying the SRI film of Geller.
As appears from the work of the major experimenters, not the least important
of his accomplishments might be called the setting in motion of a sort of
psychic epidemiology - the spreading of never, or infrequently, reported
phenomena by contagion mediated by publicity. This is not new in the history of
the subject: the Fox sisters gave the impetus to much of 19th
century mediumistic phenomenology, and on the more individual scale D.D. Home
could apparently at times transmit some of his paranormal talents to specific
participants. In the long run, and from the scientific point of view, the
investigation of specifiable characteristics of individuals drawn from large
populations according to some predictable pattern is likely to be of even more
importance than the examination of star subjects however scintillating. It is a
pity therefore that E.A. Price's paper which is largely concerned with the
effect of Geller on others, shows evidence of haste and lack of care. Some of
his tables (e.g. table 1) do not quite add up correctly; and the astonishing
and potentially important implication of table 1 and figure 1 , namely that the
number of "Uri Geller experiments" increases with age is forgotten 14
pages later. On one - very important - occasion the figure does not correspond
with the table it is intended to represent (figure 2 and table 3) which affects
the argument: according to the table far more widowed than divorced persons
ostensibly exhibit (or rather write about having exhibited) Geller effects,
whereas according to the figure it is the divorced who take pride of place.
Table 5, "Educational qualifications of experients" is divided among
the following qualifications: 1. Primary school, 2. High school graduates, 3.
University undergraduates, 4.Diplomats (sic) and postgraduates,5.Unknown. Now
in this table (as opposed to the preceding ones) Price does not calculate a
column dividing percentage of experients by percentage in population. The
failure to perform this calculation disguises the fact that the ratios would
have been as follows: 1.:0.76; - 2.: 1.21; - 3.: 16.50; - 4.: 1.01. This is a very significant observation, whether or not "undergraduates" here means undergraduates or graduates
as opposed to postgraduates. Either way, this should have been noted and discussed and is of some importance. However, since it appears that the material exists and is on record, and some of it is of the greatest interest if not for parapsychology then for social psychology, this paper might perhaps be revised and re-planned.
This is an important volume, and it is to be hoped that a paperback edition,
perhaps revised and updated by the inclusion of some of the work projected in
its pages and now in progress, will become available. Meanwhile it is important
reading for all interested in the field.