"They ought not to be passed over in silence,"the American anthropologist Daniel brinton wrote in the 1890's, referring to the claims made that shamans and medicine men used paranormal powers. The claims, he conceded, were supported by unquestionable testimony. And yet ... he feared examine them more closely, because he found the whole subject "so revolting to the laws of exact science - alien, I had almost said, to the experience of our lives."
What proportion of the BBC's audience last Friday night - doubtless swollen by the fact that the Dimbleby Talk-in followed Miss World - felt the same way about Uri Geller? Admittedly, there is now less hostility to the idea of extra-sensory perception than there was in Brinton's day. The evidence for it has become overwhelming; all that has been lacking has been somebody who could demonstrate it at will. Now, here was Geller doing it "live" in the Ealing Questor's Threatre watched by millions; but making it look like a succesion of conjuring tricks, starting and stopping watches, bending spoons. Is it not possible, then, that he is simply an extremely clever magician; a presdidigitator, the like of which has never been seen?
The answer - happily or sadly, according to whether you are a sheep or a goat in these matters - is the one given by that Boston surgeon, whose name I forget, when he watched for the first time an operation performed under an anaesthetic; "Gentlemen, this is no humbug." The TV performance, though striking enough, was to any sceptic full of loopholes. But, earlier this year, Geller was put through a series of controlled tests of a kind that no possessor of psychic powers has ever undergone before - and survived them unscathed.
I first heard of Geller's prowess last winter, from the owner of a Berkeley Square office in which he had given a demonstration. He did a routine of telepathy/clairvoyance tests; then, without touching them, bent some of the office spoons. At this point a Cambridge physicist said he had brought along a box containing screwdrivers of a kind which, humanly speaking, should have been unbreakable. Would Geller like to try? The box was then opened, and the screwdrivers were found lying already broken inside it. A member of the staff of the Department of Metallurgy at Cambridge who sent the screwdrivers for examination has since reported that he is unable to account for the fractures, and that he could think of no way in which they could be reproduced.
Promted by Andrija Puharich, who has spent much of his life researching into paranormal phenomena, and the astronaut Ed Mitchell - the first man to conduct a telepathy experiment from the moon - Geller then undertook to be tested at the Stanford Research Institute. Among the audience on Friday night there was a professional magician, who made the point that this was a mistake. Anybody, he said, could fool scientists; the Stanford Research Institute should have had a magician there too. Well, they did; and he was as baffled as the scientists.
Geller was called upon to reproduce, from his mind's eye, drawings being made elsewhere. Quite a few "sensitives," including Mrs Upton Sinclair, have been able to do this; but no one has ever, in laboratory conditions, come through as Geller did with a 100-per-cent record, even down to the correct number of grapes on a bunch.
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