Uri by Andrija Puharich. W.H. Allen, 1974. 285 pp. £2.95.
This book, described on the jacket as 'the the original and authorized biography of Uri Geller- the man who baffles the scientists', hardly does a service to Mr. Geller, the young Israeli whose feats on television are the subject of so much controversy on whether he possesses unusual paranormal powers or is merely a clever magician, because it is the reader who is baffled. Parts of the book read like the wildest science fiction. Not only is Mr. Geller presented as a miracle man but Dr. Puharich also becomes involved in miracles. for reasons of shortage of space I will not discuss these but will concentrate instead on appendix two in the book which gives the text of the film are made at the Stanford Research Institute, California, describing a five week investigation of Mr. Geller by scientists there. at the time of writing this review (July, 1974) the paper based on the Stanford experiments had not yet been published in Nature.
The text describes a double blind experiment in which someone not associated with the project comes into the experimental room and places a three quarter inch steel ball into a can chosen at random from ten aluminium cans. numbered tops are also put on a random. the random eyes are then leaves the area and the experimenters enter with Geller, with neither the experimenters or Geller knowing which can contains the steel ball.
Geller is not permitted to touch the cans or the table. The experimental protocol is for the experimenter to remove the cans one at a time in response to Geller's instructions as he points or calls out the can top-number. Eventually there will be just two or three cans left, and Geller will then indicated both by gesture and in writing which one of the remaining cans contains the target. Only at the end of the experiment does Geller touch the can that he believes contains the object. The steel ball is found.
In later repetitions of the same experiment Geller was finally weaned away from the dowsing technique where he runs his hands over the cans. He got to the point where he could just walk into a room, see the cans lined up on a blackboard sill, and just pick up the one that contained the target. The experiment us say,'We have no hypothesis at this point as to whether this is a heightened sensitivity of some normal sense, or whether it is some paranormal sense,'
This experiment was repeated with a different target object- water at room temperature. again, the can was filled by an outside person who randomised the position of the cans. Then the box that contained the cans was rotated by a second person so there was no one person in the room who knew the location of the target can. Again Geller was successful. The scientists repeated this type of experiment fourteen times: five times the target was a small permanent magnet, five times it was a steel ball bearing. Twice the target was water. Two additional trials were made- one with a paper wrapped ball-bearing and one with a sugar cube. The latter two targets were not located. Geller felt that he did not have adequate confidence as to where they were, and he declined to guess. On the other twelve targets- the ball-bearing, the magnet, and the water - he was successful with every guess.
The whole array of this one has an a priori probability of one part in 1012, or the statistics of a trillion to one.
The experimenters carried out another double blind experiment in which a die was placed in a metal box, both box and die he being provided by the Institute. The box was shaken up with neither the experimenter nor Geller knowing where the die was or which face was up. The experimenters decided at the outset to carry out the die-in-box experiment until they got to a million to one odds, at which time the experiment would be terminated. Out of ten tries in which Geller passed twice and guessed eight times, the eight guesses were correct, and that gave the experimenters the probability of about one in a million.
Two experiments involved psychokinesis. The other experiment in the series concerned reading the contents of an inner envelope, opaque in its own right, within a heavy manila envelope. A floodlight behind these envelopes would not permit the contents to be seen. sometimes there was a double blind experiment with neither Geller nor the experimenter knowing what the target was, but in general these drawing experiments were not double blind as one of the experimenters knew what was in the picture in the envelope. it Is Not Clear From The Text Of The Film how successful these experiments were, but the viewers were shown the target drawings and Geller's drawings, so doubtless they could form their own conclusions.
Geller was able to deflect a compass needle but in retrospect the experiment in which he did this was considered unsatisfactory. Before and after the experiment Geller was gone over with a magnetometer probe and his hands were photographed from above and below during and following the experiment so that the experimenters were sure there were no obvious pieces of metal or magnets in his possession.
However, according to our protocol [say the experimenters], if we could in any way debunk the experiment and produce the effects by any other means, then that experiment was considered null and void even if there were no indications anything untoward had happened. in this case, we found later that these types of defections could be produced by a small piece of metal, so small in fact they could not be detected by the magnetometer. therefore, even though we had no evidence of this, we still considered the experiment inconclusive and an unsatisfactory type of experiment altogether.
one of Geller's main attributes reported to the experimenters was that he was able to bend metal from a distance without touching it. in the laboratory they did not find him able to do so. in a more relaxed protocol he was permitted to touch the metal, which, as is shown in the film, was indeed bent.
In the laboratory, these spoon bending experiments were continuously filmed and video taped. It is evident that at some time during the photographic period, the stainless steel spoon - shown in the film - became bent. However, unlike the things we have heard about Geller, it was always necessary for him in the experimental situation to have physical contact with the spoon or for that matter any other objects that he bends. it is not clear whether the spoon is being bent because he has extraordinary strong fingers and good control of micro-manipulatory movements or whether, in fact, the spoon'turns to plastic'as he claims.
The experiments believe that the phenomena shown in the film'clearly deserve further study'. it is sad that Mr. Geller has decided not to give our Society the opportunity to do this in London.
[A paper by Drs R. Targ and H. Puthoff on the experiments with Uri Geller At the Stanford Research Institute is published in vol. 251 of Nature, October 18, 1974. In an admirable editorial the editor makes it clear that the object of publishing the paper is to stimulate and advance the controversy involving Geller. The concluding paragraph of the editorial states that'Perhaps the most important issue raised by the circumstances surrounding the publication of this paper is whether science has yet developed the competence to confront claims of the paranormal. Supposedly paranormal events frequently cannot be investigated in the calm, controlled and meticulous way in which scientists are expected to work, there is always a danger that the investigator, swept up in the confusion that surrounds many experiments, may abandon his initial intentions in order to go along with the subject's desires. it may be that all experiments of this sort should be exactly prescribed beforehand by one group, done by another unassociated group and evaluated in terms of performance by the first group. only by increasing austerity of approach by scientists will there be any major progress in this field.'
A special issue of the New Scientist of October 17, 1974, vol. 64 number 919 Carries a long account of a critical investigation by Dr. Joseph Hanlon into Geller's alleged paranormal powers, with comments on the S.R.I. tests. A.M.]