Only one thing about Israeli wonder-worker Uri Geller is certain: to the press and his audiences on television and in lecture halls around the world, he is a sensation. Handsome, charasmatic, seemingly humble and amazed himself at the apparent miracles he performs, the 27-year-old "psychic" from Tel Aviv has been the center of intense controversy since his first appearances in the United States just over a year ago. To the believers, and there are amany, Uri's alleged ability to divine the contents of sealed messages, bend metal by thought power alone, stop and start watches and clocks, and perform other equally amazing feats is proof positive, albeit clothed in show-business glamour, and media hype, that extrasensory perception and the telekinetic ability to affect and transform inanimate objects through telepathic power are a reality. To his equally vocal detractors, he is a clever and showmanly young magician who has baffled lay audiences and investigating scientists (including members of California's prestigious Stanford Research Institute), using principles that accomplished conjurers have employed for thousands of years. To make things even more interesting, Geller has recently added psychic photography to his repertoire of miracles (or bag of tricks) and has been producing images on film in borrowed cameras with the lens cap taped over the camera lens!
I have been following Geller's career with considerable interest since I was first told about him a little over a year ago by photographer Peter Basch. Basch, who frequently works on assignment in Europe, had heard of the sensation Geller had created on the continent. Uri had supposedly stopped cable cars and escalators with his mind power, and bending metal objects such as knives, forks, spikes, rings, and keys by merely concentrating on them were a standard part of his stage act. Basch met Geller and predicted he would be a great success. Rumours were that Uri had performed under "scientifically controlled test conditions" at the Stanford Research Institute and had impressed and baffled reputable scientists, although the California think tank had not yet released the results of the tests. Time magazine had heard of Geller, and correctly sensing that he was likely to ride the current wave of interest in ESP and psychic phenomenon to fame and fortune, became interested in doing some kind of story on him. Because of previous reserach I had done on the Psychic Investigating Committee of the Society of American Magicians and some articles I had written they hired me to check him out.
Discussing Uri with some of my friends who are far less skeptical than I about the psychic forces that are supposedly around us, I learned that Uri had performed for several executives and reporters of a major TV network and had impressed them profoundly. One executive ( a vice-president of one division of the network) would know how to reach Uri. Indeed he did. Uri was staying with Dr. Andrija Puharich, who had written one major book on psychedelic mushrooms and another on the scientific basis of telepathy. The network executive recounted his amazing experiences with Uri ( a key had become "like taffy" in his hands and had bent) and gave me Uri's number, cautioning me to keep it private since there were rumours of a CIA plot to assassinate him because his mind powers could "blow up goverment computers."
A meeting with Uri, perhaps one at which he would demonstrate his amazing powers, was not hard to arrange. Dr. Puharich said that Uri would be delighted to submit to an interview and perhaps even read a few minds and bend a few forks and keys if his powers were with him.
Thomas Paine, who looked on many of the foibles of mankind with a skeptical eye, once wrote, "Is it more probable that nature should go out of her course, or that a man should tell a lie?" It seemed to me that this just might apply to Geller. Either he was lying about his psychic powers, and very probably backing it up with some clever sleight-of-hand, or we had one of the biggest news stories since the invention of movable type.
The meeting with Uri was arranged for a few days hense to take place in the office of Time's picture editor, John Durniak. Recognizing the fact that I occasionally had been fooled by skilled magicians in the past and would, quite likely, be fooled again sometime in the future, I decided to invite a professional magician as skeptical as I, to pose as a reporter and keep one pair of eyes on Uri just in case his psychic miracles did depend more on skillful misdirection than on extrasensory powers. We all decided that the logical man for the job was James Randi, the professional magician and dedicated debunker of fraudulent psychic chicanery who appears on television and the college circuit as "The Amazing Randi". Bolstered by information from Dr. Ray Hyman, a professor of psychology at the Univerity of Oregon who had observed Geller at work at the Stanford Research Institute and was extremely skeptical of the genuineness of his powers, we set down some ground rules about what to watch for, no matter how cleverly Uri misdirected the attention of the others who were observing him.
When the time of the demonstration arrived, Durniak's office was packed with Time staffers anxious to see the Israeli psychic perform, and he did not disappoint them. His demonstration began with some moderately successful experiments in "projecting" and receiving thoughts. Uri had a good number of hits and about an equal number of misses. Uri would cover his eyes with his fingers and assure us with great sincerity that he was not peeking. The person with the best chance of seeing him peeking was a lady sitting next to him on the couch. We noted that he asked her to close her eyes "to help him concentrate." Several of the things written and drawn by various members of the staff Uri hit with amazing accuracy. Randi suspected him of "pencil reading", a technique used by professional mind readers to determine what has been written by the movement of the pencil over the top of the pad or card upon which the subject is writing. When Randi tilted down his pencil so that the top was not visible, Uri, peeking or not, missed every one. Soon Uri discarded Randi as a bad subject and when the next person wrote and drew things with the top of his pencil visible, Uri's percentage of hits went up.
Many of the Time staff were impressed, although it soon became obvious that science editor Leon Jaroff and a couple of others in the audience were becoming increasingly skeptical of the genuineness of the demonstration they had been called in to witness. Perhaps sensing this, Uri decided to vary his program and move into the bending of metal objects. First, Uri asked for two pieces of cutlery. Two forks were supplied by the staff. Uri explained that he needed two pieces for comparison so that we could see if one were to begin bending. This seemed a logical procedure since forks are naturally bent and to see if one had bent more we would need some basis for comparison.
The forks were held by a staff member and lightly stroked by Uri. On comparison, nothing had happened. This was repeated a few times to no avail over a period of about twenty minutes. Uri was obviously frustrated that his powers were not working. Then Randi was asked to hold one fork between his hands. "Did he feel anything?" "No." The forks were compared, and still no bend. At this point Geller asked someone else to put the fork betwen his hands and he casually put the comparison fork aside. As he laid it down on the coffee table in front of the couch where he was sitting, both Randi and I saw him, using both hands, put a considerable upward bend in it. All attention was on the fork between the staff member's hands. Later when forks were compared, one did have a bend in it. It was a little confusing which fork had been bent and, overall, the staff did not seem quite as impressed as they were with the telepathic experiments.
Now Uri was to move into his most impressive feat, the bending of a key. I supplied Uri with a bras key (it was, in fact, the key to the Popular Photography picture room). Both Randi and I had decided that no matter what distractions Geller produced, we would keep our eyes on the key. Uri tried several times with the key in various people's hands. It did not seem to bend. Then Uri became uninterested in the key and asked if there was something else he could try. Someone suggested a beer can opener and there was considerable rummaging around trying to find one. At this point both Randi and I distinctly saw Geller place the tip of the key against the top of the table before which he was seated and, leaning forward, bend it. We looked at one another and smiled. A short time later Uri returned to the key for another try. He rubbed the wide head of the key on the table top. Apparently the key was flat, but actually the shank of the key (bent at about a thirty-degree angle) was concealed behind his thumb. He then placed the key in someone's hand and finally revealed it bent. "Did you see that?" said Uri. "Yes I certainly did," answered Randi, with a wink to me.
Now we were told that the key would continue to bend and Uri rushed into the next office to show it to someone else. On subsequent viewing the key was indeed bent further, but at no time did we see it bend visibly as Uri insisted it would do and, futhermore, he had plenty of opportunity to bend it. After Geller left, Randi did the key- and fork-bending for the staff and has continued to do so to the considerable amazement of audiences in his stage performances and on television.
Uri himself has appeared frequently on television. For those of us who have watched him repeatedly and even studied his performances played over and over on videotape, certain interesting similarities appear. Geller usually limits himself to two or three tests. He reveals a drawing sealed inside of two or three nested, sealed envelopes. He is invariably successful at it, but the divining of the contents of envelopes is not exactly new material for any professional mentalists from Dunninger to Kreskin. Randi is regularly duplicating the feat on hias TV appearances. Geller often bends a spike or nail by lightly stroking it. The performance goes something like this: Uri asks the MC or moderator whether he has brought some nails or spikes. Usually five or six are introduced and are found to be bound together with adhesive tape. Uri expresses surprise at this although the consistency of this happening makes one wonder if the wrapping of the nails is not a condition of the experiment. A couple of nails are shown to be straight. Then Uri selects one of the other nails and, holding it well-concealed in his hands, proceeds to stroke it. When Uri removes his fingers, it is seen to be bent. He tells us it will continue to bend although we do not see this.
Is it conceivable that, in the general confusion of getting a TV show on the air, Uri or one of his assistants could have gotten to the nails and prebent one of them? Possibly. Or is Uri really bending metal by thought power alone? Also possibly, but, in my admittedly skeptical opinion, not probably.
Another Geller feat, done less frequently but certainly more impressive, is the bending and final breaking of a large and seemingly sturdy metal salad fork or spoon. Does Geller accomplish this through genuine psychic power or is it possible that someone gets to the spoon or fork beforehand and bends it back and forth until metal fatigue sets in at the spot where Geller causes it to bend and snap? In the course of repeated viewings of videotape of this seeming miracle, I have my own opinions. I could be wrong. Probably only Uri knows for sure.
Interestingly, not all of Uri's television appearances have been unmitigated triumphs, but then, any psychic, real or otherwise, will tell you that the powers do not always work. When Uri appeared on the Johnny Carson show, surely his biggest television break if all had gone well, nothing worked. Why was it such a fiasco? Perhaps because carson, an amateur magician of some ability, had called Randi before the show and been advised not to allow Uri or any of his entourage to get near the props before showtime. Again on the Joyce Brothers show, Uri was unsuccessful in getting any of the nails to bend. Perhaps, again, this was because Dr. Brothers insisted on using the nails she had brought in her purse rather than the other set convieniently wrapped in adhesive tape. Even for the most amazing psychic of recent years, that's show business.
After over a year of watching Uri bend things, reveal things, and occasionally, fix things much to the amazement and delight of his followers, I was intersted to see, in the course of one of the most fantastic press coverages in history in British newspapers, that Uri had added a new miracle to his repertoire. He was producing pictures on borrowed cameras not only with the lens cap on but also taped over. I could understand, to my own satisfaction, how Uri had performed at least the effects I had seen him do. The miracles other had said they had seen him do, unhappily, never televised or included in performances where I was present, were something else again. It is probably a mark of my extreme skepticism that I have never been a great believer in second- and- third-hand information. ( Did that key really continue to bend or did Uri simply say it would and sometimes bent it when no one was looking and he got the chance?) Now Uri was doing something that I, as a photographer, believed was clearly impossible. London's News of the World described them as "Uri's Miracle Pictures" in headlines two inches high. The paper described two frames it had published as perhaps "The most amazing ever published in a newspaper." The camera was a Nikon F belonging to Michael Brennan, a former British Press Photographer of the Year. Uri pointed it at himself, lens cap taped and all. He shot three rolls of Tri-X. In the middle of one of them were two pictures - of Uri. Amazing? It certainly is. Particularly since News of the World reporter Roy Stockdill writes, "Brennan and I were both convinced that there was no way that he could have removed the lens cap by sleight of hand." Uri repeated the feat in Miami, London, and Boston. Each time some image turned out on the film and the lens cap, tape and all, apparently stayed in place.
were these miracles involving telepathy and psychokinesis? How could I possibly know? I wasn't there. But in reading about Uri and his psychic pictures, my mind went back almost seven years to a trip that photographer David Eisendrath and I had taken to Denver, Col., on assignment for Popular Photography to witness the "psychic" photographs of a man named Ted Serios.
While we did not get a chance to see Uri produce a psychic photograph, we were able to talk to a knowledgable person who did. yale Joel, a veteran profesional photographer, spent a day photographing Uri Geller. At most of Uri's feats, Joel was astonished. Uri bent a heavy silver serving spoon (it eventually broke), revealed a message that Seth Joel (Yale's son and assistant) had placed in an envelope, and did several other things for which the Joel's had no explanation. Then he ventured into a field of Joel's expertise. Uri's photographic "miracle" is described in the article following. The pictures tell the rest. From Yale Joel's description of what happened and the final picture that resulted, there is little doubt that Uri could have gotten to the camera, untaped the lens, and by holding the lens cap a few inches from the lens (either with the help of someone else or by himself) shot a picture. If the camera had been fitted with a normal focal-length lens, the results might have turned out to look quite mysterious with most of the frame black and some sort of image in one part of it. The history of psychic phenomena is filled with accouts of practitioners not only suspected of fraud but often caught red-handed. The invariable answer of the true believer is that, yes, psychics might sometimes be caught in fraud but at other times they were undoubtedly genuine. But were they genuine at other times or were they simply lucky enough or clever enough not to get caught at it? Uri is quick to say that his TV and public demonstrations are not done under laboratory-controlled conditions, such as those tests performed at the Stanford Research Institute, but we might logically ask ourselves what those conditions were. Is it not possible that a skilled magician can fool trained scientists who know nothing of the techniques of conjuring? Perhaps the best team to observe a psychic wonder-worker should not be made up of just scientists but also of magicians who make their living honestly by performing apparent wonders and who understand the art of deception.
Genuine or not, where does Uri Geller go from here? He is currently the glamour boy of the psychic field, but it is likely that he is considering bigger things than bending spoons on television and the lecture circuit, even at very good money.
As might be expected, several books deal with Geller's strange feats. Surely one of the most astonishing is Uri: A Journal of the Mystery of Uri Geller, by Andrija Puharich, Geller's mentor on earth and the man who brought him to the U.S. from Israel, and who has most vocally suported Uri as a genuine psychic and the paranormal wonder of the age. The book (published by Anchor Press, a division of Doubleday) defies summation. Even for the believer who accepts the fact that Uri can bend metal with his thoughts and produce pictures with sealed cameras, it is pretty heavy going. In it Dr. Puharich states that "superior beings" have been in communication with man on earth for thousands of years and that Uri has been selected by these extraterrestrials as an ambassador for an advanced civilization. While Puharich says that his "editor in the sky" will not allow him to reveal everything about this cosmic plan, at the center of which is Uri, he does tell us enough to make even the most credible reader ponder whether this is merely crudely written science fiction.
The story of Dr. Puharich is full of flying saucers, of UFO's, dematerializations, messages from computers in outer space, levitations, and other assorted miracles including an encounter with a giant hawk who is identified as the Egyptian god, Horus. Uri's first contact with a UFO on December 25, 1949 (could the date be significant?), and from that day on his psychic powers began to manifest themselves. Over twenty years later, Geller tells Puharich, "Then maybe I am a descendant; my ancestors were people not from earth. They landed in a flying saucer. They had these powers and somehow they came up in me."
This explanation seems logical to Dr. Puharich who, after all, has seen Uri bend things.
On later occasions, Uri (presumably in a trance) speaks with the voice of "Spectra", one of the spacecraft "fifty-three thousand, sixty-nine light-ages away" which, along with several computers in outer space, are constantly sending messages, through Uri, to Puharich. Spectra explains that Uri has been sent to earth to save mankind and is, in fact, the only one who can do this.
Spectra is only one of several extraterrestrial intelligences that are in frequent communication with Puharich. Some of them are computers, like Rhombus 4D which is one and a half million light-years away and orders Puharich to write the book on Uri. Another contact which Puharich called IS (for "Intelligence in the Sky") communicates, "Do a movie on Uri." As if Dr. Puharich needed further proof of the existence of these forces, and it's apparent from the entire tone of the book that he does not, things are constantly appearing and disappearing in the course of his adventures with Uri. For example, one day Puharich discovers that Uri has "dematerialized" the brass filler cartridge of his fountain pen, "In order for this brass filler cartridge to disappear without damaging these housings, it would have to be taken apart atom by atom. To do this required enormous intelligent energies unknown to man today," writes Puharich. Later Uri (again in a trance) reveals that the filler for the fountain pen is safe on the spacecraft and would be eventually returned. All of this comes to pass one evening when Uri and Dr. Puharich encouter a flashing blue light on the outskirts of Tel Aviv. They realize immediately that it is a spacecraft. "Only I am allowed to approach it," says Uri and moves off into the night. Later he returns and, in his outstretched palms, he has the filler to Dr. Puharich's fountain pen.
All of this should be on record, for Dr. Puharich had the presence of mind to film the miraculous event with his Nizo 8-mm movie camera. Unfortunately the film cartridge dematerialized as did the tape cassettes with the voice of Spectra on them. "The secret of Spectra was safe because they had leaked out just enough information to convince me of their reality, but not enough for me to convince any other human being." How true!
That Dr. Puharich's apparent note of discouragement is unneccessary becomes obvious when Uri meets astronaught Ed Mitchell and scientists Russell Targ and Hal Puthoff at Stanford Research Institute who are to set up the "scientifically controlled" tests of Uri's power. When Uri tells them of the intelligences from outer space who give him his powers, the scientists accept this information calmly and astronaught Mitchell comments, "Uri, you're not saying anything to us we don't in some way sense or understand."
Perhaps an indication that even Uri himself is not in complete agreement with some of the details of Dr. Puharich's strange story are recent items in both the British and American press that Uri is writing his own book, tentatively titled My Life. Still a third book is being prepared by Time writer John Wilhelm who, at first, was profoundly intrigued by the SRI investigation of Uri's feats but in view of subsequent evidence now says he has a completely open mind as to whether they are genuine or not.
Recently, Uri Geller has canceled lucrative engagements both in Europe and America. Quoted in a London newspaper, his manager, Yasha Katz, referred to appearances in New York and Miami where Uri produced no less than spectacular results: "The audience at both settings was packed with magicians and they were both a disaster." This raises one more interesting question. If Uri is a genuine psychic, why should he be unwilling to perform for magicians? Is it just because the "vibes" are bad as any true psychic believer would tell us? For the true believers Uri performs miracles on schedule just as he does for the scientificv investigators at Stanford Research Institute who also apparently accept his stories of extraterrestrial influence at face value. Perhaps along with being a highly successful showman, he, too, is a magician and his psychic miracles are magic tricks after all. Over one hundred years ago, Ambrose Bierce in Devil's Dictionary defined magic as "an art of converting superstition into coin." To this skeptical viewer of Uri's amazing feats, the definition seems to fit.
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