Uri Geller - a bibliography - homepage

Journal of the Society for Psychical Research - Volume 47 number 762 - December 1974 - Page 475


An abridged version of this article appeared as The View From Jerusalem in The Amazing Uri Geller


Uri Geller - Pro and Con

H.C. Berendt

Chairman of the Israeli Parapsychology Society



In this report I shall give my own interpretation using such facts as are known to me about Uri Geller's work as a gifted stage conjuror and as a possible psi-medium who seems to combine telepathy and psychokinetic abilities.

I suggest that two factors may account for his outstanding success.

1. The mood of our time in general, with its search for new aspects of life characterised by an outspoken anti-materialistic undercurrent which clings to every form of mysticism.

2. The "explosion" of the communication media - radio, TV, and the press - forever on the look-out for exciting news. Their choice has a strong and selective influence on the general public. As Gellers outstanding performances lend themselves excellently to TV coverage, it is this aspect of his experiments which has claimed, and claims the major part of the limelight.
The controversy about his gift - or his stage "tricks" - has led to renewed general discussion of parapsychology. On the one hand there is a great number of "believers" ready and eager to accept almost everything, who naturally defend him as a genuine source of paranormal phenomena. On the other hand, there are those who deny the very existence of paranormal phenomena and dismiss the entire field as pure trickery and deception.
It may one day turn out that U.G's telepathic and clairvoyant abilities are indeed genuine and that his success in the psychokinetic sphere has been accepted on the basis of his real gift of telepathy. The whole field of paraphysical experiments is still in an early state. The Stanford Research Institute has expressed itself cautiously. Earlier experiments in the first twenty years of the century could not be controlled as rigorously as modern science demands in order to exclude every possibility of fraud or sleight of hand (e.g. by videotaping the experiments as a help, but not as a final proof). Eusapia Palladino admitted to occasional resort to tricks, leaving to the scientists the decision as to what was genuine and what was not. Among those never discovered in trickery we may recall Rudi Schneider. In those days physical paranormal phenomena were mostly "macro-physical" (levitation of chairs, tables, activation of musical instruments etc.). Perhaps it is typical that in the last decade the paraphysical phenomena have shifted to "micro-physical" effects. (Such as e.g. possible influence on molecular films, on acoustic tapes (Jorgenson, Raudive), or on photographic films (Ted Serios); or - if the phenomena are genuine - major changes in molecular metal compounds in forks, keys, etc.)

If such events were proved to have taken place, we should be faced with the following implications:

a. that other laws than the "laws of nature", as known at present, govern such happenings among them a still controversial "power of mind";

b. that our extant knowledge of the laws of nature is too limited for the time being to understand what happens in cases involving what is called "psychokinesis".

Suppose a man had said in 1895 that one day someone would put his hand between a certain kind of glass tube and a closed metal cassette with a glass plate inside containing a light sensitive emulsion, and that after an electric current had been sent into the glass tube, a picture of the bones of the hand and of the metal ring on a finger would appear on the developed emulsion. He would probably been called a dreamer, lacking in understanding of the most elementary "laws of nature". In 1895 every scientist could have "known" that such a thing could not occur. In 1896 Roentgen discovered X-rays! So it was not against nature after all, just against a too limited knowledge of the laws of nature. As Goethe said: "Miracles do not violate nature - they merely violate our knowledge thereof"!
To turn to Uri Geller. What has been published about his personal history in the Israeli press may perhaps contribute to an understanding of his personality structure. His father was a sergeant during the period of the British Palestine Mandate, a member of the British Mandatory Forces, esteemed for his reliability and integrity. During his school years, young Geller often disturbed the classroom, and his lack of concentration and interest made things hard for his teachers. His parents went with him to Cyprus, returning to Israel after some years. The papers report that Uri did not pass out of an officers course. Nor did he stay with the parachute regiment he had joined. His wish to be accepted as at least the equal of his father may have been a driving force in the development of his gifts as a conjuror - and/or paragnost.
His so-called "young half-brother" is simply the brother of one of his girlfriends who served as collaborator in many of his public performances. The girl herself admitted to having taken over sometimes the role of her brother and to have helped from her seat in the first row of the audience by giving Geller covertly prearranged signs. (Haolam Haze 20/4/74.)
I have often been asked why I let Geller slip through my fingers without testing him. My answer: Long before he became famous even in Israel I invited him 7 or 8 times for experiments with the Israel Parapsychology Society in Jerusalem. This was done by telephone - I spoke to him twice personally; thereafter to his father, and later still to his newly acquired secretary. Following a performance in Jerusalem, Professor Rothschild and I again invited him. After first postponing and thereafter declining our invitation, U.G. later stated in an interview with "Psychic" (June 1973) that he "had never heard of us".
After an outstanding success in Israel never previously achieved by any professional conjuror, a group of such conjurors tried to expose Uri Geller and a small group of amateurs in the field, including a Tel Aviv professor, managed to perform many (but not all) of U.G.'s "paranormal" achievements, explaining their tricks to the public. As a result, Geller's star in Israel began to decline and he tried his luck abroad, with unusual success.
One of his former impresarios, Mr. Dany Pelz, who in the beginning believed, as did the entire stage personnel, in the genuineness of his performance, later explained some of Geller's "tricks" and talked about his character. (I was present when he told an audience of some 500 persons of its experiences.) Geller was "unmasked" later in the Israel weekly Haolam Haze (20/2/74).
According to Dany Pelz, Geller has a charming appearance and makes a strong impression on the tender sex (in stage performances he prefers female subjects for his experiments). He has an excellent memory for details and a very sharp eye. His performances usually started a little behind schedule, and while the board and waiting audience marked time by taking say a comb or powder-box from their handbags or lighting cigarettes, Geller watched through the curtains peephole and committed to memory a number of things which he would later "know mentally" about the contents of pockets or bags, such as the name of a brand of cigarette or the shape, size and colour of a powder compact, etc. The feat of mentally guessing the names of colours, written on a blackboard and then erased, while Geller was waiting in the corner of the stage blindfolded, was accomplished through signs transmitted to him by a secret co-worker in the first row. Thus, when this co-worker stroked his hair, the colour was black; crossing the legs indicated brown; touching the lips - red, etc. Numbers were transmitted in the sign language of deaf mutes. The bandage over Uri's eyes was never really 100 per cent effective and always allows some marginal sight. When continuing "blindfolded" a line of a drawing started by someone else, it once happened that the blind-folding had been done too well. Uri hesitated, started to fumble, became nervous and finally exclaimed: "somebody disturbs me. In the balcony somebody started to smoke". He tore off his bandage, discovered the smoker, reprimanded him, put the bandage back himself in his way - and now succeeded in the experiment.
In one incident Geller pretended to faint on the stage, asked for a doctor and seemed to be near death. Then he stuttered faintly : "Nasser has just died." The announcement was regarded as a joke and greeted by laughter. But on leaving the performance the audience learned of Nasser's sudden death. The news of his death had been broadcast during the performance and a note about it had been secretly passed to U.G. on the stage. If things go wrong, Geller has an unusual gift for saving the situation one way or another. Thus Dany Pelz in his account of Uri Geller's work.
The blindfolded driving of a car was successfully performed by Mr. Alon - without paranormal gifts, just by pure trickery. (His demonstration for a TV performance of how it was done was mysteriously cut out of the following day's telecast. I was present at the original shooting of the programme.) On the other hand, I had no opportunity of being present when Geller demonstrated his fork-bending feat and must therefore depend on press reports. In this delicate matter one has to rely on the trained power of observation of such professionals as e.g. stage magicians who often are the only ones capable of duplicating such phenomena by trickery. But to the parapsychologist, that in itself is insufficent:he must insist on a demonstration under the same conditions under which the real or alleged medium works! (In the case of Ted Serios the rice-corn size lens is a good example which could not work under all the specific circumstances under which Serios performed his feats successfully. See Eisenbud's report on the articles in the American periodical Popular Photography.)
In the "Spiegel" report I found the stage-magicians observations about "forcing" and rubbing the fork more important than the report of the "Bundesanstalt fur Materialprufung", which was not able to demonstrate the use of mercury nitrate on the broken surface, but reached its conclusion only after a parallel experiment on the same fork. The effect of the chemical is known to stage-magicians.

Professor Montague Ullman wrote in a letter to me:

"My own contact with Uri has been limited, but we did manage to arrange for an informal visit with him in the laboratory last week and there, quite spontaneously and not as part of a formal or controlled experiment, he managed to bend three keys that were held by three different observers, namely, myself, Rex Stanford and Charles Honorton. It is our hope that we can gain his cooperation for an extended series of experiments under controlled conditions, but he is so busy with television and other public appearances that it is hard to know how seriously he will take any commitment to research."

Much to my regret Professor Ullman does not mention, if Geller - even for a short time - held the keys in his own hand, e.g. to examine them before the incidents. On this point the answer is still awaited. At least the problem of "bending" is still open to discussion and in a letter to Professor Ullman I suggested a controlled experiment using videotape together with a MOVIE taking X-rays during the experiment.
The watches stopped during TV performances could perhaps - and I say "perhaps" - be explained statistically: let us assume that 1 million look at Geller's TV performance in Great Britain. Let us assume that about 20 per cent have self-winding wristwatches which would leave us with about 800,000 people whose watches should normally be wound about once in 24 hours; with 1440 minutes a day it would mean that more than 500 watches would stop every minute if their owners should forget to rewind them in time. It might conceivably just so happen that a dozen watches should stop during the performance because they ran down, whereupon the awed owner-spectator would telephone the B.B.C.: another miracle! There is no need to consider the possibility that such phone calls could also be procured through the payment of a "fee"! On the other side: the old watches which, when brought before the TV, started going after being rewound, startled me indeed when I met reliable persons who had had this remarkable event happen right in their own home. My watchmaker, however, tells me that people often come to him with a watch which has not functioned for months. Quite often in such cases the watch would start and keep going when he rewound it. Nothing has to be done! The watchmaker explained that sometimes small dust particles enter the oil between the small cogs and wheels and stop them. After some time the oil dries up a bit; then, when the watch is rewound, the small dry particles are dislodged and the newly wound clock starts working as usual.
There seems to be no doubt about the non-paranormal side of Geller's work and I would like here to put together some of the more important points against his effects being genuine psi phenomena.

1. The well known fact of the sporadic occurrence of psi phenomena and the limited possibility of being "psychic" all the time. You cannot give one or two performances almost daily for nearly half a year, relying exclusively on psi-information or with psi-forces. Tricks must come in, even if part of Geller's power or knowledge is paranormal.

2. Geller's evasion of tests by the Israel Parapsychology Society. (Perhaps it was because he had gathered so much experience in the course of his performances - or his psi-power became so strong that he later did cooperate e.g. with the Stanford Research Institute and others.)

3. Geller's own admission that he uses tricks as well as paranormal powers.

4. The fact that many of his features have been copied by the use of tricks alone (although not necessarily under the same circumstances).

5. It should be mentioned that, usually, a serious medium gives no stage performances or does not charge for advice, because such a medium thinks of the gift of coming from a higher power, to be used for the benefit of mankind. When a medium is obliged to use that gift to earn a living, this is done modestly and honestly and not in an effort to make a large fortune. Croiset, for instance, never takes money for his paranormal knowledge or advice from people in need.

6. Geller's explanations, for instance in the "Psychic" interview, make a very superficial and sometimes primitive and child-like impression. Only outstanding paragnosts such as e.g.Eileen Garrett have the necessary insight into their own inner depth to express their experience in a way acceptable to a scientist.

Should we then leave Geller alone in view of this generally negative report? Certainly not. Too many voices in the scientific community have been raised in his favour. Many reports stress that conditions were so tight that no trickery could have been involved! Let me cite a letter I received from J.B. Rhine of 25/6/73:

"While much of the publicity about Geller and some of the claims are too fantastic to be taken very seriously at this stage and with so little information, I am impressed by the number of serious competent people who have seen his demonstrations of physical effects under circumstances which, as reported, would not allow any kind of known sleight of hand or trickery. Some of the experiments at Stanford Research Institute seem to have been done under very careful conditions of observation. These were mostly of the ESP type although the evidence of Geller's influence on the magnetometer is impressive too. This influence would of course be PK if genuinely paraphysical."

Professor Ullman was impressed and the first report from the Stanford Research Institute was in some way positive; more positive about Geller's mental-telepathic abilities, more reluctant about the psychokinetic experiments.
The films of Uri Geller shown on the Israel TV were by no means convincing. In the London experiments with the news-man it was theoretically possible that the objects had been tampered with beforehand by Geller. He did, however touch and stroke the bending key. An interesting fact was that the key seemed to bend upwards, against gravity, and not downwards. When the watch did not start moving at once, Geller quickly adjusted the rewind stem and returned the watch to its owner who then confirmed that it was now working. The second film of the Stanford experiment with the small water containers may be genuine but the presence of subliminal clues can not be ruled out. The drawings, which were mostly mirror images, made a good impression, but these results have been achieved successfully for many decades by other paragnosts and researchers (e.g. Warcollier and Upton Sinclair). The discussion by a panel of university professors showed much restraint and some scientific support, but the statement of one of the participants that, if there are other laws than those so far known to underlie psi -phenomena, science would incorporate and absorb the new knowledge within its own system seems to indicate the perhaps unduly restrictive view that nothing can exist which science can not encompass.
In another paper (Parapsychologie und Naturwissenschaften in Grenzgebiete der Wissenschaften, No. III, 1971) I have tried to show why I think science on one side and parapsychological phenomena on the other are two sides of one coin. They complement each other but do not and perhaps cannot "explain" each other, although they may have a common denominator.
The discrepancy in views on Uri Geller requires us at least to inquire (after the statement about trickery), whether there may be, additionally, a genuine psi power which enables him to perform unmistakable psi-experiments. I personally consider such a view to be completely tenable.
In support of this I to point out that while there is much room for further investigation, we do not know that in all paragnosts the personality structure is a main reason for their abilities. During their paranormal performances they lose a part of their own personality and sometimes seem to lose it even completely. An alien personality seems to take over enabling them to put in to words the items of information paranormally received. Compare the way in which a good actor first learns his role and later "lives" his part so intensively that his tears, for instance, are natural when the script calls on him to weep.
This process of going beyond the prescribed or intended goal may happen in every kind of creative production. It has been said that "In Goethe's Faust is written more than Goethe knew"! Springs from the unknown depth of personality come to light and intermingle with the process of active production. In Thomas Mann's novel The Chosen it happens at certain points of the narrator's account of his story, that his prose changes into verse completely against his will, as if the simple facts of the story were transmuted, through the very depth of his emotion, into an unintended poem. Similarly possibly an artists phantasy may turn out to be of true precognitive character, as happened with Morgan Robertson's book, Futility, published in 1898. This described a superliner called "Titan", which set out on her maiden voyage with too few life-boats, as the ship was said to be unsinkable, and sank through collision with an iceberg, with all on board. The "Titanic", the "unsinkable" superliner went down with the loss of many passengers after collision with an iceberg in April 1912, fourteen years later.
But what has all this to do with Uri Geller? The answer might well be: as all magic tries by symbolic parallels to imitate reality, to induce it to happen by acting out the expected situation, just so a similar process may well happen with Geller's personality.
It may all start with some child-like playing around or some well-planned and mastered trickery. In the trance-like situation of successfully dominating an audience, things may start to happen which, beginning with some hunch or "intuition", pass over into genuine paranormal knowledge. It is typical of Geller that the more people attend his performances, the better the results become. If he tries to perform in the presence of just a few "goats", i.e. people with a negative attitude, he simply does not succeed. With a small group of "sheep" (believers) in front of him, he may succeed. His style of success is well expressed in a letter I received from J.B. Rhine 15/2/74:

"It is gradually becoming a fairly settled conclusion that these demonstrations Geller is giving are genuinely parapsychic. Because of the appearance they bear of being magical performances, we are all reluctant to reach decisions. The amount of laboratory work so far at Stanford Research Institute has not been extensive enough to give a settled decision, although they have helped greatly.

The phenomena are so dramatic as to be almost incredible even to parapsychologists…but one had better regard it as only tentative."

From his expression "magical performances" it seems that Rhine is well aware of this "mixed" situation. (Such a state of mind on the part of Geller might even partly explain his forgetfulness concerning his scheduled meetings with us.)
It is certainly too early to pass final judgement on Uri Geller's performances. Buut as is true of earlier great events in parapsychology, there seems to be no time-limit for discussion and interpretation. Eusapia Palladino is still discussed today, and the S.P.R. Journal at the end of the 1960's was full of the "cross correspondences" which kept the society and the public breathless some seventy years ago. The real importance of the impact of Uri Geller seems to lie in the following facts:

a. Never before has there been so much talk of parapsychology, nor so much thought given to it, by the general public and scientists alike.

b. In focusing attention on the problem, the new communication media are most helpful. Their danger arises from their manner of reporting: Involuntarily or even intentionally, at times, they give imprecise, exaggerated or sensational, unbalanced reports, not even excluding irrelevant aspects such as when one journal simply has to attack the opinion of its rival.

c. This kind of popular approach entails a great danger of selectivity, inaccuracy, distortion and exaggeration. Consequently the whole problem of parapsychology should be tested thoroughly with all available modern laboratory methods. Experiments should be well planned and should take place in the presence of physicists, psychologists and expert stage magicians within the framework of the universities !

d. Only when this is done shall we - perhaps ! be able to solve the question of the authenticity of the phenomena.

e. Even then, however, there can be no assurance that we shall thus arrive at an explanation of the phenomena: such an explanation may have to be sought at a totally different level, i.e. not at all along lines of approach currently pursued.

f. Yet it is only after making headway in the sphere of explanation that we can expect to bring about acceptance of the true significance of parapsychology.


©The Society for Psychical Research - Reproduced with permission



Uri Geller - a bibliography - homepage