What's a nice Jewish boy like Uri Geller doing busting up people's silverware with his bare hands? Uri, who is 25, Israeli and devilishly handsome, does not commit such mayhem with frenzied karate chops. It would appear that he doesn't even have to use his hands. Sometimes he just stares
When not causing forks, spoons, knives, jewelry, and other metal objects to split in two, shatter, or curl up like pretzels, Uri may, though not always intentionally, cause watches to stop, videotape to erase, and items to fly through the air. This rare PK (psychokinetic - moving matter through mental energy) ability is not confined to the snap, crack, pop department. Uri has repaired watches by passing his hand over them, and once, "fixed" Wernher von Braun's computer - temporarily - so that it ran for five minutes after having konked out.
Then there's his Christ bit (my term for it, not his). Without meaning to, he has apparently turned milk into water. And at the Wardorf, while he was dining with a Greek Orthodox archbishop, a fine rose wine turned red in the bottle, to the astonishment of the archbishop, not to mention the sommelier.
Then, too, Geller has evidenced a pronounced telepathic ability, along with a talent for out-of-body travel (otherwise known as astral projection). In one test, following instructions, he "went" to Brazil and brought back some native coins, so I've been told. Little wonder the Department of Defence and certain other highly placed Washingtonians have expressed an interest in Geller and the experiments he took part in last winter at the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) in California.
One can only speculate on the reasons for Washington's curiosity. Maybe it's our perennial keep-up-with-the-Russians paranoia. The Soviets are way ahead of us in psychic research, and it's rumored they're exploring the use of psychics in espionage. So who knows, maybe the folks who brough us Watergate are looking for a bugless way to carry on their patriotic work.
I was curious about Uri, too. I'd seen his handiwork (broken, twisted utensils) at the home of Judy Skutch, Den Mother to the psychic research community and president of the Foundation for Parasensory Investigation. And I knew an intense controversy raged about him. On the one hand were the "cheat-proof" tests conducted at SRI, demonstrating Uri's ability to "peturb" a shielded magnotometer by generating an apparent magnetic field. Also double-blind ESP experiments in which the probability of anyone matching his scores by chance was one in a million in one test, one in a trillion in another. On the other hand, Time's senior science editor Leon Jaroff, after killing a pro-Geller story, wrote a blast that called the SRI testing "sloppy" and Geller a "questionable nightclub magician." James ("The Amazing") Randi, a bona fide nightclub magician (now touring with Alice Cooper) whom Jaroff does not question, was present when Uri gave a demonstration with Time. Convinced that Geller used trickery, Randi has made it his mission ever since to denounce him as a fraud on various talk shows.
Speaking of talk shows, the night before I was to meet Geller I caught him on the Paar show. He'd brought a seven-inch steel spike which he asked Paar to grip while he gently stroked the exposed tip (I know it sounds pornographic, but it really wasn't). Within minutes, the spike bent in the middle. It was an impressive performance, made all the more so by the presence of ex-astronaut Edgar Mitchell (a trained scientist) who has studied Uri and says, "He's able to do things we cannot explain."
When I told Voice camera wizard Fred McDarrah about our joint assignment, he was almost as enthusiastic as John Marchi must have been when he heard Bob Wagnor was running for mayor. "You don't believe in psychic stuff?" I asked. "I don't believe in anything, said Fred.
As a precaution against, well ... who knows what? I brought my own collection of sturdy metal objects, including two forks I'd stolen from Sardi's the night before. The meeting was at the Skutches' appartment.
Psychics, unlike stage magicians, can never be certain their "tricks" will work, for their mood, the weather, and the vibes they get from those around them can affect their performance. So I didn't push things. we chatted first. Uri is a most engaging fellow, at once charasmatic yet unassuming, warmly outgoing yet supremely self-involved ("Will I like what your going to write about me?"). He first realized his telepathic gift when he was three or four. His mother would return home form playing cards and he'd tell her how much she'd won or lost. ("I was always right.") At seven, he began noticing that the hands of his watch unaccountably moved about - but only when he was in school. ("I believe I use the energy of others. I'm a channel.") In time, his PK and ESP repertoire increased and he was asked to do his "act" at various schools. Three years ago, after ahitch as a paratrooper, Uri started to perform professionally in Israel, until Dr. Andreja Puharich, a psychic investigator, persuaded him to come to the U.S. to be tested under controlled laboratory conditions.
Enough of talk. It was "show me" time. Uri asked Fred (he felt a positive "force" from Fred) to grip one of the purloined forks. Then Uri placed his hands about Fred's, yet without touching. Fred felt a pulsation (possibly his own pulse). While "sending energy" Uri does not close his eyes, meditate, or enter a trance state. Instead, he kept up a lively conversation with the half-dozen of us in the room. ("One part of my head is concentrating. When it starts happening, I know it.") Nothing happened. "Maybe the room is no good," he suggested, so we changed rooms. A stratagem to distract us while he secretly bent one of the forks? Apparently not. Before resuming, we compared the two forks. They were identical, as before.
For some reason, Uri had been reluctant to try the fork-zapping with me - the wrong vibes, I suppose. But I persisted (somewhat suspiciouly, I confess) until he agreed. So while I held the tines, Uri put one index finger under the middle of the fork and the other hand above it. He asked me to push gently, thus rocking the fork. At no time did I feel any stress exerted on the fork, yet within minutes the handle began to curve downward. Immediately Uri held up the fork, placing it on top of its mate for contrast. Sure enough, the handle had arched in the center - and continued to arch before our astonished eyes.
Cheered by success, Uri now chose the sturdiest item in my collection, a brass L-bracket whose sides measured one-and-a-half by one-and-quarter inches and a tenth of an inch thick. each man tried to squeeze it with his hands. It wouldn't budge. "It'd take a vice," someone said. Now Uri cupped the bracket, stroked it, stared at it (staring without stroking takes longer, maybe a half hour.) "Come on, baby, go!" he commanded. No go. "I know something will happen," he said, returning the bracket to the coffee table.
We switched to ESP ("I have a television set in my mind"). First, Uri mentally projected to me one geometric shape within another. None of us got it. (He'd drawn a circle within a triangle. Charlie Reynolds, a Time photographer and magician, told me Geller used the same geometrics at the magazine, and that mentalists know people will choose a circle in a triangle 90 per cent of the time. Our group was obviously in the 10 per cent bracket.).
Next, I took my foolscap pad to the far corner of the room and, carefully shielding pad, pen, and hand, drew an odd geometric shape, then tried to project it mentally to Uri. "I don't get anything," he announced. Try again. A sailboat. Uri got an image, but was sure it was wrong - a vertical semi-circle. I marked it a partial hit - the hull of my little boat was a horizontal semi-circle.
Third try. I sketched a flower. Uri passed. Fourth try. A balloon. "I've got something," Uri said excitedly as he sketched a flower. A hit once removed - a known occurence in ESP experiments.
Now Fred took the pad and made a drawing. "I feel something strongly ... it's amusing ... like a ... Mickey Mouse," Uri said, drawing a cartoony animal face. Fred held up his drawing and we all gasped. He'd drawn a Mickey Mouse, not identical to Uri's but eerily close.
As if that wren't shocker enough, Uri called our attention to the L-bracket on the table. It was scrunched almost flat. "Sometimes it starts working when nobody's looking," Uri explained.
I'm not sure Fred has recovered from that session. Nor from the fact that Uri got my blitzed-out heating pad to warm up. Nor from the weird behavior of my tape recorder. The tape kept streaming out of the cassette. That had never happened before.
As for me, I've been on a mental teeterboard. For example, I asked anumber of rugged men to take a crack at an identical L-bracket. all failed, except one Goliath-sized moving man who collapsed it, not with his hands, but with his heel. At one point, Uri had stepped out of the room for some moments. Could he have palmed the bracket? I honestly don't know. Randi and Reynolds are convinced Uri is skilled in the magician's arts of distraction and switching. (But there was only one bracket.) Both magicians are adamant, as is Jaroff, that there is no such thing as psychic phenomena. While sincere in that view, they seem frantically bent upon exposing Geller. In fact, both sides of the Geller question are generating enough verbal heat to keep my electric pad going for the next year. Examples:
Jaroff on the SRI researchers: "Tenth-rate physicists." Jaroff on Puharich: "A quack ... he associates with faith healers."
Puharich on Jaroff: "He'll go down in history as one of those people who believe the world is flat." (By the way, Puharich told me he's convinced 99 per cent of faith healing is "garbage.")
Professor Gary Feinberg (Columbia University physicist who chaired a recent colloquium concerning Geller) on the SRI researchers: "They're reputable physicists ... interesting work ... There's no obvious way to explain what Geller did."
SRI spokesman on Jaroff: "He wrote the article without seeing our report ... Time just set up a straw man, then shot him down."
And so on. Why such pyrotechnics? Nobody trades insults over Kreskin. But Kreskin doesn't bend metal. Granted, Geller did not perform for us under laboratory conditions. And sure, he might have pulled off a trick or two. I can't prove otherwise. But Fred and I are ready to swear that the fork bent without any hanky-panky. And what about the Mickey Mouse drawings? And the fact that my heating pad still works? (Even G. E. doesn't bother fixing them; it's easier to give you a new one.)
But the clincher, particularly for Fred, was the Kirlian-type photographs we saw before we left. Kirlian photography, also known as radiation field photography, originated in Russia, and involves the photographing of objects in a high-voltage field - without a camera - by placing them in contact with film which, in turn, is in contact with a metal plate. The resultant picture shows a luminous energy discharge form, say, the subject's fingertips. Uri's pictures showed something else - thought projected forms. He was able to make letters and numbers appear on the film by thinking them there. Nobody else has managed to accomplish this remarkable feat, as far as I know.
Anyway, if you'd like to check out Geller for yourself, he'll appear at the United Engineering Hall, 345 47th Street, on May 4 at 7.30. Tickets $5 - unless you're planning to attend via astral projection.
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