Uri Geller is a 26 year-old Israeli who came to the United States not long ago to demonstrate his powers of telepathy and psychokinesis. He claims he can bend or break objects simply by concentrating on them, and that he can make things dematerialize. I've tried carefully to understand his talents. Dealing with this extraordinary man has been an adventure - a sort of roller-coaster ride, through troughs of skepticism and heights of pure belief. Let me describe what happened.
Last April, I happened to be in Berkeley when Uri Geller made one of his early public appearances. The event took place in a school auditorium, filled to capacity with people who had paid a moderate admission fee to see the Israeli wonder.
The program began with an introductory speech by Andrija Puharich, the physician and parapsychological researcher who brought Geller to this country. Puharich explained that Uri was very tired because he had just tried to demonstrate his powers before committees of Nobel Prize winners from Berkeley and Stanford. He assured us that Uri had passed several rigidly controlled tests at the Stanford Research Institute, a private think-tank which studied the "Geller effect" last fall. All we had to do now was "be with" Uri - give him our mental energies - and we'd see amazing psychic feats.
Are You with Me?
Then Uri came on stage. He was charming, good-looking and boyishly enthusiastic. He said that his day had been exhausting, especially since he hadn't been able to do much of anything for the scientists. The mental set of an audience is crucial to his performance, he explained. If people are with him, all sorts of things happen; if they aren't with him, nothing happens. As an example, he described his inability to perform successfully in the hostile editorial offices of "Time" magazine a short time before. But with the staff of an underground newspaper in the Bay Area he was able to make pieces of silverware break and cause objects to vanish without a trace.
Uri told us he had first noticed his telepathic abilities as a child, when he was able to guess his mother's hands at card games. When he was about seven, he noticed that the hands of his wrist watch would jump forward or backward several hours. Eventually, he learned that these movements occurred when he willed them. Uri kept these powers to himself, and as he grew older he attached less importance to them. But in his early 20's he became interested in them again, started practicing, and finally decided he should use them to make his living. In mid-1970 he began appearing before small audiences. By the end of 1971 he had become famous in Israel. It was then that he met Puharich.
Uri began his demonstrations by picking several female volunteers from the audience. He kept telling us not to be disappointed if nothing happened. "Just "want" something to happen and maybe it will."
He asked the first woman to write the name of a color on a black-board. He kept his eyes averted as she wrote "blue" and then erased it.
He asked the audience to "think" the name of the color on the count of three. "And please, no one whisper it," he cautioned. He counted to three. I thought "blue". We repeated this three times. Uri shook his head. "I'm having some trouble," he said. "Once more. One, two, three…" There was a long pause. "O.K," he said, "I'm going to take a chance. The color I get is blue."
The audience applauded wildly. He held up his hands. "wait. I must ask: who over here was sending yellow?" A young man in front gasped and raised his hands. "Please don't do that," Uri told him. "It really confuses me." The man apologised, saying he couldn't help himself.
The Stopped Watches
Uri was also successful at the next test: A foreign capital written on the board, erased, and then sent to him mentally by the whole audience. The capital was Prague; he guessed it with no difficulty. He also reproduced several figures drawn on the board.
"I'll tell you how I do this," he said, "I have in my mind a kind of screen, like a television screen, and when I receive something, whatever it is draws itself on that screen."
Uri then tried to demonstrate psychokinesis, or making things move by means of psychic powers. "If anyone has a watch that is not running," he said, "as long as no parts are missing inside, bring it up front, and I'll try to make it go." Apparently, his talent at this operation was already well known, because many people had brought their stopped watches with them. Uri fixed a watch by having her hold it in her hands and putting his hand over hers. Without touching the woman's hand, he passed his palm back and forth as if trying to direct some sort of energy. He asked his volunteer to let him know if she felt any sudden heat or tingling. She did. He opened her hands and took out the watch, which was running again. He repeated this demonstration with several other watches and got almost all of them to run; one was an antique pocket watch that had been stopped for years.
Elated by success, he said he would try to bend some metal objects. Volunteers rushed forward with an assortment of rings, keys and pins. Uri explained that objects to which people were emotionally attached were most suitable. He couldn't guarantee success, though, because he was exhausted from his day of failures with the Nobel laureates. He tried bending rings by putting them in the hands of volunteers and again passing his hands over theirs. It didn't work. After several attempts he gave up. "No, it just doesn't want to work tonight." The audience was only slightly disappointed. They had already seen his powers.
Uri concluded his presentation by offering to take a group of volunteers on a blindfolded drive through Berkeley. That is, he would be securely blindfolded and would drive a car, using the vision of the other passengers telepathically to navigate. There was no shortage of volunteers, and I heard the next day that the ride had been a success.
A Bias Toward Belief
Uri Geller was now a real person to me, and very likeable. Whether he really had the power of mind over matter, I couldn't say. I hadn't seen him fix watches with my own eyes, since I was sitting too far away; but I believed the testimony of those who had. The experiments in telepathy, on the other hand, failed to move me. I had seen stage magicians give similar performances using trickery. The blindfolded driving didn't impress me either, since a person can learn to peek through even the best-fastened blindfold. What I really wanted to see was a key bend or a ring break. For me, that would decide the case.
My prejudice leans heavily toward the belief that such things are possible. I have no doubt, for instance, that telepathy exists; In fact, I think it's so common that we do it all the time without knowing it. I've never seen psychokinesis, but I'm prepared to accept that, too. No mental gymnastics are required to rationalize its existence. The proposition that matter and energy are synonymous at some level is consistent with the most modern conceptions of physics. The propositions that human consciousness is a form of real energy seems to me self-evident. So why shouldn't consciousness affect the physical properties of things?
I didn't see Uri Geller again until the first week in June. By that time he was becoming well known. He had made convincing television appearances with Merv Griffin and Jack Parr. On thelatter show he had bent a heavy metal spike. His host was astonished. Meanwhile, favourable articles about him were being published all over the place. "Time" was the only magazine that accused him of being a fraud.
I was living in New York then, and one night Andrija Puharich invited me to a small gathering on the upper West Side where Uri was meeting with some people who wanted to make a feature film about him. Ten people were there when I arrived, among them Puharich and Geller. Uri had just flown in from California and was looking well, although he said he was tired. The company included a lighting director from a major television network, together with his wife; a young lawyer and his wife; a young woman psychic who was also a protégéé of Puharich; and Jascha Katz, one of the two Israelis who managed Uri's professional appearances.
Many of the people present had seen Uri do extraordinary things; some of them had witnessed phenomena they considered miraculous. The lawyer showed me a ring Uri had bent for him and said the experience had changed his life.
"I Am Just a Channel"
After chatting for a while, we drifted in to a small living room and sat down, hoping Uri would feel up to trying out his powers. Uri asked us not to urge him. "If something is going to happen, it will," he said. He began to tell us stories of his recent feats. He had "blown the mind" of an astrophysicist by making his fork bend while they were eating dinner together. The day before, on the plane from California, he had "unconsciously" the motion picture projector, causing film to spill out on the floor. "Things like that are always happening around me," he said. "Sometimes Andrija and I are eating in a restaurant and - "pop!" - a fork on the table is breaking just like that."
Someone asked Uri what he thought this power was. "I don't think it is my mind," he answered. "The parapsychologists are always talking about the mind, but I think this power comes from somewhere outside of me, and I am just a channel for it." What did he mean by "outside"? "I believe there are other dimensions and other universes, and that this energy which comes through me is coming from another universe - that it is intelligently directed and sent through me for a purpose." Puharich made assenting noises and said that what he and Uri were learning about the nature of this intelligence was astonishing. He didn't want to say more; the subject was too "far out" and would be discussed in a book he was writing. But Uri added that he thought the people of the United States were unusually receptive to his powers at this time. "Here is where people really believe in me and where things are going to happen." He described himself as "bigger than Watergate" and predicted that everyone in America would soon hear of him. Already, Uri said, a number of high-placed American officials believed in him. The Defence Department has been especially interested in his ability to erase magnetic tapes at a distance. He decribes how he made an airport television monitor go blank in the presence of a U.S senator. Uri talked like this for some time.
There were some pieces of silverware and a few keys on the table. Uri picked up a key and played with it. Everyone moved forward. "I don't know if anything will go tonight," he said. "I'm really very tired and not up to it." He rubbed the key with his finger and thumb. "No." he said, and dropped it.
Thinking About Ice Cream
"Look, let's try some telepathy," he suggested. He pointed to me. "Why don't you draw any figure on a piece of paper. I won't look." He turned his head away. I drew the sign for infinity. "Now right below that draw another figure." I added a pyramid. "O.K, now try to send it to me; just visualize it in your mind." Uri took up a pencil and a pad. He assumed a look of concentration, first staring at me, then closing his eyes. He quickly sketched on the pad. "The first thing I got was a circle that changed to an '8.'" He had drawn an upright "8." Underneath it he had drawn a triangle. I showed him the horizontal "8" and the pyramid. "Dammit," he said, "I saw a pyramid for an instant but then it became a triangle." But I was impressed.
"Can you send something to me?" I asked.
"Oh yes - go ahead, close your eyes."
We both concentrated, and I came up with an ice cream cone, possibly because I think about ice cream often. Uri had been trying to send me a sketch of a boat.
He tried a few more drawings with other people in the room and generally scored well. Then he began to miss. "There's something not right about the energy in this room," he complained. "It's just not working well; maybe it's because I'm tired."
"Can you try the key?" someone asked.
"I'll try," he replied, "but I don't think I can do it." He picked up a thick key and began stroking the shaft. Nothing happened. He placed it in his palm and tapped it with a finger. Still nothing. "Maybe if it were lying on something metal," he suggested. Someone brought him a frying pan. He turned it upside-down and placed the key on it. He jiggled the key and tapped it, buy still there was no change. "No, it's not working; let's wait." Uri seemed a little edgy now. Every once in a while he conversed in Hebrew with Jasha Katz, his manager.
"Do you only have power over metal objects?" I asked.
"Only with metals," he answered.
"Does it make any difference what kind of metal?"
"No, all metals are the same."
I Am Not a Messiah
"Do you do any kind of meditation, or go into trances?"
"No I'm very ordinary>"
"Do you use any drugs?"
"No, not even alcohol."
"How do people react when they see you do something that's not supposed to happen?"
"Oh, man, it blows their minds. Most people are really excited and really are turned on. Some people just don't believe it even when they see it with their own eyes. Some guy on the West Coast wrote that I had a laser beam concealed in my belt. Can you imagine that?" He laughed and shook his head. "A few people believe it and think it's evil."
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"Well, like that business with the projector on the plane yesterday. The stewardess was really flustered because she said that never happens. I told her it often happens when I'm on planes. I didn't really mean to cause it; it just happened."
"So then some of the passengers recognized me from television, and I bent a few forks for them. And then this big guy from Hawaii came over and identified himself as the security officer. It was very far out. He didn't know what to make of it. So finally he relaxed, but then he asked me how did I know that what I was doing wasn't from the Devil. He said old Hawaiians believed powers like that were from the Devil."
"How does that make you feel?"
"Well, it makes me feel strange. I have these powers, and they just come through me. I want to show them to people. I want people to know that it's real, that there are no lasers in my belt and no chemicals. I just say to the key, "Bend!" and I feel that it's going to bend, and it does."
"I imagine that could be heavy for some people."
"Sure, it's heavy for them. But, look, I am not a Moses or a Jesus or a Messiah or anything. I believe in God and I think that everything comes from God, but I don't think that this has anything to do with God."
"Do you have any effects on living things?"
"Yes. One time in a press interview in San Francisco, they gave me a rose bud, and I put it in my hand and the bud opened."
"How about on humans? Did you ever try to heal anyone?"
"Just one time. When I was at Stanford there was this girl who had polio, and I put my hand on her leg, and it started to move for the first time in years."
"Yes. But that scared me. I wouldn't like to do that again."
Uri Bends a Key
At this point, the lawyer asked Uri if he would please try to bend a valuable old pin that belonged to his wife and was of great emotional importance to both of them. Uri said he would try later. "What if it really twists or breaks?" he asked.
"Believe me, Uri, it would mean more to us that way," the lawyer told him.
"Well, maybe I'll try this key again," Uri said to himself. He picked up the key - it was a good solid house key - and held the head of it between the thumb and forefinger of his left hand. With his right index finger he stroked the shaft of the key. I was about six inches from him, and the light was good. For a long time nothing seemed to happen. Then Uri shouted: "Oh, look! There it goes!" Several of us pressed closer. At first I saw nothing different about the key. But Uri insisted: "It's bending! Yes, it's bending!" And then I could see that the tip of the key was slightly curved. It had been straight.
Uri continued to rub the key. Now the bend was easily visible, and the key could be rocked back and forth when placed on a level surface. Uri put it down on the frying pan. "It will continue to bend slowly by itself," he told us. And, after several minutes, the bend did seem to be more pronounced. "Usually, they keep bending by themselves for 24 hours, so by tomorrow morning it will be even more bent. It's as if they have a kind of life for a short time."
Now Uri felt "hot." He correctly received two drawings sealed inside opaque envelopes - one of a cross, the other of a Star of David.
The lawyer wanted Uri to deform his wedding band, but the idea didn't carry. The lighting director offered Uri a heavy gold ring, set with stones. Uri examined it carefully. He asked the man to support the ring on its edge with his forefinger. Uri then held his hand over the man's hand and finger, without touching the ring. After trying out several positions on his hand, he settled into one he seemed to like. Again, I was only a few inches from the demonstration.
Suddenly, the ring sagged into an oval shape. Uri exclaimed, "There! Look at that! Did you feel anything?"
"I felt a strong tingling over the whole back of my hand, definitely some kind of energy," was the reply. Uri held the ring for all to see. It was no longer circular, and would not fit back on its owner's finger.
A Fork Like Melting Wax
Flushed with success, Uri took on another house key, and within less than a minute had it bent to about 25 degrees. He assured us that by the next morning the angle would be considerably greater.
Later, someone asked Uri to try to bend a fork. He said he didn't like to work with silverware as it was too easy to bend. As he spoke, he picked up the fork by the middle in a casual way, just to play with it. Suddenly, the fork looked like melting wax and drooped over Uri's hand. "My God! Look at that!" Uri said. "I wasn't even trying to do it." The fork was bent at a grotesque angle. I picked it up. It wasn't even warm.
By now the company was about to break up. I wanted badly to see Uri work on something of mine that I knew wasn't gimmicked. The only metal thing I had on me was a heavy brass belt buckle. I offered it to him. "I never work with belt buckles," Uri said flatly.
There was little doubt in my mind that I had seen genuine psychokinesis - something I had always believed in but never witnessed. I left the apartment feeling absolutely elated.
By August of last year, Uri Geller was even more famous. He appeared on the "Tonight Show" but wasn't able to accomplish much. He tried to detect, telepathically, which one of 10 metal film canisters contained water, and he tried to bend nails, but he couldn't do either. Johnny Carson became impatient and urged him to try other things. Uri balked, saying he couldn't be rushed. It was painful to watch. A few nights later, on the "Merv Griffin Show," he bent a large nail very successfully. Griffin introduced him by saying that his failure on the "Tonight Show" proved that Uri was real, since a stage magician would succeed every time.
Scientists Are Chumps
The possibility that Uri Geller might be nothing but a trickster didn't enter my mind for quite a while. When it did, it came by way of a remarkable man named James (the Amazing) Randi, a stage magician and escape artist who lives in New Jersey and is well known in New York from a radio show he used to do for children. I had heard that the Amazing Randi was out to expose Geller as nothing but a stage magician and that he could duplicate most of Geller's demonstrations.
"That guy is dangerous," Randi told me over the phone. "He's a god magician, nothing more, and he's going to go on a Messiah trip or get into psychic healing. That's what bothers me." I told Randi what I had seen Uri do. "Of course, it looks real; that's the point of magic," he said.
"But how could Uri have bent the keys?" I asked. "He didn't," Randi replied. "They were bent already; he just reveals the bend by sleight-of-hand movements that make you think it's bending."
That didn't sound very convincing. I had seen the key when it was straight and I had seen it in the process of bending.
"What about the scientific tests?" I asked. Randi guffawed. "Scientists are the people "least" qualified to detect chicanery," he said. "They're the easiest to fool of all. If you want to catch a burglar, you go to a burglar, not to a scientist. If you want to catch a magician go to a magician.
"Do you know why Geller couldn't do anything on the "Tonight show?'" Randi went on. "because Carson used to be a stage magician, and I got to Carson, and we figured out exactly how to safeguard the props that were going to be used. All Geller needs is 30 seconds alone with those props and he can tamper with them. But we fixed him good."
A few days later, I met with Uri privately at his East 57th Street apartment. I asked him what he thought about people who said he was a mere stage magician.
"I am not a magician," he said vehemently. "Look, the people who are supposed to see these things will see them, and those who don't, don't. I don't care if people say I do magic tricks. I know that it's real. And it's all good publicity."
On a Friday afternoon in mid-September I went again to Uri's apartment. This time I came equipped with several keys, a threaded steel bolt and a stopped watch. The watch hadn't run for a long time; if jarred it would go for a few seconds and then stop.
Five reporters were there when I arrived, four of them from the "Rolling Stone" and one from Boston's "Real Paper." The table was littered with bent spoons, a bent key, a gold ring on a piece of paper, a watch; drawings of geometrical figures, and several tape recorders.
Uri seemed tired but enthusiastic. He told me to ask him anything. I said I'd prefer to sit and listen first. The talk focused on astral projection and flying saucers (Puharich has described seeing Uri enter a flying saucer in Israel) but also included many questions I'd heard before. When did Uri first notice his powers? Did he meditate? Could he heal people?
One of the "Rolling Stone" reporters asked Uri if he could teach his powers to other people. "How can I?" he answered. "Where would I begin?" I asked him if there were any verification of the bendings reported by home viewers of his television appearances. "Oh, yes," he replied. "Just last week I heard that in the Texas attorney generals office in Austin, a secretary was listening to a tape of a radio show I did there, and a fork started to bend in the presence of four witnesses."
A woman from the "Rolling Stone" told me that he had fixed the watch on the table just by holding his hand over it. The "Real Paper" man reached for the watch. Suddenly he became excited. "Has anyone reset this?" he asked. Everyone looked at the watch and gasped. Apparently, it was now four hours ahead of where it had been. Uri picked it up and exclaimed: "My God! Look at that!" he put it down. Moments later it had advanced again. "It's always like that," he explained. You never see the hands moving; you just find them in a new position."
I said I had a broken watch with me, but as I drew it out of my pocket I had a funny feeling that it would already be running. And so it was, quite steadily. Uri took credit for this, even though he hadn't known the watch was in my pocket. I wondered to myself if he had mobilized my latent psychokinetic ability. We correctly set both watches and left them side by side to see what would happen.
The "Rolling Stone" people told me that the ring on the piece of paper had levitated earlier, or at least had dropped from mid-air onto the table. They had also seen a key bend. I took out my collection of three keys and my long bolt and put them on the table. "Who moved that?" Uri asked, very excited, grabbing me by the shoulder. "Did you touch that?" I said I didn't know, and it became another miracle.
I asked Uri if he would try to bend one of my keys. He took up a short brass one. "O.K, I'll try, but don't be disappointed if it doesn't work. I'm very tired and I don't know whether I can do it now." He stroked the key while I hunched over him. Nothing happened. "No. I'm too tired. Maybe later. I had to do two early morning performances in Cleveland on television, and I'm exhausted."
The phone rang. It was someone in Denver who wanted Uri to do a show for 10,000 people. Jascha Katz took the call. The atmosphere was almost manic now, and the "Rolling Stone" reporters began to get headaches. "There's a lot of energy in this room," one of them said.
Then the director of the Channel Five (WNEW) news arrived, together with Martin Abend, a political commentator for the same channel. The news director had spent the early part of the afternoon with Uri and was now a solid convert. Uri had detected metal in film cans, caused a key to bend, and succeeded at ESP. Channel Five was going to do a feature on Uri that night and wanted Martin Abend to comment afterward.
Abend seemed unsure about all this. "It's not my line," he kept saying. But the director kept telling him that he would have an amazing experience if he would just suspend his doubts and watch.
"But if it is real, I can't say that over the air," Abend protested. "Do you know what kind of a storm we'd stir up?" He frowned. The "Rolling Stone" people urged him to be open-minded and told him proudly that they had always been believers. "Just try to help him - you'll see."
Pretty soon the reporters left, leaving me with Uri, Martin Abend and the news director. The director was keyed-up, anxious for Uri to convince Abend. Abend drew a geometrical figure and Uri looked away; but Uri was not able to reproduce the figure. Then he tried to bend a key and failed. Finally Uri sent the news director away, saying, "you're making me nervous."
Abend drew two intersecting circles. Uri received two circles tangent to each other, then two circles, one inside the other. Abend was impressed. "That's really something," he said. "I can do much better when I'm not tired," Uri told him. "No, that's good," Abend replied. There was another unsuccessful attempt at key-bending.
"I've got to go," Abend said. "I have to get back to the station." The television people took their leave, telling us the show would be on at 10 o' clock that night.
Uri and I were now alone, sitting together on a couch. I told him I hated to ask him to perform again, but I had never seen him bend anything that belonged to me.
"let's try the key again," he suggested. We did, but with no luck. "What else do you have?," he asked. I brought out two other keys on a small chain attached to a little knife. "I used to have a knife like that," he said and put it into my hand. He covered it with my other hand, then put his hands on mine. He concentrated intently. Then he looked at the other keys and asked which one I was most attached to. I wasn't sure. He piled all the keys into my hand and put the knife on top. Then he repeated the operation. I felt a pulsation and told him so, but there was no change.
"Dammit!" he said, "Why can't I do anything?"
"Don't be disappointed," I told him. "I'm very patient, and if nothing works now, we can try some other time."
Uri seemed agitated. "Don't you have anything else metal?" he asked. "Maybe in your boots." He pointed to my boots that I had left across the room.
"No, all I've got is a belt buckle, and you told me once you never worked with belt buckles."
"Let's try it," he said. I took off my belt and put the large brass buckle in my palm on top of the three keys and the knife and chain. I covered the pile with my other hand. Uri put his hand on top. More intense concentration. Suddenly, I felt a distinct throb inside my hands, like a small frog kicking. I told him so. "You did?" he asked excitedly and opened my hands. I could see no change in the buckle. He pulled out a long steel key and cried out: "It's bent, yes, it's bent! Do you see?" I did not see at first. But then I noticed a slight bend. It was very exciting. Uri put the key on the table to check it. Yes, it was definitely bent.
The Making of a Convert
Uri was almost jumping up and down for joy, and I shared his emotion. "Let's see if we can bend it more," he said. He touched the key to the other keys and stroked it again. After a few minutes the bend was about 25 degrees. Uri patted me on the back, making me feel that I had participated in the miracle. "It's good you felt it jump, man," he told me. "Not many people can feel that." I was elated.
He ran into the other room to tell Jascha Katz of the success, then hugged me warmly. I gathered up my things, thanking him profusely and telling him I had seen exactly what I wanted. He walked me to the elevator. As we were saying goodbye, I heard a "plink!" and the long steel boot bounced off his left arm onto the floor. "Is this something of yours?" he asked, picking it up.
"Yes," I said, "I brought it along but must have left it inside."
His eyes widened. "My God! Just like their ring. You have just seen a materialization!"
I wasn't sure about that materializing bolt, since he could have pocketed it and made it appear by sleight-of-hand; but the other powers I had seen that day seemed extraordinary and impossible to deny.
I was a convert.
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