An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural
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(1946- ) Undoubtedly the “psychic superstar” of the century, whose name
has become known in every language in every country. He has asserted
that his powers are absolutely real, that he has never used cheating to achieve his results, and that in any case he is incapable of using sleight of hand to do conjuring effects.
Mr. Geller's major claim to fame is his ability to bend spoons using,
according to him, only the power of his mind. He has also demonstrated,
countless times, that he is able to ascertain the contents of sealed
envelopes and to “see” while blindfolded. These are also part of the repertoires of many mentalists, and though Geller denies he uses their methods, it is interesting to know that he has attended conventions of magicians.
Reaching back as far as the sixteenth century, the handsome young
Israeli, a former fashion model, borrowed and improved upon such basic
demonstrations as Blindfold Driving and the Obedient Compass (see compass trick),
though he claims that his performances are genuine, not using any
trickery. Along with these numbers was a relatively current novelty in
which a scrap of metal foil held by a spectator becomes too hot to hold,
seemingly through the mental powers of the performer. Again, Mr. Geller
says that his version of this demonstration is not a trick. (For the conjurors' method, see hot foil trick.)
In Israel, where the public was not quite as susceptible as in America,
Geller was accused by a complaintant of doing tricks when he had
promised to do genuine psychic feats. The Israeli court assessed him
costs, and the price of the plaintiff's ticket was refunded to him.
But it was the newest marvel that he later performed——seeming to bend
and break metal objects by mind power——that made all the news. That, it
seemed, was original with him, unlike the other rather standard
routines. However, in 1968 a conjuring magazine available in Israel
published the instructions for a spoon trick that was indistinguishable
from the Geller demonstration.
Insisting that his demonstrations were the real thing, in 1974 Uri
Geller traveled the world with his story of having been given his powers
through a distant planet called Hoova in another star system, and a UFO
called “IS” or “Intelligence in the Sky.” The unsteadier portion of the
public ate up all this stuff, which sounded very much like bad science
fiction, flocking to his performances and making him unquestionably the
most charismatic and successful mentalist in history.
The magicians, with very few exceptions, were quick to offer solutions
to Mr. Geller's numbers. In 1985, Australian conjuror
Ben Harris published a definitive book on metal-bending methods, and in
Norway, magician/author Jan Crosby amplified that to include a method
of doing the “watch trick” (in which a watch advances time by apparently
supernatural means) and an analysis of the bent spoons records. In
Sweden, Trollare och Andra Underhållare (“Magicians and Other
Entertainers”), a book on the history of magic by author Christer
Nilsson, expressed no doubts about the nature of Geller's performances.
Writing on the requisites for an effective approach to conjuring,
Certainly the first and last point to be made is that the quality
of a performance is what decides whether it is good or bad. No one
nowadays takes a magic trick as a fact; no one believes in black magic.
Even though some commercial texts state the opposite, we know that Uri
Geller is just another illusionist, nothing more.
But there was
more to Uri Geller than just his unquestioned skill; he had the charm
and charisma to convert admirers into worshipers. The portion of the
public who believed him to be a real wizard were so fervent in their
belief that they would defend their convictions even when confronted
with incontrovertible evidence that he used conjuring methods. Scientist
and science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke, who was at one time said
by Geller supporters to have been convinced by his demonstrations, said
of that aspect:
One thing, however, remains to be explained——the Geller effect. By this
I mean the ability of one able though perhaps not outstanding magician
(though only his peers can judge that) to make such an extraordinary
impact on the world, and to convince thousands of otherwise level-headed
people that he is genuine, or at any rate, worthy of serious
Dr. Clarke's observation is well drawn. Even the U.S. scientists who
first encountered Mr. Geller were aware of his conjuring tendencies. Parapsychologists
Hal Puthoff and Russell Targ, who studied Mr. Geller at the Stanford
Research Institute (now known as Stanford Research International) were
aware, in one instance at least, that they were being shown a magician's
trick by Geller. They described it in their book Mind Reach, where they said that they
had every confidence that Uri could do that trick [the blindfold drive]
as well as any of the dozens of other magicians who do it.
Targ and Puthoff issued a lengthy and quite positive scientific paper
extolling the psychic abilities of Geller. Their protocols for this
“serious” investigation of the powers claimed by Geller were described
by Dr. Ray Hyman, who investigated the project on behalf of a U.S.
funding agency, as “sloppy and inadequate.” In response to this
criticism, Dr. Targ retorted, “Bullshit!” This is a technical term often
encountered in parapsychology.
has claimed that he is paid large sums of money ($1 million,
nonrefundable, just to try) by mining companies to use his dowsing
abilities for finding gold and oil, sometimes just waving his hands
over a map to do so. He celebrates his claim that he has become a
multimillionaire just from finding oil this way, though he declines to
identify his clients. “It's nice to have money, because you don't have
to worry about paying bills and mortgages,” he says.
Some of the other claims made by and for Mr. Geller are even more
difficult to accept. In 1989, he says, he contacted the USSR Central
Administration of Space Technology Development and Use for National
Economics and Science and offered to repair, by his psychic powers,
their ailing Phobos satellites. The project never took place. He also
said he was contacted by NASA in the United States and asked to help
unstick an antenna on the Galileo space probe by means of his powers;
NASA's public relations office denied knowing anything about him. He
offered to recover from the Moon, by psychokinesis,
a camera left there by NASA astronauts; the camera is still there. In
articles and books written about Mr. Geller, it has been said that he
has created gold from base metals by alchemy, has discovered the location of the lost Ark of the Covenant, and has many times materialized and dematerialized objects.
A decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals on December 9, 1994, in a libel
suit brought by Geller against James Randi and the Committee for Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, said that “[James] Randi has set about attempting to expose various Geller feats as the fraudulent tricks of a confidence man.” The lawsuit was subsequently dismissed.
Uri Geller may have psychic powers by means of which he can bend
spoons; if so, he appears to be doing it the hard way.
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Copyright (C) 1995-2007 James Randi.
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