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James Randi Educational Foundation

An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural

Introduction | "R" Reading | Curse of the Pharaoh | End-of-the-World Prophecies

Index | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | Y | Z

Geller, Uri (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, Nilsson said:

      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 consideration.

      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.
      Geller 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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