By: Hong Ooi To: Mikolaj J. Habryn Re: Re: Urine Geller FG+gt; to believe he is doing it w

Master Index Current Directory Index Go to SkepticTank Go to Human Rights activist Keith Henson Go to Scientology cult

Skeptic Tank!

By: Hong Ooi To: Mikolaj J. Habryn Re: Re: Urine Geller FG> to believe he is doing it with "mentalism". But I can't blame Geller for FG> his scam... he'found a good way to get wealthy. I would probably keep on FG> scaming all these years too if I made the money he's making. MJH> OK Fred, how is he doing it? The following extract on Geller comes from /The World Almanac Book of the Strange/, Signet, 1977. The full article is several pages long; I have trimmed out bits on Geller's background and psychic powers. ================== BEGINS EXPOSING GELLER The basic point of the debunkers' approach to the Geller phenomenon is that the rule of Occam's razor must be applied to Geller's work: One should not assume a more complex hypothesis until all the simpler explanations have failed. The simpler explanations in Geller's case all turn on sleight of hand, misdirection, and psychological forcing. Since we know that these methods can be used to mystify people and since we are not sure that real psychic abilities do exist, we ought to take the simpler explanation, say the critics -- Geller is a clever magician. Many times people who see Geller perform react like eyewitnesses to a car accident: they report totally different stories. Even experienced observers can misreport what has happened. A reporter may write that Geller bent a key without even touching it. More likely, the person means that Geller had held the key, apparently attempting to bend it with his mind, but soon gave up and put the key to one side. Later, when someone examined the key, they found it had bent "by itself," after Geller, distracting his audience with some other piece of business, had surreptitiously bent the key against his chair or replaced it with a previously prepared key. GUESSING COLORS [sic] Geller may find an opportunity to peek quickly while the audience is watching the person writing the color [sic] on the blackboard.... While this method is a bit risky, a signaler [sic] in the audience is *almost* foolproof. In fact, David Marks and Richard Kammann, psychologists at the University of Otago in New Zealand, have observed Geller's secretary give distinctive hand signals from her seat in the audience during this part of Geller's routine. An article in the /Journal of the Society for Psychical Research/ (Dec 1974) reported that Geller had been exposed in front of an audience in Israel for reading hand signals from an accomplice. GUESSING FOREIGN CAPITALS The instructions... go something like this: "Write the name of a city that is the capital of a large foreign country. Not London, that's too easy." The natural reaction would be to write Paris or Rome. The point is that not many people will remember the exact instructions and do not recognize [sic] that they have been psychologically manipulated. People do not like to believe that such manipulation is possible, but if it weren't, a great deal of ordinary magic would also be impossible. SENDING TELEPATHIC MESSAGES TO SOMEONE IN THE AUDIENCE Again psychological forcing and misdirection can be applied in the instructions: "I am going to draw a simple geometric shape -- not a square, that's too simple -- and I am going to draw another simple geometric shape inside the first one." Most people would respond by drawing a circle and a triangle, either one inside the other. After all, how many simple geometric shapes are there? Also, even if Geller guesses wrong, he can't lose; the audience concludes that the person selected doesn't have any psychic abilities. If Geller guesses right, the audience is highly impressed. REPRODUCING A DRAWING "HIDDEN" IN A SEALED ENVELOPE In a test conducted by David Marks and Richard Kammann... forty-eight students were asked to study three envelopes under normal indoor lighting to see if they could get a sense of the envelope contents. Divided into four groups, the students were given five, ten, twenty or fifty seconds to examine the envelopes. Each envelope contained a target drawing which Kammann and Marks had earlier presented to Geller under similar conditions. The drawings presented to the students were folded and placed in the envelopes in exactly the same manner as those used to test Geller. Geller's response to the original tests were faithfully reproduced, and his entry was marked "student #49." Six judges were then asked to rate the drawings. Geller was rated well above the average student, but in comparison with the best students' drawings, his feat is unremarkable. On casual inspection of the envelopes, the lines of the drawings were not apparent, but held up to the light, the drawings did become faintly visible. The key to the study was that the drawings were folded so as to distort or omit important elements of the picture or to add an extraneous element -- one of the pictures was drawn on paper with a lined border around it; folded, that border added confusing lines to the picture. Looking through the envelopes, the students overlooked the added lines, left out the fold-hidden sun above a flower, and faithfully reproduced a black blob that, unfolded, became the edge of a shaded-in goblet. Geller, using his "psychic" talents, reported the same distorted and partial images as the students. This strongly suggests that he, too, merely looked through the envelopes. FIXING BROKEN WATCHES Kammann and Marks also interviewed jewelers and found that more than half the watches brought in for repair are not really broken; they are just suffering from gummed-up oil and dust. They argue that holding the watch in the hand raises the temperature and thins the oil. After a few slight movements this starts the watch ticking again. This seems rather too simple an explanation, but in an experiment with seven jewelers, Marks and Kammann found that 60 watches out of 106 did begin to tick again -- a success rate of 57 percent. Since this was not a controlled experiment and the jewelers might have been lying, psychology students were tested for their success rate. They attained a rate of 68.9 percent in thirty-two attempts. BENDING METAL OBJECTS Many times Geller has had the opportunity to examine test materials beforehand, and his critics claim that a fork or spoon can be prepared by bending it back and forth, until it is on the verge of breaking from metal fatigue. Then, with the slightest bit of pressure, the fork or spoon will seem to "melt" and crack in two. For spikes and nails, spoons and keys, sleight of hand -- replacing the straight nail with a bent one, surreptitiously -- is an excellent means of producing results. It is also possible to bend a key by pressing it against a wall, chair frame, or tabletop while no one is looking. One of the strongest cases of possible cheating by Geller was observed by Sandy McCrae, a sound recorder for Thames Television in England. He reported actually seeing Geller bend a large kitchen spoon by hand. It seems that film magazines contain ten minutes of film, but a standard sound tape runs twenty minutes. While the cameramen were busy reloading the film, Geller attempted to divert everyone else's attention by referring them back to a fork he had just broken. But McCrae, who was not busy reloading his equipment, did not turn to the broken fork and said he saw Geller bend the spoon by hand. Geller then called attention to the bent spoon, and the filming resumed. Support for McCrae's story comes from the facts that McCrae was a strong believer in Geller before this incident and that Geller and his associates were obsessively interested in how long it took to reload a film magazine. FINDING THE FILLED FILM CAN One of Geller's standard feats is finding an object that has been placed into one of ten light aluminum [sic] 35mm film cans. On the "Merv Griffin Show", Uri performed this trick successfully but some people thought they saw him jar the table so that he could tell which can was the heaviest. When he appeared on Johnny Carson's show, he was not allowed near the cans, and there is a possibility that the Carson people coated the bottom of the cans with a skidproof material to prevent them from sliding. The result -- Uri was not able to find the filled can. On the "AM America" show, the staff used heavier film cans that could not be jarred. But on the day of the show Geller was at the studio before 5:50 AM, when the staff members arrived (the show didn't start until 7 AM). The person in charge of filling the cans was aware that Geller had watched her fill the cans and tape them. At the last minute she called magician Felix Greenfield for advice. He told her to retape the cans when Geller wasn't around. She did this, and Geller failed again. A SPECIAL TEST In October 1973 Eldon Byrd, an engineer and an experimenter in the area of plant sensitivity, tested Geller in a lab in Maryland. The test material was nitinol wire, a special alloy of nickel and titanium. The crystalline structure of this alloy gives the wire a very unusual property: No matter how it is bent, it will return to its original shape when heated to about 210 degrees F. In order permanently to change the shape of the wire, it must be constrained in the desired shape and heated to a temperature of 932 degrees F. Geller did succeed in bending nitinol wire so that it would not return to the expected shape when heated. A great deal of the impact of this test depends on statements that the material was a "special new" alloy (/National Enquirer/, July 20, 1976), was "not generally available to the public" and was "produced in very small quantities at the Naval Ordnance Laboratory" (Eldon Byrd in /The Geller Papers/, Charles Panati, ed., Houghton-Mifflin, 1976). If these statements are true, a sleight-of-hand substitution of wires by Geller would seem to be ruled out. In fact, however, nitinol wire had been available from the Edmund Scientific Company in Barrington, New Jersey, since May 1971. It was sold in a $5 kit of six wires. For another $1 the buyer could get a booklet by NASA describing the properties of nitinol. Shortly thereafter a New York magician had devised a trick using the wire, and for a time the trick was marketed by Davenport's, a major trick manufacturer in London, England. Given the availability of the alloy and the knowledge of its use in some circles of magicians, it is not unlikely that Geller, probably knowing in advance that he would be tested with nitinol, could have obtained some, prepared it before going to Maryland, and substituted it for the wire Byrd gave him. ================== ENDS Hong


E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank