To: firstname.lastname@example.org Subject: End of a project.... Drat! Date: Thu, 29 Feb
From: James Randi --- Wizard
Subject: End of a project.... Drat!
Date: Thu, 29 Feb 1996 23:44:20 -0500
OKAY, I ADMIT IT: I WAS WORN DOWN BY ENDLESS QUESTIONS
AND CHANGES OF PROTOCOL....
The Takahashi project in Japan is officially off. She's the Wonder
Girl who totally fooled the parapsientists in Taiwan and in Japan with
a ridiculously simple peeking trick that she said was ESP. She's 14
years old, cute as you can imagine, and as cunning as a tanuki. You
should know the genesis of this development.
Three nights ago I called to cancel the event -- for the first time --
simply because the producer had sent me an unacceptable contract which
had all of the "psychic's" demands spelled out, and I don't do a test
when the performer calls the shots. This operating priciple of mine
was suggested by the dreadful fiasco that took place as a result of
the modus operandi adopted by the Stanford Research Institute, where
Geller was "tested" in 1971-2. We all know how that comedy of errors
launched his transient rise to psychic stardom.
Of course, the protocol I'd designed to test and trap Takahashi had to
be kept secret, but in fear of losing the "psychic" and her miracles,
the TV producers bowed to her every whim. They demanded to know how I
was going to catch her, I'm sure so that she could be informed in
advance. Well, I'm not about to reveal my methodology, which was
worked out with the technicians at MIT, who are disappointed that they
now won't be able to see a really clever bit of scientific technology
at work to expose a "psychic" performance as a simple trick.
Yesterday the Japanese producer called to tell me that Takahashi had
agreed to all my requirements for a proper scientific examination of
her powers, and I agreed to go through with the encounter -- though I
told him that I was sure it was not Takahashi herself who had agreed
to all this. She, alone, would know that she could not succeed in the
This morning, that fact became quite evident. I received a call
saying that it was all "off" again, and that the former decision had
been made by Takahashi's father, who apparently believes that his
daughter can really do the trick by real psychic powers. So, no
second confrontation will take place, though the Japanese producer has
announced that he'll try to find another performer who will confront
me.... Fat chance.
HOW IT'S DONE -- WHEN SHE'S NOT CONTROLLED.
Mai Takahashi's trick is done simply by wearing out her observers.
She sits at a table with her forearms resting on the surface. A
"target" is prepared by drawing a caligraph on a 2" X 3" piece of
paper, then folding it in half once, and again at right-angles to the
first fold. A piece of transparent sticky tape is wrapped in one
direction around this twice-folded target paper. It is placed in the
palm of her right hand, and a soft cloth bag (from a Crown Royal
bottle!) is slipped over that hand and tied with the drawstring
around her forearm, nearly at the elbow.
Mai insists that the paper target never leaves the hand in which it is
placed. But it does. When I was in Japan in November last, to do the
first (and now probably the last, ever, test of her) we concealed a
video camera among the overhead studio lights, directly over the girl.
That camera was on continuously, recording. On the resulting
videotape, the viewer sees that over a 20-minute period, the girl
casually used her left hand to pluck at the side of the soft cloth
bag, starting up near the area where her right hand held the concealed
target, and slowly moved the plucking motion down the arm toward the
opening in the bag, where it was tied shut, though not tightly.
In small increments, Takahashi was moving the target along toward the
opening. At the same time, she was slowly working the bag partly off
her arm, almost to the point where the wrist was visible. Since her
arm tapers, the gap between the bag and her arm was now very wide, and
when she had brought the folded target to the opening where she could
glimpse it, she did so.
But we said that the target has been folded and taped. I ask you to
do the following experiment: prepare a target as described, making a
clear geometrical drawing. You will find that by squeezing the packet
in the direction that the tape is wrapped, the free end opens up.
There are three "pockets" produced. The center one just looks out the
other side of the packet, but when you peek down into the other two,
you see 50% of the drawing in each pocket. It takes only a little
imagination to put the two halfs together in your mind.
(Mind you, usually Takahashi uses targets with no tape at all; this
makes her task much easier and much faster!)
The only thing that remained now to complete her trick was for her to
slowly work the target packet back up the length of the bag, along her
arm, until it was back in her hand and folded up again, at which point
she announced that she knew what the target drawing was, reproduced it
with a pen on another piece of paper, and allowed the bag to be
removed from her arm. The target packet was found, of course, in her
hand where it had started its adventure 20 minutes earlier.
(When that overhead tape is speeded up about 6 times, the whole
operation is condensed into about 3 minutes, and it's very obvious
what was being done.)
When we prepared targets as described above and instituted no
controls, Mai Takahashi was always successful in determining the
contents; that's what we expected. But when we placed tape in TWO
directions around the packet -- without telling her in advance -- she
failed. There's a message here somewhere, but the parapsychologists
didn't see it then, and will probably never see it.
I want to thank the three Japanese scientists, Dr. Kazuhiro Yazawa
(expert on oriental medicine), Kazuo Terakado (managing editor of
"Newton" science magazine), and Prof. Yoshihiko Ohtsuki (professor of
physics, Waseda University), who not only agreed with me on the modus
of Takahashi's trick, but who served as expert witnesses in her failed
test with me in November.
Also, my friend Jun Jugaku is a prominent Japanese skeptic who
participated in designing the protocol whereby Takahashi was
controlled from doing her trick.
I'll keep you all informed on any further developments in this
typically strange drama...
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank