APn 10/18 0000 AP on TV-Amazing Randi
Copyright, 1993. The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
By SCOTT WILLIAMS
AP Television Writer
NEW YORK (AP) -- The Amazing Randi, first name James, really
is rather amazing.
"Magicians used to be `Professor' or `the Great,' " said
Randi, a compact, energetic cherub with a bushy white beard and
eyes that miss nothing.
"I thought it sounded better than `Professor.' And I wasn't
great. I was amazing. Always have been. But I've never really
been great," he said. "I've only been amazing. But I'm very good
A superb magician, writer, lecturer and recipient of a
MacArthur Foundation genius grant, Randi has devoted the past
25 years to investigating -- and debunking -- psychics, quacks
and various supernatural frauds.
On Tuesday night, Randi shows his stuff on PBS in "Secrets of
the Psychics" for the "Nova" science series, traveling to Moscow
to check out some of the silliest and saddest hokum that Russian
psychics can devise.
"An actor goes out on the stage and does Mark Twain," Randi
explained. "But he wouldn't tell you he IS Mark Twain. That would
insult your intelligence.
"But there are guys who'll cast a horoscope for you and tell
you that it's true. And there will be guys who'll bend a spoon or
a key for you and say that it's powers from heaven."
To illustrate his point, Randi performs the utterly impossible
feat of reading the faces of two cards sealed in an envelope.
It's a great trick, but he has to perform something like it every
time he lectures about psychic hooey.
"Don't think it's the stupid, uneducated, unsophisticated
people -- the peasants -- who fall for this. Oh, they'll fall for
it, too. But it's the sophisticated people with huge laboratories
... who get fooled."
Randi's career hasn't been all card tricks. His efforts to
demystify the spoon-bending Uri Geller elicited a series of libel
lawsuits from the Israeli "psychic."
Defending himself in those legal actions ("They've all been
thrown out of court or won -- by me," Randi notes) chewed up most
of his genius grant.
"I'm not complaining," he said. "I took on this territory. I
had my eyes open. I knew what could happen. And bang, it happened.
So I've got to fight the good fight. I don't run."
Randi took "Nova" to Russia because during the Cold War, the
Soviet Union was rumored to be rife with psychics and other wild
talents. With the demise of communism, Russian belief in the
supernatural has flourished.
Randi began his investigation at Moscow's respected Institute
of the Brain, where scientists had reported a psychic's ability
to influence the brain activity and blood pressure of another
Their findings didn't hold up after Randi's double blind
experiment isolated the experimenters from the effect they were
"Scientists," Randi observed, "have an uncanny ability to find
what they're looking for -- whether it's there or not."
If Randi is harshest on faith healers and psychic surgeons,
it's because he's dealt with the spiritually "healed." His voice
tightens when he talks about one of those interviews:
"You know that it's a dead man sitting in front of you. Just
the spark of life. He's as gray as that rug. And he says, `No,
no, God has saved me. I don't have to go to the hospital any
more,'" he said.
"And you know that within hours of your leaving, they put him
in a body bag."
Randi also interviews two rather sweet, matronly women whose
psychic powers let them analyse a personality in detail simply by
looking at their subject's photograph.
Randi provides them with a picture of serial killer Ted Bundy,
and they come a cropper.
It's comical, too, when when Randi visits a private Moscow
health clinic, where psychics treat illness with "bio-energy" and
psychically "charged" water, which Randi tries, unsuccessfully,
"All of my life I have been faced with these things," he said.
"They say, `This is going to be a great test.' Right up to the
last minute. Then they say, `By the way, this is Thursday. It
never works on a Thursday.' "
The Soviets allowed a great deal of publicity to leak our about their
psychics. As if they were trying to show they were on the forefront of
research. As a consequence, many Westerners bought these stories as
confirmation of their own psychic beliefs. I think it did serve some
purpose for Randi to show that these stories are probably BS.
As to the Geller stuff, I think it was Randi's way of introducing
himself to those who didn't know who he was. I especially liked the
Tonight Show segment where Geller was unable to perform when he had no
control over the props; I had completely forgotten about it, even
though I saw it first time around. (I had also forgotten how we dressed
and wore our hair back then)>
Randi was careful to point out that he can never prove psychic
phenomena don't exist, only to show that so far they have never been
demonstrated and its probability of existing is very small.
Unfortunately, this is the little trapdoor that lets in the whole
psychic/new age manifestation for those who simply don't get it.