Geller Rebottled – Brief Article

Joe Nickell

He’s ba-a-a-ck. “Psychic” Uri Geller debuted for a new generation of TV viewers on January 5, 2000, when he appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. The Israeli entertainer has had other, short-lived comebacks since he burst on the scene in 1973, convincing media personalities and even some scientists that he had special powers of telepathy and psychokinesis, especially using his brainwaves to bend metal objects such as keys and spoons.

At one time or another Geller has claimed to locate gold and oil by map dowsing, to perform an eyeless-vision demonstration with an automobile (a feat magicians call “the blindfold drive”), even to be in contact with super-beings from a distant planet.

Over the years Geller has launched numerous lawsuits, one a $15 million action against CSICOP and James Randi. CSICOP maintained the suit lacked merit and was intended to harass critics and silence debate. The court’s judgment was to brand Geller’s complaint “frivolous” and to award CSICOP sanctions against him (covering a portion of CSICOP’s considerable legal fees). Geller has launched other suits against Randi and his publisher, Prometheus Books, as well as others outside the skeptical community.

In introducing Geller, Jay Leno appeared somewhat embarrassed, and distanced himself by stating that he was neither a skeptic nor “naive.” The talkative “psychic,” boasting of his self-claimed prowess, told a story about one television viewer who had blamed him for her pregnancy: Supposedly his broadcast metal-bending power had distorted her IUD. Geller seemed anxious to exhibit the contraceptive device, mentioning that it was in his pocket, but Leno discouraged him while wondering aloud how Geller might have gotten it.

Geller proceeded to perform. He noted that actor Tim Robbins, seated beside him, had earlier made a drawing, witnessed by others and sealed in an envelope in Robbins’s pocket. Geller asked the actor to project his thoughts.

The entertainer then began drawing a spiral and adding a few more strokes. He claimed not to know what the sketch meant, but when the target drawing was produced his rendering was a good match with Robbins’s pictorial of a snail.

As if divining the thoughts of skeptics everywhere, the wonderworker hastily acknowledged that magicians could produce the same effect, while insisting his performance was “kosher.” Indeed, magic catalogs and conjuring textbooks reveal many ways of divining someone’s supposedly secret sketch, a “psychic magic” feat called “Telepathic Drawing.” Apparently Geller wants his audience to assume that what looks just like a magic trick is not, if the performer casually says it is not.

Interestingly, Geller did not perform his classic feat of bending a key or spoon in a spectator’s hand–an effect magicians accomplish by trickery. (A magician’s catalog even sells a book on metal-bending tricks with “keys and silverware.”)

Geller did perform another old favorite. Exhibiting a tray of supposedly “broken” watches, Geller placed a few of these between his palms while encouraging viewers at home to do likewise–even to place a spoon atop the television! Soon Geller had Leno verify that a watch was ticking, and he invited viewers to call in with their own anticipated successes.

Actually, remote “psychokinesis” is simplicity itself. Watches may start running again when they are handled; previously unnoticed bends in spoons or keys may be revealed–or imagined–on inspection; an unrelated occurrence (such as an appliance malfunction) may be attributed to the alleged psychic stimulus; and false claims may be made, either out of the respondent’s desire to promote mystical beliefs or a need for attention. Magicians like Milbourne Christopher discovered that the metal-bending stunt worked as well for skeptics as it did for the reputed marvel.

If Geller is not–as he insists– doing magic tricks, he is being underappreciated, since his effects are indistinguishable from those accomplished by magicians with more verve and entertainment. His Tonight Show appearance promoted his new book, Mind Medicine: The Power of Positive Healing. It thus appears that Geller has climbed aboard yet another dubious bandwagon.

Joe Nickell is CSICOP’s Senior Research Fellow.

COPYRIGHT 2000 Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal

COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group

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