Geller, Uri (1946-)
Geller, Uri (1946-)
Geller, Uri (1946-)
One of the most famous exponents of claimed ESP and paranormal phenomena in the 1970s. Geller was born in Tel Aviv, Israel, December 20, 1946. As a boy he performed feats of stopping the hands of watches through paranormal means. In 1969 he demonstrated telepathy and became a full-time professional performer. In August 1971 his feats were witnessed in Tel Aviv by parapsychologist Andrija Puharich, who then became closely associated with Geller, assisted him in traveling to America, and conducted scientific investigations of his phenomena.
At the Stanford Research Institute, California, during November 1972 Geller demonstrated metal bending, guessing contents of metal cans and numbers on dice (shaken in a closed box), and telepathy. Some of the tests were supervised by former astronaut Edgar D. Mitchell, who had become actively involved in the study of paranormal phenomena. The most publicized talent demonstrated by Geller was the ability to cause metal objects to bend or break without direct physical pressure—the so-called Geller effect, a form of telekinesis. This deformation of metals (particularly the bending of forks, spoons, nails, or keys) was demonstrated on television programs in the United States and Britain. During such television shows in Britain many viewers reported that they shared the same ability. Geller also involved viewers in the starting of clocks and watches that had not functioned for some time.
In his book Uri, a biography published in 1974, Puharich claims that Geller's powers came from outer space intelligences on a planet millions of light-years distant, and also claims that Geller dematerialized objects. Geller's autobiography, published soon afterward, claims additional phenomena such as teleportation. While some American and British scientists reported favorably on Geller phenomena, some commentators (notably stage magicians Milbourne Christopher of the Occult Investigation Committee of the Society of American Magicians and James Randi of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal [CSICOP]) alleged sleight of hand and other conjuring tricks as the probable explanation. In 1983 it was revealed that James Randi had organized fake metal-bending accomplices in an undercover operation to discredit parapsychologists investigating the phenomenon. In 1991, in response to a remark by Randi accusing Geller of fakery, Geller filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit claiming defamation. After a four-year legal battle the U.S. District Court in Washington D.C., ruled in favor of CSICOP and ordered Geller to pay the not-for-profit scientific and educational organization at least $70,000.
The strongest scientific support for the reality of Geller's phenomena came from British mathematician John Taylor, who tested Geller during 1974 and also investigated children and adults who manifested similar paranormal ability after seeing Geller's appearances on British television programs. However, Taylor, a distinguished scientist, largely retracted his support of Geller's phenomena in his book Science and the Supernatural (1980). Another British scientist, John Hasted, was more sympathetic to the genuineness of the "Geller effect."
After Geller's visit to Tokyo in 1973, thousands of Japanese children apparently manifested similar paranormal powers. Eight of these children were investigated in 1974 by Shigemi Sasaki, professor of psychology at Denki Tsushin University, Tokyo, with a team of 15 researchers. Laboratory tests were devised to test PK (psychokinetic ability) and metal bending. One 12-year-old, Jun Sekiguchi, demonstrated an amazing ability to bend spoons paranormally and also recharged dead electric batteries by merely holding them. J. B. Rhine of Durham, North Carolina, commented: "The tests in Tokyo have shown that PK power exists among many of their children. The research is of great significance."
In the mid-1970s, at the height of his fame, Geller was earning approximately $5,000 a session for his media performances involving spoon bending, telepathy, and clock or watch restarting, generating intense public enthusiasm and also hostile criticism from stage magicians and other critics who claimed that his apparently paranormal feats were ingenious trickery. At the height of worldwide interest in his claimed powers, Geller suddenly disappeared from the public scene for ten years. There were various rumors—that he had lost his powers, that he had been finally exposed in fraud and silenced, or even that he had been recruited for secret psychic warfare.
In 1986 the newspaper Financial Times (a British equivalent of the Wall Street Journal ) published a report by Margaret van Hatten revealing that in 1974 Geller had been persuaded to put his psychic talents at the disposal of industrialists by dowsing for oil and minerals. The report stated that Geller had met the late Sir Val Duncan, then head of the prestigious Rio Tinto-Zinc Corporation and himself an amateur dowser, who suggested that Geller try psychic prospecting. At Duncan's homes in Britain and Majorca, Geller experimented successfully with dowsing for bottles of olive oil and mineral objects that had been buried in gardens. From this Geller progressed to experimenting with dowsing over scale maps (teleradiesthesia ) and distinguishing the various types of valuable mineral deposits in different parts of the world.
When Geller developed accuracy in dowsing Duncan eventually told him, "You're on your own—go out and make some money." Geller's first attempts at dowsing for a South African mining group were given free of charge although they apparently resulted in a large-scale discovery of coal deposits near Zimbabwe. In time Geller had sufficient confidence to ask for a standard fee of one million pounds sterling as an advance against royalties. Geller says he has always found something, even if not a mineral deposit of commercial viability. Of 11 projects over ten years, he maintains that four were highly successful, resulting in royalties way beyond the original one million pound advance. He also advised companies where drilling would be ineffective, so they could save money.
In general, oil and mining companies have been reluctant to substantiate these remarkable claims. Understandably, directors and shareholders might feel that this expensive and unconventional method of prospecting sounds bizarre. Peter Sterling, chairman of Zanex, an Australian mineral exploration company, did confirm, however, that Geller was flown to the Solomon Islands to help pinpoint gold deposits, at Geller's standard fee, and that the company was successful in finding alluvial gold in the Solomons. In addition the company sent Geller some topographical maps and received the response that the company should look for diamonds on Malaita. Although the company had never considered that area to be geologically appropriate for diamonds, Geller insisted, and samples taken there were "very encouraging," according to Sterling. Diamond-like kimberlite rock was located, as were all the minerals usually associated with diamond deposits.
The Financial Times report quoted Peter Sterling as stating that it was not easy to explain the employment of Geller to his board of directors and shareholders. He said:
"Most mining people are pretty down to earth and materialistic, and the sort of work Uri does doesn't fit current scientific knowledge. I'm an engineer—I have no idea how it works, though I think that in 20 to 30 years time science will know, and will be building machines to do the same thing. But now—well the reaction is a bit like witch hunters in the dark ages, or flat earthers. There are a lot of flat earthers around."
In October 1986 Geller launched a new book, cowritten with parapsychologist Guy Lyon Playfair, titled The Geller Effect. The book tells Geller's story from 1976 to 1986, recounting jet-set friendships, approaches by the CIA, FBI, customs, and narcotics agents, and Geller's activities in prospecting for mining companies. To publicize the book Geller appeared on television talk shows where he presented exactly the same phenomena he had ten years earlier—spoon bending, telepathy, and starting clocks and watches that had been inactive for a long time. Many of these performances were quite impressive, although staged informally without rigid controls. Coming in the same breath as the revelations about million-pound fees, these familiar activities were something of an anticlimax. Stage magicians can and do duplicate such effects under similar circumstances by conjuring.
From time to time, sensational reports are circulated that Geller significantly changed the course of world events, such as mentally influencing Gorbachev's top aide so that the Soviet leader made an offer of dramatic cuts in nuclear weapons. It seems more credible that the Soviets would be influenced by traditional diplomacy or the enlightened efforts of such private negotiators as the late Armand Hammer.
Geller's book itself offers little new material to resolve the fierce controversies over the genuineness of his talents beyond his anecdotal claims and the reputed faith of wealthy and highly placed friends or officials of mining companies. In it he tries to distance himself from (without denying) some of the more sensational claims Puharich makes in his 1974 biography, for instance, that Geller was an instrument of extraterrestrial intelligences. Geller writes:
"Although much of his [Puharich's] book was accurate factual reporting, many people were put off by the space-fantasy passages, and I admit that they caused me some embarrassment…. You must remember that all of this fantasy material was obtained while I was under hypnosis. One reason I wrote My Story was to give my own version of events, though I must emphasize that there is a slight possibility that some of my energies do have extraterrestrial connection. Andrija and I are still the closest of friends and I have never forgotten how much of my success is due to him." Geller continues to write and appear on radio and TV, exploring subjects as varied as ESP and UFOs to self-help topics and using his psychic powers to aid teams in World Cup soccer competitions.
Christopher, Milbourne. Mediums, Mystics & the Occult. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1975.
Geller, Uri. My Story. New York: Praeger, 1975.
Geller, Uri, and Guy Lyon Playfair. The Geller Effect. London: Jonathan Cape, 1986.
Hasted, John. The Metal-Benders. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1981.
Panati, Charles, ed. The Geller Papers. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1976.
Randi, James. The Truth about Uri Geller. Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1982.
Taylor, John. Science & the Supernatural. London: Temple Smith, 1980.
——. Superminds: An Investigation into the Paranormal. New York: Warner Books, 1975.