The Straight Dope | The Straight Dope | Chicago Reader

The Straight Dope 

Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe

Ouch! I found the way you dispensed with Uri Geller [May 13] uncharacteristically simplistic. I personally witnessed two examples of Geller's powers, and I can't believe I was taken in by sleight of hand.

I and two colleagues interviewed Geller in 1975. We met in a small, well-lit office we had borrowed for the occasion. Geller was dressed simply in a long-sleeve shirt. We saw no wires, tools, unusual paraphernalia or bulges in his clothes.

During the interview we tried various drawing tricks that didn't amount to much. Then Geller asked if we had any metal. He rejected various things we had brought, so my colleague offered a heavy silver ring off his finger that he had bought in Spain. Geller liked that. My colleague gave the ring to me since I sat closest. Geller asked that I not give the ring to him but instead hold it between my thumb and index finger. As I did so, he stroked it gently. It slowly warped and collapsed until it was unwearable. The ring never left my hand from the time it was handed to me till the time I passed it around, bent. We set it on the desk and it continued to change perceptibly for another minute. No substitutions (my colleague recognized it as his own ring). No heat or acid. No physical force.

Later we went outside. Geller asked again if I had any metal. I produced my car key. He placed it on the sidewalk and covered it with his outstretched hand. When he removed his hand the key was found broken in half. It was my key, identifiable by its serial number. We had the key examined under an electron microscope. This revealed a crystalline alignment typical of a thermal break (meaning it had melted) rather than a flexion break. To confirm this, the folks at the lab broke another Volkswagen key by flexion and examined it. There was no similarity.

I think it is right to call Geller a showman. But a magician? I think not. His repertoire is too narrow, boring, and undependable. I found both your explanation and other lengthier exposes shallow, unconvincing, and objectively less believable than what I experienced. Give it another shot, would you? --David Talstyre, Washington, D.C.

Honestly, David, aluminum-siding salesmen must love you. Think about what you've just said. All of us have seen convincing examples of table (i.e., close up) magic. The difference with Geller, according to you, is that his repertoire is "narrow, boring, and undependable." In other words, he's not good enough to be a fake, so he must be real. Puh-leeze.

I've consulted with Geller debunkers Ben Harris and James Randi, both professional magicians and the latter a winner of a MacArthur "genius" grant. Given the lapse of time, here's the best we can offer on the tricks you saw: (1) You say the ring never left your hand. That's what many of Geller's victims say. Careful questioning or video analysis afterward usually reveals otherwise. A common ploy in magic is to take an object from someone and then hand it back, saying, "Whatever you do, I want you to hang on to this the whole time I'm talking to you." If you're as suggestible as most people, you'll forget the magician was holding it to begin with. Similarly, the magician can drop the ring on the table and say, "Look! It's still bending!" It's not, of course, but you're so caught up in the moment you think it is. Silver is easily bent by hand; that's why Geller rejected the other items. In Gellerism Revealed Ben Harris explains several tricks in which items seem to bend while a spectator is holding onto them.

(2) Geller could easily have stuck your car key in a crack in the sidewalk and snapped it off with his foot. A hasty electron microscope test proves little. A tragic demonstration of this occurred in 1972, when Will Franklin, a professor at Kent State University, reported that a ring Geller had allegedly bent psychically showed "unusual fracture surfaces" when examined under an electron microscope. These "provided evidence that a paranormal influence function was probably operative." Five years later Franklin publicly confessed he'd misinterpreted the test results; the fracture surfaces were easily explainable. He later committed suicide. Don't think you're any less susceptible to illusion.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Slug Signorino.

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Cecil Adams

Agenda Teaser

Performing Arts
70 Scenes of Halloween Athenaeum Theatre
September 26
Performing Arts
King Hedley II Court Theatre
September 12

Tabbed Event Search

Popular Stories