Uri Geller: Rich and Famous
Some years ago, I remember someone showing me a copy of a book called Five People You Meet in Heaven. The plot was that a guy dies, and the five most influential people in his life gave him a sort of an introductory welcome-to-the-afterlife lecture. It’s a nice idea, but to be honest, I don’t know who’d see in heaven. I certainly do know who I’d see in hell, though: Uri Geller.
Uri Geller was born in Israel and now lives in England, where he came up with a fascinating plan to make himself extremely rich: he went out and convinced the world that he can bend spoons, keys and other metal objects with only the power of his mind. He has a buffet of other abilities: he can identify hidden objects with remote viewing, he can read the minds of other people. If that last one is true, I hope he’ll excuse my language.
Anyway, it’s true that Geller can bend spoons and keys. It’s the part about his mind that’s not true. He’s a slight-of-hand artist, a con-man, a magician. His bending spoons is done in the same manner as that guy in Vegas that pulls rabbits out of his hat. He brings his own spoons and keys, and it works best when he’s on his home turf.
For instance, in 1972 Geller appeared on the tonight show with Johnny Carson. He wasn’t able to identify any hidden objects; he wasn’t able to read any thoughts; he wasn’t able to bend any metal objects. This was due mostly to arch-skeptic James Randi, an ex-magician who spends most of his time debunking people like Geller. He’d spoken with Carson’s staff and had them switch some things around. After all, if Geller can bend spoons with his mind, why would it make a difference if t he spoon was one he’d brought with him, or one he’d never seen before? You might notice that’s a pretty big “if.” It matters because he can’t bend spoons with his mind. He needs to work on them before or have them specially made ahead of time. It should also be noted that he’s never shown the ability to bend spoons he’s not physically touching, which should say something.
His explanation for his embarrassing failure on Carson’s show has changed. At first, he claimed that he didn’t have much control over his superpower, and that he couldn’t just turn it on and off at will. Therefore, he was just having a weak day. Later, when he found out that Randi had been involved, he claimed that the negative vibes from the skeptic had cancelled out his spoon bending powers.
But it’s Geller’s more recent activities that I’m interested in. On his website, there’s an entire section devoted to ‘scientific exploration’ of his powers. These include published articles from such reputable scientific journals as The Journal of Occult Studies and The Parapsychology Review. I certainly won’t be the first to call into question the validity of these two journals. (Update: after just half a can of beer, yes I will. They’re pseudoscientific garbage.)
The problem is this: even in actual, genuine scientific journals, you can get people reporting insane results. Some of them are respectable scientists that just happen to have kooky ideas on certain subjects; some of them just get over excited and publish before they’ve really scrutinized their results. That’s why Nature has published an article claiming the discovery of cold fusion every month for the last four thousand months. When you start getting into fringe magazines like these, all bets are off.
So, I read every scientific with a grain of salt. But let me layout the procedure of one of these “scientific experiments” and see what you think. Two “researchers” gave 150 people a magazine with Geller’s face on the cover. They asked them to put some metal objects (keys, spoons and the like) as well as stopped watches on the magazine, and then concentrate on bending the objects and making the watches start. The 150 people were then asked to report whether or not anything had happened. A double handful claimed that metal had bent of its own accord or that busted watches had started again.
Scientific, the hole in my colon.
First, it relies 100% on the honesty of the 150 participants. Can you think of 150 people you trust? I can’t. Second, even then, there was no scientific control of any kind. Just 150 people, in their own surroundings, doing whatever they feel like. Even if they’re not outright lying, they could still foul the results even with the best intentions.
If you want to make claims that you get psychic powers from space people, fine. If you can get rich doing it, congratulations. But when you start trying to pass of your hocus-pocus shenanigans as legitimate scientific research, that crosses a line. Uri Geller isn’t a celebrity. He isn’t a psychic. He’s a criminal. He’s blurred the line between what is and isn’t real, and that can have only the results of setting back the progress of civilization.
Any time that one is looking at even scientific results, one must take into account the person making the claim, whatever it is. Uri Geller is one creepy guy. His website is, at best, self-indulgent. In a section about handwriting, he makes the note that his signature is very, very large because he craves attention. That might be the most honest thing that he’s ever said. He also claims to have spoken with Muhammed Ali on the finer points of showmanship. He mentions that he keeps framed pictures of himself hanging on the walls of his home. All of this could be explained as simple pride, but this whole business of using a picture of his face as the trigger for bending spoons in his “scientific experiment” starts to move from slight arrogance to full-blown creepiness. Would you go on a date with someone that gives out pictures of their face? I’ve played a lot of hands with a lot of low cards in my day, but that would stop even me.
Geller also has his own TV show in Israel. It’s like Trumps’ The Apprentice except that Geller is looking for someone to replace him in his lucrative job. And when I say lucrative, I mean lucrative. He even sells jewelry on QVC. If you can’t get irritated with the fact that he takes science and punches it in the face for a living, you should at least be irritated that this slick con-man has more money than even an honest man should have.
What it boils down to is this: Uri Geller is a creepy megalomaniac that makes a pile of money from people that aren’t skeptical enough. His been famous for decades, despite the fact that it’s obvious he does nothing more than parlor tricks. But worst of all, he attempts to bend science to legitimatize what he does, and that can have no effect other than to confuse the public and set back the march of progress.
Be seeing you.
For the attention of Aaron Sakulich, please….
Aaron: you err in implying that Geller needs specially-made spoons to
do his tricks. He can perform the bending stunt with almost any
spoon, though he needs to "get to" those spoons that will end up being
broken. Those can be described as "specially prepared," but not
"specially made." That's why Geller failed on the Johnny Carson show,
because I instructed the prop handler not to allow Geller or anyone
else near the props…
Otherwise, yours was an excellent article… Thank you!
James Randi Educational Foundation