B. M.

(Investigator 35, 1994 March)

Hard-drinking, chain-smoking, former Chicago bellhop Ted Serios (b.1918) claimed he could project mental images onto Polaroid film.

He called these images "thoughtographs".

From 1964 to 1966 Serios' ability was studied by Dr Jule Eisenbud Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Colorado. Dr Eisenbud wrote a book in 1967, The World of Ted Serios, in which he examined 80 thoughtographs and claimed they demonstrated a genuine paranormal talent.

Biology teacher John Randal also endorsed Serios in the book Psychokinesis (1982) and claimed that no evidence of trickery was ever found.

An article in Life (October 30, 1967) and even in recent books such as Strange Talents (1989, Edited by P. Brookesmith) were also more positive than warranted.

Ted Serios had a high failure rate. Within a particular session he had few and often no successes. And there were long periods, up to two years in one instance, when his talent didn't operate at all.

When concentrating to transmit his mind pictures onto film Serios usually held a cylinder in front of the camera. This cylinder, usually of plastic, was covered with cellophane at one end and a piece of blackened film over the other.

Two psychical researchers, Dr J G Pratt and Dr Ian Stevenson claimed that in 800 trials they never saw Serios act suspiciously or ever caught him with microfilm or transparencies.

However, some of Serios' "thoughtographs" turned out to be copies of National Geographic illustrations!

At times Serios apparently produced pictures of buildings or other items as they appeared in the past. On May 27 1967 Eisenbud supervised as Serios produced a crouching Neanderthal on film at the Denver Museum of Natural History. However, the Neanderthal picture originated from a life-size model in the Chicago Field Museum of Natural History!

The following month Serios' talent left him for good, his final thoughtograph being of a curtain! As with many "paranormal" talents it left just as observers were exposing the method and taking more care to rule out trickery.

In Popular Photography (October 1967) two journalists described a small device they constructed which could be hidden in the cylinder Serios used, or otherwise palmed, and which produced similar results to the alleged thoughtographs. Professional magician James Randi also showed, in his book Flim-flam! (1980), how poor-quality pictures like the thoughtographs could be produced.

The device is a 4 centimetre long, 1.2 centimetre diameter, cylinder with a magnifying glass of focal length 4 centimetres at one end and a circular piece from a colour transparency such as a slide attached at the other. The lens end points towards one's palm, and the transparency end close to the polaroid camera which is focused at infinity. A poor-quality duplicate of the image on the transparency results on the film.

This apparatus could have been concealed in the cylinder Serios used. After the camera shutter was released the little "gizmo" might slide out of the cylinder and be concealed in the hand or mouth while the cylinder is inspected by observers.

Serios' frequent failures and long periods of loss of talent were part of the trick as this increased his control of the situation by letting him avoid performing whenever careful observers or conditions imposed made it too risky for him to proceed.
Few scientists are magicians and so are as easily fooled by sleight of hand, and gimmicks used by magicians, as are other people.

Serios fooled a Freudian psychologist plus many other learned people including parapsychologists.

Magician Harry Houdini regularly explained to his audience that his "magic" was accomplished by skill. James Randi also regularly makes the same announcement.
There are other magicians, however, who create illusions and try to convince people they have real paranormal talent.

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