URI GELLER (1946-    )

(Investigator 72, 2000 May)

Uri Geller, an Israeli, has undoubtedly received more publicity this century than any other person alleged to be psychic. His alleged ability to bend a variety of objects using mind power and perform other psychic feats has amazed people around the world.

Born in Tel Aviv, in 1946, according to his autobiography, he remembers a "strange energy force" entering his body when he was only three. According to biographers, at school strange things would happen to his watch – it was always going wrong and the hands would start flying around for no apparent reason. At other times knives, forks and spoons would suddenly curl up seemingly of their own accord.

By the time he was thirteen he realized that something in him was causing these strange phenomena and he began to exercise some control over it. He became a magician and an entertainer until 1971, when while performing in Jaffa, he came to the notice of a psychical researcher, Dr Andrija Puharich, who asked him if he would submit to scientific tests as he was convinced that Geller had genuine psychic powers.

In America, Geller was surrounded by scientists who were eager to test him, and they were impressed by the seeming miracles he performed. Others at the Max Planck Institute in Germany, described his powers as "a phenomenon which in theoretical terms cannot be explained."

Scientists at the Stanford Research Institute in California, took a film of Geller performing his feats and tested his powers of extrasensory perception. In one series of tests, he picked out of ten cylinders the one which contained a metal ball, and did the same with one containing water. He bent metal allegedly using the power of his mind; stopped and started watches; and moved the needle of a compass by waving his hands.

On British TV in 1973, Geller caused excitement among millions of viewers when he quietly proceeded to bend a variety of metal objects simply by concentrating on them. They watched in amazement as a fork held in the hand of presenter David Dimbleby bent and wilted as Geller gently stroked it.

Besides world-wide fame, Geller also became a millionaire, principally through payment received from mining exploration companies who engaged and paid him handsomely to dowse for gold and copper from an aeroplane.

To sceptics, Uri Geller is a talented magician and showman who has gained his reputation by falsely claiming to possess paranormal powers – and with some justification. After serving briefly in the Israeli forces, Geller became a fashion model and then began teaching in a resort camp for children, it was here that he met Shipi Shtrang and his sister Hannah, and between them developed a mind-reading act, in which Shipi, while seated in the audience and using a simple hand code, would signal information to Geller. The act was a great success and had Geller been satisfied to remain content to be a popular and convincing mentalist the world would probably have never heard of him outside of Israel.

Trouble brewed when other magicians objected to Geller's use of terms such as "parapsychology" and 'psychokinesis" to describe his act, when they knew in fact that he was simply performing tricks. This, together with advertising and publicity led to Geller's demise in Israel. Fortuitously for Geller, he came to the attention of parapsychologist Dr Andrija Puharich, a psychic promoter, who convinced scientists in America that Geller was worth investigating and took both Geller and Shipi to the United States.

In the tests at the Stanford Research Institute, California, Geller had no trouble in fooling investigators into believing that he possessed psychic powers, and giving the public the impression that he had been given the scientific seal of approval, launched out on a career of psychic deception that earned him millions.

Geller's success can be attributed to a combination of presentation and psychology, and a boldness which enables him to fool his audience with the simplest of magic tricks. His psychic metal bending, the starting of watches, his ESP performances and teleportations, have all been exposed in detail for what they were – conjuring tricks, cheating and illusions.

Further evidence that Geller falsely claimed to possess psychic powers came from his former manager Yasha Katz, who confessed on Italian TV to helping Geller cheat after being taught a gesture code using certain hand signals and a cigarette, and Hannah Shtrang revealed Geller's methods to the press in Israel. Shipi Shtrang was well known as Geller's assistant and his confederate right from the start, and who, together with Katz, used to collect information and details about people attending Geller's performances and then signal it, or pass it on in other ways to Geller, a procedure common to many an entertainer in the mentalism business.

Geller doesn't take kindly to those who express their doubts about his alleged psychic ability and there have been several defamation and libel cases brought against his critics, in particular, CSICOP (the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal), Prometheus Books, and James "the Amazing" Randi. In the former, judgement was entered against Geller in the amount of $US149,000; his action against Prometheus claiming $US4 million, cost him $US49,148 to reimburse Prometheus' costs and attorneys' fees plus another $US20,272 in new sanctions.

He also lost a case against Professor Victor Stenger in Hawaii. After five years of lawsuits, Geller won nothing, has had his cases summarily dismissed or has withdrawn them. The Federal Court of Appeals in Washington citing “Geller's litigious history” said that he

"...is a self proclaimed psychic…(who) has built a career and reputation on attempted demonstrations of these psychic "skills"… Among Geller's critics is James Randi, an accomplished magician, author and lecturer, better known as "The Amazing Randi"...Since Geller's rise to prominence in the early 1970s, Randi has set about exposing various Geller feats as the fraudulent tricks of a confidence man."


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________  and Playfair. G.L 1986. The Geller Effect. Jonathan Cape. London.
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______  1985. Flim Flam. Prometheus Books. Buffalo. NY.
______  1975 The Magic of Uri Geller as Revealed by the Amazing Randi. Ballentine Books. New York.

From: A Skeptic's Guide to the New Age, Harry Edwards.