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 TintoZinc
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 disEncyclopedia
of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Geller, Uri
625
tinguishing 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.
Sources
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.