Opinion

The Geller Effect

The Geller Effect

BUT for the fact that I decided to treat Talk Radio Europe’s recent ‘telepathy competition’ with the contempt it deserved, I would today be in possession of a ‘million-year-old crystal with unique healing qualities’.

Furthermore, it would have been sent directly to me by a man TRE insisted was the world’s most famous “psychic” and “paranormalist”, Uri Geller, the Israeli-born spoon-bender who now lives in the UK.

Geller has since ventured into the lucrative New Age self-help/personal growth industry, flogging “Mind-Power Kits” to imbeciles.

Just two days before he came on air to tell listeners of how, as a young child, he gained his supernatural powers “from a brightly glowing visitor from outer space”, I had sent TRE an exasperated email – my second in a year. In it I said:

Ever since moving to Spain in October, 2010, I have been a regular listener to TRE. One thing I have noted is the complete absence of sceptical comment on the station. You appear to give a disproportionate amount of airtime to New Age nutters, ‘spiritual’ healers, fortune-tellers, horoscope-readers, conspiracy theorists, angelologists, UFO dingbats, and a variety of other fools and charlatans.

But rationalists, atheists and humanists rarely, if ever, get a look in.

As editor of the oldest atheist magazine in the world – the Freethinker, which has been published without a break since 1881 (and whose founder was jailed for 12 months for blasphemy) I would be more than happy to redress the balance, and come on air periodically to discuss matters that would be of interest to the increasing number of people who hold no religious belief whatsoever.

To my surprise, I received a prompt reply, taking me up on my offer – but before I engaged on air a few days later with TRE’s Steve Gilmour, the Geller interview was aired – and it left me fizzing with fury because the female interviewer, whose name now escapes me, had clearly done no digging whatsoever into Geller’s background.

Had she done so, she would have challenged the charlatan’s claim to have supernormal powers. After all, he himself dropped claims to such powers several years ago. In the November 2007 issue of the magazine Magische Welt (Magic World) Geller stated:

I’ll no longer say that I have supernatural powers. I am an entertainer. I want to do a good show. My entire character has changed.

But back to that “magic” crystal. At the end of the interview, Geller “projected” a mental image of a drawing he had just done. He challenged listeners to use their “telepathic powers” to identify what it was, and to contact the station with their entries.

I concluded at once that Geller had drawn a house – but did not dignify the silly exercise by submitting an entry.

Had I done so I would not only have won the prized crystal, but would have had the satisfaction of letting TRE readers know that my identification of the image had nothing whatsoever to do with telepathy.

Rather, it was merely an educated guess, based on a snippet of information once provided by the man who did the most to expose Geller as a fraud: the American sceptic James Randi, whose research showed that 80 percent of people who are asked to draw a picture will produce a house.

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By the way, no one who entered the contest hit on the right answer, so the prize went to someone who came closest by suggesting a square shape.

Go figure!

Incidentally, Randi and Geller were at daggers drawn for years. On numerous occasions Randi publicly exposed Geller’s trickery, and Geller responded by trying unsuccessfully to sue him. This animosity was best expressed by Randi in 2009 after he had been diagnosed as having intestinal cancer. Believing his life would soon end, the 81-year-old atheist – and once one of America’s most accomplished magicians – said he did not want his fans to bother with a museum of magic named after him, or to bury him in a fancy tomb.

Instead, he said:

I want to be cremated, and I want my ashes blown in Uri Geller’s eyes.

Randi, I was pleased to learn, has since been given a clean bill of health.

It should be pointed out that one of Randi’s biggest problems with Geller was not so much the fact that he was a fraud, but that he once played a major role in duping some of the most influential figures in the US military into spending millions of taxpayers’ dollars on useless “psychic warfare” reseach. They were convinced that “The Geller Effect” was real, and could be militarily exploited.

In 2004, Jon Ronson published The Men Who Stare at Goats, a book about the US Army’s research of psychic theories and the possible military uses of the paranormal. Its title alluded to efforts to kill goats by staring at them. The book was subsequently made into a movie of the same name, starring George Cloony – and, not surprisingly played out as a comedy.

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In a November 7, 2009, Twitter post, Geller referred to Clooney, saying:

His latest film is about my work.

Five days later, Geller added:

I believe I ignited the story when I told Jon Ronson about some of my adventures with a certain intelligence agency.

My interview with Gilmour amusingly came immediately after a spiritualist was on air, and he was still in the studio when I pointed out that the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) currently offers a prize of one million US dollars to eligible applicants who can demonstrate a supernatural ability under agreed-upon scientific testing criteria.

No one has progressed past the preliminary test, which is set up with parameters agreed to by both Randi and the applicant.

The spookster lamely retorted that “no-one will ever get the prize” as the test was too “heavily stacked against applicants”.

I did not need to be psychic to see that answer coming.

• This op-ed first appeared in the March, 2012 print edition of the Freethinker.

One response to “The Geller Effect”

  1. RussellW says:

    I expected that we had seen the last of Geller, unfortunately there’s always another generation of scientifically ignorant rubes.
    What’s next, another crop of Hindu gurus?