The New Age: Notes of a Fringe Watcher

By Martin Gardner | Go to book overview

11
From Phillips to Morris

In 1985 the McDonnell Foundation, which funded the McDonnell Laboratory for Psychical Research at Washington University, St. Louis, announced it had withdrawn funding. A wise decision. The lab had become an albatross around the university's neck after Randi's notorious Alpha experiment (see Chapter 1) made clear that Peter Phillips, the lab's director, though a competent physicist, had no comprehension of how to test supposed psychics.

When psychics start bending metal, rotating motors, moving objects, and performing other feats that imitate conjuring, there are only two sensible ways to conduct an investigation. Either have a knowledgeable magician present during the testing, or take a few years off to learn the art of closeup magic.

One of the dreariest aspects of psi history is the failure of otherwise intelligent researchers to understand this simple fact. Everyone now knows that Uri Geller is a con artist, except for a few diehards who still think he doesn't cheat all the time; but consider the damage Uri has already done to the psi community. Over and over again researchers and writers, ignorant of conjuring, have made fools of themselves by declaring their belief in metal-bending. Professor John Taylor, a British mathematical physicist, was duped into writing a preposterous book about the "Geller effect" before he discovered he had been hoodwinked. Physicist John Hasted produced an even funnier book about the wonders of metal-bending. Neither Taylor nor Hasted deemed it worthwhile to seek the help of conjurors before starting their amateur investigations. To Taylor's credit, he later rejected metal-bending, but to this day he has been too embarrassed to admit how gullible he was.

In the United States the damage done to psi research by Uri has been equally great. Both Helmut Schmidt and E. H. Walker, the two leading proponents of the quantum-mechanical explanation of psi, were taken in by Geller. As far as I know they may still be on the fence with respect to Geller's "sometime" powers. Science writer Charles Panati was so overwhelmed by Uri's simple tricks that he edited The Geller Papers, a

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The New Age: Notes of a Fringe Watcher
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 3
  • Contents 7
  • Preface 9
  • Part 1 11
  • 1 - Project Alpha 13
  • 2 - Margaret Mead 19
  • 3 - Magicians in the PSI Lab 25
  • 4 - Shirley MacLaine 32
  • 5 - Freud, Fliess, and Emma's Nose 38
  • 6 - Koestler Money Down the Psi Drain? 44
  • 7 - Targ: From Puthoff to Blue 50
  • 8 - The Relevance of Belief Systems 57
  • 9 - Welcome to the Debunking Club 65
  • 10 - The Great Stone Face 72
  • 11 - From Phillips to Morris 79
  • 12 - George McCready Price 93
  • 13 - Wonders of Science 99
  • 14 - Tommy Gold 103
  • 15 - Rupert Sheldrake 109
  • 16 - The Anomalies of Chip Arp 115
  • 17 - Thoughts on Superstrings 119
  • 18 - The Third Eye 123
  • 19 - Irving Kristol and the Facts of Life 129
  • Part 2 135
  • 20 - The Great SRI Die Mystery 137
  • 21 - Perpetual Motion 145
  • 22 - Psychic Surgery 167
  • 23 - 666 and All That 170
  • 24 - D. D. Home-Sweet-Home 175
  • 25 - PK (Psycho-Krap) 179
  • 26 - Chicanery in Science 182
  • 27 - Fools' Paradigms 184
  • 28 - Look, Shirl, No Hands! 188
  • 29 - The Channeling Mania 202
  • 30 - Who Was Ray Palmer? 209
  • 31 - Prime-Time Preachers 223
  • 32 - L. Ron Hubbard 246
  • 33 - Psychic Astronomy 252
  • Name Index 265
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