The New Age: Notes of a Fringe Watcher

By Martin Gardner | Go to book overview
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20 The Great SRI Die Mystery

Writing in Nature (vol. 251, October 18, 1974) on their 1972-73 experiments with Uri Geller at the Stanford Research Institute, Harold Puthoff and Russell Targ described one sensational experiment as follows:

A double-blind experiment was performed in which a single 3/4-inch die was placed in a 3″ × 4″ × 5″ steel box. The box was then vigorously shaken by one of the experimenters and placed on the table, a technique found in control runs to produce a distribution of die faces differing nonsignificantly from chance. The orientation of the die within the box was unknown to the experimenters at that time. Geller would then write down which face was uppermost. The target pool was known, but the targets were individually prepared in a manner blind to all persons involved in the experiment. This experiment was performed ten times, with Geller passing twice and giving a response eight times. In the eight times in which he gave a response, he was correct each time. The distribution of reponses consisted of three 2s, one 4, two 5s, and two 6s. The probability of this occurring by chance is approximately one in 106.

Surely this experiment deserves to rank with the famous test in which Hubert Pearce, a student at Duke University, correctly called 25 ESP cards in a row as J. B. Rhine repeatedly cut a deck and held up a card. In one respect, the die test with Geller is more significant because it rules out telepathy. Of course it does not rule out the possibility that Geller used precognition or that he decided on a number while the box was being shaken and then used PK to joggle the die to that number. In any case, the experiment seems to be a simple, foolproof, monumental violation of chance.

On the other hand, as in the case of Rhine's informal account of Pearce's equally miraculous run of 25 card-hits, P and T describe the die test with a brevity that seems inappropriate for so extraordinary a claim. We are not told who shook the box, where or when the test was made, who observed the trials, how long Geller took to make each guess, whether he was allowed to touch the box, whether there were earlier or later die-box tests with Uri, or whether the experiment was visually recorded.

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This article originally appeared in the Skeptical Inquirer, Winter 1982-83, and is reprinted with permission.

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