The New Age: Notes of a Fringe Watcher

By Martin Gardner | Go to book overview

22
Psychic Surgery

Andy Kaufman, known to television viewers as Latka Gravas, a zany mechanic on the hit show "Taxi," died of lung cancer on May 16, 1984. He was 35. Two months earlier he had gone to the Philippines in a sad, futile effort to be cured by a "psychic surgeon."

For many decades "psychic surgery" has flourished in the Philippines and Brazil. While a patient is fully awake, the surgeon pretends to enter the body with his bare hands, sometimes with a knife as a prop, to remove tissues that are said to cause the ailment. The skin is never punctured. There are no scars, though usually there is plenty of blood.

According to the Star (June 5), Kaufman was "operated" on twice daily, for a fee of $25 per treatment, by Ramon "Jun" (for Junior) Labo, one of some 50 charlatans who operate in "clinics" in the Philippines. After Kaufman's death the National Enquirer (June 5) printed three grisly photographs showing Labo's healing session, in which he seemed to pull bloody tissue out of Kaufman's chest. In the first picture Labo's fingers seem to be penetrating the skin. This illusion is produced by bending the fingertips so that the middle knuckles of the fingers press firmly on a patient's body. The tissues and blood, which usually come from animals, are concealed before the operation and produced at the appropriate time by the surgeon, who uses standard magician's sleight of hand to make them appear.

Kaufman's girlfriend, who accompanied him on the trip, was quoted by the Star as saying there was no possibility that Labo had used deception, because she stood "not a foot away." We saw Jun cure a man with an eye problem. He actually removed the eye, and you could see the empty socket. And then he put the eye back in. What Jun really did is described in detail by surgeon William Nolen in the chapters on psychic surgery in his popular book, Healing: A Doctor in Search of a Miracle. The surgeon conceals an animal eye in his closed hand, which he adroitly opens several inches in front of the patient's face after he has pretended to take out

____________________
This originally appeared in Discover, August 1984, and is reprinted with permission.

-167-

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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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