A Skeptic's Handbook of Parapsychology

By Paul Kurtz | Go to book overview

article (reprinted in Science: Good, Bad and Bogus) that exposes the secrets of eyeless vision, except for Kuda Bux's method—and that was because Kuda made his living with it. Surely Collins knows of the two books by Uriah Fuller, on sale in magic stores, that give away all of Geller's basic techniques. Randi and I will happily tell anyone how Nina Kulagina uses invisible threads to move matches and float table-tennis balls, and how Felicia Parise could have moved a pill bottle for Charles Honorton.How Collins got the impression that magicians are reluctant to explain secrets of psychic fraud is beyond me. Even the secrets of legitimate magic are readily available to any psi researcher who cares to buy a few dozen modern books on the subject.

Misconception 6: Collins actually thinks that if magicians were routinely asked to observe psychic wonders it would wreck science. It is not just that fraud is possible in all experiments and there aren't enough magicians to go around; but psi research, like all research, is a vast social enterprise extending over long periods of time. It simply would not work, says Collins, if hostile magicians were perpetually underfoot.

What Collins ignores here are two all-important distinctions. One is between the operations of nature and human nature; the other is between ordinary and extraordinary phenomena. As I like to say, electrons and gerbils don't cheat. Even among psychics, very few claim such fantastic powers as the ability to bend metal by PK, translocate objects, and levitate tables. It is only when exceedingly rare miracles like these are seriously investigated that it is essential to call in an expert on the art of close-up cheating. And it is essential in many cases that the expert be there to watch, not just give advice at some later date to researchers who, more often than not, in the past have paid not the slightest attention to such advice.

Some of the most widely heralded miracles are one-time events that the psychic never does again, such as the time Geller translocated a dog through the walls of Puharich's house, or Felicia moved a pill bottle, or Charles Tart's sleeping subject guessed the number on a card that Tart had put on a shelf above her line of vision. Since no expert on fraud was there as an observer, no one should take seriously the claims of Andrija Puharich, Charles Honorton, and Charles Tart that those events were genuine. Who can take seriously today J. B. Rhine's claim that Hubert Pearce correctly guessed 25 ESP cards in a row? Only Rhine observed this miracle, and there are 20 ways Pearce could have cheated. When a psychic produces events this extraordinary, it is impossible to imagine that he or she would ever submit to retesting under controls recommended by a magician, let alone being observed by a magician during the retesting.

In sum: if parapsychologists seeking the aid of magicians tried to follow Collins's naive guidelines, it is easy to predict the outcome. In a word—zilch.

-356-

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