John Walker's Electronic House

by on May.13, 2005, under The Rest

Thinking about something Pete said in a comment on the previous article, there’s something I didn’t mention about Geller that I intended to. While Pete was being ironic, it does remind me of something I think important.

Imagine being Uri Geller. Like so many ‘psychics’, ‘faith healers’, and ‘mediums’, he had a troubled start of getting caught a lot. But Geller caught a wave, and managed to gain some noteriety in the 70s for his spoon-bending antics. And he was canny. Here’s a nice idea: Go on breakfast television with, say, 2 million viewers, and ask people to picture something in their mind – just let a picture form, come closer to the television, lean in, touch your hand on the screen – there. That picture. Then say, “I was thinking of a boat/house.” It’s always a boat or a house. And then have a phone number appear on screen for people to call in if they were thinking of the same. The switchboard will be INUNDATED! You know, as many as fifty calls all at once, all who saw a boat or house or whatever. Proof! 50/2,000,000. Or 0.0025%. Conclusive, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Then you just have to bend a spoon and collect the cheque.

The problem is, if you’re a magician you make everyone wonder at how you did it. If you’re a ‘psychic’ you make everyone wonder. And if enough people start treating you with awe, it’s going to start affecting you.

So while Geller is a very talented close-up magician, he’s also a demagogue. He requires the emotional response of his participants to remain effective. And that’s dangerous territory. How would you cope if you regularly received emails like:

You helped us with our son [Name withheld] who has Tourettes Syndrome and ADHD.
Well we totally are convinced that it was your energy that saved our family.
I have done everything I can to spread the word about you except put it in the newspaper.
I wanted to tell you how you have touched our lives.

Hi Uri,
ty very much for your healing thoughts. You say that you are not a healer, but deep in my heart i know that you can heal, because i saw that with my own eyes as you helped my dog a few years ago. And i’m still thank you for that.

Hi Uri,
I had a complete day free of pain!!! This is the first time in months and months. I really think it is due to your thoughts. It’s so strange, yesterday it was very swollen and really sore, so I was dreading work today but I didn’t feel anything. It wasn’t until someone asked how my knee was that I realized it was fine. Thank you for spending time thinking about it.

What hope do you have of remaining in control? Everyone you meet tells you that you are magically healing them, changing their lives, making them better – how could you not end up believing it too? And so the lie consumes itself.

The other thing I forgot yesterday was this link to an amazing interview by Simon Jones. For years this has been my favourite piece of interview journalism, and not just because of my interest in the subject. It’s one of the most honestly portrayed interviews I’ve read. Well worth reading.

3 Comments for this entry