(Investigator 115, 2007 July)
Telekinesis, psychokinesis or PK, are terms used by parapsychologists to describe the phenomenon of moving objects and changing the shape of objects such as bending metal, or influencing them in some way using only the power of the mind.
There have been many experiments conducted by parapsychologists and scientists in recent years in an effort to prove the existence of PK, and according to some, with startling results. Tests carried out by the late Dr J.B. Rhine for example, a leading figure in this field, have been detailed in the chapter on ESP.
Outstanding of course is Uri Geller, the famous Israeli psychic, who has been exhaustively tested at the Stanford Research Institute.
Millions of people world-wide have watched Geller's performances on television where, allegedly using only the power of his mind, he has bent spoons and keys not only on the stage but in the pockets and the homes of the audience. Even more remarkable is his ability to fix or start watches that have lain broken for years in the homes of viewers, and psychically repair electrical appliances discarded as useless. Under what appeared to be strictly controlled test conditions he has caused the needle of a compass to move, blown fuses, and using his psychic powers for divining purposes, discovered gold and other minerals for mining companies.
In 1979, the chairman of McDonnell-Douglas Aircraft awarded a $500,000 grant to Washington University in St Louis, Missouri, for the establishment of the McDonnell Laboratory for Psychical Research. Two young psychics, Steve Shaw and Michael Edwards applied, and were accepted for testing. The strictly controlled tests were carried out over a period of two years and covered a large range of ESP and psychokinesis experiments.
In one series of experiments, the two boys were given several small tightly sealed transparent boxes containing various objects which they were asked to affect paranormally. This they did, and although the boxes were minute-ly examined to see whether or not they had been tampered with, nothing was detected.
In the USSR, a young Russian peasant girl, Ninel Kulagina, repeatedly astonished Russian scientists with her psychic ability to move solid objects without touching them even when enclosed in a glass case.
What evidence is there to support the claim that these powers really exist?
Consider the magician who stands on a stage and between his outstretched hands an apparently floating wand or ball appears to move according to his will. The natural laws of nature tell us what we are seeing is impossible, and a logical explanation would be that the object is supported by a thin thread held by the magician and invisible against the background.
Yet when a performer claims to be psychic, performs the same trick, and tells the audience that he is moving the object by mind power alone, many people are inclined to believe him.
Addressing those specific examples mentioned above, any successful tests of PK reported by Dr J.B. Rhine and others have often been the result of inadequate controls or the falsification of data. While the subject is under observation by those trained to detect the methods employed by magicians, the subjects fail to perform, when left to their own devices or are in a position to take advantage of a loose protocol, they succeed. All attempts to replicate Rhine's findings have proved negative.
Uri Geller, apart from being a magician and showman, had an air of innocence about him and is a master at distracting peoples' attention. It was during these moments that he performed his "miracles" of mind power – simply by physically bending keys and cutlery when no one was watching, peeking into envelopes, pencil top reading, misdirection and other well known magic techniques – all party tricks which anyone can perform with a little practise.
That he managed to fool most of the people most of the time is a tribute to his audaciousness.
The case of Steve Shaw and Michael Edwards is interesting, as it demonstrates just how easy it is to fool supposedly intelligent investigators. The two boys were amateur magicians planted in the McDonnell Laboratory for Psychical Research by James Randi, the famous debunker of the paranormal, to show that without the correct controls and a strict protocol it is possible to cheat in psychokinesis experiments and to create the impression that one possesses extraordinary powers.
In this instance, the controls were so loose that in one telepathy test the boys simply removed the staples sealing the envelope containing a picture, pecked at it, then re-sealed the envelope. In a metal bending test, they switched the identity tags on straight spoons with those on deformed cutlery producing the illusion that an object handled in a casual fashion had undergone deformation, and in other similar tests, all the "paranormal" feats were accomplished in a like surreptitious manner. Known as Project Alpha, the deception continued undetected for two years and provided an object lesson for parapsychologists and scientists alike.
When James Randi was invited to Russia to help devise "double-blind" experiments to test psychokinesis, he pointed out that data could be misread, such as the psychic healer who could supposedly influence a subject's blood pressure and brain waves, even when not in the same room as the subject.
Two "psychic" women were shown a photo of Ted Bundy (an infamous American murderer), of whom they had never heard, and asked for their impressions. Apart from saying that Bundy had a "brilliant future" (when he in fact had already been executed, it turned out to be a typical example of a "cold-reading" evident from the questions asked by the women to solicit information.
Had a more efficient protocol been used to test the alleged paranormal powers of Ninel Kulagina, those powers would most likely have disappeared.
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