(Investigator 91, 2003 July)
Eyeless vision and thought photography are lesser known paranormal phenomena but are nevertheless well documented. The former is the ability to predict the value of a playing card picked from a shuffled pack, or to read while blindfolded, and the second, to project a picture in mind on to a film in a camera.
In 1937, Life magazine ran a three page story on a thirteen year old California boy named Pat Marquis, who convinced his doctor that he could see after his eyes had been taped shut. Professors and reporters who tested him later to satisfy themselves of this claim found no trickery.
Rosa Kuleshova impressed scientists in the former USSR identifying colours and reading print with her finger tips while her eyes were covered, Time magazine printing the remarkable story in 1963.
Outstanding in the field of sightless vision was Susie Cottrell, a student at the University of Kansas, who appeared in the American Johnny Carson "Tonight Show" in 1978, and whose claims were extensively tested by a Denver psychiatrist and parapsychologist Dr Jule Eisenbud, and other highly qualified academics. Susie Cottrell's repertoire included predicting the selection of a nominated card, the order of the cards in a deck, the sequence of suits, the naming of cards in sealed envelopes and predicting which persons would select the highest cards in a simple dealing of the pack, all with outstanding success far greater than mere chance.
In one instance, the cards were dispersed on a pedestal underneath the table at which Susie Cottrell was seated, with video cameras trained above and under the table to ensure that no cheating took place.
Another of Dr Eisenbud's amazing discoveries was psychic Ted Serios, a Chicago bellhop, who became the subject of Eisenbud's book, The World of Ted Serios.
The book describes in detail how the psychic projected pictures in his mind on to Polaroid film, one of which was recognized as the missing nuclear submarine Thresher. The only aid used by the psychic was a small cardboard tube through which he would peer to focus on the camera. On another occasion Serios psychically produced two photographs of Patty Hearst for Fate magazine and shortly afterwards the missing heiress was apprehended. Eisenbud's experiments with Serios were written up in the Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, in which Eisenbud refers to tests conducted in sealed rooms, behind lead glass and in some cases, where the camera used was kept isolated from Serios.
Again the question may be asked, are these demonstrations of genuine psychic ability or can we suspect fraud?
When a person is born blind or looses their sight, nature compensates by heightening another of the senses – usually the tactile and/or auditory. It is of course possible with diligent practise to develop the senses to achieve extraordinary feats whether incapacitated or not.
However, when it comes to those who are not naturally deprived of their faculties and claim to be able to perform feats of a paranormal nature even exceeding the capabilities of those compensated by nature, scepticism is warranted.
Such is the case regarding the Nina Kulaginas, Susie Cottrells and Ted Serios's of this world, whose "psychic" powers have been revealed as simple magic tricks and plain old fashioned cheating using methods well known to magicians – the nose peek. Kuda Bux, the famous Indian magician even had his eyes covered with soft dough, was blindfolded, and had his entire head swathed in strips of cloth and could still see using the well known nose-peek technique.
Believers were agog at reports from the USSR (now the CIS) detailing the psychic feats of Rosa Kuleshova who could see with her fingertips. She would describe colours and read news-print while blindfolded. But like a young English girl Margaret M'Avoy back in 1816, she was unable to perform the same feat in the dark.
Likewise, 20 year old Susie Cottrell's psychic powers disappeared entirely when subject to controlled tests. Her ability to predict which cards would be selected was exposed for what it was – trickery and sleight-of-hand. The tests of Susie Cottrell's putative powers were carried out by the Committee for the Scientific estimation of Claims of the Paranormal at the request of Susie's father and under the supervision of world famous magician and psychic debunker, James Randi. Her blatant cheating was recorded on a hidden video camera. Irvin Biederman, a psychologist, summed up the tests saying, "On the basis of the tests, one cannot discriminate between Susie Cottrell and a fraud."
It is only a matter of time before any new invention or discovery is adapted for perpetrating a hoax or a deception. The camera was no exception and in the nineteenth century spirit photography boomed as soon as its potential was realized. How Serios accomplished his miracles has a much more mundane explanation. A small tube of cardboard is needed about 2.5 centimetres long and 1.25 centimetres in diameter with a magnifying lens at one end and a colour transparency cut to fit the other. This is concealed in the hand and when pointed close to the camera the ambient light illuminates the transparency directing and focussing the image into the camera's lens. If the Polaroid camera is focussed to infinity the developed print will be of poor but nevertheless interesting quality.
Brooksmith, P. (Ed.) 1984. Strange Talents. Orbis Publishing. UK.
Eisenbud, J. 1967. The World of Ted Serios. Wm. Morrow. NY.
Gardner, Martin. 1981. Science. Good, Bad and Bogus. Prometheus Books, Buffalo, N.Y.
_________________ 1994. Eyeless Vision. Skeptical Inquirer. 18(4):356-362.
Herbert, B. 1970. "Kulagina Cine Films: Summary." Journal of Parapsychics Vol 4. pp 160-165.
Hintze, N.A. and Pratt, J.G. 1975. The Psychic Realm, What Can You Believe. Random House. NY.
Kaye, M. 1985. The Handbook of Mental Magic. Stein & Day. NY.
Randi, J. 1986. Flim Flam. Prometheus, Buffalo, NY.
________ 1979-81. "Examination of the Claims of Suzie Cottrell." Skeptical Inquirer. CSICOP. Buffalo, NY. 3(3): 16-21. (1980) (4)3: 78-80. (1981) (5)3: 68-70 (1979).
Ostrander, S. & Schroeder, L. 1973. PSI Psychic Discoveries Behind the Iron Curtain. Abacus. LJK.
[From: Edwards, H. A Skeptic's Guide to the New Age]
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