Book Reviews

Review of: Superminds: An Investigation into the Paranormal, by John Taylor. London: Picador (Macmillan), 1976; pp. 191; paper 95p.

Notes and Queries, Vol. 24, No. 4, July-August 1977, p. 384

    The author is Professor of Mathematics at King's College, London, who has also been a Professor of Physics. He should therefore be well equipped to study what he has taken as his special field of interest, the metal‑bending phenomena produced by Uri Geiler. Geiler is a professional enter­tainer and magician; and one's first thought might be that the unaccountable effects he produces are brought about by the normal practice of the magician's arts. Professor Taylor is sure this is not so, and sure also that the bending of teaspoons and similar objects is done without mechanical force, without direct contact, but by means of other forces we do not yet understand. He says that he has found other human beings who can do as much as Geiler. A sixteen­year‑old boy, for instance, was

able to bend a straight strip of aluminium, about 18 centimetres long and sealed securely in a Perspex tube about 2 centi­metres in diameter, into an S‑shape: quite impossible, it would appear, without taking the strip out of the tube and then bending it mechanically. Yet careful scrutiny showed that the seals on the tube had not been tampered with.

   The main part of Professor Taylor's discussion is an exposition of the physical forces of nature known to man, and an attempt to find one of them that could pro­vide the means of transfer of energy from conjurer to teaspoon so as to produce the "Geiler effect ". He concludes that the only feasible explanation involves "some low‑frequency electromagnetic effect "; but he does not specify his hypothesis more precisely than this, nor does he offer experi­mental evidence in its support.

   The most serious defect of this work of exposition is the author's uncritical accept­ance of anything that is vouched for by the statements of an eye‑witness. He relates, for instance, how Dr. Andrija Puharich (author of Beyond Telepathy, reviewed N. & Q., ccxxi (1976), 478) discovered in Israel that he had left his camera case behind in New York. He mentioned it to Geiler, and next morning was woken by an excited telephone call from the latter, saying he had found a camera case in his room. It was the very one, presumably dematerialized from the locked case in which it had been left, and teleported by Geiler over a distance of six thousand miles. The whole case for the existence of the so‑called ‑functions of the human mind is unsatisfactory. Fashions change. No one now produces the spirit photographs, the ectoplasm and the materializations of the Victorian era. Telepathic card guessing has given way to the excitements of hands that can "see" and minds that can twist teaspoons. The testimony is vast beyond computation; but it is so sticky with faulty observation, faulty recollection, inadequate record, self‑deception, suggestion and in many instances downright lying and fraud, that it is difficult or impossible to distinguish fact from fancy. Most depressing of all, there seems to be no theoretical framework in which all these paranormal phenomena can be brought together and understood, no order, no system, no logic, but only a chaos from which one turns in dismay.