The PSI Breakthrough, At Last?
James Randi --- Wizard ((no email))
Fri, 20 May 1994 00:08:40 -0400
THE PSI BREAKTHROUGH, AT LAST?
by James Randi
I'm informed that California parapsychologist Loyd
Auerbach is touring his current guru, science fiction author
Martin Caidin, around the USA claiming that Caidin can teach
people to make a paper vane turn on a needle-point by
psychokinetic power. Such "psychic motors" have been sold
and described in hobby books for years. The vane turns from
the effects of air currents, from the breath, body heat,
drafts, etc. Auerbach is telling anyone who will listen
that Caidin has had as many as 18 vanes moving at one time
via his personal PK powers, and has even made one thus move
in an evacuated bell jar. If this is true, there has been a
huge leap forward in physics, paraphysics and in our
understanding of the forces of nature. This could be the
long-awaited breakthrough in psi.
Or maybe not.
It appears that Loyd Auerbach chooses to believe and
accept anything and everything that any colorful character
tells him. I can confidently bet that he did not see the 18
targets moving, nor did he witness the vane in the evacuated
bell jar spinning. I'll bet he was told all this by Martin
Caidin, and he simply believes it. I don't at all think
that Auerbach is a scam artist, I think he is just a
gullible type. After all, he makes his living writing for
FATE Magazine, and we know how precarious a position that
Concerning a claim made by Caidin that I simply refused
to go and witness his miracle, again the ugly facts
interfere with the myth. I've spent too much of my life
spinning my wheels trying to catch up with wills-o'-the-wisp
(or is that "will-o'-the-wisps"?) that aren't there when I
arrive, so when I was contacted with a challenge to go and
see him perform, I theorized that he was setting up a room
full of paper vanes and claiming success when one or more
started moving. Indeed, upon hearing more about the claimed
"miracle," that turned out to be the case, though on a
bigger scale than I'd imagined. After all, the greater the
number of vanes, the better the chance that a few will start
moving through perfectly well understood physical forces,
Now, it is almost literally impossible to set up a room
in which there are no aircurrents, residual or otherwise,
and since the air mass acts like a fluid, it MUST move
about, subject to the very slightest change in temperature
or of atmospheric pressure. Any air movement will make a
carefully-balanced paper vane turn. My challenge to Caidin
was for him to make a specific, randomly-selected vane among
the forest of vanes, move upon command by PK without other vanes
also moving. That was the only way he could have gotten me to
look at his miracle. But Caidin declared that (a) I was not
the sort of person who should set up such a test, and (b)
that he didn't have to prove anything to me, anyway. He's
right on at least one of those.
I will accept Caidin's claim (and his disciple's
validation) if he will make ONE paper (or other) vane move
by psychokinetic power while it is sealed in a bell jar. Of
course precautions against volatile substances, static
electricity, etc. would have to be taken. That is easily
done, and would cost very little; it could be done easily
and definitively. My prediction: that Auerbach and Caidin
will refuse such a test, for reasons such as "no time," "no
interest," "not needed," etc. They have a good gag going,
teaching this "power" at $80 a pop, and I think they'll not
want anything to interfere with that.
And, before going any further, let's define the term,
"bell jar." This is a bell-shaped, strong, glass container
that has been ground flat on the edge so that it can be
sealed (using specially-formulated low-vapor gasket grease)
to a flat, horizontal surface. It's size ranges from about
4 inches to 24 inches in height. The device is usually
fitted with an inlet stem on the side and a valve, so that
the inside can be evacuated to whatever degree of vacuum is
required, and if needed, the interior space can then be
charged with another gas or mixture of gases, at any
required pressure within the limits of the device.
Note: A SIMPLE GLASS JAR INVERTED OVER A PAPER VANE IS
NOT A BELL JAR! If Caidin is using the lesser system, let
him say so. He and Auerbach are, after all, supposed to be
scientists; let them start getting scientific. They are
charging $80 a head to their customers, agreeing to try
teaching them how to move paper vanes by psychokinesis.
Anything less than a strictly-applied protocol is not in
accordance with that agreement.
I note, in passing, that the two Alpha Kids, Steve Shaw
and Michael Edwards, were able to turn a vane under an
imitation bell jar at the Mac Lab back in 1978, and
convinced the parapsychologists there that it was a genuine
feat of PK. Their exclamations of delight at the phenomenon
were real enough.
Another prediction: Caidin and his #1 apostle will go
ahead with the $80-a-head process of demonstrating and
teaching PK exactly as they originally planned, along with
the extravagant claims and colorful anecdotes. Some of the
customers will decide that they have PK powers, and some
won't. Those who don't will not complain, but just go in
search of another guru.
Hear with your own ears the C&A dog-and-pony show
as the indignant proprietors bluster and fume!
Unhappy customers wondering why they can't move
a paper vane!
Yet another New Age fiasco!
Better than spoon-bending!
More useful than a lottery system (or spoon-bending)!
Cheaper than Philippine Psychic Surgery!
Actually mix with heavy celebrities like Caidin & Auerbach!
Get autographs, yet!
(Note: no complaints allowed, in order to preserve
the scientific integrity of this mystical event.)
Be assured: no kibitzers or dreadful skeptics allowed.
You'll laugh! You'll cry! You'll howl! But no refunds!