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Those Spooky Photos Are Back... PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by James Randi   

Dr. Mikita Brottman, 45, is a professor of humanities at the Maryland Institute College of Art. She is Oxford-educated and widely published.

The Chronicle of Higher Education – based in Washington, D.C. – states that it is the major news service in the United States academic world.

A news item the Chronicle featured this week concerns a show at the Albin O. Kuhn Library and Gallery at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County. The article – written by Professor Brottman – is titled, “Psychic Projections/Photographic Impressions: Paranormal Photographs from the Jule Eisenbud Collection on Ted Serios," a display of some 60 examples of how rationality can be easily abandoned when a sufficiently attractive woo-woo subject is brought up and dignified by such individuals, colleges, and media outlets.

Note, first, the title of the show clearly states that the photographs are paranormal in nature, not “claimed” or “purported” or “possibly,” and that they are “psychic.” No modifiers. Moving along…

First, to set the stage, the two actors involved in this drama: First is Theodore (Ted) Judd Serios [1918-2006] was a bellhop from Chicago who discovered a great trick: he would have a Polaroid camera aimed at his forehead while he held a small tube of black paper in his fingers so that it pointed into the lens, then he would instruct the person holding the camera to release the shutter and hand over the result, which he called a “thoughtograph.” These were most often blank or black, but occasionally a fuzzy image would be seen that could be interpreted many different ways, and on rare occasions a relatively clear and identifiable image showed up.

Second we have Dr. Jule Eisenbud [1908-99], a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Colorado Medical School and a charter member of the Parapsychological Association, among other distinctions, and he gleefully embraced the Serios “miracles” as genuine. He wrote extensively on ESP, PK, and other claimed psi phenomena, and accepted them all as proven.

Serios’ method was quite simple: the small cylinder – about ½” in diameter and 1¼” in length, concealed a smaller slide-in tube that had a simple lens at one end, and a tiny transparency at the other – exactly as the keychain attachments widely available in those days in which the owner could view Marilyn Monroe or a baseball star – depending on immediate needs… Held to the Polaroid camera’s lens with the announced intention of concentrating the “thought waves” of the holder, it projected its picture onto the film.

In my book Flim-Flam! [1982] I devoted six pages – 222 to 227 – to the Serios/Eisenbud matter, providing a thorough exposure and diagrams of the methodology of the trick, though I thought that to be too much space for such a trivial and transparent hoax. Now the Chronicle of Higher Education – for whatever reason – has brought attention back to the matter.

Author Brottman shows clearly that she has accepted uncritically as true, everything that Eisenbud wrote or said about these silly photos, and even mentions that the exhibit has

…a short film of Eisenbud debating aspects of the Serios phenomenon with detractors.

That film is an excerpt from a 1967 NBC Today Show episode in which I successfully duplicated the Serios trick on live TV – with him sitting right there, looking very uneasy. Using a regular  Polaroid camera supplied by NBC, I held a tube of black paper to the lens – as Serios regularly did – and I produced an image of a baby  – actually of myself at six years of age – and then I stepped to  a studio  TV camera  and  similarly produced a shot of a taxi on Broadway… Though I’m sure that Ted Serios caught my “moves,” Jule Eisenbud was careful to be studiously looking away and mumbling – as if disinterested – while I did the tricks.

When Professor Brottman uses terms like “under quite stringent test conditions,” she is quoting directly from Eisenbud, to whom control of his subject was a quite foreign concept. Never wondering whether a fellow academic might have been fooled by some simple sleight-of-hand, she marvels that some of the Polaroids produced by Serios were

…quite clear, particularly when Serios was attempting to produce the image of a specific physical monument or building.

Very true, but those wonders were attained during sessions lasting several days, when Serios had been told that the following day this particular “target” would be hoped for… It was a simple matter for the wonder-worker to produce a tiny transparency of the target overnight and conjure it up to order when required. Professor Brottman – naively – also notes that Serios

…was in many regards erratic and demanding, a heavy drinker who produced the most vivid and compelling of his thoughtographs when drunk.

Also very true, but anyone experienced with such subjects quickly recognizes that when they appear to be most impaired, that might well be because they need the grand misdirection thus invoked, and can get away with much more when thought to be a little “out of it.” She tells of cases in which Serios

…could produce an image on a camera that was some distance away from him (as far as 66 feet in one instance), and he even produced images when the camera was in another room altogether.

This quotation is, again, taken directly from Eisenbud’s account. But I’m surprised when Brottman writes:

While many people, including Eisenbud himself, have produced similar images using gimmick lenses and transparencies, no one has been able to do so in an undetectable fashion.

Professor Brottman, please! At that time in my lecturing career, I was regularly doing this, as I did on that Today Show, very much “undetected,” thank you!  As my final comment on all this, I’ll quote a revealing statement from Brottman that clearly reveals her attitude on the matter:

Yet to my mind, the Ted Serios phenomenon goes beyond the notion of "real versus fake," providing insights into the relationships among photography, subjectivity, representation, and the unconscious.

No, ma’m, not at all. It simply shows these three phenomena: the well-known psychological phenomenon known as “expectation confirmation,” how academics often choose to accept statements from their peers as unquestionable, and how evidence of magic can be found where none exists.

Consider: If Ted Serios did not use a trick method, all the rules of physics, particularly of optics, everything developed by science over the past several centuries, must be rewritten to accommodate this claim. No such revisions have been found necessary…
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written by TickleMeCthulhu, February 25, 2011
You have to think, if you could create images with your mind and produce them as photographs, why would you be at all limited to what you can produce? I guess it just never occurs to the researcher to even ask, in the same way that an audience won't ask the magician who just made a playing card float to make everything else in the room float around- and I'm sure that Serios had some rock solid reason as to why he could only produce a limited number of subjects, often after much delay.
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But wait! She's a professional!
written by Baloney, February 25, 2011
Brottman is also a "psychoanalyst." http://www.mica.edu/News/ Chro...Story.html

What's a psychoanalyst, you ask?

According to the Baltimore Washington Center for Psychoanalysis:
"The designation psychoanalyst is not protected by federal or state law: anyone, even an untrained person, may use the title. It is therefore important to know the practitioner's credentials before beginning treatment." http://www.bwanalysis.org/How ...alyst.html
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But wait! She's a professional!
written by Baloney, February 25, 2011
If woo doctors go "quack!", what sound do woo educators make? My woo See-'n-Say doesn't have that option.

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Make me disappear! Do that again! What am I thinking of?!
written by Jim Shaver, February 25, 2011
TickleMeCthulhu said, "...in the same way that an audience won't ask the magician who just made a playing card float to make everything else in the room float around..."
Well then, you've clearly never performed as a magician at a party for children.
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written by TickleMeCthulhu, February 25, 2011
"Well then, you've clearly never performed as a magician at a party for children." -LOL

It just amazes me that anyone- regardless of their title- could be so accepting of an act like Serios.' At first, dazzled, excited perhaps- but at some point one has to look at it and ask, "Don't move. May I examine what's in your hand?"

I once saw an act- perhaps the same one- on "That's Incredible," involving a supposed psychic who could conjure up images on a camera by simply pressing his hands over the lens. He even performed this "mystifying" feat with a video camera, and you could see an image pass by the camera momentarily. My instant thought was that he was concealing something in his hands, because it was the simplest explanation. At this age, I still believed that ghost chasers had an exciting and valuable job, and that serious research was being performed with real psychics around the world, so I wasn't some skeptic trying to find the BS in everything. It was the same thing when my brothers and I saw a commercial with James Hydrick moving things with "his mind." We immediately said, "He's blowing on the thing!"

Now, first guesses aren't always right, but when they are- even partially- it's just shameful that a scientist/professor/investigator hasn't at least looked into the possibility.
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..., Lowly rated comment [Show]
An art project??
written by kdv, February 25, 2011
Caller X: "This is an art project"

I'm sorry, I don't understand what you're saying at all. If you're joking, pardon my lack of insight. Either way, does the article in the Chronicle of Higher Education actually state that it's an art project, and that it bears no relation to reality? It may, I haven't read it, but I'd prepared to bet about $100 that it doesn't against your $50 that it does. (providing you haven't read it either! :-)) Without such a statement, some may take the exhibition as a portrayal of real events, and certainly charlatans may use it to support their claims (if any of them actually read anything with "Education" in the title!)

Even so, does that mean that homeopaths, say, or astrologers, can call what they do an "art project", not therefore needing any evidence? More importantly, do they tell their suckers ( err, I mean clients ) that?

In my opinion, this is just another case of a highly trained people making fools out of themselves when dealing with areas outside their expertise. Randi has demonstrated this in a number of cases. Probably one of the more egregious is Fred Hoyle's depiction of evolution as like a whirlwind in a junkyard assembling a 747, or words to that effect.

CallerX: "Serios is seriously old news."

Perhaps so (and yes, I do get the pun), but Randi was addressing what purports to a serious article published this week!
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written by lytrigian, February 25, 2011
It would have been interesting to compare the images produced back then with those found on View Master discs available at local toy stores. That's what immediately sprang to mind as a source of tiny transparencies, especially when it came to well-known monuments.
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written by Steel Rat, February 25, 2011
exactly as the keychain attachments widely available in those days in which the owner could view Marilyn Monroe or a baseball star – depending on immediate needs…


I can't imagine ever needing to view a baseball star.
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@kdv
written by Caller X, February 25, 2011
kdv wrote:

I'm sorry, I don't understand what you're saying at all. If you're joking, pardon my lack of insight. Either way, does the article in the Chronicle of Higher Education actually state that it's an art project, and that it bears no relation to reality?



If Mr. Randi can be believed, yes. Mr. Randi wrote (emphasis added):

Dr. Mikita Brottman, 45, is a professor of humanities at the Maryland Institute College of Art. She is Oxford-educated and widely published.

The Chronicle of Higher Education – based in Washington, D.C. – states that it is the major news service in the United States academic world. [N.B. "academic world" includes the Art Department, regardless of what Mr. Randi might want.]

A news item the Chronicle featured this week concerns a show at the Albin O. Kuhn Library and Gallery at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County.


kdv again:

Even so, does that mean that homeopaths, say, or astrologers, can call what they do an "art project", not therefore needing any evidence?


They can if they want to. My point is that an artist doing an art show about, to use your examples, homeopaths or astrologers is under no obligation (unless the stamping of Mr. Randi's feet constitutes an obligation) to provide evidence relating to homeopathy or astrology.
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written by lytrigian, February 26, 2011
CallerX is missing the point, as usual. A side-effect, perhaps, of digging up JUST enough information to support what he's trying to say, and not going further to look at the details.

No sane person would object to an art show consisting of, say, illuminated and embellished astrological charts, or perhaps antique homeopathic paraphernalia, as long as the exhibit was about those things as such. If, instead, the show told us, "This was the chart that predicted Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo," or "This is the vial Hahnemann used for the final potentization before he cured his mother-in-law of gout," then that's a different story. They are now promoting woo, by representing that astrology is predictive and homeopathy is curative. Sane people ought then to object.

At the University's page on the show* we are told such interesting facts as "Over the course of these experimental sessions Serios produced a vast body of photographs, or 'thoughtographs,' that continue to baffle researchers and critics to this day," and that these photos "illustrate Serios's paranormal abilities" in "scientific experiments whose results have never been disproven." Nonsense all around. There will also be a lecture given by a man who appears to be the University's resident woo-meister. Do you honestly expect us to believe that he will discuss these images merely as art?

Yeah, right.

*This link will likely go bad once the show is over, since it's about the "current" exhibit. A link to the permanent page about it will likely be here: http://aok.lib.umbc.edu/gallery/gallerypast.php once it ends.
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written by lytrigian, February 26, 2011
My earlier reply to CallerX didn't show up. I'm not going to retype it, I'll just leave this here and see if anyone thinks his ideas on what this show is about has any credibility whatsoever.

http://aok.lib.umbc.edu/gallery/current.php
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@Caller X
written by Gsparky2004, February 26, 2011
Here's what the web site (link from lytrigian's comment above) for the so-called "art show" says (my emphasis added):
the photographic images in this exhibition illustrate Serios's paranormal abilities, reveal themes and unique characteristics of his "thoughtographs," and offer insight into the extensive body of scientific experiments whose results have never been disproven.
That says to me that they're passing this off not as art, but as science. To which I would declare, as Penn & Teller's show states, "Bull....!"
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written by randi, February 26, 2011
To "Caller X" - I direct you to the fourth paragraph of the item: It reads, "Note, first, the title of the show clearly states that the photographs are paranormal in nature, not 'claimed' or 'purported' or 'possibly,' and that they are 'psychic.' No modifiers." Translated for you: The title of the show states what it is intended to be.

To "lytrigian" - I didn't want to get into much detail in this piece, but we've traced several of the Serios "thoughtographs" to Viewmaster transparencies - in a day when every drug store had a stock of the disks bearing the tiny film frames...

To "Gsparky2004" - Right on! "Caller X" didn't look very far, did he...?

Randi.
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@Caller X
written by FledgelingSkeptic, February 26, 2011
This isn't old news for people like myself who have never heard of a "thoughtograph" before. Remember that there are always new people coming into the skeptical community that don't have the same experience as yourself. What may seem like old hat to you is new and exciting for someone else.
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written by Caller X, February 26, 2011
I'm not interested in telling people what to believe or converting them to a skeptical mindset. If that's your hobby, that's fine with me, but I'm not a missionary, and I have no "good news" for anyone. If someone wants to believe that "paranormal" photographs require a small cardboard tube, how is that a problem for me?

I'm a lot more concerned that the U.S. armed forces are paying for chaplains with my tax dollars, and that the opening of the Supreme Court every October involves the phrase "God save..."

To Mr. Randi: see above and

"I direct you to the fourth paragraph of the item: It reads, "Note, first, the title of the show clearly states that the photographs are paranormal in nature, not 'claimed' or 'purported' or 'possibly,' and that they are 'psychic.' No modifiers." Translated for you: The title of the show states what it is intended to be."

Weren't you the Amazing Randi at some point? I've never found you amazing. Really cool, yes, but not amazing. Now you want editorial control over advertising for an art exhibit. Surely your time has better uses?
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written by TickleMeCthulhu, February 27, 2011
@Caller X, who wrote "Surely your time has better uses?"

That's funny, I was just thinking the same thing about someone else.

Caller X, your logic invokes the image of 3 cats with their tails tied together. Make no mistake, I DO read your posts and I really try to get I inside your head and make sense of them, but, from what I can tell, all you ever do is ask people to state and restate things, only to finish with the equivalent of "I don't get it."

The skeptical community does indeed need people to challenge ideas, but it also requires that those people present valid counter points. Your notion that this was all only an innocent art show that supported no paranormal claims snd should therefore be left alone was dead on arrival. Your second line of attack was that no one should care who supports and propagates paranormal phenomena, and that better things should be done with one's time. Hey, you even mentioned Mr. Randi's "remaining days" in your first post. Yes, Mr. Randi is a tad bit on the elderly side. You really got him there. Classy.

True. There are bigger battles to be fought, but that doesn't mean that the smaller skirmishes should be ignored.
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@Caller X
written by FledgelingSkeptic, February 27, 2011
You wrote:"If someone wants to believe that "paranormal" photographs require a small cardboard tube, how is that a problem for me?"

If that's how you feel, why are you even bothering to comment? Why not leave posts like this to "missionaries" like myself? Seems like a waste of your time to me.
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written by Caller X, February 27, 2011
Quis skeptit ipsos skeptici?
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@Caller X
written by Gsparky2004, February 27, 2011
Oooooh-kay. Randi simply called out an "art show" that was attempting to pass itself off as science. You, for whatever reason, took umbrage at that. You've decided that his time is better off taking on the theology of the Supreme Court. Here's my guess. You're not really upset over the fact that he's not taking on The Supremes. You're just really unhappy over the fact that he's dissed an "art show". You don't want Randi to pick on this poor, little art show because we need more art in the world. Or some such. What you seem to fail to understand is that Randi, doing what Randi and other skeptics do, called them out over nothing more than that they were attempting to pass this "art" as "science".
Now, tell me, where did Randi get his facts wrong with respect to this "art show"? And, Caller X, focus. Foh-kus.
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written by Caller X, February 28, 2011
Randi simply called out an "art show" that was attempting to pass itself off as science.


No, Randi clearly said the art show was attempting to pass itself off as "paranormal" and tried to back up that claim by asserting that scientific methods couldn't explain Serios.

Why don't you try to focus?

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written by jrients, March 01, 2011
It seems to me that if I follow Caller X's logic then I can do a gallery show displaying various printings of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion as "art" and I have no moral obligation to note that the texts are a hoax. Or maybe I can get away with a throwaway line indicating some dispute their origins, but otherwise I can quote anti-semites chapter and verse. Am I getting this right?
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@CallerX
written by lytrigian, March 01, 2011
I suggest you read the entire show description carefully. It, not Randi, insists the photos were generated by some process science has yet to explain.

If you're going to try to be a "skeptic's skeptic," then you really ought to get into the habit of gathering all available information before you issue pronouncements.
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@Caller X
written by Gsparky2004, March 01, 2011
Okay, I'm going to put in with TickleMeCthulhu. I can't make heads nor tails of your logic. Yes, Randy stated that this art show was attempting to pass itself off as "paranormal". The art show itself is stating that these "paranormal" pictures cannot be explained by science. I go along with Randi. I have problems with both of these pronouncements. You may (or may not) have problems with these pronouncements.
Since you're all over the place, let's recap: Randi states that this art show is telling people that these pictures are paranormal. Randi also recaps the history of Eisenbud and Serios. Eisenbud stated previously that what they were doing was science. Randi called them on it. Even did so on live television. You chime in with (let me make absolutely certain I have this right):
1) It's only an art show. Why isn't Randi picking on David Blaine and Criss Angel?
2) I'm not interested in converting people to the skeptical mindset (which begs the question, "Don't you understand that that is why this website is here?")
3) I'm more concerned with the US Supreme Court and military chaplains.
4) You re-state Randi's response to you, to which you only respond with a personal slight (He's not "Amazing", he's only "good".)
5) You drop in a Latin quote. (Ya ne znaoo, tovarisch!)
6) Then you finish with the statement that Randi called this "paranormal" and that Randi stated that what Serios did couldn't be backed up by science.
Since I have no idea where you're coming from or what logic you're using, I have to ask two questions: 1) How are you involved with this art show? You seem to be taking this personally. 2) Based on your last statement, do you believe that what Serios did can be explained by science?
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written by Caller X, March 01, 2011


I suggest you read the entire show description carefully. It, not Randi, insists the photos were generated by some process science has yet to explain.


Which is not the same as "attempting to pass itself off as science"

If you're going to try to be a "skeptic's skeptic," then you really ought to get into the habit of gathering all available information before you issue pronouncements.


Did that. Next?
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written by Caller X, March 01, 2011
4) You re-state Randi's response to you, to which you only respond with a personal slight (He's not "Amazing", he's only "good".)


There's a difference between advertising for a magician or an art show and assertion of fact, but Mr. Randi did not dispute the assertion on the show's advertisement that the material was claimed to be paranormal.

5) You drop in a Latin quote. (Ya ne znaoo, tovarisch!)


It was made up Latin. By the way, no one says "tovarisch" any more.

6) Then you finish with the statement that Randi called this "paranormal" and that Randi stated that what Serios did couldn't be backed up by science.


I never said that.

Since I have no idea where you're coming from or what logic you're using, I have to ask two questions: 1) How are you involved with this art show? You seem to be taking this personally. 2) Based on your last statement, do you believe that what Serios did can be explained by science?


1. not at all
2. yes, in that respect I agree with Mr. Randi

You typed out quite a list; why do YOU care?
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written by Caller X, March 02, 2011
written by jrients, March 01, 2011
It seems to me that if I follow Caller X's logic then I can do a gallery show displaying various printings of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion as "art" and I have no moral obligation to note that the texts are a hoax. Or maybe I can get away with a throwaway line indicating some dispute their origins, but otherwise I can quote anti-semites chapter and verse. Am I getting this right?


Absolutely. You got it 100% right. Do you or any of your family or friends drive a Ford? Check out The International Jew by Henry Ford.

Same for the Gutenberg Bible on display at the Library of Congress.
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written by Donovan from New England, March 02, 2011
"I'm not interested in telling people what to believe or converting them to a skeptical mindset. If that's your hobby, that's fine with me, but I'm not a missionary,..."

Really? You promise? So I figure we'll see no more posts from you arguing why you think others are wrong about some topic. I doubt you actually mean this. This is why people are saying you don't think things through very well. But please, leave your reply to make sure that we don't believe you want to change what we believe, because my space ship is powered by irony. smilies/grin.gif
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written by lytrigian, March 03, 2011
I suggest you read the entire show description carefully. It, not Randi, insists the photos were generated by some process science has yet to explain.

Which is not the same as "attempting to pass itself off as science"

Of course not. THIS is "attempting to pass itself off as science":

Drawn from The Jule Eisenbud Collection of Ted Serios and Thoughtographic Photography in UMBC's Photography Collections, the photographic images in this exhibition illustrate Serios's paranormal abilities, reveal themes and unique characteristics of his "thoughtographs," and offer insight into the extensive body of scientific experiments whose results have never been disproven.


Did that. Next?

Well, since you missed the bit about the "scientific experiments", apparently you didn't. Give it another try. Trust me, it's not too difficult to be wrong. I do it all the time.
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written by jrients, March 04, 2011
Absolutely. You got it 100% right. Do you or any of your family or friends drive a Ford? Check out The International Jew by Henry Ford.


But by your thinking why would it matter that Ford was an anti-semite? You're clearly arguing here that the truth has no value. A thousand people could leave my hypthetical exhibit under the impression that the Jews are plotting their undoing, but that's okay because it's "art".
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