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Uri Geller has often performed in front of audiences where he claims he can sense the contents of an envelope without seeing inside (i.e. remote viewing).

A number of witness reports are published here

"Before I left home, I had drawn a valentine with an arrow through it, placed the drawing in an envelope which I sealed, and placed that envelope in a Manila envelope, which I also sealed. I asked Geller to draw whatever it was I had drawn. He asked me to concentrate on what it was, to see it in my mind, and to try to project it to him. After five minutes of this, he showed me a drawing of a heart with an arrow through it. When we opened the envelopes and he saw he had been right, he was very excited."

Uri Geller claims to use paranormal means to perform these acts.

I can say with absolute certainty I do not cheat. I am not a magician. - Source

Can Uri Geller use paranormal means to read envelopes?

Aside: Geller has a history of dismissing skepticism and using the legal system to address criticism.

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I have performed a substantial re-write to demonstrate my earlier (deleted) comment about removing bias, selecting a single claim, and showing that it is notable. –  Oddthinking Nov 1 '11 at 2:20
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Short answer: No. Long answer: No, and Uri Geller is a complete fraud. –  Fake Name Nov 1 '11 at 5:17
    
and the question here is PROVE IT!!! –  YUASK Nov 1 '11 at 5:19
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no Yuask, its up to Geller to prove his claims, not for others to disprove them. And he can not prove his claims, has to resort to trickert to make things work, setting up conditions in which observation is deliberately debilitated for example so his trickery can't be detected. –  jwenting Nov 1 '11 at 12:38
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@YUASK: the burden of proof is on who claims something. We can just say that what he does does not require him to be a psychic, that does not mean he is not one. But it is to him to prove he is a psychic if he claims that. –  nico Nov 1 '11 at 15:33
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up vote 17 down vote accepted

TL;DR Geller's skills could be performed by a competent magician. There is no good evidence that he uses paranormal means, and evidence that at least some of the time he cheats, so the simplest explanation is that he is a competent magician.


The claim that Uri Geller can read an envelope through paranormal means is unfalsifiable.

Sure, we can show:

  1. that his skills can be reproduced by competent magicians.

  2. that his skills are never reproduced under conditions which would preclude normal stage-magic.

  3. that some of his claims are false.

In fact, I'll do all three below.

However, that doesn't rule out that he might still be a psychic.

Nonetheless, psychic abilities are an extraordinary claim, and we should expect extraordinary evidence, before we provisionally accept them as true. That evidence has not been presented.

Note: I use the term "magician" here in the modern sense - i.e. a prestidigitator or illusionist who uses sleight-of-hand and other skillful but non-supernatural techniques to fool people with the impression of supernatural abilities.


Now to support my three claims:

1) We can see many of his tricks can be reproduced with by a competent magician.

Reproducing a Drawing in a Sealed Envelope

Over the years, magicians have developed many different techniques for divining the contents of a sealed envelope. Some of these techniques (such as gimmicked notepads on which the drawing or message is made) are available on the market; others are still used by professional magicians. The methods can be as simple as peeking through one’s fingers to see the drawing being made, holding the envelope up to the light, or even opening the envelope when the viewer’s attention is distracted. A confederate may also be able to assist by conveying information about the drawing. Skeptics allege that Geller’s manager and brother-in-law, Shipi Shtrang, has acted as a confederate, and Shtrang has been present at many of Geller’s successful demonstrations. Observers often forget the presence of an accomplice, particularly if that person appears to have no active role in the proceedings.

Source: Wordsmith that describes many other of his tricks.

(I wish this question had been about the spoon-bending. I have better references for the spoon-bending: Banacek. I also have a stash of cheap spoons for practice. It is a physically challenging skill! Or I wish it had been about his ability to move compass needles; I saw him do that of TV and the gimmick was obvious, despite his misdirection. I've never watched him attempt the envelope trick.)

2) Under conditions which would preclude stage-magic, Geller's skills disappear. For example, when host Johnny Carson was coached on what to look for by magician James Randi, Geller could no longer demonstrate his skills. (That same video reinforces the earlier point, with Randi demonstrating spoon-binding and remote-viewing secrets.) He has never accepted the JREF Million Dollar Challenge.

3) There has been proof that some of his skills are performed by trickery. For example, he was caught on tape moving the hands of a watch. He was caught on tape bending a spoon with his hands during a piece of misdirection.

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"prestidigitator" is probably a more apt term than "magician" :-) –  Sklivvz Nov 1 '11 at 7:54
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I'm loathe to use "prestidigitator" because it isn't a commonly understood term, and I don't hear magicians use it to describe themselves. Some (including Randi, from memory) prefer "illusionist". I dealt with it by adding a note about my word-usage so it is unambiguous. –  Oddthinking Nov 1 '11 at 13:11
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