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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
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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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    @jwenting, nico: You are both absolutely right for the general case - and I wish journalists would understand this. But Skeptics.SE has a weird backwards model, where people can say "Here is a claim, and rather than challenging the claimant for evidence, I am going to ask random people on the Internet to help." We (knowingly) invert the burden of proof here. It does make some questions unanswerable. – Oddthinking Nov 1 '11 at 23:42
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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.

  • "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
  • Derren Brown may also achieve drawing reproduction via pre-conditioning the subject. – OrangeDog Jun 15 '16 at 12:43
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    @OrangeDog: That is not helpful. Derren Brown is a (self-confessed) magician who (self-confessed) lies on stage as part of his job description. Do not assume that, because he claims he is using "pre-conditioning" or the like, he isn't actually using stock everyday prestidigitation techniques with a novel presentation.. – Oddthinking Jun 15 '16 at 14:55
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    And that's why your comment is not helpful. The Skeptics Mods may be able to communicate with aliens. That is about as likely. – Oddthinking Jun 15 '16 at 15:03
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According to newly released CIA secret files, the experimenters of 1973 study concluded that Geller had "demonstrated his paranormal perceptual ability in a convincing and unambiguous manner". He performed successfully enough to warrant further serious study.

In the experiment, Geller was separated from the target material either by an electrically isolated shielded room or by having the targets drawn on the East Coast.

Few examples:

One set of documents details results of psychic tests on Uri Geller, where he attempted to copy drawings made by researchers from within a sealed room

Image credits: BBC.

Above pictures shows that he successfully managed to copy some of the drawings made by researchers from within a shielded room.

The first set is very similar. The second set of pictures was a representation of the solar system. Geller's was drawn outside of the room and it coincides well with the target drawing.

For more details about this experiment, please check the study below which was performed under carefully controlled conditions.

Sources:

Related:

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    I'm going to be blunt. This is nonsense. This "testing" has been known about for several decades. Wikipedia has a reasonable summary in the "Scientific testing" section of their article. Quoting: "Marks and Kammann found evidence that while at SRI, Geller was allowed to peek through a hole in the laboratory wall separating Geller from the drawings he was being invited to reproduce." – KAI Jan 20 '17 at 22:19
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    cont: "The drawings he was asked to reproduce were placed on a wall opposite the peep hole which the investigators Targ and Puthoff had stuffed with cotton gauze. In addition to this error, the investigators had also allowed Geller access to a two-way intercom enabling Geller to listen to the investigators' conversation during the time when they were choosing and/or displaying the target drawings." Both investigators are frauds - Puthoff now spends his days selling engines based on over unity energy derived from the vacuum. I'm not joking. – KAI Jan 20 '17 at 22:21
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    @KAI The details of the testing wasn't known for decades since the document was not released yet to public, so it was a big unknown. The hole thing was the old theory without knowing exactly how the test was conducted (now the details of the experiment is in that study document). The Wikipedia page that you linked has been updated few days ago based on the new evidence. See the comparison of latest page changes. So you're trying mix and justify new insights with old. – kenorb Jan 20 '17 at 22:27
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    The documents were available for many years, just not online (you had to go to a specific computer in a specific location). The book that wikipedia cites was published in 2000. The Nature article describing the flaws in the experiment was published in 1978! Randi extensively debunked this stuff in the mid 90s as described in the article. The fact that this stuff wasn't in the wikipedia article until recently doesn't mean that it wasn't easily available. – KAI Jan 20 '17 at 22:30
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    In addition, the Wikipedia site is currently undergoing an edit war between user "Toroid" who is trying to push the view that Geller is a real psychic, and a number of other users who are trying to undo the damage. (Yes, my description of the situation is biased.) – Sebastian Redl Jan 22 '17 at 14:05

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