The Reality of Parapsychology — part 5, Children and Metal-Bending
In the series so far I have given examples of extra-sensory perception (ESP), i.e. gaining information by means other than the five senses. Here I’ll turn to an example of psychokinesis, the power of mind over matter.
If parapsychological powers exist, they are presumably available to everyone, at least in theory. In which case, why do we not all access them more frequently? Why do some people in fact not believe in them at all?
One possibility is that we have an innate ability but simply grow out of this phase as part of the process of life; young children are naturally psychic but lose this ability later. This would seem to be the viewpoint of William Wordsworth in his famous poem Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood: “Heaven lies about us in our infancy! Shades of the prison-house begin to close upon the growing boy”. Wordsworth is suggesting that this loss of heaven (magical powers?) is an inevitable, even if regrettable, process. This may be so, but it also seems true that to some extent we are educated out of it.
Some researchers have said that children are especially proficient at ESP and metal-bending (usually of forks and spoons, the skill — or as sometimes claimed trick — made famous by Uri Geller). Why might this be? Here is an example.
The open-minded biologist Lyall Watson tells this story¹. “Last year, I was in my home village in Ireland, I was sorting through my things and found a video from a decade back of Yuri Geller bending a key in my company. I took this over to a neighbour’s house to show them, because they had asked to see something like it, and we sat and watched it on their television. It was just the sort of thing you’ve seen him do often enough. The difference on this occasion is that I had sitting with me on my knee my neighbour’s youngest daughter, a child of three of whom I’m very fond. We watched it together and afterwards, I simply pulled out my own large steel latch key and gave it to her. ‘You try,’ I said. By implying that this was something that everybody did, I gave her permission to do it. And she did. She simply stroked it like Geller had done and it flopped like limp spaghetti”.
There is presumably no suspicion of a trick or fraud here, as is sometimes claimed about Uri Geller. Could the young girl have learned in advance how to do the trick? Almost certainly not. Watson goes on to analyse what he thinks is happening: “The problem here is that I’ve seen this happen dozens of times, but I can’t do it. I know it is possible because I’ve seen it done, but there’s part of me that knows it is impossible, part of me that’s tied to my education that says that it can’t happen and as a result, I can’t do it. That little girl didn’t have my problem. No one had told her it was impossible. I had implied everybody did it by showing her someone doing it, and so she did it”.
So Watson didn’t manage to escape the shades of the prison-house, as Wordsworth called this loss or forgetting of our innate abilities. As in the cases of Elizabeth Lloyd Mayer and Brian O’Leary discussed earlier in the series, this example again shows how penetrating and pernicious our so-called ‘scientific’ education can be.
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- The following anecdote was included in a lecture entitled ‘The Biology of Being: A Natural History of Consciousness’, given to the Mystics and Scientists Conference, as recorded in a book called The Spirit of Science, edited by David Lorimer, Floris Books, 1998