Impossible Realities by Maureen Caudill
Maureen Caudill spent more than twenty years as a computer scientist, fifteen of those as a researcher in artificial intelligence and neural networks. She was a program manager and Artificial Intelligence researcher working on such advanced projects as DARPA (“High Performance Knowledge Base” program) and ARDA (“Advanced Question Answering for Intelligence” program).
Impossible Realities is the first book to examine the science behind psychic and paranormal activity. A former Defense Department expert on artificial intelligence, Maureen Caudill provides evidence for a wide range of paranormal phenomena.
Impossible Realities presents a wealth of anecdotal and empirical evidence to prove the existence (and power) of:
- psychokinesis (most famously spoon bending)
- remote viewing
- energy healing
- telepathy, animal telepathy
- survival after death
Caudill presents the strongest case yet for bringing paranormal phenomena from the margins into the realm of the normal and credible. This is a book both for true believers and skeptics alike.
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Impossible Realities Excerpt
From Chapter 1
The First Black Swan: Psychokinesis
I have a bowl in my house that is filled with the remains of various pieces of cutlery that are not exactly usable. These are forks and spoons and an occasional knife that used to be good-quality stainless steel cutlery, but which now are just . . . strange. Every so often I give a workshop for people who want to learn how to access their psychic selves. The format varies some, depending on the time available. Yet, no matter how long the workshop—a day, a weekend, or a week—the one skill people always want me to teach them is spoon-bending.
To be honest, I’m not quite sure why spoon-bending is so popular. It’s really a bit of a party trick rather than anything profound. But maybe it’s just that a warped fork is tangible evidence that they have done something unusual. When you go home with a fork that is bent and twisted into strange shapes, you have absolute proof that you did something extraordinary.
Spoon-bending is definitely a skill that has fallen on hard times. It had been extremely popular in the 1970s as celebrated psychic Uri Geller rose to fame as a spoon-bender extraordinaire, until in 1973, he was caught cheating on national television, on the Tonight Show. He was declared a fraud. He was pilloried by all and virtually drummed out of the United States.
Now to be fair, Geller did cheat. Everyone agrees on that, even him. What is often not heard is why he cheated. According to his side of the story, he was blindsided by that request, not expecting to be forced into demonstrating his skills in that particular venue. Furthermore (again from his perspective) he was exhausted, stressed, and simply not in the right frame of mind to be doing anything psychic, yet he felt hounded to perform on television. Still young and desperate not to look bad by refusing, he resorted to cheating.
Do I believe this story? Well . . . perhaps. Knowing what I know about doing any psychic function, Geller’s story is credible, at least in the basics. Psychic functions, like all other human talents, are not perfect all the time. No one—no one—can perform at their peak at any hour, day or night, or continuously, or on demand under stressful circumstances. That applies just as much to a top athlete, an exceptional musician, or a terrific student. Human beings simply aren’t perfect. And the public pressure to be perfect—particularly in any psychic field where people are simply waiting for you to fail—is overwhelming. A young man (he was only twenty-seven at the time of that infamous Tonight Show debacle) who had grown accustomed to acclaim might easily be tempted to mix stage magic with psychic skills. So . . . I think the verdict is “unproven” in this case, no matter whether you’re trying to prove Geller’s abilities or his lack of them.
It is also true that after that episode, a number of scientific studies conducted in Europe under extremely rigorous conditions validated his innate ability to manipulate matter with his mind. Here in the United States, however, his reputation seems forever tainted by that Unfortunate Incident.
A decade ago, however, I would have laughed to scorn anyone who defended the “fraud” Geller. Why my change of heart? Because I can spoon-bend. And I’ve taught close to a thousand other people to do it, too. I now understand that not only is spoon-bending possible, but also most anyone can learn to do it—and pretty easily, too. I’ve taught people to do it in small workshops, and in huge ones with hundreds of people. And in one memorable interview on Coast to Coast AM with George Noory, he asked if I was willing to try to teach people to spoonbend over the radio. I said I’d never tried that before, but I’d give it a shot. As it turned out, it was hugely successful, with one listener even calling in to say he had no cutlery handy, so he’d bent a large screwdriver instead!
A few years ago I was attending a workshop given by my good friend Robert Bruce. He is a renowned Australian mystic, whose work in energy and out-of-body experiences is some of the most effective in the world—and he’s an incredibly charming and funny man in person. At any event, on the second or third day of this five-day program, I asked him if he ever used his energy exercises to teach people to spoon-bend. He told me he’d never done it himself, so he didn’t teach it. Was I willing to show the group how to do that?
That night I went to the local KMart and bought enough good-quality cutlery for the smallish group to learn spoonbending. When the time came the next day, I handed out forks (I strongly prefer to teach people using forks rather than spoons for reasons I’ll explain later), and proceeded to use Robert’s energy exercises to get people to bend their forks. As I have come to expect, everyone in the class succeeded brilliantly, and within fifteen or twenty minutes, we had a whole menagerie of twisted cutlery sculptures.
The next morning, one of the women in the workshop came in and said she had to tell us what happened the night before. It turns out that this lady was dining with friends at quite a nice local restaurant. During the dinner, the talk turned to politics, a subject she was passionate about. She got a little, um, enthusiastic while talking with one of her friends. She was making her point rather forcefully and wagging her fork at the person she was speaking to, as you might wag your finger at someone. And
. . . the fork drooped and melted in her hands.
She was so embarrassed!
She hurriedly pulled the fork out of sight onto her lap and, hiding her actions with the tablecloth, tried to put it back into its original form. She never did get it quite right, of course . . . the specific curves and angles of cutlery are difficult to replicate by hand, particularly under cover of a tablecloth when you’re upset!
So the lesson from this is: If you must spoon-bend when you’re dining out, spoon-bend responsibly.5
The bottom-line conclusion I have drawn about spoon-bending is that it is one of the absolute easiest psychic skills to learn, at least at the elementary level I teach it. (Far from television worthy,
I might add!) And why do I prefer to teach people to bend forks rather than spoons? Because forks are a little bit harder. With a spoon, about the only thing a beginner can do is to twist the spoon at the neck, where the bowl meets the handle.6 That’s far too easy to do, even in fairly sturdy cutlery. But if you’ve ever taken a good-quality stainless steel fork and tried to bend just one tine with your fingertips, you know that it’s all but impossible to do. I ask people to try to bend their forks with their fingers before we start the spoon-bending process, just to make sure they’re convinced they can’t do it. Only then do I start guiding them in how to spoon-bend.
The basic process is one of running energy through the fork to soften it. I teach people some simple exercises on manipulating chi energy; then I get them to run that energy through the fork for a few minutes, concentrating on setting their intentions that the fork soften and bend.7 As they do that for a while—as little as a minute or two, or as much as five or six minutes, depending on how good they are at running energy and holding their concentration on what they’re doing—the fork really does soften. At that point, they can bend, twist, warp, and distort it however they like—including twisting individual tines. When they have it twisted it into the configuration they like, they put the fork down and don’t touch it for three or four minutes. When they pick it up after that break, the fork has “set” in that new shape and is as hard and stiff as it was before. If they want to change the shape again, they have to start the process from scratch.
It’s true that my success rate is not quite 100 percent. I find that two kinds of people have trouble learning to spoon-bend. One set is people who are themselves quite low in chi, or life energy. This is usually people who are elderly or who have a serious illness. They barely have enough chi to keep themselves going, let alone some left over for softening stainless steel.
The other type is someone who is convinced that it cannot work. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’ve taught a lot of skeptics to spoon-bend, to their astonishment. The very first time I tried to teach spoon-bending, the group included a PhD physicist and a PhD anthropologist, each of whom individually assured me that spoon-bending was a total fake, all because of the flap over Uri Geller’s Tonight Show debacle. Yet, they were willing to humor me and give it a try. They took less than five minutes to become amazing successes. The physicist in particular had ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), so he had very poor strength in his hands, yet he succeeded at bending his fork.
I also remember one workshop in which there was a participant who was a professional magician. At the break before we started the spoon-bending exercise, he came up to me and assured me that it was all a fake8 and that he knew at least a dozen different ways to fake spoon-bending. I listened to him as he listed them all; then I assured him he wouldn’t have to use any of those fakes in the workshop—he could do it for real. He was skeptical but had an open mind and was willing to give it a try. Twenty minutes later, he came up to me, showing a wildly twisted fork and jubilantly said, “I did it! I don’t have to fake it anymore! I can really do it!”
The type of skeptical person who fails is the one who is so convinced that it can’t be done that she refuses to actually try— or subconsciously refuses to allow herself to try. I ran into one of those in a workshop with a number of scientists. While claiming to have an open mind, when it came to the spoon-bending part, one in particular simply could not get her fork to bend. I tried everything I could think of to help her, short of bending it myself: running extra energy through it with her, helping her focus and concentrate, and so on. Nothing worked. I could see she appeared to be trying to bend it but . . . nothing. Finally, I actually touched her fork . . . and it was so soft it was practically like squishy butter! Clearly, she’d made it so soft and malleable that a small child should have been able to bend it—yet when I again encouraged her to try to bend it, she still claimed she couldn’t, that it was too stiff. It seemed to me that her fingers were working against each other, something like doing an isometric exercise, where a lot of effort is expended yet nothing actually moves. My guess is that she has never been able to bend a spoon and likely never will.
As with any psychic (or physical) skill, you can convince yourself you are incapable of doing it. Yet, the truth is, as best I can tell from my totally unscientific observations of hundreds and hundreds of people, most people, possibly almost all people, can do spoon-bending. It’s easy to learn, easy to do, and when you do it yourself—as opposed to watching someone do it on the stage— you know for a fact that it’s not a fake.
And that’s exactly why I teach this particular little party trick so often in workshops. When I teach people about chi energy, it all sounds airy-fairy and nonsensical to anyone with a scientific mindset—it certainly did to me when I first heard about it. Even when I show people that they can literally feel the energy moving around their bodies, they often have the same reaction I initially had, that it’s all imagination and none of it is anything more than self-delusion. Yet, when I teach people to take that same “imaginary” energy, run it through a fork for a few minutes, and then feel solid stainless steel soften enough to become soft and malleable in their hands, suddenly what was nonsensical and imaginary becomes very, very real.
So perhaps that’s the real reason for the popularity of spoonbending. If you learn to do even one thing that conventional science deems wildly impossible, you begin to believe that other things are possible, too.
Spoon-bending is of course only one of many manifestations of psychokinesis. People have been known to have a wide variety of psychokinetic skills, including
• lighting light bulbs in their hands,
• sprouting seeds by holding them in the palm of the hand,
• moving objects without touching them,
• changing how dice roll or roulette wheels spin to force a specific result,9 and
• influencing random events (such as with a random number generator) to force a specific trend in results over many, many trials.
Again, these are only examples of skills that have been studied. While my experience has been primarily spoon-bending, I did once try sprouting seeds in the palm of my hand. It was, well, not exactly either a success or a failure. Here’s what happened.
I was preparing for a new workshop I planned, and I wondered if I could manage to teach people how to sprout seeds in their palms—in spite of the fact I’d never done it myself, nor even seen anyone else attempt to do it. Someone had mentioned to me that it was possible to do it, so I figured I’d give it a try. If I could manage the trick, I’d think about adding it to the workshop.
I got some vegetable seeds from my local nursery and gave them a little soak in water for about an hour. This particular type of seed was supposed to have a seven- to ten-day sprouting time once planted. After that brief soak, I sat down in my favorite meditation chair, put about three seeds in the palm of my hand, and started doing the same energy process that I use for spoonbending. (I have no idea if this is how people who know how to sprout seeds do this—it’s simply the process that I tried.) I was very careful to hold my hand steady by propping it on a pillow so I wouldn’t accidentally tip it. I cupped my other hand over the one holding the seeds and started running energy between my palms. After a few moments, I felt something very odd—a flash of heat and light combined with a shock, a bit like an electric shock. Startled, I uncovered my palm holding the seeds to see if they had sprouted. They hadn’t.
Instead, they’d disappeared.
So much for my seed-sprouting abilities. I never did add seedsprouting to my workshops. Probably that’s just as well, don’t you think?
A couple of points about this aborted seed-sprouting effort are important. One thing is that when you’re working with these energies, you sometimes get results that are not what you intend. Was I trying to make the seeds disappear? Not at all. It never occurred to me to even try to do that. Nonetheless, that’s what I accomplished. Particularly in a case like this where I didn’t have any idea what I was doing, never even having seen someone else do it, it was likely a little foolhardy on my part to attempt seedsprouting. Maybe someday I’ll get someone to show me how to do it correctly.
Another key point to remember is that the energies you work with when doing psychic work are significant. These are not toys or games. I cannot emphasize that enough. Working with life energy and altered states of consciousness is serious business. These energies are powerful and they can do things to you and to other people that are not so pleasant. Fooling around with psychic skills is highly risky unless you learn how to do it under the guidance of a competent, caring, and highly ethical instructor. It is especially risky when you lack the discipline and maturity to use these skills wisely instead of arrogantly. While not quite as dangerous as handing a four-year-old a loaded pistol to play with, the impact of careless, irresponsible “play” in these arenas can have serious consequences.
On second thought, maybe playing around irresponsibly with psychic skills is more dangerous than handing a four-year old a loaded pistol.10
If psychokinesis is impossible, what are we to make of other reports by researchers in which some amazing effects are noted? For example, Dong Shen reports on a Chinese experiment in which solid matter (a piece of paper) apparently passed through other solid matter (a capped plastic canister)—and did so instantaneously— or at least so quickly that no one observing the scene saw it happen.
Shen described a program in which Chinese volunteers are trained to see a “third eye” screen behind their foreheads by entering a trained state of “second consciousness.” When in this state, they can visualize an object being other than where it is— and the object relocates to a new location. Here’s how it works.
A capped black plastic canister, such as that holding 35mm film, is used to hold a piece of paper. The paper, prepared in secret, has something written on it, unknown to everyone except the preparer. The preparer also folds it in a personally unique way and places it in the plastic canister where the cap seals the paper inside. An independent observer monitors the preparation of the paper and the canister but cannot see what is written on the paper.
In the experiment Shen witnessed, the main participant was a seventeen-year-old with only a middle-school education but who had received approximately six months of training in accessing this second consciousness state. Once the canister was ready, the participant sat in a chair one meter (a little over three feet) away from a table. The canister was placed on the table. The two researchers plus five observing guests sat also between one and three meters (between three and ten feet) away from the table. No words were spoken during the experiment.
For about forty minutes, the participant focused his attention on the plastic canister. Neither he nor anyone else moved from their chairs. No one was close enough to the container to reach it. Other than staring at the container and occasionally looking up at the ceiling, the participant did not move.
After forty minutes, the participant announced that the paper was no longer in the container. It instead had moved about six meters away (nearly twenty feet) to the far wall of the room. The participant also announced that what was written on it was “830,” in blue ink.
An observer checked that location and retrieved the paper. The person who prepared the paper verified his own handwriting, the content of the message, and that the paper was still folded in the idiosyncratic way he had folded it at the beginning of the experiment.
There it was, just as the participant had announced: 8-3-0, in blue ink.
There are many curious features about this experiment. First, the participant had no demonstrable psychic skills until undergoing the Chinese training program. Thus, whatever skills he possessed at the time of the experiment were learned skills. Second, although there were at least seven witnesses, all watching attentively, no one saw the paper move out of the cylinder and across the room. Furthermore, the paper, even folded as it was, was far too small and light to be able to be thrown for that distance (nearly twenty feet).
Shen describes the subject’s efforts:
During the experiment he concentrated on the black cartridge container and got it deep in his consciousness while entering into the SCS [second consciousness state]. Then an image of the container appeared on the third-eye screen located in front of his forehead. He saw the image of the paper in the same way. At the very beginning, the paper image was not stable and not clear. After he focused on the image for a while, it became stable and clear on the screen. The number on the paper could then be easily read, that is 830 written in blue, even though the paper was folded inside the capped container. When the image of the paper was clear on the screen, he started to use his mind to move the paper out of the container. At a certain point he “saw” in his mind that the container was empty and saw in the room that the paper was on the floor near the wall.12
It’s easy to dismiss reports like this. They’re clearly idiosyncratic to this subject. The researchers make no claims that everyone can achieve effects like this. And yet, cultural biases should not lead us to ignore reputable reports, even if they’re not conducted in western European or American institutions. The Shen report discusses the prime candidates for training in psychic skills as being children between the ages of eight and twelve (prepubescent) or young adults between fifteen and twenty-two years who have limited education—in other words, people who don’t know that they’re doing something that isn’t supposed to be possible.
Is it the case that we educate our children out of a whole range of abilities by informing them that they can’t do them? Does the Western mindset force psychic phenomena underground?