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01 February 2017

Can Bending Spoons Help You Find Minerals?




School cutlery took a beating in the late nineteen sixties as children up and down the country tried to prove they could emulate Uri Geller’s spoon-bending exploits. Largely they failed, unlike Geller; or at least, seemingly unlike Geller, since there is a great deal of debate as to whether or not he was actually bending the spoons by use of psychic powers - as he has always claimed - or indulging in magic trickery, as his detractors suggest. And it’s not just bending spoons; there are all sorts of other things as well, like teleporting a dog, copying drawings through solid walls, reading minds and the rest. Geller claims that his ability to do all these interesting things is due to his paranormal powers (which were given to him by extraterrestrials, he says); well, we can all make our own judgement on that, but just to point out a source of information, it’s worth having  a look at James Randi’s debunking of Geller. Randi is a stage magician and sceptic of paranormal powers, who has replicated many of Geller’s “tricks” using standard stage magician techniques - and demonstrated how he has done it. No extraterrestrial influences for him. 

Despite scepticism, though, things seem have gone pretty well for Geller. He has earned lots of money, one way or another, and still vigorously defends his position, in court if necessary, when his status is threatened. 

Mining Companies

So what has any of the got to do with metals (beyond the material of the spoons, of course)? It’s actually in that “one way or another” above, because when you look a bit more closely, it transpires that a very significant amount of his earnings are generated from his consultancy services to mining companies. You see, as well as all the showman stuff, Geller claims to have the ability to sense the presence of mineral deposits, and hires himself out - at sums of up to a million dollars a pop or so - to miners. 

At first sight, that seems absurd; put your man in an aeroplane, fly him over New Caledonia or Patagonia or Greenland or where ever takes your fancy, and he’ll come back and tell you whether or not it’s worth your while drilling there, as he banks your million with a smile on his face. In fact, this is a resurgence of the age-old practice of dowsing, known for generations as a way of locating water, gems or minerals. Whether or not Geller uses a v-shaped twig or his own custom-made rod, I don’t know, but he is following in the footsteps of an old tradition. It seems the practice first came to light in fifteenth century Germany, as a way of finding metals, and Martin Luther listed dowsing as an act that broke the first commandment, naming it as occultism thus infringing “you shall have no other gods before me”.

Really?

From the German renaissance to the twenty-first century; why would mining companies today be spending money like this? There is no scientific support for dowsing despite numerous studies trying to link it to a variety of physical phenomena, such as electro-magnetism, and yet Geller claims to have had several successes and has clearly profited from it. Could it possibly work?

The honest answer to that is probably that it seems highly unlikely - to a generation brought up to respect scientific fact - but that we can’t know for sure, and I think that probably is at the heart of the reason sensible miners may use Geller. The amounts involved may seem large on a personal basis, but in terms of the exploration budget of a halfway decent miner, they are relatively insignificant. So the step is perhaps not really as strange as it may at first seem. Nobody is sending Geller out without already having a serious expectation of finding deposits. What the dowser may do is shorten the overall exploration period by seemingly being able to point to the most likely areas to test. Looked at in that way, it’s not so outlandish. It’s simply taking a punt that may pay off, and let’s not forget that - realists though they would like to be - miners are by definition optimists; if they weren’t they could never be in a field which requires one to have faith that a hole in the ground is really a store of value. And, one should also bear in mind, the dowser is probably not stupid. He has done his research, he has probably listened to the geologists and, whether or not he believes his own hype, he is almost certainly subconsciously filtering a raft of background information which may produce results. 

Well, maybe

I was surprised to learn that this still happened, but on reflection, I think I now understand the thought processes on both sides. Anyway, I don’t know if you have to make your name with spoon bending and dog teleporting first, but it’s probably worth getting out your witch-hazel and finding a sympathetic miner……… The CIA certainly believe - or some of them did - in all this kind of stuff; read the story of their Psychic Ops group in Jon Ronson’s excellent read, ‘The Men Who Stare at Goats’.  

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