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Experiments with Marion

When S.G.S. first read Dr. Rhine's monograph Extra-Sensory Perception in the autumn of 1934 he was sceptical. During the six months which preceeded its publication, S.G.S. had been carrying out an extensive series of experiments with the Vaudeville telepathist, Frederick Marion (Josef Kraus), whose remarkable displays of pseudo-telepathy were exciting great interest in scientific circles. One of marion's spectacular gifts was his ability to recognize a new playing-card that he had previously handled when it had been mixed with several other cards of identical make and design. The following is a record of one of the earlier experiments:

'17th January, 1934. At 3. 30 p.m. I handed Marion a from a perfectly new pack the Queen of Diamonds which he held in his hands for a few seconds. He then handed me back the card and left the room, the door being closed. I chose five other cards at random from the pack, added to them the card touched by Marion and, holding the six cards under the table, shuffled them and then slid them one by one on to the table, backs upward, so that the six cards were laid out sperately on the table. marion was recalled to the room and seated himself on my left so that I could overlook his every movement. The other persons present were also watching carefully. Marion tapped the back of each card in turn with his first and second fingers, sometimes pushing a card aside. He then turned up a card and it was the Queen of Diamonds. The whole experiment took a minute from the instant when Marion was handed the card to the instant when he turned up the correct card.'

We soon discovered by means of certain tests that what Marion recognized was the actual piece of pasteboard which he had previously touched, and not the value on the face of the card.

There were indications that Marion used tactile discrimination in picking out the card he had previously touched, and his constant tapping of the backs of the cards as they lay on the table suggested that he was examining the contact which the different parts of the card made with the wooden surface.

A type of experiment which puzzled S.G.S. for a considerable time is exemplified in the following record:

'7th February, 3.51 p.m. The light-prooof shutter was drawn over the window and the lights switched off. In total darkness I handed Marion a new card, the Ace of Hearts, whose back he had not previously seen. He held it for a few seconds face downwards, and, having received it back, I placed it on top of a small pile of five cards of black suit which I was holding face downwards in one hand. I shuffled the six cards under the table still holding them face downwards. I then held the pack horizontally and at the level edge of the table. Immediately the light had been switched on I slid the cards one by one face downwards on to the table. Marion had not previously seen the backs of any of the six cards which were from the same new pack. he was not allowed to touch any of the cards as they lay on the table but he waved his fingers in the air over each card in turn thus indicating whether we were to slide the card to the right or the left. he was presently left with five cards on the right and one on the left. This one he said was the correct card. It was turned up and found to be the Ace of Hearts.' We carried out 21 tests under these conditions and Marion was successful in picking out the right card, first try, 11 times. The odds against getting 11 or more successes in 21 trials are about 5, 340 to one (p = 1/6). Throughout, Marion never touched a card from the moment he handed back the card in the dark.

The probable explanation, we discovered later, was that while holding the card in the dark he slightly flexed it, so that, when it lay on the table with the other five cards which he had not handled, it presented a slightly convex surface which caused it to stand out from the rest. Thus he was able to identify it.

When in a subsequent series S.G.S. thoroughly flexed all six cards in the dark after Marion had returned the card he held, the experiment failed consistently.

We carried out similar experiments with stiff millboard which could not be flexed by ordinary handling. These cards were about four milimeters thick, and bore on their faces either a black triangle or a red spot. In total darkness S.G.S. would hand Marion a card with a red spot. He would feel it for a few seconds and hand it back. S.G.S. would then add it to a pile of similar cards with black triangles on them. After shuffling the cards, S.G.S. held the pile face downwards at the level of the table. When the light was switched on he slid the cards one by one on to the table, face downwards. Marion was then allowed to stroke and feel the cards, but not to lift them. In seventeen tests of this sort he was successful in picking out the card with the red spot nine times. The odds against this are 1, 510 to 1.

In these tests the recognition must have been by touch. Slight irregularities on the edges probably gave him his cues.

When, however, the millboard cards, cut with smoother edges were placed in envelopes, and the experiment arranged so that all sensory cues were ruled out, Marion failed. Although he appears to have an unusually sensitive touch, Marion did not succeed in emulating the alleged feats of the blind osteopath, Captain Lowry, of whom it was said that he was able to distinguish the pips on a playing card by touch alone.

This work with Marion, carried out at the office of the University of London Council for Psychical Investigation and published under the title Preliminary Studies of a Vaudeville Telepathist, London, 1937, demonstrates how essential it is to prevent guessers from handling the cards or seeing their backs in telepathy and clairvoyance expeiments.


Another series of experiments with Marion had important implications for the study of telepathy. By means of a statistical method, we investigated his power of rapidly locating small objects that had been concealed in a room by an audience of about half a dozen persons who knew the hiding place and whose bodily movements he was able to observe. Briefly the method adopted was as follows:

Six tin boxes provided with lids were placed around the room in six chosen positions, e.g. one on the floor, one on a small table, one on the ledge of a small book-case, etc. These positions were numbered 1-6 in clockwise order. The object to be hidden was a small unscented white handkerchief. This handkerchief was given to Marion to hold for a few seconds, and he then handed it back to S.G.S. Meanwhile the sitters had seated themselves round a large table in the centre of the room. Marion then left the room accompanied by one of the audience, and the door, which had no keyhole, was carefully closed. S.G.S. then took from his pocket a die, and shook it in one of the tin boxes. He did not speak aloud the number which turned up, but showed it to miss Beenham, the recorder, who entered it in her note-book. The fall of the die decided in which of the six boxes the handkerchief was to be hidden. S.G.S. then walked round the room with the handkerchief in his hand, now and then stopping at a tin, taking off the lid, and putting it on again. When he came to the tin in which the handkerchief was to be placed he carried it to the middle of the floor, put in the handkerchief and closed the lid carefully; he then carried the tin back, and put it down gently in its position. He then gave every tin a random push, and put the die in his waistcoat pocket.

All took their seats, and S.G.S. shouted to Marion to come in. It was understood that the audience were to follow Marion with their eyes in all his movements round the room, willing him to go to the right tin, but that they were not to give him any obvious indications such as the nod of the head or other sign. Complete silence was preserved while Marion was in the room.

As regards Marion himself, he was told that he was not to touch any tin unless he meant to lift it and open it. If the tin which he opened contained the handkerchief, the experiment was, of course, finished, but if the tin did not contain the handkerchief, he was to open one of the remaining five tins. After he had opened the second tin, the experiment was finished, whether this tin contained the handkerchief or not. As soon as Marion entered the room, or usually before his entry, Miss Beenham, the note-taker, laid her stop-watch on the number shown in her note-book, or else turned the page. The lids of the tins that had been opened by Marion were not replaced until Marion had left the room again for the next experiment. The tins were always replaced in their original positions. The tins whose lids had been removed as well as the tin in which the handkerchief was to be hidden afresh were carried to the centre of the room, and the lids then replaced. When the handkerchief had been concealed, and the tins replaced in their original positions, each tin was given a random push of a few inches.

When Marion entered the room, his eyes would seem half-closed, his left hand would usually be on his forehead and his right hand extended at the level of his head. He would then begin to walk rapidly round the room usually in a counter-clockwise direction. As he came to each tin, he would pause slightly, and wave his right hand once or twice above the tin, bringing it as a rule to within two inches of the lid, but without touching the tin. He would pass on, doing the same thing at each tin. When he had completed the circuit of the tins, he would stride across to one particular part of the room, say towards the book-case, hesitate a moment, and then cross to the tin on the gramaphone. Then suddenly he would return to the book-case, and, without any hesitation, open the tin on its ledge, and pull out the handkerchief.

The chance of his opening the correct tin at first try is, of course, given by p= 1/6, and in 91 trials of this kind we should expect him to find the handkerchief first try 15 times. He actually scored 38 successes, and the odds against this result being due to chance are nearly 71 millions to one.

The tins were manipulated as usual, and the sitters, including Miss Beenham, all went behind the curtain, and watched through the chink holes. Marion and S.G.S. were then recalled, and S.G.S. acted as umpire, watching Marion and the tins. Mr. Collins followed Marion round the room, stopping when he stopped, and willed him to open the correct tin. We did six experiments under these precise conditions. The first was a complete failure, but the remaining five were all successful at first try. (The odds against five or more successes in six trials are 1, 504 to 1.)

Marions performance must therefore be considered a brilliat success. This makes it more than ever probable that, when Marion is followed, he gains his principal clues from the movements of walking, e.g. hesitation in footsteps, sudden stoppings, turnings, startings, accelerations, and retardations on the part of the follower. When we remember that the constantly swaying box is not altogether under the control of the wearer, it does not appear likely that much reliable information could be gained about slight movements of the trunk.

Soal's sentry box for testing MarionWe next had constructed a kind of sentry box on wheels. This box was six feet seven inches high, and closed on three of its vertical sides and at the top and bottom. The front of the box was left open, so that a man could enter and stand comfortably in it. The open front of the box could be covered by five rectangular panels of plywood, each about 14¼ inches high, so that by the removal of a panel any part of the occupants body could be exposed to Marion's gaze. For instance, if the four lower panels were in position, and the uppermost panel were removed, his head and neck alone would be visible. When all five panels were in position, the man was completely invisible. He himself, however, was able to watch Marion through the tiny crevice that seperated the top panel from the one immediately below it.

This wheeled box was provided with a pair of handles fixed to its base, so that the box could be pushed round the room from behind in such a way that the panelled front of the box was always facing Marion. The small wheels underb the box were so arranged as to allow the box to be rapidly turned to face in any direction, and to allow free movement both backwards and forwards. In order to gain space for these evolutions, we removed the central table from the room.

By wheeling the man round in the box we hoped to eliminate all cues that Marion might obtain from the movements of walking. Needless to say, the person who pushed the box round went outside the room with Marion and S.G.S., while the others retired behind the curtain. Thus the only persons who knew where the object was hidden were the man in the box and those behind the curtain.

In the first series with the sentry box Mr. Collins was wheeled round behind Marion with all the panels removed, so that his whole body was exposed to Marion's gaze. Marion was very successful under these conditions.

A number of tests was then made with all the panels closed, so that no part of Mr. Collins was visible. Under these conditions Marion failed to find the object more often than chance would predict.

In a final series all the panels were in position, except the top one, so that Mr. Collins stockinette-covered head alone was visible. It was during this series that we observed on several occasions how Marion would glance repeatedly at the hooded head while he was hesitating with his hand over a tin, apparently waiting for a tell-tale movement that would inform him whether or not he was at the right tin. Marion succeeded in these tests, the odds against chance being 2, 408 to 1 for 25 trials. It is certain that involuntary movements on the part of Mr. Collins furnished the cues by which Marion located the hidden object.

It is probably persons of the emotional type who, in their anxiety to see Marion succeed, unconsciously give away hints. Apparently he does not succeed with those who are on their guard, and who keep their muscles well under control. But persons of the 'motor' type are to be found in any considerable audience and they serve as living signposts to warn him when he is approaching his objective or receding from it.

These experiments have an important lesson in connection with the testing of telepathy. They show that no experiments can be considered satisfactory if the guesser is able to see any part of the agents body. When the subject has only a small number (five or six) symbols from which to make his choice, the possibility of visual codes elaborated unconsciously when the same agent or guesser work together over any considerable period of time is too patent to be overlooked.

The question arises: is Marion aware of the methods he employs in finding hidden objects, or does he really believe that he succeeds by means of telepathy? The answer probably is that, after years of practice, the reading of indicia has become a subconscious mental process which Marion is entirely unable to analyse. He certainly claims to possess powers of telepathy and clairvoyance, but S.G.S. personally discovered no evidence of such powers. He does not score above chance expectation when an agent behind a screen looks at Zener cards or playing cards. Nor does he succeed with numbers or drawings enclosed in opaque envelopes. When, however, numbers or drawings are inscribed on cards which Marion is able to manipulate in view of his audience, he may succeed by watching the reactions of the audience as he runs through the cards one by one.

Marion employs no confederates, and is in a class apart from the stage 'telepathists' whose entertaining, though empty, performances have been a feature of radio and music-hall programmes for many years. The latter work in pairs, use eloborate visual or auditory codes, clever mis-direction of attention, pre-arrangement, or midget radio sets. Marion, on the other hand, has a flair for interpreting slight movements on the part of his audience, changes of posture and breathing, etc. He possesses also a highly developed tactual sense. Marion has also submitted his powers to the fullest scientific examination, and this the numorous pairs who make use of codes and tricks are never willing to do. Certain performers of the latter type, while very careful not to claim that they use genuine telepathy in their stage performances, nevertheless have done their best by indirect means to inveigle the public into the illusion that they really possess paranormal powers. These people would like to be credited with extraordinary telepathic gifts, but know quite well that their performance could not stand up to any scientific investigation. Instead of admitting that they are entertainers and disclaiming extra-sensory powers, they take refuge in non-committal phrases.

Fortunately, the majority of stage 'telepathists' today adopt a more straightforward attitude, and freely admit that they do not employ extra-sensory means.

Frederick Marion at work... (iv) PCD. This is the DT (down through the pack) method often used by Dr. Rhine. It was employed with only three subjects, one of whom was 'Marion' (Josef Kraus) the well-known vaudeville telepathist. In the case of Marion, the experimenter (S.G.S.), the witness, and the guesser sat at a table, Marion being provided with a scoring sheet. S.G.S. took one of the envelopes out of the box, and, holding it under the table, shuffled the cards, and replaced them in the envelope. He then placed the envelope on the table, with the flap closed and a rubber band round the envelope to keep it closed. Before the cards were shuffled, and while they were under the table, Marion was allowed to touch them once, since he claimed that this was essential if he was to succeed. The envelope containing the cards was placed in front of Marion on the table, flap downwards. He then wrote down in the G-column of his scoring sheet with extreme rapidity a series of 25 card-symbols. When he had finished, S.G.S. ran through the list, asking him to say definitely what any carelessly drawn symbol was intended to represent. This was essential, because Marion sometimes made his rectangles very like his circles. S.G.S. was also particulary careful to see that Marion did not get a glimpse of the last card in the pack, since some records he had produced of experiments he had conducted when alone proved that he had been scoring significantly by unwittingly getting a glimpse of the last card as he laid the envelope on the table, no rubber band having been used. After we were satisfied about the entries in the guess-column, we took the cards out of the envelope, and checked the results with Marion watching. Under these conditions he obtained only 910 hits in 4450 trials, which is just a chance result. He still continued, however, to produce for our inspection highly significant scores whic he claimed to have obtained while experimenting by himself. These amounted to tens of thousands of trials, and the high scores were to be partly accounted for by the fact that Marion managed to glimpse the bottom card.

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