A Great And Fortuitous “Find”!

James Randi

I have recently been sent—courtesy of Skeptical Inquirer Editor Ken Frazier—a most remarkable book, edited by Dana Richards of George Mason University and copyrighted this year by World Scientific Publishing Co. This is 458 pages of closely packed texts of correspondence exchanged between the late Martin Gardner and the late Marcello Truzzi between May 1970 and April 1999. It is titled Dear Martin / Dear Marcello (see New and Notable section of this magazine, September/October 2017, p. 60).

Most of my readers will know who Martin Gardner was, though fewer will recognize the Truzzi name. Marcello Truzzi (1935–2003) was the son of a very famous juggler, a man who became a major performer with the famous Barnum & Bailey Circus. Marcello Truzzi became an American citizen, majored in sociology at the University of Florida, and got his master’s degree there and a doctorate at Cornell. As a professor of sociology at Eastern Michigan University, he became very interested in what was known as an “occult revival,” which dealt with astrology, witchcraft, Satanism, and parapsychology, along with such accompanying nonsense as prophecy, monsters, and UFOs. In 1973, he started a newsletter titled Explorations that dealt with occult and pseudoscientific subjects, later a small journal titled The Zetetic Scholar (the word zetetic means “skeptical”). When the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP) was founded in 1976, Truzzi was for a time cochair with philosopher Paul Kurtz (and he was also editor of The Zetetic, the name under which this magazine was first published). But CSICOP soon parted ways with Truzzi because he insisted on presenting both sides of “paranormal” subjects, with equal attention given to any sort of ridiculous magical claim right alongside logical, rational, scientific considerations of these claims.

I note that there are occasional spelling errors in this book, which may well be due to Gardner’s very rapid typing style, and his individual input to this book far exceeds that of the others. I was surprised, for example, to see that an astronomer named Clyder Tombaugh had contributed (it should be “Clyde”). The index to the book is eight pages of only where the names first appear (and “Clyder” persists) though as expected, persons such as Shipi Strang and Uri Geller are very generously represented, alongside gems from Gardner directed at Truzzi such as:

Do I recall correctly that you’d like for me to review the Wilhelm book for the Zetetic? If so, let me know the approximate length you want it. It is far and away the most revealing book yet on the incompetence of P and T …1

Gardner, again:

Did you know that “Doc” Tarbell2 wrote a hardcover book on physiognomy, and that the “Dr” was based on a degree in napropathy, a weird offshoot of chiropractic?

On page 3 you list Beloff3 as being “well-informed about the methodology of magic.” Incredible! Beloff knows nothing about magic, and freely admits it. Take him off this list! I know of no parapsychologist more ignorant of magic.

Gardner was often seriously annoyed by Truzzi and made that very evident to him:

Along with your usual bashing of Randi, I would have liked to see some more bashing of Rhine for his failure to allow magicians to observe tests and his refusal to publish reports of tests there were failures and his valiant efforts to avoid admitting cases of outright fraud …

Forgive my use of a reference to myself, but I am fiercely proud of the relationship I had with Gardner, whose objection to Rhine’s habit of naming “successful” subjects who performed before him—but never naming those whom he caught cheating—was such a purposeful omission. Gardner, again:

Geller, on (a popular daytime TV show) two weeks ago, came out in support of Puharich. He said, “Every word in the book is true,” and that the Popular Photography piece this month is the “dying gasp” of his enemies.

Andrija Puharich (1918–1995) was a devotee of anything labeled “paranormal,” to the extent that he produced a book titled, Uri, A Journal of the Mystery of Uri Geller. To quote from the introduction to this book by Doubleday, a publisher more often occupied by producing factual literature:

Out of the friendship between Dr. Puharich and Uri Geller grew one of the most extraordinary adventures of a lifetime. Not long after their first meeting … they were contacted by “Spectra,” a voice they believed to represent an extraterrestrial intelligence called “Hoova.” This is Dr. Puharich’s account of how he and Uri thus became the first individuals in modern history believed to have made extended contact with non-earthly beings; how “Hoova” explained the source of Uri’s psychic powers; and what they learned about the relationship between this intelligence and the inhabitants of earth.4

And yes, we also might wonder whether Hoova might be the source of vacuum cleanahs, but that can wait for another time …

I hope that my readers are beginning to appreciate just how damn silly the Geller claims are, how he made use of such facilities as those at the ordinarily serious Stanford Research Institute, and of people such as Puharich, who died (aged seventy-seven) in abject poverty at the home of a generous benefactor after falling down a flight of stairs. Of course, these agencies and individuals were sufficiently funded—often handsomely—by our tax money, coasting along on our backs, as they say, “all the way to the bank.”

The Archimedes Palimpsest

I cannot simply recommend the book unless the readers are really prepared to work at extracting the wisdom to be found there, and that would require some considerable dedication. However, I’ll close this effort with a sincere and warm endorsement of another tome that reveals the depth of an ancient mind of Greece: that possessed by Archimedes of Syracuse (c. 287–c. 212 BCE). I strongly recommend The Archimedes Codex published by Da Capo Press in 2007 and now available is several languages. This remarkable man, Archimedes, it can be argued, was probably the greatest genius ever to live, his range of interests being so wide and so hugely productive. I’ll refer my readers to Wikipedia, where so much is related about him, and next time you read this column, I’ll expect you to be better informed on this subject!

In 1998, I first saw—and handled with my own hands!—the palimpsest that after hundreds of years finally surrendered its secrets due to dedicated research done at the Walters Museum in Baltimore. In fact, it was purchased, for two million dollars, by a personal—and anonymous—friend of mine, and then began its adventures…. But look it up. Please.

There will be a quiz …

Notes

  1. Puthoff and Targ, the pair of fumblers who essentially created the Uri Geller mythology
  2. “Doc” Tarbell was author of a series of instruction books for young would-be conjurers.
  3. John Beloff (1920–2006), a well-known UK parapsychologist
  4. No, not of burrowing animals! “Earth” is the name of our home planet!

James Randi

James “The Amazing” Randi is a magician, investigator of psychic claims, author (Flim-Flam!, The Faith Healers, The Mask of Nostradamus, The Magic of Uri Geller), and the president of the James Randi Educational Foundation. He was a founding fellow of CSICOP. This article is based on a special presentation on investigating psychics he gave at the Fifth World Skeptics Congress, Abano Terme, Italy, October 8—10, 2004.


I have recently been sent—courtesy of Skeptical Inquirer Editor Ken Frazier—a most remarkable book, edited by Dana Richards of George Mason University and copyrighted this year by World Scientific Publishing Co. This is 458 pages of closely packed texts of correspondence exchanged between the late Martin Gardner and the late Marcello Truzzi between May 1970 …

This article is available to subscribers only.
Subscribe now or log in to read this article.