Spoon Bending

 

In the spring of 1985, I was invited to attend a spoon bending party. An aerospace engineer named Jack Houck had become interested in the phenomenon, and from time to time had parties at which people bent spoons. I was given a street address in southern California, and told to bring a half-dozen forks and spoons I didn't care about, since they would be bent during the evening.

It was a typical suburban California house. About a hundred people were there, mostly families with young kids. The atmosphere was festive and a little chaotic, with all the kids running around. Everybody was giggly. We were going to bend spoons!

We all threw the silverware we had brought into the center of the floor, where it made a great metal pile. Jack Houck then dumped a carton containing more silverware onto the floor, and told us what to do. He said that, in his experience, to bend spoons we needed to create in atmosphere of excitement and emotional arousal. He encouraged us to be noisy and excited.

We were supposed to choose a spoon from the pile and to ask the spoon, "Will you bend for me?" If we didn't think the spoon would respond, we should toss it back in the pile and choose another. But if we had a positive feeling about our chosen spoon, we were instructed to hold the spoon vertically and shout, "Bend! Bend!" Once intimidated by being shouted at, the spoon was to be rubbed gently between our fingers, and pretty soon it would bend.

That's what jack Houck said.

People were looking at him pretty skeptically.

The party began: a hundred people selecting spoons and saying, "Will you bend?" and tossing them back in the pile if the feeling wasn't right Then all around me, I heard people shouting, "Bend! Bend!" at their chosen spoons. A lot of people were laughing. It was hard not to feel self-conscious, holding up a spoon and shouting at it.

I was sitting on the floor next to Judith and Anne-Marie. They had finished shouting at their spoons, and now were rubbing them between their fingers, but nothing was happening. I was also rubbing a spoon, but nothing was happening for me, either. I felt foolish. As we rubbed, a gloom descended over the three of us.

Rubbing her spoon, Anne-Marie said, "I don't think this is going to work. This is silly. I just don't see how it can work."

I looked down at her hands. Her spoon was bending.

"Look, Anne-Marie. . . ."

Anne-Marie laughed. Her spoon was like rubber. She easily twisted the spoon into knots.

Suddenly Judith's spoon began to bend, too. She was able to bend the bowl in half. All around me, spoons were bending. My spoon remained stiff and solid. I rubbed it dutifully, but it wasn't even getting warm.

I felt annoyed. The hell with it, I thought, Ill bend it with sheer force. I tried: the neck of the spoon would bend, of course, but the bowl itself wouldn't bend. I was hurting my fingers trying I relaxed. Perhaps it wasn't going to happen for me. Jack Houck had said a few people couldn't bend spoons. Maybe I was one.

"Congratulations," Judith said to me.

"What?"

I looked down. My spoon had begun to bend. I hadn't even reaised. The metal was completely pliable, like soft plastic. It wasn't particularly hot, either, just slightly warm. I easily bent the bowl of the spoon in half, using only my fingertips. This didn't require any pressure at all, just guiding with my fingertips.

I put the bent spoon aside and tried a fork. After a few moments of rubbing, the fork twisted like a pretzel. It was easy. I bent several more spoons and forks.

Then I got bored. I didn't do any more spoon bending. I went and got coffee and a cookie. I was now far more interested in what kind of cookies they had than anything else.

Of course, spoon bending has been the focus of long-standing controversy. Uri Geller, an Israeli magician who claims psychic powers, often bends spoons, but other magicians claim that spoon bending isn't a psychic phenomenon at all, just a trick.

But I had bent a spoon, and I knew it wasn't a trick. I looked around the room and saw little children eight or nine years old, bending large metal bars. They weren't trying to trick anybody They were just little kids having a good time. Staying up past their bedtimes on a Friday night going along with the adults, doing this silly bending stuff.

So much for controversy between magicians, I thought. Because spoon bending obviously must have some ordinary explanation, since a hundred people from all walks of life were doing it. And it was hard to feel any sort of mystery: you just rub the spoon for a while and pretty soon it gets soft, and it bends. And thats that.

The only thing I noticed is that spoon bending seemed to require a focused inattention. You had to try to get it to bend, and then you had to forget about it. Maybe talk to someone else while you rubbed the spoon. Or look around the room Change your attention. That's when at was likely to bend. If you kept watching the spoon, worrying over it, it was less likely to bend. This inattention took learning, but you could easily do it. It was comparable in difficulty to my learning to count off exactly five seconds your head. You practiced a few times, and then you could do it.

Why do spoons bend? Jack Houck had theories, but I had long since decided to concentrate on the phenomena, and not worry about the theories. So I don't know why spoons bend, but it seemed clear that almost anyone could do it. What was all the fuss about?

The party broke up around 11:00 p.m. Judith, Anne-Marie, and I went home, taking our bent spoons with us. The next day I tried to bend one of my spoons back into its original shape. I couldn't do it, but I didn't try very hard. I showed my bent spoons to some friends, though not many. The whole thing just seemed rather ordinary.

A year later, I mentioned to an M.I.T. professor that I had bent spoons. He frowned in silence for a while. "There's a way to bend spoons," he said, "by a trick."

"I think so," I said. "But I don't know the trick."

The professor was silent for a while longer. "You personally bent spoons?

"Yes."

Then he went through the whole thing. Where did I get the spoons? How did I know the spoons had not been previously "treated"? Did anyone help me to bend the spoons? Did anyone touch me while I was bending, or substitute a bent spoon into my hands... He went on like this for a while. I tried to explain the quality of the room that night, and how impossible it was that everyone could have been tricked.

"So you believe the spoons bent?"

"Yes."

"Did you investigate why the spoons bent?"

"No," I said.

"You mean you experienced this extraordinary phenomenon and you didn't try to explain it?"

"No," I said.

"That's very strange," he said. "I would say that your behavior is a pathological denial of what happened to you. This incredible experience occurs and you do nothing to investigate it at all?"

"I don't see why it's pathological," I said. "I don't go investigating why everything in the world happens. For example, I know that, if I bend a wire rapidly, the wire will get hot and break-but I don't really know why that happens. I don't think it's my job to rush out and find out why. In this case, spoon bending, the room was full of people doing the same thing, and it seemed very ordinary. Kind of boring."

In fact, this sense of boredom seem to me often to accompany "psychic" phenomena. At first the event appears exciting and mysterious, but very quickly it becomes so mundane that it can no longer hold your interest. This seems to me to confirm the idea that so-called psychic or paranormal phenomena are misnamed. There's nothing about them. On the contrary, they're utterly normal. We've just forgotten we can do them. The minute we do do them, we recognize them for what they are, and we think, so what? Spoon bending is like doing the laundry, or riding a bicycle. No big deal. Not really worth much conversation.


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