This is honestly one of the most curious videos purportedly showing paranormal abilities I have ever seen. It’s not an extraordinary feat like the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, after all it’s just a piece of paper spinning. Hardly useful. But the many ways by which the author tries to make it clear there’s no trickery involved turns this boring spinning piece of paper into something genuinely intriguing.
Before explaining this video, however, I would like to ask for you to write down, Windows Notepad would do, how would you briefly answer to a friend the following questions: 1-“Does this video proves the paranormal?”, and 2-“How was it created?”. It’s important that you write down your answers, as they may surprise you later.
Keep reading for the whole story.
If there were doubts that the video was real, here’s another one by the same author:
There’s a whole fad around these “Psi wheels”, folded from pieces of paper or tin foil into pyramid shaped things capable of spinning freely. Thousands of people testing their “mind power”, wondering whether they are some kind of X-Men.
What almost all of them end up eventually doing is spinning the psi wheel, but with no psychic powers involved. The psi wheel construction, similar to a big fan and with almost no friction makes it vulnerable to many subtle external influences that are not usually noticed around, such as:
Heat convection, where the heat can come form your own hands; air currents, normal in any usual household; all sorts of vibrations; and even static electricity, the same one that makes a comb attract little pieces of paper. It can also attract a psi wheel.
With that explained, the mystery continues: none of these effects seems to be able to explain the two videos we have seen. In the first one, the author uses a hair dryer to make it very clear that the psi wheel is properly insulated from outside air currents. That’s especially relevant since blowing air around is an age-old trick, made famous in the 1980s by James Hydrick, who claimed he was an X-Men, that is, a psychic. He was properly exposed on national TV by James Randi. The second part of the video is a classic FAIL.
We can also see demonstrated in the first video how a strong magnet is shown not to influence the psi wheel, discarding simple magnetic tricks, and the speed and even controlled change of direction in which the psi wheel turns may also discard the idea that simple vibration is involved.
Static electricity remains a possibility, though it would be very hard to build an inconspicuous electrostatic motor in those conditions. The table is also shown beforehand, and it looks completely normal, as well as the bowl and everything else.
Did you write down how would you answer the two questions? Please do answer. Does this video proves the paranormal? How was it created?
Some time after publicizing his videos, the author, “Mattman”, finally revealed:
“The two videos were both social experiments, and both illusions. I got the idea in my head to make a telekinesis video as a means to show that, despite what people may think, these videos are absolutely worthless as ‘evidence’ for the phenomenon known as telekinesis. The idea was to make the most convincing (amateur) psi wheel video on the internet, have people rally their support around it as a result, and then when the moment was right, to confess that this video was an illusion, and make the point that no matter how convincing these videos may seem, to always see things like this with a *healthy* level of skepticism, even if you are otherwise a believer in such things.”
Here’s the answer to the first question, and that is obviously, that the video doesn’t prove the paranormal. However, and this is the most important point here, it’s not because the author confessed it was an illusion, a hoax of sorts. This is just a detail, a relevant one, but a detail.
Even if he didn’t confess, the videos alone would still be far from being a convincing proof. At this exact moment, for instance, you still don’t actually know how it was made. It could have been created in all sorts of ways, some of which you may have thought about, and all of them without any psychic powers involved.
A video of this nature, even if authentic, would only be the first step towards a series of other experiments to verify, reproduce and then finally demonstrate something as extraordinary as telekinesis. The author could recant his confession tomorrow, claim the videos were real and the MIBs forced him to lie (and also robbed him of his real powers)… and the video would still not be any convincing proof of the paranormal.
There’s no such thing as “video proof” of the paranormal, and for that instance, perpetual motion machines, ghosts, flying saucers, aliens… not when all there is is a video. A video alone is at best just an intriguing series of images that could have been produced in a varied number of ways.
Which takes us to the second answer. How it was created.
“The trick was very simple. Both videos made use of the same gimmick, a trick table. That being said, however, in no way, shape, or form did I use the following:
-Electronics (of any sort)
-My left hand (lol)
-Or anything else people "knew" I was using…
In the second video, [with two transparent bowls], a pin sized hole was drilled in both the surface of the table as well as the plastic bowl the set up was sitting on. From there, a person off camera was blowing into a tube that was connected to this hole (under the table) which cause the wheel to spin.
The first video used this same principle, but in a more sophisticated fashion. The surface of the table is hollow, with two separate air channels going to two different pin holes. Two tubes could "plug in" to each hole on the hollowed legs, which were hidden by thin layer of laminate that could pop on and off. This is why you can’t see the bottoms of the two front legs on the video when the wheel is spinning. And again, I used an "associate" to plug and unplug the tubes as well as to blow into them for a more convincing illusion.
Kinda sucks now that you know how it’s done, huh?”
I created a couple of graphics, below, that may help in better understanding the tricks. Starting from the second video, the simpler one, it only takes a tube, some pin sized holes in both the table top and the first bowl’s bottom. And, Hydrick style, someone blowing (in the concealed tube).
Some may think that as there’s no second tube from the hole in the table to the hole in the bowl to direct the air, this trick wouldn’t work. It does work, as air coming from the table would increase the pressure in the bowl and come out through the hole in the bowl. The slightest breath of air will move the psi wheel, if you remember. The only limitation is that one cannot properly control the direction to which the wheel will spin.
In the first video, the most interesting, the fabulous ideas was to use the parts of the two front legs that are out the camera frame. This small detail, so innocent and unnoticed among all the misdirection of showing the table first, magnets and hair dryer, is the key from where all the rest follows. You may not even noticed or much less remembered that parts the two front legs were not visible while the wheel was spinning. I didn’t.
The hair dryer noise, as good misdirection, may also cover up any sound the “associate” could have made while he was connecting and disconnecting tubes to the legs. With two tubes and two separate holes in the table top directly affecting the psi wheel, here one can easily control the direction and speed with which it spins.
Now that you know the secret, it may look simple, perhaps even obvious. Hindsight is 20/20, and that’s why I asked you to write down your answers. And now it’s time to check them.
Mattman ended up testing not only those who believed in his videos. He reserved some strong words for some skeptics (profanity included):
“I say a ‘healthy’ level of skepticism because, contrary to my initial expectations, the most ignorant people of this whole experiment where the hardened skeptics. Every single one of the hard-headed skeptics who blatantly talked sh** about the video were just as ‘stupid’, ‘ignorant’, and ‘gullible’ as the believers they labeled as such, and perhaps even more so because at least the believers had a video on their side (a relatively convincing one at that), where as the skeptics had nothing but this unfounded arrogance in themselves by thinking, without question, that they "just knew" it was fake AND HOW it was faked.”
A whole discussion, and a philosophical, epistemological one at that, can be made over whether we can claim a video such as the ones we have seen are fake without confirming first how they were faked. Don’t worry, you brave reader that came this far, I won’t discuss that here, but if there’s a lesson for the believers who accepted the video, there’s also one for the skeptics. We can confidently claim that the videos are no demonstration of the paranormal, that however is not the same as being able to confidently claim they were fake!
We can assume they were fake, with reasonable assurance – contrary to what Mattman wrote, we skeptics have a whole corpus of scientific knowledge behind that assumption. It is, nonetheless, an assumption, deduced from the absence of evidence of the paranormal along with it’s apparent contradiction with established and verified knowledge.
We cannot forget that science’s main principle is being able to revise and refine it’s own established knowledge, and as Sagan tirelessly repeated, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. This must put the assumption into due perspective.
We can speculate as to how the videos were made. It will be, nonetheless, only speculation. They may be informed speculation, but unless we find evidence or the author himself reveals and indicates how he did it, it will be speculation.
And what we definitely cannot do, risking being pseudoskeptics, is yelling “Fake!” and more, claiming we definitely know it’s fake as it was done by “After Effects! Nylon string!” and so many other ways by which the video could have been created… but in the end, it wasn’t. Incorrectly presenting our speculation, our guess, our belief that the video was created by some prosaic way without sufficient evidence is in some way as gullible as thinking it was accomplished through paranormal means. Nylon strings have been verified as real, unlike Telekinesis, but what big difference does it make when none of those were actually used?
This sermon is probably already boring you, especially the arrogance of preaching you, dear reader, not to be arrogant. You may ask how would I answer those questions myself.
Well, luckily in this instance I have recorded what I instantly replied when I first saw the video. Instant Messaging be blessed. A chap messaged me, “Have you seen the video? Being in the Internet, it’s probably fake, but it’s a very good one at that”.
How did I reply?
“The video is good indeed. I do believe it’s fake, that is, the author found a way to make the psi wheel spin, apparently (apparently!) without resorting to magnetism or external air currents, and is exploiting that in the video.”
You can judge if that was a good answer and if I’m a good skep or a bad skep. I think the “apparently!” bit saved me, I did emphasize that right away. The psi wheel does spin by external air currents, contrary to appearances. But I only emphasized that after so many embarrassing moments after proclaiming my elaborate explanations only to find that the real answer never came to my mind. As it didn’t here. So, take these advices coming from someone who is also trying to deal with his own limitations and errors. We are all in this together, fellow Sagan-wannabe skeptics.
This post is already too long and is probably more and more rambling, so I will not extend myself and comment on how the psi wheel reminds of Crookes radiometer, a very curious device that defies a clear and thorough scientific explanation to this day, being reason for many scientist’s embarrassment.
Not to mention that Sir William Crookes himself has a whole story of involvement with the spiritualism and the paranormal. A very fine story that one of his scientific inventions would be much more puzzling a century later than his spiritualist investigations. All of this will be for another post.
So, to the due end, how could one appropriately answer those questions, right there at the beginning, before all of these rants? Here’s a suggestion:
Does the video prove the paranormal? No.
How was it made? I don’t know.
Simple, huh? Well, apparently!
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