THOUGHTOGRAPHY of TED SERIOS
(Investigator 35, 1994 March)
Hard-drinking, chain-smoking, former Chicago bellhop Ted Serios
(b.1918) claimed he could project mental images onto Polaroid film.
He called these images "thoughtographs".
From 1964 to 1966 Serios' ability was studied by Dr Jule Eisenbud
Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Colorado. Dr Eisenbud
wrote a book in 1967, The World of Ted Serios, in which he examined 80 thoughtographs and claimed they demonstrated a genuine paranormal talent.
Biology teacher John Randal also endorsed Serios in the book Psychokinesis (1982) and claimed that no evidence of trickery was ever found.
An article in Life (October 30, 1967) and even in recent books such as Strange Talents (1989, Edited by P. Brookesmith) were also more positive than warranted.
Ted Serios had a high failure rate. Within a particular session he had
few and often no successes. And there were long periods, up to two
years in one instance, when his talent didn't operate at all.
When concentrating to transmit his mind pictures onto film Serios
usually held a cylinder in front of the camera. This cylinder, usually
of plastic, was covered with cellophane at one end and a piece of
blackened film over the other.
Two psychical researchers, Dr J G Pratt and Dr Ian Stevenson claimed
that in 800 trials they never saw Serios act suspiciously or ever
caught him with microfilm or transparencies.
However, some of Serios' "thoughtographs" turned out to be copies of National Geographic illustrations!
At times Serios apparently produced pictures of buildings or other
items as they appeared in the past. On May 27 1967 Eisenbud supervised
as Serios produced a crouching Neanderthal on film at the Denver Museum
of Natural History. However, the Neanderthal picture originated from a
life-size model in the Chicago Field Museum of Natural History!
The following month Serios' talent left him for good, his final
thoughtograph being of a curtain! As with many "paranormal" talents it
left just as observers were exposing the method and taking more care to
rule out trickery.
In Popular Photography
(October 1967) two journalists described a small device they
constructed which could be hidden in the cylinder Serios used, or
otherwise palmed, and which produced similar results to the alleged
thoughtographs. Professional magician James Randi also showed, in his
book Flim-flam! (1980), how poor-quality pictures like the thoughtographs could be produced.
The device is a 4 centimetre long, 1.2 centimetre diameter, cylinder
with a magnifying glass of focal length 4 centimetres at one end and a
circular piece from a colour transparency such as a slide attached at
the other. The lens end points towards one's palm, and the transparency
end close to the polaroid camera which is focused at infinity. A
poor-quality duplicate of the image on the transparency results on the
This apparatus could have been concealed in the cylinder Serios used.
After the camera shutter was released the little "gizmo" might slide
out of the cylinder and be concealed in the hand or mouth while the
cylinder is inspected by observers.
Serios' frequent failures and long periods of loss of talent were part
of the trick as this increased his control of the situation by letting
him avoid performing whenever careful observers or conditions imposed
made it too risky for him to proceed.
Few scientists are magicians and so are as easily fooled by sleight of
hand, and gimmicks used by magicians, as are other people.
Serios fooled a Freudian psychologist plus many other learned people including parapsychologists.
Magician Harry Houdini regularly explained to his audience that his
"magic" was accomplished by skill. James Randi also regularly makes the
There are other magicians, however, who create illusions and try to convince people they have real paranormal talent.
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