notes


The Magnetic Men

A little while ago, a friend was trying to set me on to a show called 'An Idiot Abroad', in which Ricky Gervais' whipping boy Karl Pilkington is dragged around the world to look foolish against different backdrops. Actually, he might just've brought it up because we were discussing how Pilkington is mindlessly abused on The Ricky Gervais show. It doesn't seem like something I'd like, and he probably knows me well enough to know that.

Anyway, partway through a 'Best of' clip somewhere on Youtube, I saw Pilkington tapping a man with a spoon while on a train. This man claimed to be magnetic, and the camera relayed him standing there with a spoon and a plate stuck to his chest. My bullshit-o-meter was firing off, so I stopped the clip there and began investigating.

Magneto's Children

It turns out that whether he knows it or not, the man suffering Pilkington's presence on the train is not alone. A quick search for 'magnetic man' leads you immediately to Miroslaw Magola, who claims that the magnetism is all down to 'psychokinesis', and that he can control it with his mind.

This Magnetic man can stick objects to his body simply using thought-power. He defies gravity, moving heavy items from the floor to his body and then creates a force to keep them there. Miroslaw Magola is a man with an unusual gift; he can lift objects off the floor, transport them through the air and force them to stick to his body - all using the power of his mind. The objects can be anything from metal pans to marble statues, and weight seems to be no problem.

Straight away we see something odd -- Magola doesn't just attach objects to his body, but can actually levitate them towards himself. Even stranger, he can lift objects of arbitrary weight and material, not just small items made from or containing magnetic metal. Magola's site seems rich with information, so we'll return to it shortly, but first let's cast around and see who else might have these powers, and how they compare.

Some daring searching turns up, among other nameless masters:

Though not all of these people have exactly the same powers, they all seem to hold in common the ability to stick metallic objects to their skin. That seems to be Level 1 of magnetism, with levitation, healing and lightbulb-exploding some kind of secondary application. So, how do they do this? Can we learn? Is it genetic? Are they an emerging race of magnetic supermen?

Magnetic Magola and Science

Thankfully, one of our subjects has already looked into the source of their power for us. Magola's site includes a summary of his book on this matter, which deplores the poor state of scientific research into bio-energy, occultism and telepathy. It would seem to be just what I need, but as always the summary appears to be too vague on the details, and I can't find Magola's full volume either on his site or on Amazon.

All is not lost, though. Magola's site also references several scientific studies he's been involved in, no doubt in an effort to redress this oversight on the part of the scientific community. Well, I say 'reference', but he doesn't actually provide links or searchable citations for anything.

One of the experiments the site relates was overseen by one '[Dr]. J Karger' from 'the Max Planck Institute in Munich' in 1997. A search for that name and institute leads me to one Jorg Karger, a distinguished German working in applied chemistry at the University of Leipzig, who has co-authored some papers on magnetic resonance with others from the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems[1]. He certainly seems qualified to investigate Magola's powers, though he doesn't seem to have published anything on his observation of the man if he did. Moreover, he doesn't seem to have actually worked at the Max Planck Institute, and anyway, that institute is in Stuttgart, not Munich (there is some linguistic ambiguity as to whether Magola's site means that the Institute is in Munich or just that the experiments were carried out there, but it seems unlikely that both Karger and Magola would travel to a location for this experiment). Whoops, I guess that's not the guy.

Looking a bit closer, an explanatory leaflet reveals that the 'J' was an error, and the physicist was in fact Dr. Friedbert Karger, of the Max-Planck-Institute for Plasma physics. This Dr. Karger seems to have quite an interest in the paranormal for a physicist, from the afterlife and poltergeists to the powers of Uri Geller, all of which he declared outside conventional explanation. All that experience should probably help him out here. What exactly does Karger say about Miroslaw's powers?

"I have been doing several pre-testings with Magola"

Karger stated[2].

"We could definitely exclude the use of magical tricks or non-allowed devices."

It could also be verified that Magola's powers had nothing in common with classical magnetism, as there were also objects made of plastic, stone or glass sticking to his skin.

"Furthermore, his powers do not work from a distance, as we could ascertain by further investigations. So, they are just working from a short distance."

So how does the physicist explain these abilities? "We know of the geckos that they have got millions of nano-hairs on their soles with which they can achieve a stupendous adhesive power. So to me the question puts itself if magnetic men like Magola are perhaps able to paranormally change their skin into something like this for a short time. This would at least explain their adhesiveness in a conventional way, from a physical point of view."

In order to test this hypothesis, a microphysical test on Magola's skin would be necessary, "which we were unable to perform due to a lack of time."

Hmm. So Karger thinks that Magola's power is not magnetism, but the ability to paranormally alter his skin. This would rather explain why Magola and other magnetic people can stick things which aren't magnetic to their bodies. Karger also doesn't think Magola can levitate objects through the air towards himself, which neatly coincides with the complete lack of evidence of him doing any such thing. In sum, this is not the ringing endorsement for psychokinesis Magola might hope for.

Let's try another of Magola's scientific partners, perhaps the figure seen in the photographs on Magola's science page, Dr Konstantin Korotkov, or his fellow Russian Kirlian photography specialist Dr. Dobruskin? Neither of them seem to be available for comment[3]. Given that Kirlian photography aims at photographing electromagnetic fields, you would suppose a magnetic man would be rather an interesting result for them, but I can find no reference from either of them about him.

The experts Magola references which have provided comment seem, like Karger, not inclined to support Magola's more extreme claims about levitation:

we have observed a phenomena first described in Russia. Various metallic and non-metallic implements, some weighing more than a pound, sticking to his skin. Not many people are producing this, ostensibly paranormal phenomenon that, in the very inadequate parapsychological nomenclature, has to be classified as psychokinetic.

(Alexander Imich + Dr. Barbara Koopman)[3]

Dr Walter von Lucadou of the parapsychological advice center in Freiburg/Breisgau ... does not want to exclude the 'gecko phenomenon' definitely, though. However, it seems more probable to him that the effect is linked to a special build of the muscular tissue of the 'magnetic men' -- insofar as it might contract beneath the skin under strong pressure and thus provides a strong 'suction cup effect'.[4]

Okay, whatever, he's probably not Magneto, but these scientists still think that Magola and his ilk can stick stuff to themselves, right? What we want to know is how it's done. Gecko skin or suction cups or whatever. Not magnetism, but that's a distinction the lay person doesn't care about.

The Smelly Secret

Wait a minute, there's another expert on the strange and unusual prominently referenced on Magola's science page.

Mr. James Randi, who has spent a large part of his life and a lot of money to de-mask paranormal phenomenon, does not dispute the authenticity of Magola's talents (and so far has avoided a scientific inspection of Magola's abilities).

Now, James Randi might not have a degree in physics (in fact, he's a stage magician by trade), but like Dr. Karger he's got a lot of experience with the paranormal. Unlike Dr. Karger, he doesn't seem to have been convinced by Uri Geller. Or astrologers, dowsers, aura-readers, faith healers or a whole lot of other people. If even he doesn't dispute-

That comment about my involvement with Magola is -- to put it kindly -- a damn lie. Just to set things straight, Miroslaw Magola is an unwashed man with sticky skin who does a simple, juvenile stunt that can be totally defeated with a few grams of talcum powder. He’s a fake, a trickster, a liar. When will I see this quoted on his website, I wonder? [5]

Oh.

But Randi agrees that Magola has sticky skin. Wait, what was that about talcum powder? Has Randi encountered these magnetic men before?

Let me explain. All demonstrations I have seen of this claim, involve placing various objects (coins, flatirons, books, bottles, etc.) onto a body surface such as the hand, chest, forehead, arms, or back. The surface used is inclined away from the vertical, and the objects remain in position simply by friction and the adhesion offered by natural perspiration. In all cases, I have dusted the surface with talcum powder, and the objects have then slipped off. There is nothing supernatural, paranormal, or in any way unusual about such a claim. It is well within the established parameters of physics. As for lifting objects "from the floor with the use of his forehead," this can easily be done by anyone, using flat objects like coins or small plates, and the natural skin oils present.

Well, that certainly seems to fit with a few observations of our magnetic people. They all stick things to their bare skin, for example, and are often seen inclining their bodies away from the vertical.

Finally, as this video demonstrates with a Korean magnetic man, Randi's talcum powder trick certainly seems to be effective.

In fact, if I'd just watched a bit more of Pilkington, I'd have seen that he himself can stick objects to his skin. As can almost anyone else who tries, as a Facebook photo gallery of people with stuff stuck to them demonstrates.

It seems that these magnetically-charged gurus are neither magnetic nor in fact any different from the rest of us. Whether they're in Malaysia or Poland, they're simply people who've got quite sweaty and stuck something to their skin.

Magola, of course, considers himself to be different from all the other magnetic men, and has stitched together some videos where it looks like he's sticking things to his hand despite talcum powder or rubber gloves. How does he do it? I'm sure his book will tell me all about it, if only I can find a copy.