Letters to the Editor

'Psychic Projections' Were a Hoax

April 03, 2011

To the Editor:

It is pathetic that The Chronicle Review elected to publish the nonscientific editorial by Mikita Brottman, "Ted Serios and Psychic Projections" (February 25). Anyone who knows anything about this issue knows that Mr. Serios was long ago exposed and thoroughly debunked as a fraud. This was done with absolute certainty by professional photographers Charlie Reynolds and David Eisendrath in the October 1967 issue of Popular Photography. Serios was observed, when he thought no one was looking, sticking pictures into his "gizmo," a tube he held between his head and the camera lens. That some claim he produced images without the tube, and at some distance from the camera, is easily attributed to double exposure or use of previously made exposures, followed by the fake snapping of a picture.

Later investigators validated the facts as first presented by Reynolds and Eisendrath. Most recently, in the March 24, 2007, issue of New Scientist, an interview with mathematician and magician Persi Diaconis reviews all the information on Serios and reconfirms, for anyone who is interested (as Brottman apparently is not), that the whole technique of Serios was predicated on a series of clever tricks.

That Brottman puts blinders on when confronted with the above data against Serios is evident in the sophism she holds up like a shield in her article: "While many people, including Eisenbud himself, have produced similar images using gimmick lenses and transparencies, no one has been able to do so in an undetectable fashion."

Neither did Ted Serios, a point that Brottman is ignoring.

Whether his supporter, Jule Eisenbud, was in on a hoax or was himself taken in is another question. Suffice it to say, after publication of Reynolds and Eisendrath's article, Serios's success rate in producing "thoughtographs" dropped off—dramatically.

Brottman can perhaps be forgiven because she is an artist, not a scientist. But that The Review would buy this piece of nonsense warrants an advisement to stay clear of scientific matters. That the University of Maryland-Baltimore County is presenting this in an exhibit brings up many questions. Among them: Are the photographs being presented only as art? If so, does the exhibit acknowledge the scientific conclusion that it was all a fraud?

Len Peyronnin
Buena Vista University
Adjunct Professor of History
Storm Lake, Iowa

The following comments are from chronicle.com:

It matters little whether or not you believe Serios (since no one is basing a scientific hypothesis upon the thoughtographs).

What is so interesting about these photos is that they give us a way to think about how the unconscious works. Like Freud's Mystic Writing Pad, they show us a way of imagining how the mind, affect, and the image can work.


I have to disagree. The verity of the claims goes to the very heart of this article; if the images did not come from Serios's unconscious mind, then they tell us nothing about the unconscious. They may appear dreamlike, but that simply means that they conform with our conscious notions about dream (i.e. unconscious) imagery.


The curator of the exhibit plainly states that the exhibition is not intended to prove or disprove the Serios phenomenon, merely to present items held in the university's archive and to stimulate a discussion—about the truth/untruth of the Serios phenomenon, about creativity and the unconscious mind, and about everything that is unknown or unexplainable in the world around us—and how we try to comprehend these things.

The archive housed at UMBC is a collection of not only Serios's "thoughto­graphs," but many other documents, in­cluding films, correspondence, etc. More artifacts and documents pertaining to Serios are displayed in this exhibition than have ever been displayed publicly before. Aside from highlighting the vis­ual appeal of the mysterious looking "thoughtographs," the exhibition provides the public with more context and information via primary sources.

The conclusion that visitors reach about the authenticity of Serios's claims—that is, if they choose to judge—is left entirely up to them.


Why do I need an open mind for things like ESP, remote viewing, and any other purported psychic phenomena? Right now I'm sitting on my deck remotely viewing these comments and remotely transmitting my thoughts using science and technology. Indeed, it's physics and engineering that allow this. These things are wondrous on their own without having to seek something outside nature.

As for this idea of creating an image of the unconscious mind, why? If the human mind is nothing but a biochemical reaction built for survival, isn't this in and of itself wondrous? And is there really a distinction between conscious and unconscious? It doesn't demean any of my thoughts, dreams, memories, or emotions, or make them any less important. Why does it matter that my ability to craft a sentence, my remembrance of my late mentor, the joy I find in watching a toddler chase bubbles, a nightmare about falling, the anger I feel when someone cuts me off in traffic, or my sorrow for a student of mine who miscarried are only biochemical reactions? They're all meaningful to me.