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Andrija Puharich, Richard Wiseman & the Indian Rope Trick

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  • Andrija Puharich, Richard Wiseman & the Indian Rope Trick

    I'm currently reading "The Dice Game of Shiva: How Consciousness Creates the Universe" by Richard Smoley - a book (and author) that I highly recommend. Unfortunately, I don't have the book at hand right now so I'm going to have to paraphrase what Smoley has to say about the topic of interest - the "Indian Rope Trick."

    Smoley shares in his book that Andrija Puharich (a parapsychologist) and a number of other researchers arranged to find an Indian fakir to perform this trick - a spectacle that involves throwing a rope into the air, a boy climbing the rope, and the boy falling down from an invisible space above the rope in pieces. The fakir then gathers the pieces, ascends the rope, and then descends from the invisible space above the rope with the boy - fully intact, smiling and in good health. As Smoley relates the story, several hundred people witnessed this event as described above. However, when the event was watched on tape, what was seen was that the boy and the fakir stood still by a bunch of rope lying on the ground the whole time. Smoley's reference for this story is Puharich's book "Beyond Telepathy."

    I found this account incredible, and decided to look into it some more. I googled around and found that Richard Wiseman has discussed it in a paper. Here is what Wiseman has to say:

    The rapid rise of the rope trick's fame seems to have been primarily the result of a newspaper story that appeared in The Chicago Daily Tribune (Ellmore, 1890). The story described how an American visitor to India had witnessed an Indian juggler performing, among other things, a trick in which a rope rose into the air, a boy vanished at the top, his limbs fell to the ground, and was restored to life. While it is possible that this part of the story had been influenced by one of the myths or accounts mentioned above, the story claimed that the tricks were the product of mass hypnosis. Four months later, the editor of the newspaper admitted that the story had been a hoax (The Chicago Daily Tribune, 6th December, 1890; ‘Photographing Indian conjurers’, 1891). The retraction, however, did not prevent the international press picking up on the story and, while making no reference to the rope trick itself, Maskelyne remarked how the newspaper story was "now going the round of the Continental Press, and has been translated into well-nigh every European language" within a few months of its being published (Weatherley & Maskelyne, 1891). The fact that Maskelyne was familiar with the story but did not mention the rope trick itself further demonstrates that there was no recognised Indian rope trick at this time. A few years later, however, the trick was internationally famous, and the Chicago newspaper appears to have been responsible for a description of the rope trick becoming known to a large audience outside India for the first time. The hoax story that started the legend of the Indian rope trick was subsequently published in various forms and has been offered not only as an explanation for the rope trick, but as evidence for the possibility of mass hypnosis and even for the existence of group telepathy (see, e.g., Von Urban, 1962; Puharich, 1974). Its original purpose, however, was merely to increase circulation of the newspaper.
    Here is a link to Wiseman's full article:

    Now, as Smoley lays it out in his book (which I think is a direct quote from Puharich's book) Puharich and several researchers went out, paid a fakir to perform this trick, and captured it on film. Several hundred people claimed to see the event as described above with the camera not catching anything but the fakir, the boy, and the rope doing nothing at all the whole time.

    So, all I can gather from this is that Wiseman is claiming that Puharich simply stole the 1890 story from the Chicago Daily Tribune and then claimed it was actually an experiment that he and some fellow researchers undertook.

    Does anyone know anything about this? Was Puharich known to fabricate such stories?

  • #2
    ...later in Wiseman's paper:

    A variation of the original hoax story appeared in a book by Puharich (1974), who argued that the Indian rope trick demonstrates how telepathic hallucinations may be transmitted, and supports this with an experiment carried out by a scientist in which a fakir was filmed performing the trick and the audience reported having seen the full trick, but when the film was played back it showed the fakir sitting motionless throughout the 'performance’. The original source for this, however, may not be reliable.[Footnote 8]
    Here's Footnote 8:
    8) The story is taken from Von Urban (1962) which does not give the source of the alleged experiment, and the authors could find no publications by the scientist named as experimenter.

    Puharich is one of the few names I've come across of parapsychologists who sat down with alleged psi-superstars like Uri Gellar and sought out the incredible in the field rather than looking at micro-PK and doing everything in a lab. You stumble upon his books occasionally in musty, mildewy, used bookstores...

    If anyone has any information regarding this event, I'd love to hear more about it.
    Last edited by Philemon; February 22nd, 2013, 12:08 PM.


    • #3
      I don't have much to add, just this bit:

      I looked up the Wiseman paper. Puharich 1974 is "Beyond Telepathy"

      In google books, I search Beyond Telepathy for "fakir" and got several references. One suggests the rope trick is a magic trick. There is no full preview for this book only bits that the search returns. It looks like this was a foot note:

      Page 37
      3. the Indian Rope Trick has also been described as an elaborate illusion. Here the Fakir is alleged to suspend a taut cable between two high points in a way as to be invisible to the audience. The rope with a ball on the end is thrown over the cable. John Keel, Jadoo, Gilbert Press New York, 1957.


      • #4
        I believe I saw footage of this trick happening on some Discovery Channel type show once. It looked really fake to me. I don't know if it was supposed to be the same account as this, though.