A rather unusual article entitled "Antiscience Trends in the USSR" in a 1991 edition of Scientific American (Kapitza, p.18) includes a half-page-sized photograph of a smiling young girl holding up the palms of her hands. Seemingly stuck to one hand is an iron, while four ornate teaspoons are stuck to the other. Part of the photograph’s lengthy caption tells us that, "Claims of supernatural phenomena
have surfaced in the USSR capturing attention and credibility at all levels of society." It goes on to say that the "description of the photograph provided by the official news agency Tass
tells us that the ten-year-old girl from Soviet Georgia is demonstrating her phenomenal ability to attract metal objects, ‘from teaspoons to irons’ with her hands" (p.19). The editor of the article, Sergei Kapitza, who we are told is "president of the Physical (sic) Society of the USSR and editor of the Russian edition of Scientific American" (p.18), writes at length that the then Soviet Union was suffering from similar antiscience trends to countries in the West. He claims that the growth of interest in such things as "ESP and UFOs, astrology and clairvoyance, mystic cults and mesmeric healers" is "a sure indicator of social unrest, personal uneasiness, frustration and loss of purpose" (p.20). Later, perhaps to remind the reader that he is a genuine scientist, Kapitza assures us that "the authority of science is based on the power of the scientific method and resides in proof by experiment rather than by pronouncements of the learned or the vote of the people" (p.20).
While not disputing the possibility that an interest in paranormal matters and UFOs may be related to cultural unrest, what bemused and irritated me about Kapitza’s article is the fact that he appears to take it for granted that such topics are, by their very nature, unscientific. Yet he then has the audacity to remind us that science is all about research and not unsubstantiated pronouncements by scientists. Perhaps the most bizarre aspect of Kapitza’s article is that, although it contains a large photograph of a girl apparently doing something paranormal with her hands, there is no mention of whether any scientists have actually investigated her to see if metal really does stick to her hands. Despite not being a physicist, if I had been sent to photograph someone who claimed to have such an unusual ability, just out of interest I would certainly have checked how strongly the metal objects were attached to her hands or whether she had just glued them there. However, Kapitza displays not the slightest interest in the phenomenon, so for eleven years after reading the article I was none the wiser about the girl’s puzzling ‘magnetic’ ability.
I was delighted, therefore, to find an article entitled "Mr Magnet Sucks: The Secret Behind Malaysian Magnetic Man’s Extra-special Powers" in the English Fortean Times magazine (February, 2002, p.12). The article tells us that, "Liew Thow Lin, 70, from Gunung Rapat in Malaysia" has demonstrated his ability to make metal stick to his body in several dramatic ways. "Using a chain hooked to an iron plate placed on his stomach," he has apparently pulled a car for over fifty metres. He is also able "to carry weights of up to thirty kilograms on his chest, including bricks stacked on metal irons". The article also tells us that Liew Thow Lin’s sons and grandchildren have the same ability. The accompanying photograph shows a bare-chested Mr Liew with seven metal forks and an iron attached to his chest and, to demonstrate how strongly he can make metal stick to his body, there are three bricks sitting on the iron.
Quoting from a Malaysian newspaper, the Fortean Times article goes to tell us that, "researchers at the Technological University of Malaysia at Ipoh tested Mr Liew and found that while his powers are not explained by magnetism, they are not an illusion. ‘His skin has a special suction effect that can help metal stick to it,’ said Professor Mohamed Amin Alias, who conducted the research. ‘That is why his two sons and two grandchildren also have the magnetic-like ability. They have his genes’." A similar article with the same photograph of Mr Liew also appeared in The Australian newspaper on 26 October 2001.
While it is pleasing that someone has actually researched this phenomenon, I would still like to know more. If the metal attraction of Mr Liew’s skin is strong enough to pull a car, how does he get the forks and iron off his chest? Can he control or increase the power by concentrating? Does his whole body attract metal? If it does, what happens if he sits on a metal chair? Does someone have to pull it off him when he stands up? Saying that his skin has a special suction does not appear to explain very much. What exactly is it that is doing the sucking, and does it only attract metal? Can it attract all metals or only steel? If the ability really is genetic, does that mean that future researchers will be able to locate the relevant gene(s) and start breeding people or animals who can do things like climb the Eiffel Tower in Paris by just sticking to the metal without any ropes? What about occupational health and safety concerns? Could future generations deliberately breed people with these genes to enhance their employment prospects? For example, will future cat-burglars, window cleaners and workmen on high-rise building projects only be employed if they have such metal-attracting genes, and are therefore less likely to fall? Will those without such genes have to pay more for health insurance? Some of the possible implications are very interesting.
The Fortean Times article about Mr Liew ends with a reference to an earlier story about some Russian "magnetic people" (FT59:11), but the magazine’s archive of articles on their website do not go back that far. However, an Internet search produced possibly the same article, containing more information about this strange phenomenon. The article tells us that:
"Leonid Tenkaev, a factory worker, his wife Galina, their daughter Tanya and Tanya’s son, Kolya, all have some strange ability to attract and make metal objects stick to their bodies. According to Dr Valeri Lepilov, professor of physics at Saratov State University, the four have only to concentrate and think about generating heat inside their bodies in order to set in motion some strange ability that triggers their alleged magnetic properties, which is said to be extremely powerful. Leonid, who was born in 1928, reportedly can attract up to fifty-two pounds [about twenty-three kilograms] of ferrous metal to stick to him at any one time. According to Dr Lepilov, removing it is difficult 3&Mac218;4 ‘like dragging a metal object off a magnet.’ The entire family was flown to Japan to demonstrate their ‘wild’ talents. One of the witnesses, a Dr Atsusi Kono, who was at that time the chief physician at the Djo Si Idai Hospital in Tokyo, was so impressed that he commented: ‘There is absolutely no doubt that the objects stick as if their bodies were magnetic.’ The family first noticed their wild talents in 1987, the year after the accident at Chernobyl, which lies about seven hundred miles [about 1,120 kilometres] to the west of the Tenkaev homestead. It has been suggested that the accident had something to do with their abilities, in some as of yet undiscovered way, but there is absolutely no scientific evidence to support this. Are they the only ones? Well, no. In June of 1990, the Soviet Weekly carried a story about a militia patrolman named Nikolai Suvorov [spelt Suvarov in the Fortean Times] who also had this rather odd ability. And in 1991, Bulgaria’s Sofia Press Agency reported that no fewer than three hundred ‘magnetic’ people turned up for a contest to see who could attract the most metallic objects to their bodies for the longest time."
A photograph of patrolman Nikolai Suvorov with various bits of metal attached to his chest can be found on the Blue Moon News website (see References below). If this Internet article is true, it casts some doubt on the earlier claim that this ‘magnetic’ ability is genetic. While the claim that Leonid and Galina Tenkaev’s daughter and grandson have the ability might suggest that it is genetic, what is the explanation for the, presumably genetically unrelated, husband and wife having the ability? Or are they just two people with the same genetic ability who just happened to get married? The other interesting piece of information this report reveals is that these ‘magnetic’ people seem to be able to control their ‘magnetism’ by concentrating. This of course suggests that the ability is more complicated than merely having sticky skin, as the Malaysian researchers suggested earlier. And what are we to make of the report that Bulgaria managed to produce three hundred such people? If there really were that many there on that occasion, how many ‘magnetically’ gifted people are there worldwide, and can we perhaps expect similar competitions eventually to become an Olympic sport!
In his book True Life Encounters (1998, p.14), Keith Tutt reports on another ‘magnetic’ man called Miroslaw Magola who was born in Poland in the 1960s. Magola apparently not only has the ability to attract metal, ceramic and wooden objects to his body, but originally claimed that he could also levitate. Tutt claims that Magola appeared on an English television program, called Beyond Belief, in 1996 but was unable to levitate, although his other abilities apparently created strong public interest. Magola claims to have learnt to increase the strength of his ‘magnetic’ abilities so that when he was "investigated by Dr Friedbert Karger of the Max Planck Institute in Germany" in January 1997, he was able to demonstrate the ability "to pick up a cup from the floor without touching it, and to control its suspension in mid-air" (Tutt, 1998, p.15). Magola now has his own web-site (see References) with photographs of himself demonstrating his ‘magnetic’ abilities.
If Magola can attract objects that are not made of metal, then ‘magnetic’ is obviously not the correct word to describe his abilities. Could we then perhaps revert to using the term psychokinesis (PK) to describe such talents? We should remember that PK is just a blanket term used by parapsychologists to describe a wide range of phenomena for which they currently have no scientific explanation. Furthermore, it is claimed that many PK events have puzzling electromagnetic characteristics. In his book Mysterious Fires and Lights (1967), Vincent Gaddis describes the 1889 case of Frank McKinstry, from Joplin, Missouri, who was supposedly a good dowser, but whose body was charged with a strange energy. "His charge was so strong in the early morning that he had to keep moving. If he stopped even for a second, he became fixed to the ground and had to wait until a helpful passer-by would pull one of his legs free. There would be a small faint flash and the grip would be broken 3&Mac218;4 until the next time he stood still" (in Brookesmith, 1984, p55).
Another famous example was seventeen-year-old Caroline Clare from Ontario in Canada, who in 1877 took to her bed for about two years with what might be described as a Western version of shamanic initiation illness. She lost about a third of her weight, but the doctors could find nothing wrong with her. After a while she started going into trances and would describe distant locations as if she was spontaneously remote viewing. When she eventually recovered, she was a different person. "She seemed now to be supercharged with electricity. She had only to enter a room and everyone in it would feel the influence, which was strong enough for her to give twenty people a shock if all linked hands with her. If she wanted to take up a knife, the blade would leap towards her hand; needles would hang from her fingers" (Evans, 1989, p.98). Evans describes several other people who possessed strange electromagnetic or bio-attraction abilities. For example, "Jennie Moran, who lived at Sedalia, Missouri, in 1895, was so highly charged at times that one day, when her powers were strongest, she killed the family cat simply by picking it up; an investigator who held her hand for a few seconds was rendered unconscious" (p.98). So how do these strange abilities work? Unfortunately we are never going to find out unless more scientists and science magazines put their prejudices aside and start doing some serious research into these subjects. As this article illustrates, there appears to be no shortage of people with these baffling abilities who could be studied.
Blue Moon News website: <http://www.bluemoonnews.net/images1.htm>
Brookesmith, Peter (Ed.) (1984) Incredible Phenomena. London: Orbis Publishing.
Evans, Hilary. (1989) Frontiers of Reality: Where Science Meets the Paranormal. London: Aquarian.
Gaddis, Vincent. (1967) Mysterious Fires and Lights.
Kapitza, Sergei. (1991, August) Antiscience trends in the USSR. Scientific American, 265 (2), 18-24.
Magola, Miroslaw: <http://users.aol.com/mmagola>
Mr Magnet Sucks. (2002) Fortean Times 155, 12
Tutt, Keith. (1997) True Life Encounters. London: Millennium.
Source: Journal of Alternative Realities - Volume 10, Number 1 2002