Theodore "Ted" Judd Serios (November 27, 1918 – December 30, 2006) was a Chicago bellhop known for his production of "thoughtographs" on Polaroid film. He claimed these were produced using psychic powers. Serios' psychic claims were bolstered by the endorsement of a Denver-based psychiatrist, Jule Eisenbud (1908–1999), who wrote a book called The World of Ted Serios: "Thoughtographic" Studies of an Extraordinary Mind (1967) arguing that Serios' purported psychic abilities were genuine. However, professional photographers and skeptics have debunked Serios and his photographs as fraudulent.
History and method
Serios was an unemployed bellhop when his claims that he had the ability to put images on film with his mind came to the attention of Eisenbud. He was tested by Eisenbud at Denver over a period of three years. Serios' technique was to hold a small cylinder, or tube, up to the lens of an instant camera, which was then pointed at his forehead and the shutter released. He would often be drunk, or at least have been drinking, when he produced his photographs.
Serios' images were most often blank or black. Occasionally, a fuzzy image would be seen that could be interpreted in many different ways (cf. pareidolia), but on rare occasions a relatively clear and identifiable image showed up although often appearing surrounded by dark areas on the film. On some occasions, his photos appeared to be distorted, or altered versions of real places or images, e.g., one such photo seemed to be of Eisenbud's ranch showing the barn as a different structure to the reality. Another photograph depicted part of a building later identified as a hangar belonging to the Air Division of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, however in the photograph there was a misspelling "CAINADAIN" for "CANADIAN" on the imaged sign. Eisenbud attempted to prove that previously unidentified photographs were actually of the surface of Ganymede. In Eisenbud's own words, "Unfortunately, I couldn’t get an astronomer or optical scientist to agree."
According to Eisenbud, "Ted Serios exhibits a behavior pathology with many character disorders. He does not abide by the laws and customs of our society. He ignores social amenities and has been arrested many times. His psychopathic and sociopathic personality manifests itself in many other ways. He does not exhibit self-control and will blubber, wail and bang his head on the floor when things are not going his way." Serios was described as an alcoholic.
In an article in the October 1967 issue of Popular Photography, Charlie Reynolds and David Eisendrath, both amateur magicians and professional photographers, claimed to have exposed Serios as a fraud after spending a week-end with him and Eisenbud. Reynolds and Eisendrath said they spotted Serios slipping something into the tube that Serios claimed he needed to help him concentrate. They surmised this was a picture of something that the camera would take an image of, but which Serios would claim came from his mind rather than his hand. Robert Todd Carroll has written "after the exposure he remained virtually unheard from for the past 30 years."
James Randi, stage magician and noted scientific sceptic, took an interest in investigating Serios. Randi claimed Serios used "a simple handheld optical device" to perform his photographic trickery. Randi wrote he replicated the trick of Serios on a live T.V. show in New York and Eisenbud was "flabbergasted". According to Terence Hines:
Serios would use what he called a “gizmo,” a tube of paper placed against the camera lens. He said this helped him to focus his mental energy and direct it toward the film. He also used something he didn’t tell anyone about—a tiny tube about one inch long and one-half inch in diameter. This tube had a tiny magnifying lens at one end. In the other end one could insert a piece cut from a standard 35mm slide. Lined up properly, this device projected the image on the cut piece of transparency onto the film of the Polaroid camera. The device was small enough to be concealed in the palm of the hand, so it could be used even when the larger paper “gizmo” wasn’t around to conceal it.
In an article in New Scientist titled "The Chance of a Lifetime" (24 March 2007), an interview appears with the noted mathematician and magician Persi Diaconis. During the interview Diaconis mentioned that Martin Gardner had paid him to watch Ted Serios perform, during which Diaconis claimed that he caught Serios sneaking a small marble with a photograph on it into the little tube attached to the front of the camera he used. "It was," Diaconis said, "a trick." Gardner wrote that "the parapsychologists who once took Ted Serios and others like him seriously would have been spared their embarrassments had they known anything about magic."
Thoughtography was the premise of The X-files episode "Unruhe". The X-Files producer Chris Carter signed a deal to base an entire movie on Dr. Eisenbud's book. He was also featured and interviewed in an episode of Arthur C. Clarke's World of Strange Powers in 1985.
- About Ted Serios by Leonardo Sirios.
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- Jule Eisenbud. (1967). The World of Ted Serios: "Thoughtographic" Studies of an Extraordinary Mind. Morrow. ISBN 978-1117065625
- Terence Hines. (2003). Pseudoscience and the Paranormal. Prometheus Books. p. 77. ISBN 978-1573929790
- Len Peyronnin. (2011). Psychic Projections Were a Hoax. The Chronicle of Higher Education. "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."
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- Nile Root. (2002). Thoughtography. p. 8
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- Jule Eisenbud collection on Ted Serios and thoughtographic photography, 1931–2001, bulk 1964–1989 at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
- Psychic Projections Were a Hoax by Len Peyronnin
- Thoughtography by Nile Root
- Thoughtography entry in The Skeptic's Dictionary.