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Nick’s Big Day

by Mark Edward, May 03 2011

Nick Nelson

On April 30th the IIG tested Nick Nelson. After nearly three years of protocol wrangling, Nick drove to the CFI building in Hollywood to create what he calls an “energy vortex.” He failed to create anything. We were patient. We were compliant. We were professional. But frankly, I for one still have no idea what an energy vortex is. If Nick meant the optical illusion created by building off-kilter houses and forced perspective like the Mystery Spot in Santa Cruz or the Haunted Shack that once was the only reason to journey to Knott’s Berry Farm, then yes I know what he meant.

Hours of set-up, conferences and phone calls finally paid off with even more long hours of watching a grown man move magnets around the floor, stand stock still while swinging a pendulum over his hand and listening to albeit some great anecdotes about how his world has so many times “blinked” when he has experienced what he calls the “vortex phenomena.’

Myself, John Rael and a seriously dedicated Jim Underdown

Unfortunately when the rules of science are applied, in this case careful measurements (really careful: using engineering calipers) of photographs; first before the creation of the fabled vortex using eight foot high wooden poles, then photos snapped and immediately developed, nothing showed up other than what would be expected from discrepancies consistent with human eye variation that were averaged mathematically and compared.

All this will come out soon in videos and those who missed the U-Streaming will be happy to know that our crack crew of editors will be breaking the whole thing down to a tidy ten minutes or so to fit on Youtube. It’s way too much to go into here. Check for up-coming vortex news. The IIG are DOING SOMETHING.

The best part for me as Lead Investigator was watching Nick get flustered and finally state to all present the he “…felt like a fool” when nothing happened. What did he expect?

It’s a freaking optical Illusion!

Me at The Mystery Spot, Santa Cruz CA 04/2011

Granted, when you see it at specially constructed sites like the aforementioned Mystery Spot and hundreds of other tourist traps across the country, it’s an admittedly compelling visual sight to behold. But such follies fall apart when precise measurements and a non-paranormal explanation is explored.

IIG Member Dave Richards Setting the Camera

IIG member Dave Richards deserves a special credit for the protocol he designed and superbly implemented. There was no wiggle room for any woo. It was a simple and direct confirmation that if you move the camera or one of the poles and change the angles of vision, then yes, you might see something “shrink” or “grow” otherwise it’s a “null hypothesis.” More on this at a later date when Dave and I write up the finished conclusion for submission to Skeptical Inquirer.

In his most eloquent Montana Vortex manner, Nick tried his darndest to convince us that he could make physical objects actually shrink and grow by invoking such terms as “vortex energy,” “Fibonacci Number 8,” and other newage buzzwords too numerous to mention including “spin energy.” The only term I was disappointed not to hear was the ubiquitous “quantum mechanics” subterfuge so prevalent in today’s wooverse.  Spin energy is right.

Nick Nelson "Pedulizing"

Nick tried to spin some truly fantastic yarns  in what quickly became recognized by this performer as careful memorized tour guide style shtick. This was a routine, not a paranormal event. I’m sure Nick is a great asset to any tilt-house tour, but such verbal antics literally fell flat when he tried to pepper his pendulum meanderings with conspiracy tinged new age nonsense.  Rest assured that I copped a few choice lines here and there that I will be appropriating verbatim to various aspects of my own act when the time is right. This part of any psychic test is always most gratifying for me. I no longer have to make up credible back stories for mentalism effects or steal lines from other magicians and mentalists. Now I have people like Nick Nelson to supply me with enough baloney to last for decades – and it’s only the finest in cutting edge contemporary baloney too.  I have never seen anyone anywhere get so much stage time with a pendulum ever in my life. It was enough to warm the cockles of any true carnival barker’s soul.

Since my main task in this session was to watch Nick like a hawk to make sure he never got near enough to the centered poles to jostle or otherwise re-position them in a way that would have affected the photographs, I was reminded of a technique Uri Geller has used on occasion when he would intentionally wear down the attention span of investigators to the point where they become so bored or fatigued they looked away for one brief second – at which time he would bend the spoon or do any dirty work he needed to do. I doubted Nick has mastered such shifty techniques, but I watched him non-stop just the same.

As in most psychic investigations, we soon arrived at that unspoken crux of the issue: Is this claimant a charlatan or merely deluded? Or are these extremes too black and white and can we suppose a “mixed mediumship” explanation for such people? Even in the best of these cases it’s hard to say, but right now I’m leaning towards the showman-tinged-charlatan conclusion. Sorry Nick. Too many excuses and anecdotes were offered to imply a seriously deluded individual.

Best of all and a big hint to where Nick was coming  from came when Nick noticed some of the members in the assembled group who were gathered to watch him start to show some body language that suggested they were getting bored. When arms started crossing, heads nodded to chests and sighs and yawns became manifest,  Nick trotted out the most tired of excuses to try to bolster his claim. He told us that there was “negative energy” present in the room that was countering his best vortex summoning efforts and offered yet another colorfully delivered anecdote (that several of us would hear spoken again word for word after the test) to suggest this has happened to him in his past.  Who let the Spiritualist medium into the room? Oh brother. Did he think we just fell off the turnip truck? Fortunately, we haven’t.

In a attempt to appease an already weak performance and give Nick the best shot we could offer by excluding as much “negative energy” without all of us leaving the room, everyone but the main investigators left. Leaving Nick alone in the room would have been a no-brainer when things suddenly went “vortex” after we came back in. No, we didn’t buy into that dodge.

It went something like this, or as they say at The Magic Castle, it went exactly like this:

Nick:  “I feel like a fool.  There is a problem here.”
Jim U: What’s the problem?
Nick: All you you.
Jim: All of us?  We could clear the room.  We need a couple of people here to observe.

Nick: “Like I said, I feel like a fool.  How many people are here?”
Jim U: “Tell us what you need.  You’re in charge of making yourself comfortable.  So, do you need half the people to leave?  Do you need 3/4 of them to leave the room?

Nick: “I’m not sure that would work, you’ve all been exposed to me”
Jim U:  “Well, we could have them move out for a minute”
Nick:  “Could you do that?”

The Seriously Empty Votex

We did it. Adjourning the room of all but the bare bones left myself, Dave Richards and Jim Underdown to sweat through another thirty minutes of magnet shuffling, pendulum dowsing and squinty-eyed pole sighting until Nick finally gave up. We thanked him and he seemed happy that we had not in any way denigrated him or made him feel bad about losing the test. We remained professional throughout and reminded Nick that he could re-apply again for the $50,000 in one year.

After all, truth be told some of us really want to be proved wrong. Having someone win our $50,000 preliminary test could make us the most important overnight scientific breakthrough in human history. It might even garner a network t.v. series.

Nope. Not this time.

Photos by the fabulous Susan “Bunky” Gerbic

20 Responses to “Nick’s Big Day”

  1. Sgerbic says:

    Nicely done Mark! I don’t think I could add anything except that when it was all over and John Rael was videoing him John asked him “what would it take to make you know you don’t have this power?” And I didn’t get to hear the answer. John?

    Also I told him that we had been to the Mystery Spot in Santa Cruz, CA and the people running the tours there said that it was all an optical illusion with the crooked rooflines and such. Nick told me that he has been to the Mystery Spot a couple times and has to explain the vortex to them as it does exist and has nothing to do with optical illusions. He said that when you have two people standing on a cement block facing each other and one shrinks (or grows) that has nothing to do with roof lines. It is the vortex!

    I think he is deluded, this man has been doing this for a very long time and owns (I think) a Montana tourist mystery spot so he is vested in this. He has done his spiel so many times that it just rolls off his tongue without him thinking about it. He is a “barker” I think but a believer.

    • John Rael says:

      I asked him what it would take to ‘falsify’ his claim. He said (basically) that if we went up to Montana to one of his “confirmed” Vortex locations and he still couldn’t produce results that his theory would be proven wrong.
      At that point, he may just come up with more excuses, but we have it on film anyways.

  2. Excellent account of the IIG test, Mark! I am so happy to see that Nick Nelson finally got his “day in skeptical court”, so to speak. Of course, the results of the test do not surprise me in any way, especially since I did an impromptu analysis of the Montana Vortex all the way back in August of 2006 and found the claims to be quite a slice of baloney – It’s nice to have my preliminary analysis confirmed – thanks for all your hard work.

  3. tmac57 says:

    Hey Mark,you of all people should realize that if it’s a “paranormal” T.V. series that you want,then a scientific breakthrough is the last thing that anyone would care about.

    • Mark Edward says:

      Sadly true. Chances are if anyone ever got close to winning our $50K, I would assume television of any sort would immediately become superfluous and of little value.

      We would have a new Emperor or Empress who could banish us to eternity in some forsaken cornfield for thinking skeptical ever again.

  4. BillG says:

    “charlatan or merely deluded?” Mark, I think your view as “mixed mediumship” is possibly closer to their mind-set. It’s starts as a con game then morphs into belief in which they become a victim of “Stockholm snydrome” of their professed and now closely attached ideas.

    Though still using tricks but perhaps adopting a quasi belief mechanism for self protection – justifing their ply, relinquished from guilt or responsibilities.

  5. Michael Kingsford Gray says:

    When are you all going to abandon this pointless quest?
    That is a serious question.
    At what point do you say “Enough is enough”, and get on with life?

    • Mark Edward says:

      A serious answer:
      As long as there are people like you Michael, I will carry on. Now please go find a vortex and sit in it.

      • Max says:

        In other words, you will continue your quest as long as there are people who think it’s pointless.

    • tmac57 says:

      To paraphrase Edmund Burke:

      All that is necessary for the triumph of woo is for good skeptics to do nothing.

  6. Robo Sapien says:

    You might be surprised to learn that just about everyone has an energy vortex right in their own home. Usually found in the restroom, they are commonly made from ceramic and consist of a bowl and water tank.

  7. In all honesty, I’d love to see someone win the $50k. I won’t be holding my breath though.

    • TurboFool says:

      One reason we like to do this is exactly that: if it’s out there, wouldn’t we want to be on the frontlines of finding it? I’m a geek. I grew up with sci-fi, fantasy, magic, superheroes, etc. Those concepts are wonderful and exciting and full of energy and hope and joy. The idea that that could exist in the world is intoxicating, and it’s not hard to understand why some people make the leap from wanting it to be real to believing it. In the off-chance our educated, history-based “assumptions” about reality are NOT true, and these things really do exist, people like me in the IIG want to find it. But that’s impossible to do when the playing field is crowded with the deluded and the charlatans. This challenge gives us the opportunity to weed out the charlatans (who will rarely bother with the challenge), and disprove the deluded, and maybe, just maybe, find the real.

      Yes, like most fellow skeptics I’m quite sure the real I’m claiming to hope for doesn’t exist, and the PRIMARY goal of the challenge is “put up or shut up,” but I like my former approach better. It’s positive, it’s welcoming, and it’s fun. I get to go into the challenge with anticipation of the possibility that I’m about to have my world changed. It’s an exciting idea that I hope not to let go of.

      But in the meantime, I get to enjoy all this senseless beauty in the reality we do have. My, that rose smells amazing.

      • Sgerbic says:

        That always gets me how the world is divided into those who think that all this paranormal is possible and still think that science as we now know it can exist? The other side is those of us who know both can’t be true at the same time.

        I mean if these paranormal events can happen then alert the media! The Nobel Prize for Physics awaits the Nick Nelson’s of the world. Everything we know is wrong. I’d sure like to be in the Time Magazine article in some small way for finding the “Person of the Year”. (hope they spell my name right)

        I’m torn between they don’t “really believe” and “they believe but don’t want to think about it”. If you could heal people without touching them or be able to tell what illnesses you have by looking at your picture, then why do we still have doctors and medical insurance?

        Why are there still police when we can have psychics uncover the crime? Or predict it before it happens?

        I suppose the believers would just wave their hand at me and say “that’s not how it works” or “Big Pharma won’t let us” or some such excuse like that.

      • tmac57 says:

        Susan,you know full well why they can’t work their miracles in a way that would solve all those problems.It’s because of all the dammed skeptics creating all of that negative energy!
        Those who believe in reality,are condemned to live it.

      • MadScientist says:

        As nice as it would be, I doubt we’ll ever see something ‘paranormal’. Investigations of nature over the past 160 years have really put a wet blanket over what is conceptually possible. I do expect more rarely observed natural phenomena (such as the ‘ball lightning’) to become better documented, but as far as humans modifying their environment with thought alone – that’s old moldy baloney.

  8. Mark Edward says:

    I couldn’t have said it better myself.
    My only addition would be: Wouldn’t it be even more monumental if a television series stumbled into the rosebed?

    Hello Networks, cable entrepreneurs and multi-millionaire visionaries, are you out there?

  9. sgerbic says:

    This is a fun video Mark and I worked on this weekend. Enjoy! (yes I know the word digital is misspelled, thank you)