Kulagina and the critics: PK powers or Parlor tricks?

What if you had the power to move objects from far away, without the need to touch them?
What if you could control the outcome of a roulette wheel in Las Vegas? Would the government be knocking on your door with recruitment papers? or with guns drawn?

Nina Kulagina was a Russian woman who had an extraordinary power. The power of psychokinesis, or PK. She’s the most famous case of recorded PK. Hundreds of tests were performed on her from scientists from all over the world in controlled environments, most of which had no explanations.

In the early 60s and 70s, Kulagina made headlines as news stories broke about a Russian woman who was able to move objects without touching them. Criticized by most, Kulagina relentlessly subjected herself to hundreds of controlled test under live observations in order to prove her abilities.

Nina Kulagina moving a matchbook inside a air-tight case.

There was skepticism and criticism of this whole ordeal from most of the scientist and skeptics that observed her talents. Although the critics came up with logical explanations as to how one can perform these tricks by using simple objects like magnets and threads, no one ever caught Kulagina cheating by using these methods.

When I first read about Nina Kulagina and her powers, I believe I was 13 or 14. For some reason, this fascinated me so much that I would read up on Kulagina and her powers for years to come.
When I was younger I truly believed that someone could have those powers without a shadow of a doubt. As I got older, the doubt’s shadow became larger. Not to say that there was trickery found in Kulagina’s tests, but just the fact that as skepticism seemed like the better approach to things paranormal.

James Randi, a magician and skeptic famous for his Million dollar challenge (where he would award 1 million dollars to anyone who can display supernatural powers under controlled environtments) always maintained that Kulagina used simple parlor tricks to fool the scientists. Tricks that he and his friends had performed for ages. He claimed that Kulagina used magnets that were concealed somewhere in her anatomy that would allow her to move a compass needle or other objects. The objects that were made of wood or plastic or paper, Randi claimed that she used a small thread that was attached to her body and with a slight trick of hands, she would attached the other end to the object. Pulling it as she leaned back on her chair. He even said that putting an air-tight container over the object had no effect, since the string could easily slide under the container’s sides.

I like Randi and his teachings. He’s a fellow skeptic and is keen on exposing charlatans like Uri Geller. But what makes him so sure that Kulagina cheated? His explanations of magnets I understand and find logical. His explanations of the thread?….not so fast!

I think a thread, as thin as you can think of, would not be able to move an object that is inside a plastic clear case. The weight alone of the case would either snap or cause the case to be pulled as well when Kulagina would move her body back in order to pull the object like he stated. In the video that follows, around the 6:30 mark, you see kulagina moving a ball inside a clear plastic box. The ball not only rolls around the box, but it violently shakes and jumps inside the box. What explanation can that have?

In the Kulagina case, I always tend to lean more towards that notion that this person had extra static electricity emanating from her skin. Enough to move small objects in close contact. Not enough to move larger objects like cars or rocks. Something that would have appeased a majority of skeptics. Most skeptics think it was all tricks since Kulagina only managed to move small, insignificant objects.

Could Kulagina have been a person that new how to control her PK powers? or was she a charlatan seeking attention? Did the Russians help her cheat in order to scare the Americans into thinking that Russia was ahead in some “Psi race” much like the “Space race” ?