Humanity has the stars in its future, and that future is too important to be lost under the burden of juvenile folly and ignorant superstition.
— Isaac Asimov (attributed: source unknown)
I don’t go along with the idea that there is any such person as a psychic, i.e., someone who has paranormal powers that enable them to read minds, foretell future events, communicate with the dead, or have any of the other alleged abilities attributed to them. But that’s not to say that I think they are all frauds, either. There certainly are deliberate frauds out there, of course, but there is no agreed upon method to sift those people out. Being charitable, I assume that those who purport to be psychic genuinely believe they have those mysterious powers that defy everything that is known about the physical universe. But I also think they are deluding themselves.
It’s a win-win situation for the psychics. Whether they are blathering away on stage or TV, or giving a one-to-one personal reading, there appears to be no way to single out any individual and “prove” their psychic claims to be false. And that is why anyone – almost anyone at all – can set themselves up in business as a psychic/medium/tarot reader, etc., with impunity. Even better, there is no accredited body to oversee the accredited training psychics go through (there isn’t any); no sanctions to be imposed if a psychic fails to adhere to legally defined rules of psychical ethics (none of that, either); no worries about being struck off the roll of licensed psychic practitioners (there’s no such thing); in other words, psychics can do pretty much anything they want without fear of falling foul of any specified regulations or rules of conduct (if only).
But it gets even better yet for psychics: anyone who claims or suggests that a particular psychic is a fraud can find themselves facing a hefty law suit. In English libel law, the whole thing is stacked in favour of the plaintiff – which means that a psychic who institutes such legal action does not need to prove they are actually psychic; it is up to the defendant to prove their claim of impropriety on the part of the psychic. It’s an impossible task (you can’t prove a universal negative), so the psychic wins again. Thankfully, however, moves to change the libel laws in the UK are moving ahead and we might see a fairer system emerge in the near future – a system that will allow critics of the paranormal a realistic defence in court by allowing them to express honestly held opinions without the fear of draconian retaliation. That might also stop psychics and so-called “paranormal experts” using the threat of legal action to stifle reasonable criticism in the first place.
In the meantime, I plan to make a series of posts that will show how anyone – with some practice – can do a “reading” in the style of a regular psychic, and be lauded as having a “paranormal gift.” If you are not psychic (just like everyone else) but would like to know how to tell your
marks sitters things you could not possibly know, then follow this upcoming “insight” course. I am going to be giving away the secrets of the psychics.
One advantage a psychic has in his or her line of work is the fact that no-one can disprove their paranormal claims. Even on the rare occasions that psychics have put themselves forward to be objectively tested, the fact that they have invariably failed those tests does not mean they are not clairvoyant or whatever. The best that can be said in such circumstances is that that particular psychic did not manifest their claimed abilities at that particular time on that particular date. They can carry on claiming that their powers work the rest of the time, and no-one can disprove it. What sceptics find significant, of course, is the fact that although the paranormal cannot be disproven, no psychic yet – despite every valid test ever carried out – has conclusively demonstrated their claimed abilities. (If any had ever achieved that feat, there would no longer be any sceptics of the paranormal: psychic abilities would be part of routine scientific research, in the same way that the unsolved mysteries of the cosmos are being explored. Keep in mind, however, that the existence of the cosmos is not in dispute; the existence of the paranormal is.) I suspect that the reason why psychics do not put themselves forward for objective testing is simple: they can make the one true prediction that requires no psi abilities whatsoever: they know they will fail such a test.
This post, however, is just going to give a general overview of what psychics do; the tips and tricks will come in later articles.
As it happens, I have gained a reputation for being psychic myself. Over recent years, I have given demonstrations of psychic reading to a number of people, but not to make them think that I actually have any psychic abilities. Rather, I have done it to demonstrate cold reading techniques – which is what most psychics do. My purpose in doing these readings is to show people what to watch out for when they see a psychic in action. If you take careful notice of what a TV or stage psychic does, there is a particular pattern that can be recognised when you know what to look out for. You, too, can do it, but I would hope that you do not follow my tips and try to fleece anyone for monetary profit. When I have given demonstrations of various types of reading, I have always done it with an important ethical component: I impress someone by telling them things “I couldn’t possibly know,” and then I take them through it again and tell them in detail where all of the information came from (it came from them, and in such a way that they didn’t realise it. The sitters themselves give me all the information; but they end up thinking it came from me, not them).
This did sort of backfire on me once. I was talking to a lady I know, and as I was talking to her about how there is no real paranormal stuff going on in these alleged psychic encounters, she challenged me to do a “pretend” psychic reading for her. OK, then, I was put on the spot, and I did feel a bit awkward because, having made it clear to her that I think all psychics are non-psychic, I was expecting her to put up barriers, as it were. I thought she would try to stop me at every turn, but at least she had agreed to just co-operate as though she were seeing a “real” psychic.
At the end of about five minutes of cold reading on my part, she ended up being convinced that I had told her everything of importance about her dead mother; that I had identified her favourite uncle who used to take her to the beach in the summertime when she was a child; how various members of her family had been when they were alive, and details of her past that I could “not possibly have known.”
But here’s the funny thing: I took her through everything that had been said, and described to her exactly what had happened in what was no more than cold reading, explained that she followed up vague suggestions I had made and added further information of her own that I had no idea about, and, during the reading, she picked up on several points and just started talking about them, ending up thinking to herself that I had told her the very things that she, herself, told me.
I tried to go through it again, pointing out the parts where she gave information to me, not the other way round. But she would not accept it. And I was absolutely astounded when she folded her arms, stared me in the face, and announced: “No. You are psychic. You are in denial because you don’t want to believe in it.”
It got even worse, because she then badgered me later to give psychic readings for her friends. She was eager to arrange those sort of house parties where several friends would be invited to have a reading, and I would be the Psychic. Needless to say, that did not happen, and it will not happen in the future. But it goes to show that when belief overtakes logic (as it always does), a psychic has it made. I still find it quite startling that I could actually show someone in detail how my “psychic” techniques were nothing more than linguistic tricks designed to draw out information and then feed it back, and then have the sitter remain adamant to this day that I was really drawing upon paranormal powers. But that is one major reason why psychics get away with it.
Ask yourself a question: “Why do performing psychics have a disclaimer when their acts are publicised?” Those disclaimers always seem to appear on the posters publicising their stage shows, or appear during the start of their TV shows. The disclaimer is always along the lines of, “This show is for entertainment purposes only.” I can’t help wondering why, if they really have the powers they claim, they even bother to put those disclaimers on display. Despite what some of them say, they are not “required by law” to do so. they do it because someone might report them – not to the Inquisition – but to the more mundane Trading Standards Department. Due to fairly recent changes in UK law, psychics are now regulated by the same laws that govern the conduct of any other trader: in other words, the psychics have to abide by the same consumer regulations as double glazing salesmen.
Try this thought experiment: if you were unfortunate enough to require heart surgery, and were rushed into hospital as an emergency patient, what would you think if you spotted a poster on the emergency hospital wall that said, “Cardiac bypass surgery: for entertainment purposes only”?
The idea seems ridiculous. Then again, some people make life-changing decisions based on what a psychic tells them, so I think there is more to it than just being entertained. A psychic’s disclaimer is something they put up to protect themselves from prosecution under trading laws. If they really had the psychic abilities they claim, then that could be recognised in law, and they would have the same protection that doctors have under the same laws; that is to say, if psychic powers were real, they would be objectively testable, and psychics would be able to practise their “profession” with the same legal protection afforded to other professionals.
In the real world, of course, whilst someone who impersonates a doctor, say, could be prosecuted and even jailed, someone who “impersonates” a psychic can do so with no fears whatsoever; and, astoundingly, can even sue someone who claims that that psychic is not really psychic! Similarly, anyone who claims to be an “expert” in things paranormal/supernatural can stifle criticism with the threat of legal action. The difference in those two situations, however, is that a fake doctor can face criminal charges, brought by the state; psychics and paranormal experts have to bring a civil action. Not quite the same thing, but it demonstrates a point: when the state brings a prosecution, it is to protect its citizens; when a psychic or paranormal “expert” brings a prosecution, it is to stop criticism. And that has to stop.
If you care to stick with this little series about psychics and how they get away with it, you will gain a valuable insight. When I do my psychic act, I do it to show that what psychics do, on stage or TV, is indistinguishable from cold reading. And if there is no detectable difference, what reason is there to think that psychics are real?