Psychic is a general term that refers to those individuals who claim to have extrasensory abilities or seem to be able to perform miracles unexplainable by science. There are many kinds of psychics, but here I’d like to speak about only two of them. The first are the so called channelers, who relay messages from ascended masters, angels or other supernatural entities.
The members of the second group are mediums, who specifically channel messages from deceased loved ones, they claim to be able to contact the dead. I already mentioned mediums in my other video titled “Can we communicate with the dead”. I concluded that what they’re doing is not authentic, and that they’re using various magic tricks and psychological misdirection instead.
The whole thing started with physical mediumship, involving physical manifestations of ghosts, ectoplasma, visible sights and audible sounds. You can find a long list on the internet of the various fraudsters and their clever tricks. They utilized paper cutouts, masks, wires, hidden containers and various other tricks to fool their audiences. These physical mediums were all provably fake, deliberately misleading people for fortune and fame.
I can see how a hundred years ago many were convinced by them, but nowadays nobody would try such a thing, because the risk of getting caught is just too high. Instead, modern mediums have turned to more subtle psychological tricks, which are often impossible either to prove or refute.
One of these is the so-called hot reading, which simply means collecting information about the subject before giving the reading. In this modern technological era, it’s easier than ever before to look up a person online and find out even very personal things. However, this is not always possible or practical, and that’s when cold reading comes in.
Like I mentioned in the other episode, this is a set of techniques used to convince others that we know more of them than we actually do. It involves deductive reasoning, quick thinking, a sense of psychology, a reasonable grasp of statistics and demographics, and a healthy dose of modest charm. With a little practice, skeptics say, anyone can be a psychic.
First, it’s evident that only those people ask for the help of mediums who believe in the possibility of otherwordly communication in the first place, at least to some degree. This already creates the first factor of self-deception, namely confirmation bias, which is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s preexisting beliefs or hypotheses.
Next, at the start of the reading, the medium explains that he or she won’t be 100% correct, thus leaving ample space for possible mistakes. Every medium wears the facade of humbleness, so when the reading is incorrect, they can write it off as having a bad day, or blaming the spirits for not wanting to communicate. When they tell the subjects an outright mistake, they even advise them to think about it again, trying to convince them that they were in fact right.
Mediums can be so convincing precisely because they actually just help people convince themselves. They throw out random names and facts, and let their subjects interpret them, insert them into their own lifes, apply them to their specific circumstances. This is even easier in a group setting, because in a big crowd, at least one person is almost guaranteed to respond to a general statement.
Speaking about general statements, this is perhaps the most important aspect of cold reading: stating generalizations that can apply to anybody. In spite of their general nature, many people tend to believe that these statements are specific to them, or to their deceased loved ones. It works so well, that in retrospect, they often claim that something was a perfect hit, while they tend to forget about the misses.
These misses are known to be edited out of television programs, to give a more beneficial image to the accuracy of the medium. Even if the medium misses an important point, there’s no problem though. Rephrasing or reframing a previous statement can quickly turn it into a hit. Cold reading also involves probing for information from the subjects themselves, and then restating it later during the reading, making it seem as if it was coming from a third source.
In spite of these obvious fallacies, people still want to believe. Mediums are highly sought after, because they provide reassurance and comfort for the grieving. But if their claims are real, why don’t these mediums help solving murder cases and finding lost children? Various police sources and even the FBI reported that they are not aware of any criminal investigation that has been solved as a direct result of information provided by a psychic.
In fact, James Randi, a world famous skeptic, has offered $1 million to any person who can convincingly demonstrate his or her psychyc abilities in a laboratory setting, under scientific scrutiny. I think it’s not a coincidence that this prize has never been claimed by any psychic, although it’s widely known and has been up for many many years.
I have a similar question to channelers of higher beings: If these supernatural entities are really so intelligent, some of them even coming from the future, then how is it, that they haven’t contributed anything of novelty to science? No new inventions, no minor discoveries, no accurate prophecies have ever come out of the messages from these channelings.
Although they may seem related first, channeling works very differently from mediumship, in that no psychological tricks are used. The only similarity is that they both claim to contact spirits, and both use generalizations – so called barnum statements. Entire books have been written using the method of channeling, either by dictating or automatic writing, starting from the 1970s.
Skeptics agree, and I also belong to them, that channelers use their preexisting knowledge handpicked from here and there, and mix it up with their own subconscious desires and fears. Before a session, they almost always close their eyes, and get into a trance-like altered state of consciousness.
We know from the life of one of the most well-known psychic, Edgar Cayce, that his trance states started after he was hypnotized by a professional at a young age. Hypnosis is known to induce a dissociative state of consiousness, in which subjects lose their self-control, and sometimes are unable to recall the events afterwards. This is the same experience that many channelers report.
Then, there is the subject of schizophrenia and other dissociative mental illnesses. Putting that aside, it’s not hard to see why anyone would be predisposed to convince himself that he’s not just an ordinary person, but a vessel of an extraordinary spirit. In such a case, the ego wins a great deal from this subtle self-deception.
There are many channelers who truly believe in what they do, they simply deceive even themselves, and turn out to be even more convincing. But there are also many who are outright fake, and enjoy the limelight they receive as they state these incredible claims about themselves. Either way, you shouldn’t fall for their illusions, no matter how much you want to believe!
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