Should We Believe Psychics?
James Randi is a professional magician who offers 1 million dollars for psychic claims that can withstand his analysis. One of the letters he received came from a woman who believes she has power over fishes. She claims that her senses can penetrate a 50-gallon aquarium tank to force fishes to follow her wherever she goes. She even attached a letter of recommendation signed by a local priest. However, when Randi instructed the woman to attach an opaque brown paper to one end of the tank, the fishes did not follow her anymore because they weren't able to see her. Thus, the woman cannot really force her senses through solid opaque objects.
James Randi exposed that psychics practice cold-reading techniques to appear powerful. Unknown to many of those who watch psychics demonstrate their power over a large audience, psychics actually converse with enthusiastic participants just before the show. They do this so they can wow the audience by appearing knowledgeable, beforehand, of a person's feelings, problems and concerns. Then during the show, psychics appear to be capable of penetrating minds and reading thoughts by carefully following participant reactions from corresponding general suggestions. For example, the psychic may suggest seeing a particular name, like "Maria" (actually a common name), from the crystal ball, and may claim seeing her writing a letter (also a general activity) addressed to you. The psychic then fabricates stories, connecting them to the person's own input. In one psychological study, researchers limited the reaction of participants simply to "yes" and "no". As expected, psychics dramatically made a lot of incorrect assumptions about a person's past and present thoughts.
James Randi (1998) draws an important line between magicians and psychics. The difference, according to him, lies in the goal or objective of magic and psychic practice, where the former aims to entertain and the latter just swindles.
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