Psychic People: Fact or Fiction?
To get even a glimpse of our future would be to know ourselves better than we thought possible. Many people desperately want to know what life may have in store for them: love, travel, money, health. Psychic people, allegedly, can give us a preview of the future to come, or at least general statements about a potential future.
Some people live more fully in the past. Perhaps they had a love one die tragically, or too soon, or unreconciled with the family. To glimpse into a past that never was is the dream of these individuals. Some psychic people, too, can offer some sort of comfort, as some claim to be able to speak to the dead and relay messages back to the world of the living.
Some skeptics, however, believe that psychics are either frauds or simply delusional about their own abilities, or lack thereof. Critics allege that these so-called psychics prey on the very worries described above, using normal human insecurities and longings to make a quick buck, in the end providing no “real” value to the consumer. But what’s the truth? Are psychics real, true, and genuine? Or are psychics a scam, a hoax, a fraud?
Belief in Psychic People
Regardless of what the critics say, a large chunk of the general public is usually on the psychics’ side. A 2005 Gallup poll showed that 41% of the United States believed in ESP; 26% believed in clairvoyance; and a full 31% believed in telepathy. The psychic industry is booming, and is truly recession proof, and it doesn’t seem to be disappearing any time soon.
A lot of people believing in something isn’t proof that it’s true, however. Psychic people do have arguments about why their abilities are valid. First, they argue that everyone has psychic abilities to different degrees, but fear exploring them because of social, intellectual, or religious stigma. If only we could explore ourselves and our powers more, they say, then there would be more acceptance of these abilities because more people would have a first-hand experience.
Second, they claim a long history of psychic and parapsychological research and a tradition of psychics and readers going back centuries. From the experiments of the parapsychological pioneer J. B. Rhine to those of modern practitioners today, supporters argue that the true extent of the evidence hasn’t been totally appreciated. Some have argued that so-called “Ganzfeld experiments,” in which subjects are placed in a sensory deprived environment and tested for ESP, has showed some interesting results which seem to indicate an effect. The Parapsychological Association, a professional group of parapsychologists (scientists who study psi phenomena), has claimed good evidence for many different powers.
Third, they argue that mainstream science is stuck in a “paradigm” that prevents any possible acceptance or true exploration of psychic phenomena. The materialist, atheist, physicalist worldview of mainstream science precludes even the serious consideration of these phenomena out of hand. Psychic people argue that a “paradigm shift,” a term coined by the historian of science Thomas Kuhn to describe scientific revolutions, will be necessary in order to turn the tide in their favor.
Arguments against the Psychic Person
Regardless of the above arguments, many scientists, intellectuals, and skeptics reject psychic phenomena out of hand. Some allege that psychics who “speak with the dead,” somehow pulling out information about dead friends and relatives and relaying messages, are simply using various cold and hot reading techniques. Cold reading is using general statements, or statistical likelihoods about a person based on demographics, to make educated guesses about how relatives may have died, or about their worries and fears. Hot reading is knowing specific details beforehand (some psychics have hired out PIs to learn information ahead of time). All of these techniques are coupled, the critics say, with the mark’s intense need to believe. He or she fills in the details, which the psychic never could give, and conveniently forgets the many misses in favor of the occasional hit. If one guesses with demographics or generalities, a “hit” will emerge eventually; if the setting and priming is correct, this hit will overwhelm all other reason.
Scientists have also attempted to explore the truth or falsity of individual abilities, like ESP, clairvoyance, and remote viewing. They have conducted many different experiments, conducted in a laboratory setting with normal people as subjects and with the proper controls in place. So far, few scientists have claimed to find anything significant. Prof. Daryl Bem, at Cornell University, has claimed to make some progress with the Ganzfeld experiment and other tests; most critics, however, allege that there is too much statistical “noise” and too few signals. Psychic research is often attacked as being methodologically flawed, not careful enough to remove other possibilities of explanation. Fraud and bias remain two huge problems for the field of parapsychology and for psychics; while there are certainly those who believe heartfelt in their powers, there are also many scam artists who bring the field down as a whole. Scientists and skeptics ask in response: if some psychic people are frauds, wouldn’t it be the simplest explanation (Occam’s Razor) that all of them are frauds, even if they don’t realize it?
In the end, the jury is still out for many people; a war is still raging between these two sides and will for a long time to come. The best we can do is weigh the best available evidence and judge for ourselves.
Interested in psychics? Maybe psychic yourself? Read this article on psychic employment for more!
Skeptic Michael Shermer on Psychics
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