Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Do you believe in psychics?

While watching one of my favourite magicians/illusionists, Derren Brown the other day, I grew fascinated with his knowledge of human psychology. He seems to understand precisely how it is we believe and think and how our brains form thought patterns and create meaning in seemingly meaningless information. I have always had an interest in the human mind, although my grasp on the most complex of psychological issues is quite vague, I do understand quite a lot in regards to suggestion and so called 'mind reading'. Derren Brown has one of the sharpest minds I have ever seen which enables him to elaborate on the tricks people claiming to be psychics and mediums, aura readers, astrologers, numerologists and faith healers use in order to manipulate vulnerable people.

A few of the things these frauds use to snare people include: The Barnum Effect, Cold Reading, Warm Reading, Hot Reading, Selective Thinking, Confirmation Bias and Subjective Validation. There are a mountain of other techniques these people use, however it would take an entire website dedicated to debunking these charlatans and I just don't have the time. I'm going to take a minute to break down what these terms mean, and why we are taken in when 'psychics/mediums' use them. It is a cheap and nasty form of fraud and trickery and it makes my blood boil that they take advantage of people who don't know any better. The definitions for these terms are taken from and I do not claim to have written these definitions at all.

“Cold reading refers to a set of techniques used by professional manipulators to get a subject to behave in a certain way or to think that the cold reader has some sort of special ability that allows him to "mysteriously" know things about the subject. ("These techniques are not taught in St Mary MBA or RN to BSN online courses.") Cold reading goes beyond the usual tools of manipulation: suggestion and flattery. In cold reading, salespersons, hypnotists, advertising pros, faith healers, con men, and some therapists bank on their subject's inclination to find more meaning in a situation than there actually is. The desire to make sense out of experience can lead us to many wonderful discoveries, but it can also lead us to many follies. The manipulator knows that his mark will be inclined to try to make sense out of whatever he is told, no matter how farfetched or improbable. He knows, too, that people are generally self-centered, that we tend to have unrealistic views of ourselves, and that we will generally accept claims about ourselves that reflect not how we are or even how we really think we are but how we wish we were or think we should be. He also knows that for every several claims he makes about you that you reject as being inaccurate, he will make one that meets with your approval; and he knows that you are likely to remember the hits he makes and forget the misses.”

“Warm reading is sometimes used to refer to "utilising known principles of psychology that apply to nearly everyone, this can also be called a Barnum statement.”

“Hot reading is a technique used by psychics, mediums, palm readers, and the like that involves surreptitiously gaining information from clients. For example, a medium who claims to get messages from the dead will chat up the audience members before a performance and gather information from them.”

“Selective thinking is the process whereby one selects out favourable evidence for remembrance and focus, while ignoring unfavorable evidence for a belief. This kind of thinking is the basis for most beliefs in the psychic powers of so-called mind readers and mediums. It is also the basis for many, if not most, occult and pseudoscientific beliefs.”

“Confirmation bias refers to a type of selective thinking whereby one tends to notice and to look for what confirms one's beliefs, and to ignore, not look for, or undervalue the relevance of what contradicts one's beliefs.

“Subjective validation is the process of validating words, initials, statements, or signs as accurate because one is able to find them personally meaningful and significant. Subjective validation explains why many people are seduced by the apparent accuracy of pseudoscientific personality profiles. Subjective validation deludes everyone from the housewife who thinks her happiness depends on her blood type or horoscope, to the FBI agent who thinks criminal profiles are spot on, to the therapist who thinks her Rorschach readings are penetrating portraits of psychological disorders.”

Watch Derren Brown in Action
Derren Brown - Astrology

As you can see “Cold Reading” is the broad term used for different types of subjective validation. People will draw their own conclusions to things that are written or told to them and they purposely make it fit into their own circumstances. Its such a shame that people I know and have met really do believe the things the psychics/mediums say and what makes it worse, is that some psychics actually do believe what they are doing is real. There are those narcissistic psychics and mediums * cough John Edwards cough cough * that know exactly what they are doing, and are quite happy to trick people out of their money.

Humans as a race look to fill the gaps that science has yet to fill, and in doing so we create gods, life after death, mind reading, UFOs, ghosts and anything else that naturally curious humans will believe. Now I'm not claiming to know everything about the universe, but what I do know, is that I don't believe ANYTHING until there is substantial independent scientific experiments that prove the existence of the supernatural. The thing with people like myself is thus – If there is ever scientific proof of any of these things happening, I WILL change my mind, because I am not that arrogant. You always have to hold the assumption that you might be wrong, but you are also allowed to be confidant in science and technology.

I want you all to research the claims that are made to you, not just about the supernatural, but about everything. You need to open your mind to the possibility that we are NOT the centre of the universe and that we are just an insignificant carbon based organism on a tiny speck of dust in the never ending scope of the universe. That to me is more extraordinary than any of the other explanations I have come across. 

My whole aim with this blog post is to get people thinking critically. Without thought provoking arguments, people just amble along in their lives, not really questioning what it is they have been told. This goes for every facet of life. Everything that we know about life and our existence in the whole history of the world we call home, everything that was ever thought to be 'supernatural,' when examined with the current scientific advancements have turned out to be...not magic, as Tim Minchin would say.

So after that little rant, I thought I’d leave you with this little gem.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Why not start with a bang?

Mulling over my morning coffee at 11am on a Monday morning, reading my Facebook updates, a string of stories from a few different pages I follow smack me in the face with a force I hadn't expected. One post on a support page for Gay and Lesbian Equality in Australia, another on the Atheist Foundation of Australia and the other on Channel 10's The Circle page. All of these pages were rejoicing and supporting an ad posted on YouTube by called “Its Time.”

I watched the ad with a view that it would be another temper raising video, designed to make people like me, people who support equal rights for all, not just a select few 'lucky ones' who happen to be born in the majority extremely, blood boiling, horrifyingly angry. I was completely thrown off guard, and I was shocked at how warm, loving and simple their message is, and in fact, did not make me angry at those who oppose love, freedom and equality at all. It made me sad, sad for those men and women who in our country, a country which I love, a country founded on differences of every kind imaginable, a country that denies a staggering number of my fellow Australians the right to be treated as anything but second class citizens all because of their sexual orientation. Head to if you want to watch the clip.

But then I got thinking, while I was saddened by the predicament I found myself in, feeling empathy and sympathy for those countrymen who are being left by the wayside, my anger, frustration and desperation started to grow. WHY? I'm going to put this out there with no qualms about it. I am in full support of marriage equality. In my opinion the whole debate about 'Gay Marriage' is about a federally legal change to the wording of the term marriage in the eyes of the law and nothing else. As it stands the definition of the word 'marriage' in Australia reads like this:

"The voluntary union for life of one man and one woman,
to the exclusion of all others"

What I can't see, is why it is so difficult to change this sentence. Why can't it read:

The voluntary union for life of two people, in love, to the exclusion of all others”

What I can't seem to wrap my head around, is why anyone else cares what other people do with their own lives. It's quite simple really; if you don't want a gay wedding, don't have one. But who are you to stop two people in love from expressing everything that YOU get to express to your loved one? I think its absolutely abhorrent that this is still being allowed to happen, almost completely based on the slant the religious right have given homosexuality. You might not agree with me, but the majority of people who object and actively try to stop marriage equality will be those of faith.

This has nothing to do with religious affiliation, as churches that don't want to marry GLBTI people, shouldn't be forced to (they can still be as discriminatory as they want.) They say that it is attack on the institution of marriage to allow homosexuals to wed. Since when did the religious own love? Since when did the faithful take that tradition as their own. Yes, it is known that marriages happen in churches and its written about in that so called 'good book'. But who said – Oh yes, the catholic/muslim/jewish own the entire institution. If you ask me, marriage is about ones own standing and protection in the country in which they were entwined. Its about getting the support of your country, its about being able to enjoy the benefits available to those that choose to spend their lives together, and there are quite a few. It has nothing to do with the churches.

In regards to federal government recognition, this needs to happen. The whole 'same but different' debate has gone on long enough. Civil unions are great, but until the marriage act reflects its entire constituency, until the GLBTI community are respected and allowed the EXACT equality of their straight counterparts, true equality will never be reached. And in my opinion, this would be a tragedy. I'm of the opinion that I will not get married, at least until my peers of ALL sexual orientation can do the same.

All of this got me thinking, to the point where my head hurt. I have such solid views on so many facets of society, and while I plug away at a job that I don't particularly like, in a world of constantly changing opinions, morals, and values, I do have a voice. Granted, not many people in my everyday life would hear my voice above the tirade of other opinions floating around, but nonetheless I have decided to embark on what I fear may be a short run in the vast eternal blogger-sphere that is the internet. I hope to be able to discuss the way I see the world, how I deal with my own thoughts and feelings on anything from the light-hearted news story about loyal dogs and cats, to the horrifying stories regarding war, religion and death. I get angry about a lot of things, but I feel my anger is justified in almost every aspect and I hope to share my honest opinions and thoughts on these matters in my coming posts.