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.

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