One of the most important, and least considered, questions about belief is, “What would it take to convince you that you were wrong?”
It is something we should always keep in the front of our brains, whenever considering a claim. We all have biases; we all have preconceived notions. These only become a problem when either (1) they are unexamined, or (2) we become so attached to them that nothing could persuade us to abandon them.
I’m very much afraid that for some people, belief in the power of psychics is one of those unexamined, immovable ideas. I say this because of the response people have had to a catastrophic faceplant performed last week by Skeptophilia frequent flier “Psychic Sally” Morgan.
“Psychic Sally,” you may remember, is the performance artist who has thousands of people convinced that she can communicate with the dead. She bills herself as “Britain’s favorite medium,” and fills halls with people who have purchased expensive tickets to her shows. This is despite the fact that in a previous show she was caught “communicating” with a fictional character, and was once accused by a journalist of receiving information from a helper through an earpiece.
None of this diminished her popularity. The first incident was only revealed in a newspaper article after the fact, and in the second, the journalist was actually sued by Psychic Sally for libel — and she won. There was no proof, the judge ruled, that the Sally had cheated. The journalist, and the newspaper he worked for, were forced to pay reparations. But this time it is to be hoped that things are different, because Sally did her monumental kerflop right in public. Here’s how blogger Myles Power, who was there that night, describes it:
Sally came to Middlesbrough on Friday night and her show started off very well. Even though she was getting the vast majority of what she was saying wrong the audience did not seem to mind and seemed to be having a good time. The point at which the audience became disillusioned with the performance was quite specific. One aspect of the show is that audience members can submit photographs of dead loved ones, in the hope that Sally will select theirs, and give a psychic reading from it. Sally pulled out of a box on stage one of these pictures. She held the picture up to the camera and it was projected on the large screen behind her. The picture was of a middle-aged woman and by the clothes she was wearing and the quality of the image, I guessed it was taken some time in the 1990s. Sally immediately began to get communications from beyond the grave from a man holding a baby named Annabel……or was it Becky. Noticing that no one in the audience was responding, Sally asked the person who submitted the photo to stand up. A rather small chunky woman at the centre of the hall stood up and Sally once again began to get messages from the afterlife. She was informed that this man and baby were somehow linked to the lady in the picture. However the woman in the audience (who was now also projected behind Sally) disagreed and started to look increasingly confused as, presumably, nothing Sally was saying made any sense to her. Sally then decided to flat out ask her if the woman in the picture had any children who passed and, when informed that that she hadn’t, responded by saying “I will leave that then.”
Sally then became in direct contact with the woman in the photo who began to tell her that there was a lot of confusion around her death and that she felt it was very very quick. She later went on to say that the day Wednesday has a specific link to her death and that she either died on a Wednesday or was taken ill that day. As the woman in the audience was not responding to any thing Sally was saying, she decided to ask how the woman in the photo was related to her. It turns out the woman in the audience got the whole concept of submitting a picture of someone you wanted to talk to from the afterlife completely wrong – and for some unknown reason submitted a younger picture of herself.
So there you have it. “Psychic Sally” has now been caught not only summoning up the spirit of a fictional character, she has gotten into psychic communication with the ghost of a person who is still alive and sitting right there in the audience.
Apparently the hall erupted in laughter when it became evident what had happened, and Psychic Sally never really did recover. A number of people walked out. People wouldn’t answer her leading questions. The audience, for that night at least, was a lost cause.
But here’s the problem: