Secrets of the Psychics – James Randi
Original broadcast: October 19, 1993
Description via PBS.org:
Can psychics predict the future? Many people seem to think so. Others argue that, in most cases, so-called psychic experiences are really misinterpretations of events. In this episode of NOVA, magician and confirmed skeptic James Randi challenges viewers to weigh the evidence for and against the existence of psychic phenomena.
Randi argues that successful psychics depend on the willingness of their audiences to believe that what they see is the result of psychic powers. The program highlights some of the methods and processes he uses to examine psychics’ claims. Using his own expertise in creating deception and illusion, Randi challenges specific psychics’ claims by duplicating their performances and “feats,” or by applying scientific methods. His goal is to eliminate all possible alternative explanations for the psychic phenomena. He also looks for evidence that they are not merely coincidental. His arguments can motivate your class to discuss the differences between psychic performances and legitimate cases of unexplained phenomena.
by Big Thinkvia
Let’s face it – you love a good conspiracy theory. At least, statistically there is a good chance you do. About half of Americans believe in at least one conspiracy theory in any given year. How could that be? What is it about the regular, everyday reality we don’t like?
A recent study published in Applied Cognitive Psychology says that the answer to this predilection towards conspiracy-fueled thinking may lie in how our brains deal with probabilities. What may be responsible is a general cognitive bias associated with low probabilities. People tend to believe more in conspiratorial explanations of events as the probability of them actually occurring gets lower.
A conspiracy theory offers an alternative explanation for events and how things seem to be in the world around you. No, says a conspiracy theory, just because most people think this is the real state of things (especially politically), that’s not how matters really stand.
The reason people may engage in such thinking, says the study from Switzerland that was carried out by Marko Kovic and Tobias Füchslin, is essentially an error in how we process probabilities.
A new study from psychologists Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz helps to untangle the relationship between belief in conspiracy theories and paranoia.
The researchers found that conspiracy theorists are not necessarily paranoid. While paranoid people believe that almost everybody is out to get them, conspiracist believe that a few powerful people are out to get everybody. Their findings were published in the European Journal of Social Psychology.
“I have been studying conspiracy mentality for almost ten years now and although there is fantastic scholarly work out there, something bugged me about the way conspiracy scholars talk about conspiracy ‘believers’. Too often, there is a slight pathologizing tone and a certain arrogance towards the ‘crazy’ conspiracy believers,” explained study author Roland Imhoff, professor of social and legal psychology.
“On the one hand, I can see where this comes from, also because several colleagues have really negative interactions with people who endorsed conspiracy theories,” he told PsyPost. “On the other hand, I have always tried to not take a normative stand but merely describe what correlates, antecedent and consequences of belief in conspiracy theories are without claiming that having such beliefs is either correct or incorrect, normal or paranoid.
The Misconception: You take randomness into account when determining cause and effect.
The Truth: You tend to ignore random chance when the results seem meaningful or when you want a random event to have a meaningful cause.
Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy were both presidents of the United States, elected 100 years apart. Both were shot and killed by assassins who were known by three names with 15 letters, John Wilkes Booth and Lee Harvey Oswald, and neither killer would make it to trial.
Spooky, huh? It gets better.
Lincoln had a secretary named Kennedy, and Kennedy had a secretary named Lincoln.
They were both killed on a Friday while sitting next to their wives, Lincoln in the Ford Theater, Kennedy in a Lincoln made by Ford.
Both men were succeeded by a man named Johnson – Andrew for Lincoln and Lyndon for Kennedy. Andrew was born in 1808. Lyndon in 1908.
What are the odds?
In 1898, Morgan Robertson wrote a novel titled “Futility.”
Written 14 years before the Titanic sank, 11 years before construction on the vessel even began, the similarities between the book and the real event are eerie.
The novel describes a giant boat called the Titan which everyone considers unsinkable. It is the largest ever created, and inside it seems like a luxury hotel – just like the as yet unbuilt Titanic.
Titan had only 20 lifeboats, half than it needed should the great ship sink. The Titanic had 24, also half than it needed.
In the book, the Titan hits an iceberg in April 400 miles from Newfoundland. The Titanic, years later, would do the same in the same month in the same place.
The Titan sinks, and more than half of the passengers die, just as with the Titanic. The number of people on board who die in the book and the number in the future accident are nearly identical.
The similarities don’t stop there. The fictional Titan and the real Titanic both had three propellers and two masts. Both had a capacity of 3,000 people. Both hit the iceberg close to midnight.
Did Robertson have a premonition? I mean, what are the odds?
In the 1500s, Nostradamus wrote:
Bêtes farouches de faim fleuves tranner
Plus part du champ encore Hister sera, En caige de fer le grand sera treisner, Quand rien enfant de Germain observa.
This is often translated to:
Beasts wild with hunger will cross the rivers, The greater part of the battle will be against Hister. He will cause great men to be dragged in a cage of iron, When the son of Germany obeys no law.
That’s rather creepy, considering this seems to describe a guy with a tiny mustache born about 400 years later. Here is another prophecy:
Out of the deepest part of the west of Europe, From poor people a young child shall be born, Who with his tongue shall seduce many people, His fame shall increase in the Eastern Kingdom.
Wow. Hister certainly sounds like Hitler, and that second quatrain seems to drive it home. Actually, Many of Nostradamus’ predictions are about a guy from Germania who wages a great war and dies mysteriously.
What are the odds?
If any of this seems too amazing to be coincidence, too odd to be random, too similar to be chance, you are not so smart.
You see, in all three examples the barn was already peppered with holes. You just drew bullseyes around the spots where the holes clustered together.
Allow me to explain.
Need help dealing with a conspiracist? Here you go. You’re welcome. – MIB
Delusional disorder is a mental illness called a “psychosis.” This is when a person can’t tell what’s real from what’s imagined. People who suffer from delusional disorder have fixed, unshakable beliefs in things that aren’t real — like being convinced that aliens are watching them or that they are close friends with celebrities. Unfortunately, delusions are hard to treat because the beliefs are so fixed. If you have a loved one with this illness, educate yourself and express your concerns, but also be ready to intervene in case of a serious situation.
Expressing Your Concern
1 • Pick a lucid moment to talk. One of the worst things you can do if you think a loved one is having delusions is to ignore it. You should reach out to your loved one while also considering how to contact his therapist (if he has one) or local mental health services for advice on treating delusional disorders.
- It’s OK to try to talk to your loved one about your concern, but pick a time when he is lucid. You may not be able to discuss your loved one’s mental state while he is actively having delusions.
2 • Frame your concern as an opinion. Talk to your loved one and express your anxiety about her behavior and thought patterns. It is important to remain conscious or your tone and not become angry or aggressive. Try at all times to be gentle, honest, and non-confrontational. You will probably not be able to convince her that her delusions are mistaken, even with clear evidence.
- Be as non-judgmental as possible. Delusions are “fixed ideas.” Saying, “What you’re thinking isn’t real,” or, “No, you’re being paranoid and crazy!” won’t accomplish much and could actually strengthen the person’s delusions.
- Present your concern as an opinion instead, i.e. “You seem to be having a rough time. I wonder whether you’re all right?” or “I’m concerned for you. My own opinion is that you’ve developed some fixed ideas.”
3 • Don’t play into the delusions. Avoid attempts to disprove your loved one but at the same time, do not play along with his delusions or make it seem like you agree. Try instead to connect to the person’s experience and understand him rather than refuting the delusion itself.
- Affirm that your loved one’s feelings are important while making it clear that you do not agree with him. Say something like, “I understand that you feel that way. I have a different opinion,” or, “What you’re talking about is important; I just think you could be mistaken.”
- You might also subtly question your loved one’s delusions with suggestions, i.e. “Strongly believing something is true doesn’t necessarily mean that it is true, don’t you think?” or “We’re all capable of misinterpreting things, aren’t we?”
- You could also try saying, “But our brains can misinterpret things and giving us the wrong idea, no?” or “Sometimes we can imagine things that seem very real — like dreams. That doesn’t mean they are real, though.”
How psychics tricked scientists on three separate occasions. Uri Geller, Steve Shaw & Michael Edwards, and Ronny Marcus managed to dupe scientists at the Stanford Research Institute (SRI), The McDonnell Laboratory at Washington University, and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory respectively. Here’s how, as well as how skeptics James Randi (magician), Dr. Ray Hyman (psychologist), & Martin Gardner (science communicator) responded to the psychic trickery.
Don’t go through life unaware you are
projecting the inner world onto the outer.
This article isn’t about dream interpretation, though the analogy is apt. The post is about how projection, which is a staple in dreaming, occurs in waking life and affects what you see. It is about no longer walking through life in a dream like state, and taking the time to delve inside of yourself, and to interpret your life.
In Gestalt dream analysis, everything in the dream is you. Other theories, though not outright stating everything in the dream is subjective, recognize that projection is apparent. After all, it is your mind creating the images, not an actual person invading your dream. Your unconscious projects an image. The real meaning of the image lies within you, not outside in another.
Dream interpretation is very interesting, and can provide clues to the unconscious. The purpose of this post is to discuss how the waking hours can do the same. There are aspects of reality we all agree upon: the weather; who won which bowl game; there is little about these aspects of reality anyone will argue. There is a great deal of room in daily interactions and activities, however, for one to have their own truth, their own perception of reality. In fact, it could be contended that the vast majority of occurrences in a day have a large element of projection.
Projection is when an individual attributes something within him or herself onto another. Basically, you see what you are. This is not new, there are numerous quotes that impart this meaning: Anaïs Nin stated, “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” Henry David Thoreau proclaimed, “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” Carl Jung said, “Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.” These quotes, and likely many others, point to the theory that humans project their unconscious onto others. Simply, what one finds in the world is a reflection of one’s unconscious.
The idea that one is projecting much of what he or she perceives maybe difficult to accept. People rely on their thinking beyond reproach. This is understandable; one has more access to his or her thoughts than any other material. One’s thinking has likely served him well. The thought of not relying on thinking could be terrifying. However, the alternative is to walk through a dream world never interpreted.
In previous posts I have touched on the theme of subjective reality. One of my more popular posts is “The Truth Will Not Set You Free.” The suggestion is similar here: question thinking. Evaluate it. Step outside of thought, look at it objectively and with an inquisitive mind, and evaluate it. Could all of these learned and insightful people, some of whom developed theories around projection, others who use the theories to assist others to increase happiness, have been wrong? Isn’t it possible or perhaps likely that what one sees is affected by their unconscious, by their experience, by their history? As such, how is projection affecting your vision?
To approach this differently, it is not being suggested that one simply cease having confidance in every thought and question everything. Nothing would get done. Automatic thinking serves the human race well. It helps discern between dangerous and benign situations. It allows for much more productivity. It eases living immensely. To be without it would be to become infantile.
Always functioning and trusting thinking, nevertheless, has its costs.
If there really is an afterlife, I’ll bet the best way to contact it is through a plastic, mass-produced board game from Milton Bradley! —Mad Magazine
A Ouija board is commonly used in divination and spiritualism, often by friends out to have some fun. Sometimes, users become convinced they’ve been contacted by the spirit world. The board usually has the letters of the alphabet inscribed on it, along with words such as ‘yes,’ ‘no,’ ‘good-bye,’ and ‘maybe.’ A planchette, a small 3-legged device with a hole in the middle or a pointer of some sort, is manipulated by those using the board. However, users often feel the planchette is moving of its own accord rather than responding to their own unconscious muscle movements (ideomotor action). The users ask a “spirit” a question and the pointer slides until it stops over “yes” or “no” or a letter on the board. Sometimes, the selections “spell out” an answer to a question asked.
Some users believe that paranormal or supernatural forces are at work in spelling out Ouija board answers. Skeptics believe that those using the board either consciously or unconsciously move the pointer to what is selected. To prove this, simply try it blindfolded some time Have an unbiased bystander take notes on what words or letters are selected. Usually, the results will be unintelligible.
The movement of the planchette is not due to spirits but to unconscious movements by those controlling the pointer. The same kind of unconscious movement is at work in such things as dowsing and facilitated communication.
Before there were Ouija boards in America there were talking boards. These could be used to contact the spirit world by anybody in the privacy of one’s own home; no séance was required and no medium need be present (or paid!). No experience necessary! No waiting! Quick results, guaranteed!
The Ouija board was first introduced to the American public in 1890 as a parlor game sold in novelty shops.
MORE . . .
9-11 was an inside job. The moon landing was faked. Vaccines cause autism. These are just a few of the most well-known conspiracy theories perpetuated by otherwise intelligent, everyday people. But why do some people believe these things and others don’t? Scientists are one step closer to figuring that out, and it appears that the answer lies within the brains of the theorists’ themselves, which affects how they see they world.
Scientists had long hypothesized that conspiracy theory belief (which the researchers of a new paper define as “the assumption that a group of people colludes together in secret to attain evil goals”) was due to a phenomenon known as “illusory pattern perception” — seeing patterns where none really exist. But few studies had been done to support this. So, the British and Dutch scientists conducted a series of experiments to fill that void. Their paper was published recently in the European Journal of Social Psychology.
The Forer effect refers to the tendency of people to rate sets of statements as highly accurate for them personally even though the statements were not made about them personally and could apply to many people.
Psychologist Bertram R. Forer (1914-2000) found that people tend to accept vague and general personality descriptions as uniquely applicable to themselves without realizing that the same description could be applied to many people. Consider the following as if it were given to you as an evaluation of your personality.
You have a need for other people to like and admire you, and yet you tend to be critical of yourself. While you have some personality weaknesses you are generally able to compensate for them. You have considerable unused capacity that you have not turned to your advantage. Disciplined and self-controlled on the outside, you tend to be worrisome and insecure on the inside. At times you have serious doubts as to whether you have made the right decision or done the right thing. You prefer a certain amount of change and variety and become dissatisfied when hemmed in by restrictions and limitations. You also pride yourself as an independent thinker; and do not accept others’ statements without satisfactory proof. But you have found it unwise to be too frank in revealing yourself to others. At times you are extroverted, affable, and sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary, and reserved. Some of your aspirations tend to be rather unrealistic.
Forer gave a personality test to his students, ignored their answers, and gave each student the above evaluation (taken from a newsstand astrology column). He asked them to evaluate the evaluation from 0 to 5, with “5” meaning the recipient felt the evaluation was an “excellent” assessment and “4” meaning the assessment was “good.” The class average evaluation was 4.26. That was in 1948. The test has been repeated hundreds of time with psychology students and the average is still around 4.2 out of 5, or 84% accurate.
In short, Forer convinced people he could successfully read their character. His accuracy amazed his subjects, though his personality analysis was taken from a newsstand astrology column and was presented to people without regard to their sun sign. The Forer effect seems to explain, in part at least, why so many people think that pseudosciences “work”. Astrology, astrotherapy, biorhythms, cartomancy, chiromancy, the enneagram, fortune telling, graphology, rumpology, etc., seem to work because they seem to provide accurate personality analyses. Scientific studies of these pseudosciences demonstrate that they are not valid personality assessment tools, yet each has many satisfied customers who are convinced they are accurate.
The most common explanations given to account for the Forer effect are in terms of hope, wishful thinking, vanity, and the tendency to try to make sense out of experience. Forer’s own explanation was in terms of human gullibility. People tend to accept claims about themselves in proportion to their desire that the claims be true rather than in proportion to the empirical accuracy of the claims as measured by some non-subjective standard. We tend to accept questionable, even false statements about ourselves, if we deem them positive or flattering enough. We will often give very liberal interpretations to vague or inconsistent claims about ourselves in order to make sense out of the claims. Subjects who seek counseling from psychics, mediums, fortune tellers, mind readers, graphologists, etc., will often ignore false or questionable claims and, in many cases, by their own words or actions, will provide most of the information they erroneously attribute to a pseudoscientific counselor. Many such subjects often feel their counselors have provided them with profound and personal information. Such subjective validation, however, is of little scientific value.
James Randi‘s fiery takedown of psychic fraud
Legendary skeptic James Randi takes a fatal dose of homeopathic sleeping pills onstage, kicking off a searing 18-minute indictment of irrational beliefs. He throws out a challenge to the world’s psychics: Prove what you do is real, and I’ll give you a million dollars. (No takers yet.)
• Cold Reading
Making vague statements that will fit most people if they want them to
Cold reading is a series of techniques employed by psychics, mediums and mentalists that are used to manipulate the customer (sitter) into believing that the psychic can read their mind, or that the medium is in contact with a dead relative or friend.
A cold reading will involved things that are called ‘Forer Statements’ (or or Barnum statements) which are designed to encourage the sitter to fill in the gaps in the information being given. Though these statements may appear to be specific they are really very open-ended and vague and could really apply to anyone. Experiments have shown how similar statements can be taken personally when issued to dozens of people at the same time!
Some examples of such statements would be:
- “I sense that you are sometimes insecure, especially with people you don’t know very well.”
- “You work with computers”
- “You’re having problems with a friend or relative”
Here is ‘psychic’ James Van Prag demonstrating what appears to be a very embarrassing cold reading:
• Rainbow Ruse
Ticking all potential boxes by making all-encompassing descriptions
Similar to Forer statements is the “rainbow ruse” which involves a statement that covers all possibilities and often describe somebody as being two completely different types of person at the same time. Here are some examples:
- “Most of the time you are positive and cheerful, but there has been a time in the past when you were very upset.”
- “You are a very kind and considerate person, but occasionally you feel deep-seated anger.”
- “I would say that you are mostly shy and quiet, but when the mood strikes you, you can easily become the centre of attention.”
• Hot/warm Reading
Using information gained before the show about the audience
Then there is hot (or warm) reading. This is a form of cheating and happens when a Medium or Psychic secretly gathers information about members of the audience in order that they may use this in their performance but pass it off as being a result of their psychic gift.
Additonally, they may research the location they are performing in, and may even invite those recently bereaved whose details they can extract from local sources (newspapers, websites, discussion groups), and the internet. They might ask people to request readings by filling in cards or forms in the foyer, or they might require people give their names when they book tickets and then use this information to simply google them.
Here is an example of someone using ‘hot reading’ to fool their audience into thinking they’re receiving messages from a supernatural source, when they’re not.
Making random statements in the hope someone will make them fit
This is another tactic which involves revealing a huge amount of very general information to a whole audience and seeing what sticks. A psychic or medium will likely generate many, many misses when they employ these techniques but because of the way our brains work when we want to believe something very badly, many will leave the performance only remembering apparent ‘hits’ or correct guesses.
A typical Psychic or Medium will use all of these techniques in the course of a performance and a skilled cold reader will be able to spin out the brief sentences and statements into paragraphs of psychic prose.
It is worth noting that some Mediums or Psychics may be just naturally good cold readers and don’t realise that what they’re doing isn’t the result of a supernatural gift.
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.
Subjective validation is an essential element of any successful cold reading done by astrologers, palm readers, tarot readers, mediums, and the like. The sitter in such readings must cooperate. Fortunately for the medium, most sitters are usually eager for the reader to succeed and are willing to work hard to find personal meaning in whatever the reader throws out. In a successful cold reading, the sitter will be convinced that the accuracy of the reading was not due to her ability and willingness to cooperate but rather to the powers of astrology, palmistry, tarot, or mediumship.
Sitters are often very compliant. A medium will say he senses a father figure trying to contact him from the spirit world and the sitter has only to find someone to fit the bill. It need not be the sitter’s father. So, when the sitter identifies this father figure as her deceased husband, the medium is validated by the subject. The medium is validated by the subject when the medium says she is getting the message “I do not walk alone” and the sitter makes sense out of this by seeing it as a communication from a departed soul who was in a wheelchair before she died. There may be thousands of ways to make sense out of an ambiguous stimulus like the name ‘Michael’ or the expression ‘broken wheel’ but all it takes is for the sitter to find one and the medium is validated.
Selective memory is also involved in subjective validation because it is very unlikely that any sitter will be able to find meaning in every utterance the medium makes. Fortunately for the reader, the sitter will usually forget the misses and remember only the hits. That is, the sitter will remember what she was able to make sense out of and forget the stuff that made no sense to her. Also, it rarely occurs that anyone makes an independent check of the accuracy of the sitter’s rating of the reader.* So, if a sitter is satisfied that a reading is very accurate that is usually taken as sufficient evidence by the medium – and by experimenters who test mediums such as Gary Schwartz – as proof of the accuracy of the reading.
The stronger the desire to make contact, the harder the sitter will work to find meaning and connections in the medium’s items. This fact should impact the design of experiments that are supposed to test a medium’s ability to get messages from spirits. Experimenters should always checks factual claims made by sitters. But even though the concern with factual accuracy is important in verifying the success of the medium, one should not lose sight of the importance of the studies that have been done on how the human mind works when it comes to making sense out of and giving significance to disparate data presented to it. The overall effect of subjective validation should show up in the way sitters rate the accuracy of the mediums’ claims.
By Kyle Hill via Scientific American Blog Network
True memories fade and false ones appear.
Each time we recall something, the memory is imperfectly re-stitched by our brains. Our memories retain familiarity but, like our childhood blankets, can be recognizable yet filled with holes and worn down with time.
To date, research has shown that it is fairly easy to take advantage of our fallible memory. Elizabeth Loftus, cognitive psychologist and expert on human memory, has found that simply changing one word in a question can contort what we recall. In one experiment, Loftus had participants watch a film of a car crash, and then asked about what they saw. They were either asked “How fast were the cars going when they hit each other,” or “How fast were the cars going when they smashed into each other.” One week later the participants returned for some memory questions. Loftus asked whether or not there was broken glass at the scene of the accident. Those participants that heard the word “smashed” were more than twice as likely to recall seeing broken glass than those who heard the word “hit.” Keep in mind, there was in fact no broken glass at the scene.
This kind of insight—that our memories are terrible camcorders of reality—had serious pop culture ramifications. “Repression” and “repressed memories” have entered our culture’s lexicon, without evidential support. Even with numerous accusations of sexual abuse and other childhood horrors filed in court with the explosion of “recovered memory therapy,” the same research pioneered by experts like Loftus has suggested that most if not all of these “repressed” memories are merely false ones. At CSICon, a skeptic’s conference earlier this year in Nashville, Tennessee, Loftus herself noted that the same techniques used to implant false memories in psychological experiments are precisely the techniques used by repression therapists to recover supposedly buried traumas.
Nearly four decades later, Loftus and colleagues aim to further memory science once again. Introducing a false memory in experiment can be done quickly and with some degree of reliability, but how long does the lie last? Surely bolstered by a digital age reverberating with misinformation, the results point to a disturbingly long half-life of lies.
By Signe Dean via ScienceAlert
To a conspiracy theorist, the world is not what it seems. Invisible threads link seemingly unrelated concepts, and there’s no such thing as a random coincidence.
Researchers have been scratching their heads for years over what makes some people more conspiratorially inclined. Now a recent study has finally tracked down one of the faulty thinking patterns. As it turns out, we all use it – but these people use it too much.
A team of psychologists from Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in the Netherlands and the University of Kent in the UK has determined that conspiracy theorists are hooked on something called ‘illusory pattern perception’.
“People often hold irrational beliefs, which we broadly define here as unfounded, unscientific, and illogical assumptions about the world,” the team writes in the study.
“Although many irrational beliefs exist, belief in conspiracy theories and belief in the supernatural are particularly prevalent among ordinary, nonpathological citizens.”
In other words, conspiracy theorists are not “nuts”. They’re totally sane, which makes their beliefs all the more puzzling – until we realise that they actually see the world quite differently.
Illusory pattern perception is a pretty simple concept. It happens whenever we find a meaningful pattern in random stimuli, drawing correlations and even causation where none has actually occurred.
For example, you might have a dream about an elderly relative, and then receive news the following day that the relative has passed away. For some people that would be enough to conclude that their dreams can predict the future.
There are many people who promote themselves as psychics or clairvoyants, and who claim that their powers enable them to read your character, make contact with dead relatives, or provide insights into your life and your future.
Despite their claims, there has never been a successful demonstration of these powers in a laboratory, under properly controlled conditions. Indeed, the National Committee of Australian Skeptics offers a cash prize of $100,000 for any PROVEN demonstration of such powers. See The Prize.
By far the most common method employed by psychics who have been put to the test is called cold reading. This method involves the psychic reading the subject’s body language etc, and skilfully extracting information from the subject, which can then be fed back later, convincing the subject that the psychic has told them things they couldn’t possibly have known!
The following is our 13 point guide to cold reading — Study them well, then amaze your friends with your new found psychic powers!
1. Remember that the key ingredient of a successful character reading is confidence.
If you look and act as if you believe in what you are doing, you will be able to sell even a bad reading to most subjects. One danger of playing the role of reader is that you may actually begin to believe that you really are divining your subject’s true character!
2. Make creative use of the latest statistical abstracts, polls and surveys.
These can provide you with much information about what various subclasses in our society believe, do, want , worry about etc. For example, if you can ascertain a subject’s place of origin, educational level, and his/her parents’ religion and vocations, you have gained information which should allow you to predict with high probability his/her voting preferences and attitudes to many subjects.
3. Set the stage for your reading.
Profess a modesty about your talents. Make no excessive claims. You will then catch your subject off guard. You are not challenging them to a battle of wits – You can read his/her character, whether he/she believes you or not.
4. Gain the subject’s cooperation in advance.
Emphasise that the success of the reading depends as much on the subject’s cooperation as on your efforts. (After all, you imply, you already have a successful career at character reading — You are not on trial, your subject is!) State that due to difficulties of language and communication, you may not always convey the meaning you intend. In these cases, the subject must strive to fit the reading to his/her own life. You accomplish two valuable ends with this dodge — Firstly, you have an alibi in case the reading doesn’t click; it’s the subject’s fault, not yours! Secondly, your subject will strive to fit your generalities to his/her specific life circumstances. Later, when the subject recalls the reading, you will be credited with much more detail than you actually provided! This is crucial. Your reading will only succeed to the degree that the subject is made an active participant in the reading. The good reader is the one who , deliberately or unwittingly, forces the subject to search his/her mind to make sense of your statements.
Use of props serves two valuable purposes. Firstly, it lends atmosphere to the reading. Secondly, (and more importantly) it gives you time to formulate your next question/statement. Instead of just sitting there, thinking of something to say, you can be intently studying the cards /crystal ball etc. You may opt to hold hands with your subject — This will help you feel the subject’s reactions to your statements. If you are using , say, palmistry (the reading of hands) it will help if you have studied some manuals, and have learned the terminology. This will allow you to more quickly zero in on your subject’s chief concerns — “do you wish to concentrate on the heart line or the wealth line?“
6. Have a list of stock phrases at the tip of your tongue.
Even during a cold reading, a liberal sprinkling of stock phrases will add body to the reading and will help you fill in time while you formulate more precise characterisations. Use them to start your readings. Palmistry, tarot and other fortune telling manuals are a key source of good phrases.
Post by Sandrine Ceurstemont, editor, New Scientist TV
Impossible objects, like those drawn by artist M. C. Escher, don’t seem like they could exist in the real world. But Kokichi Sugihara from Meiji University in Kawasaki, Japan, is well known for building 3D versions of these structures.
Now a new video shows his latest construction: a gravity-defying roof that seems to attract and balance balls on its edge. When the house is rotated, its true form is revealed.
Related: Kokichi Sugihara at Meiji University in Kawasaki, Japan, has… (thekidshouldseethis.com)
Michael (at VSauce) is always entertaining. This video (made in 2012) is not as intense as his more recent works, but still thought provoking and entertaining. Enjoy 🙂
By Mike McRae via ScienceAlert
Throughout history, there have been individuals who believe they’ve caught a sense of events yet to come.
True clairvoyance is unsupported by scientific evidence, but a subtle difference in how some people perceive the timing of events could help explain why many remain convinced of their psychic abilities.
A study by researchers from Yale University has provided some insight into why people think they have supernatural foresight, hinting at a physiological basis behind certain delusions.
The weight of evidence makes it fairly clear the human brain is not influenced by future events.
In many cases, proposed psychic abilities are the result of intentional fraud, with charlatans employing the same kinds of tricks mentalist magicians have used for centuries to feign mind reading and fortune telling.
But not all people who claim extraordinary abilities of future-sight are out to make a quick buck or two. Dismissing it as a sign of mental illness also tells us little about how such beliefs develop in otherwise healthy brains.
To gain an understanding of the neurological underpinnings of psychic prediction, the researchers made use of a test that had previously demonstrated a link between the timing of a colour changing shape, and the subject’s judgement of their ability to predict its transformation.
Only this time the researchers also evaluated the volunteers’ beliefs.
Continue Reading @ ScienceAlert – – –
By autistickyuubi via Autistic Skeptic
I have a theory: There’s something inherent in human nature that makes people need religion. Some kind of religion. Any kind of religion. Even the most atheist people in the world still can’t fight this urge to have some kind of religious conviction.
With this I don’t mean that every single individual person in existence has religious convictions. Of course there are exceptions, ie. people who truly are neutral and skeptic in the proper sense of the word, who do not obsess about some conviction. However, these seem to be more the exception than the rule. What I mean is that no matter what group of people we are talking about, there will always be some fanatic individuals which obsess about something with religious conviction.
Even people with an atheist world view can still have hard time resisting this urge, and thus they will find some substitute.
One such substitute in the modern world are conspiracy theories. Conspiracy theory fanatics present all the symptoms of religious fanatics. Here are some of them:
- A conspiracy theorist has “seen the light”, so to speak. That is, he has seen the Truth, which the majority of other people haven’t.
- A conspiracy theorist has the absolute, irrefutable, unshakable CONVICTION that he knows the Truth, only the Truth, and nothing but the Truth. There’s absolutely no doubt in his mind that what he believes is the Truth.The conspiracy theorist will say things like “there’s NO WAY these photos are not faked” and “there’s NO WAY this is something else than controlled demolition”, etc. He is absolutely sure and certain at all possible levels that he knows the truth.
- There’s absolutely nothing you can say that will convince the conspiracy theorist otherwise. You can refute every single claim he makes to absolute smithereens with hard scientific easy-to-understand facts, and that will not move his conviction even a fraction of an inch. Not even a shadow of a doubt will cross his mind at any point.
- The doctrine which the conspiracy theorist believes is based on a series of books, web pages and “documentaries” made by some other conspiracy theorists (which are completely akin to prophets), and every single word in these works is considered the absolute Truth by the conspiracy theorist. Every single claim, no matter how small or how ridiculous, is the absolute Truth. Not a single claim is considered dubious or unimportant.
- The conspiracy theorist has the irresistible urge to spread the Truth to others, the lost lambs who wander in darkness and still don’t know the Truth, who haven’t seen the light, and who must be converted.Spreading the Truth is in no way limited to the Internet. Like the most vocal religious movements, also conspiracy theorists will organize protest marches and parades, where they will disturb the peace of completely unrelated events, they will get into TV shows to spread their convictions, they will preach to individuals at their workplaces and other places, etc, etc.
Continue Reading @ Autistic skeptic (Archived) – – –
Do you believe the moon landing was faked? Do you suspect the 9/11 attacks were a government cover up?
Turns out, if you’re an avid conspiracy theorist, you could be doing it for attention.
According to new research, published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, some people like believing in conspiracy theories because of a need for uniqueness. In other words, they like to be different, and so take on beliefs that are out of the ordinary.
It’s similar to when people take up unusual hobbies that set them apart from others. That person on Reddit with a weird idea of what shape the Earth is could actually feel special or above average because they think they’ve figured something out that the majority of others haven’t.
Being in on the conspiracy theories may make people feel like they are part of a secret society that has all the answers.
To test this theory, a research team from Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany conducted a series of studies to see how the need for uniqueness could prompt people to believe conspiracies more.
Believing one conspiracy theory makes it more likely you’ll believe another.
In the first study, 238 people were assessed for their need for uniqueness, and their endorsement of 99 conspiracy theories. The results showed that believing one conspiracy theory makes it more likely you’ll believe another, and that there was a correlation between this endorsement and the need to not follow the crowd.
By Clare Wilson via New Scientist
Beloved of spiritualists and bored teenagers on a dare, the Ouija board has long been a source of entertainment, mystery and sometimes downright spookiness. Now it could shine a light on the secrets of the unconscious mind.
The Ouija, also known as a talking board, is a wooden plaque marked with the words, “yes”, “no” and the letters of the alphabet. Typically a group of users place their hands on a movable pointer , or “planchette”, and ask questions out loud. Sometimes the planchette signals an answer, even when no one admits to moving it deliberately.
Believers think the answer comes through from the spirit world. In fact, all the evidence points to the real cause being the ideomotor effect, small muscle movements we generate unconsciously.
That’s why the Ouija board has attracted the attention of psychologists at the University of British Columbia in Canada. Growing evidence suggests the unconscious plays a role in cognitive functions we usually consider the preserve of the conscious mind.
This is an awesome documentary. Every minute is worth watching. – MIB
My favorite exchange between the interviewer (Matt Shea) and one of the (alleged) targeted individuals (Shane) begins at 26:33 into the video:
Targeted Individual: Everybody gets a stroke of bad luck every now and then, but to have it continual, to have it continuous … something is going on here.
Matt Shea: Of course there are some people who are just really, really, really unlucky.
Targeted Individual: Would you say somebody defecating in my bed is unlucky?
Matt Shea: Why would … ?
Targeted Individual: Why would I shit in my own bed? Seriously.
Matt Shea: Why would the government shit in your bed?
Targeted Individual: Or, why would the free masons shit in my bed?
Matt Shea: Why would ANYONE shit in your bed?
Targeted Individual: Exactly. Why?
Also see: I’m Being Cyber Stalked, Wiretapped and Followed (iLLuMiNuTTi.com)
From the video description:
Transcendent experiences that were once attributed to gods, angels, muses, or even possession, are now being demystified by neuroscience. Jamie Wheal, Director of Programs at the Flow Genome Project, explains that each culture has unique rituals and narratives when it comes to non-ordinary experiences of consciousness or ‘altered states’, whether that’s mediation, flow state, psychedelic experiences, or others. A farmer in India, a peasant in Mexico, and a coder in Silicon Valley will all have vastly different ways of approaching altered states, and will give vastly different descriptions once they come out the other side – perhaps they saw a vision of Ganesh the elephant God, received a message from the Virgin of Guadalupe, or produced a brilliant line of code while in a Matrix-like binary blur. However, those experiences are more alike than we think. Jamie Wheal and Steven Kotler devised a functional framework so they could compare non-ordinary experiences across cultures. Here, Wheal explains that they identified four common elements of altered states of consciousness, which they coined as STER: selflessness, timelessness, effortlessness and richness. Jamie Wheal and Steven Kotler’s book is Stealing Fire: How Silicon Valley, the Navy SEALs, and Maverick Scientists Are Revolutionizing the Way We Live and Work (goo.gl/m3Quy0).
Pointing out logical inconsistencies in conspiracy theories can be an effective method of discrediting them, according to new research published in Frontiers in Psychology.
The researchers had 813 Hungarian adults listen to a speech outlining a made-up conspiracy that purported to explain how hidden Jewish groups and international financial powers were secretly shaping the fate of Hungary. The speech emphasized that “nothing happens by chance, nothing is what it seems, everything is interconnected with everything, and the world is divided into good and evil.”
The participants then listened to another speech which either: pointed out the logical flaws of the conspiracy theory, mocked the ridiculousness and irrationality of those who believed the conspiracy theory, or called attention to the dangers of scapegoating while attempting to increase empathy for Jews. A fourth group of participants, who were used as a control, listened to a weather forecast.
The researchers found that the rationality speech and the ridiculing speech — but not the empathetic speech — were effective in reducing belief in the conspiracy theory.
PsyPost interviewed Peter Kreko, a visiting professor at Indiana University, assistant professor at Eötvös Loránt University of Sciences and senior associate to Political Capital Institute. Read his explanation of the research below:
Individuals who hold strong beliefs in conspiracies often also score high in narcissism and low in self-esteem, according to 2015 research.
The series of studies, published in Social Psychological and Personality Science, examined individuals to determine whether self-evaluation plays a role in predicting conspiracy beliefs.
“Previous research linked the endorsement of conspiracy theories to low self-esteem,” said Aleksandra Cichocka, principal investigator and corresponding author of the study.
“We propose that conspiracy theories should rather be appealing to individuals with exaggerated feelings of self-love, such as narcissists, due to their paranoid tendencies,” she continued.
In the first study, 202 participants completed a conspiracy beliefs questionnaire, a self-esteem scale, and an individual narcissism questionnaire. In the conspiracy beliefs questionnaire, participants rated the extent to which they agree with such statements as “A small, secret group of people is responsible for making all major world decisions, such as going to war” and “The American government permits or perpetrates acts of terrorism on its own soil, disguising its involvement.”
Scientists found that among participants, high individual narcissism and low self-esteem significantly predicted conspiracy beliefs.
In the second study, scientists sought to rule out the possibility that collective narcissism contributed to the results of the previous study.
“Because conspiracy theories often refer to malevolent actions of groups, we wanted to distinguish whether it is a narcissistic image of the self or the group that predicts the endorsement of conspiracy theories,” said Cichocka.
“For example . . .
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is probably the most widely used personality test in the world.
About 2 million people take it annually, at the behest of corporate HR departments, colleges, and even government agencies. The company that produces and markets the test makes around $20 million off it each year.
The only problem? The test is completely meaningless.
“There’s just no evidence behind it,” says Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania who’s written about the shortcomings of the Myers-Briggs previously. “The characteristics measured by the test have almost no predictive power on how happy you’ll be in a situation, how you’ll perform at your job, or how happy you’ll be in your marriage.”
The test claims that based on 93 questions, it can group all the people of the world into 16 different discrete “types” — and in doing so, serve as “a powerful framework for building better relationships, driving positive change, harnessing innovation, and achieving excellence.” Most of the faithful think of it primarily as a tool for telling you your proper career choice.
But the test was developed in the 1940s based on the totally untested theories of Carl Jung and is now thoroughly disregarded by the psychology community. Even Jung warned that his personality “types” were just rough tendencies he’d observed, rather than strict classifications. Several analyses have shown the test is totally ineffective at predicting people’s success in various jobs, and that about half of the people who take it twice get different results each time.
By Debra Kelly via Listverse
Scientology’s hatred of everything psychiatric is well-known due to Tom Cruise’s infamous, controversial statements on the subject. Those statements just scratch the surface, however, and there is much, much more to the cult-like religion’s absolute condemnation of anything and everything that has to do with the mental health industry. It’s ironic, really.
10 • Psychiatric Meds Cause School Shootings
The Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) was formed in 1969 with the sole goal of exposing abuse and practices that put the lives and mental well-being of patients in danger. Founded by the Church of Scientology and Dr. Thomas Szasz, the commission claims to be a nonreligious organization that doesn’t force any opinion on anyone. It supposedly exists only to provide all possible information on a particular subject, in order to allow people to make educated choices and decisions for themselves.
It seems like a pretty legit organization, and one that’s probably needed—until you take a closer look and find things like their belief that school shootings are largely the result of psychiatric interference and medications. According to the CCHR, school shootings are mostly the fault of psychiatrists who are prescribing drugs with side effects like violence and “homicidal ideation.” An article published by CCHR International points the finger at 35 school shootings, where the perpetrators were found to have prescriptions for medications such as Prozac, Xanax, Zoloft, ADHD medications like Vyvanse, and plenty of unnamed medications.
The link between school shootings and medication has been so loudly shouted that it’s been investigated by groups like the Treatment Advocacy Center, the Clinical Research Unit for Anxiety Disorders, and the School of Psychiatry in Australia. The former study concluded that the annual murder rate in patients undergoing treatment for psychosis is 0.11 per 1,000. The latter concluded that mental illness was involved in between 5–10 percent of all homicide cases, and the overwhelming majority of those incidents involve people who weren’t being treated properly or were also abusing other substances.
But according to Scientology’s Los Angeles–based museum known as Psychiatry: An Industry of Death, psychiatrists are the reason that schools are no longer places for learning, but for controlling children with drugs that are prescribed not for the benefit of those taking them, but for the pockets of the psychiatric industry.
9 • Anti–Mental Health Laws
In 2005, the CCHR and the Church of Scientology made an attempt at getting legislation passed that would have helped to further their crusade against both psychiatry and specifically child psychiatry. Bills HB209 and SB1766 were put before the Florida state government in the hopes of tying the hands of schools when it came to even suggesting that a child might have some problems that need looking into.
The bills, which were fought wholeheartedly by organizations like Florida’s Office of Suicide Prevention, would have required schools to tell parents that any medication, treatment, or diagnosis of a mental health–related issue would follow the child for the rest of his or her life—which was only true because that was written into the bill, too. Parents would also be told that there was no medical basis for diagnosing mental illness, they would be entitled to refuse any and all treatment or evaluation, and the child wouldn’t be removed from classes in any way if treatment was refused. The bills would have covered anything and everything, even counseling through difficult times like divorce or a death in the family. They also specified that school officials would be forbidden from making any sort of referrals in mental health matters, and they had the backing of a handful of politicians.
Florida’s governor, Jeb Bush, vetoed the bill, and it wasn’t the only Scientology-sponsored bill that he stopped, either. There was also a bill on the table for $500,000 in state funding to be directed toward a prison rehabilitation program based on the principles of Scientology, making it clear how Bush felt about the “weird little group.”
8 • Psychiatrists Caused The Holocaust
This one’s a pretty roundabout theory, but at least we can give them points for creativity.
According to the CCHR, the Holocaust was engineered by psychiatrists. They point the finger first at a 19th-century psychologist named Francis Galton, who was one of the first to put forward the idea that the “best” specimens of the human race should be the ones to reproduce. And since humans clearly can’t control what they’re biologically programmed to do, a medical solution was called for. (Even in the United States, the results of the eugenics movement were terrifying. We’ve talked about them a few times.)
According to the theory, while there were eugenics movements in a frighteningly large number of countries, Germany’s movement was particularly dangerous because of the number of psychiatric professionals that were involved in the development of the doctrine. They were writing books on inferior races and on racial hygiene, and they weren’t shy about specifying who needed to be cleansed from the world’s population. The use of accepted psychiatric practices turned Hitler’s movement into something scientific, rather than just the rantings of a madman. Psychiatry gave him credibility, and a match made in Hell was formed. The Nazis needed official, accepted, medical justification, and the psychiatric community wanted money. It was only in Germany, where psychiatric input became key, that sterilization turned into murder. Once the groundwork was in place, the CCHR says, it was easy enough to expand the list of people that were unworthy.
When I was an intern doing a rotation in the emergency department, on one particularly busy shift a nurse commented (to no one in particular) that it must be a full moon. I habitually look at the moon and generally know what phase it is in (right now it is a waxing gibbous, almost full), and so I knew at the time that in fact there was a crescent moon in the sky. I informed her of this. She gave a disappointed look and then went on with her work without any apparent further thought on the matter.
The episode struck me at the time. It seemed to me that I just witnessed a clear example of confirmation bias – what if it had been near a full moon? That would have confirmed her prior belief in a lunar effect, while this negative correlation was brushed aside and likely did not have any negative effect on her belief. (Although, my interpretation and memory of this event can itself be an example of confirmation bias regarding confirmation bias.)
Belief in the so-called lunar effect, that the phases of the moon exert an influence on human behavior with the most common element being a full-moon inducing extreme behavior, is very common. In my experience it is one of the most common pseudoscientific beliefs I encounter in the general public. One survey indicates that 43% of adults believe in the lunar effect, especially mental health professionals, including nurses.
When someone expresses such a belief to me I often use it as an opening to discuss skeptical principles. While belief in the lunar effect is widespread, it is usually not part of any emotionally held religious or ideological belief. It is therefore an excellent teaching opportunity. One question I like to ask is, “how do you think that works?” The most common answer I receive is probably the least plausible – that the tidal effects of the moon influence the brain because the brain is sitting in water (spinal fluid).
The tidal effect answer is incredibly implausible for a number of reasons.
We’ve all heard about the supposed relationship between confidence and knowledge – but is it true? Two researchers think they’ve found the answer.
We’ve all seen the ads, banners, commercials and books hyping the benefits of “brain training,” offering games and puzzles that promise to keep your brain in tip-top shape as you age. Diseases such as dementia are terrifying, and millions of people do their best to stave it off though online games, crossword puzzles and so on.
As a recent Scientific American column noted, “cognitive training — better known as ‘brain training’ — is one of the hottest new trends in self improvement. Lumosity, which offers web-based tasks designed to improve cognitive abilities such as memory and attention, boasts 50 million subscribers and advertises on National Public Radio. Cogmed claims to be ‘a computer-based solution for attention problems caused by poor working memory,’ and BrainHQ will help you ‘make the most of your unique brain.’” It all sounds very impressive and scientific.
While it’s important to stay both mentally and physically active in our later years, there’s little evidence that most of the commercially-sold brain enhancement methods or pills do any good. In fact the scientific community pours cold water on these fanciful myths.
In late October the Stanford Center on Longevity and the Berlin Max Planck Institute for Human Development gathered many of the world’s leading cognitive psychologists and neuroscientists to examine these brain games and programs. It then issued a statement that read in part:
A Professor of psychology from Victoria University sheds some light on the conspiracy theories surrounding illuminati.
By matt stewart via Stuff.co.nz
You don’t have to be mad to create conspiracy theories, but it certainly helps, new research suggests.
Just believing in them indicates you are more likely to be paranoid or mentally ill, a Victoria University study shows.
Widely held conspiracy theories range from harmless ones, such as the belief that the Moon landings were faked, to more dangerous delusions such as the one in Nigeria that polio vaccines were a Western plot to sterilise people. That led to vaccination crews being murdered and thousands dying from disease.
Clinical psychologist Darshani Kumareswaran is delving in to the psychology of conspiracy belief, and has found some believers are likely to endorse far-fetched plots in an effort to make sense of chaotic situations beyond their control.
Kumareswaran, who graduated from Victoria with a PhD in psychology this week, wanted to find out what made people more likely to believe in, or come up with, conspiracy theories – and whether the process was linked to mental illness.
Avid conspiracy theorists can put themselves under intense psychological strain with their tendency towards paranoid thinking and delusional beliefs, causing mental strain even when a conspiracy theory turns out to be a verified plot.
She also looked behind the common public image of the conspiracy theorist as a crackpot.
Despite evidence of verified conspiracies, such as the Watergate scandal, the public viewed conspiracy theorists in as negative a light as they did convicted criminals, she said.
“For the label to be so negatively rated by the public is quite a powerful finding.”
Study participants were asked to recall a situation in which they had no control, describe it in detail, and write it down. They were then put in a “psychological space” in which they felt powerlessness and were given 24 pictures that looked like snowy television screens.
Half featured obscured objects such as a chair or tent, the other half nothing.
Those who scored highly on a form of psychopathology known as schizotypy were more likely to see an object in the images where there was none, indicating they were more likely to make connections between unrelated things.
“I also found that someone who creates conspiracy theories is more likely to have some form of psychopathology, or mental illness such as . . .
Most improbable coincidences likely result from play of random events. The very nature of randomness assures that combing random data will yield some pattern.
By Bruce Martin via The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry – CSI
“You don’t believe in telepathy?” My friend, a sober professional, looked askance. “Do you?” I replied. “Of course. So many times I’ve been out for the evening and suddenly became worried about the kids. Upon calling home, I’ve learned one is sick, hurt himself, or having nightmares. How else can you explain it?”
Such episodes have happened to us all and it’s common to hear the words, “It couldn’t be just coincidence.” Today the explanation many people reach for involves mental telepathy or psychic stirrings. But should we leap so readily into the arms of a mystic realm? Could such events result from coincidence after all?
There are two features of coincidences not well known among the public. First, we tend to overlook the powerful reinforcement of coincidences, both waking and in dreams, in our memories. Non-coincidental events do not register in our memories with nearly the same intensity. Second, we fail to realize the extent to which highly improbable events occur daily to everyone. It is not possible to estimate all the probabilities of many paired events that occur in our daily lives. We often tend to assign coincidences a lesser probability than they deserve.
However, it is possible to calculate the probabilities of some seemingly improbable events with precision. These examples provide clues as to how our expectations fail to agree with reality.
In a random selection of twenty-three persons there is a 50 percent chance that at least two of them celebrate the same birthdate. Who has not been surprised at learning this for the first time? The calculation is straightforward. First find the probability that everyone in a group of people have different birthdates (X) and then subtract this fraction from one to obtain the probability of at least one common birthdate in the group (P), P = 1 – X. Probabilities range from 0 to 1, or may be expressed as 0 to 100%. For no coincident birthdates a second person has a choice of 364 days, a third person 363 days, and the nth person 366 – n days. So the probability for all different birthdates becomes:
A video has surfaced of a reported exorcism as it was taking place last February behind the closed doors of a Roman Catholic church in Vranov nad Dyji, Czech Republic. A 26 year old visitor heard screams and filmed through the keyhole of the door. Not much is visible; there is plenty of screaming and obscenity (in another language) but nothing supernatural happens from this perspective. The drama that unfolded is what we would expect an exorcism to look like from our familiarity with sensational news reports. Only in the movies, in fiction, are there visions of horror that break the bounds of physics or human capabilities. In reality, exorcisms at their most basic, are an interaction between the victim in some disturbed state and the people who are enacting the ritual. Some might say the ritual enables the victim, encouraging the expression of possession. For some afflicted people, they may benefit psychologically from the process.
The Czech priest confronted over the released video says they were asking for God’s help to protect the anonymous person in the church. He is quoted as remarking, “Of course it helps.” Does it really help, or is this reinforcement of an antiquated belief system harmful? Therein lies a tricky question for religious officials, psychologists, and the skeptically-minded about the value of exorcism. Most rationalists would not condone an exorcism, likely feeling that the potential for harm that could occur is unethical or the endorsement of belief in demons is nonsense. What once was a given fact – evil spirits can possess people, and had been usurped by modern medicinal practice, has recently been re-embraced by the Catholic Church and endorsed through rejuvenation of the exorcism ritual.
On November 11, 2014, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops approved an English translation of the Rite of Exorcism that was published by the Vatican in 1999. The vote was 179 “yes” to 5 “no.” Pope Francis recognized 250 priests across 30 countries who are members of the International Association of Exorcists which many observers saw as a surprising step backwards in time for the church. The church sees exorcism as something of a last resort and repeatedly notes that the cases are carefully evaluated by medical professionals to address medical or psychological problems. Who does these evaluations? Are the psychiatric evaluators Christian? What are their criteria for concluding that, yes, this person can not be helped by Western medicine and must be treated spiritually?
Curiously, as noted in this Catholic news agency piece, exorcism is “not magic. It is the Church imploring God to come to the aid of the person afflicted.” This can be interpreted in a secular way – if the troubled person believes that they can be helped with this ritual, then perhaps they really are helped. It is plausible that many cases of deliverance or exorcism have been successful because people have “named” their troubles and outwardly cast them away, like the devil, to be gone and leave them free. Professor Christopher French, Head of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit of the Department of Psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London has studied the psychology of possession. He also thinks that, under certain circumstances, people can benefit from exorcism.
“As I believe that “possession” is a purely psychological phenomenon, any psychosomatic symptoms might be cured by any form of treatment that the victim believes in. Also, adoption of the “possessed” role sometimes allows people to let off steam without being held responsible for their actions.”
Dr. French is clear that exorcism will not directly help anyone who has an underlying neurological condition, although, he says, “If the condition was aggravated by stress and the ritual reduced the stress, it might produce temporary relief.” This is not to make light of the several downsides to exorcism. There have been several cases of families who subjected “possessed’ elders, women, the handicapped, and children to abuse. In some cases, this has resulted in death.
Yet, the popular belief in exorcism is growing.
Some say fibromyalgia is a real disease, while others question the diagnosis.
Today we’re going to head down to our doctor’s office with a complaint that he hears all too often: we have pain. We’re tired. We get headaches, and our hands and feet might be numb in the morning. And along with that pain comes some stiffness. It’s like, “Doc, I just don’t feel all that great.” Don’t fret, because the doctor has heard it all before. But also don’t expect to be able to guess what your doctor is going to say. The diagnosis of fibromyalgia — nonspecific pain that doesn’t seem to have any particular source — is as controversial as just about any other subject at your doctor’s office. Some believe it’s a real physical condition, some believe it’s purely psychogenic, and some think it doesn’t exist at all. What is really known about this popular but vague diagnosis?
Everything about fibromyalgia is rife with red flags. Sham treatments for it are offered in magazine ads and on late-night television infomercials. You’ll see it advertised on billboards. Books, websites, special diets, and worthless supplements are all marketed to sufferers just as aggressively as is the condition itself — the more people can be convinced that they have it, the more products they’ll buy. Chapter and verse, fibromyalgia bears every single warning sign of a pseudoscience. But where it veers from this course and enters the realm of real science is that a growing number of medical researchers believe there is something real here, and some cases are now even proving to be treatable.
Much of the time, when we discuss the subject of whether conditions have a psychological cause or a physiological cause, we find a general trend that psychogenic conditions are best treated by psychotherapy, and physiological conditions are best treated with non-psychiatric medicine. Fibromyalgia appears to be a rare exception to this rule. Its causes have not been determined to be purely psychological, but it does seem to be best treated with psychiatric medicine, including both antidepressants and psychotherapy.
Have I confused you yet? Here’s the thing . . .