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.
Australian Skeptics are again organising a major test of water divining, repeating an exercise last undertaken 11 years ago at the Mighty Mitta Muster in Mitta Mitta, northern Victoria.
Organised by the Borderline Skeptics with input from Australian Skeptics Inc and the Victorian Skeptics, diviners putting themselves up for the test will, depending on their results, be in the running for the Skeptics $100,000 challenge. (In fact, the amount for the Mitta event has been boosted by a further $10,000 from Borderliner Russell Kelly.)
The Mighty Mitta Muster is an annual event, held on the Victorian Labour Day weekend, featuring the usual range of events at rural shows – woodchopping, tent
pegging, stunt riding and egg throwing – but it hasn’t had a water divining test since the last time the Skeptics rolled up in 2002. (A previous trial was run in 2001, and a third was planned for a year later but was cancelled – as was the entire Muster — due to bushfires.)
At the 2002 event, 30 diviners put their skills to the test, but out of 20 bottles containing either water or sand (a 50/50 chance of being correct), the highest score was only 13, which is well within the realms of chance alone.
The excuses used post-trial to explain away the failures were many and varied. A video report on the event by Richard Saunders can be seen on YouTube.
MORE . . .
- New Video from the Amaz!ng Meeting 2012: Supporting Skepticism Around the World (randi.org)
- Will the real Australian sceptics please step forward? (australiansceptics.com)