Tag Archives: james randi

21st century exorcisms: Examining the psychology of possession

james-randi-69Via James Randi Education Foundation – JREF

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. Pope FrancisOnly 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. exorcism_225pxThe 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.

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James Randi: Debunking The Paranormal

By Studio 10 (Australia) via YouTube

Skeptic James Randi joins us on Studio 10, ahead of his tour around Australia in December: http://thinkinc.org.au/jamesrandi

James Randi An Honest Liar

Ghost FAQ, Facts and Fiction

Via randi.org – JREF

It’s that time of year…

Fact: Around half of the American population, in survey after survey, say they believe in ghosts and hauntings. 

ElmerGhost02_250pxThere have been dozens of television shows, books, videos and Internet sites in the past 20 years featuring people who claim to be paranormal investigators who found evidence of the paranormal.

Around Halloween time, the media is dripping with hype about ghost tours, ghost hunts, and local paranormal investigations of the community’s historical places with breathless claims of proof of ghosts from these amateur ghost hunters.

What should we think about ghosts? It’s a complicated question. Here are some facts and FAQs to help get you square about where we are with our knowledge of ghosts and paranormal evidence.

What is a ghost?

This is a deceptively tricky question! The answer you get will completely depend on whom you ask. The “ghost” is one of the most popular concepts of the paranormal (beyond normal). Yet, there is not one agreed-upon definition across disciplines of what a ghost is since one has never actually been caught and examined.

ghost on tape 10007068Fact: No ghost has ever been confirmed caught and/or examined by anyone or anything. Therefore, we can’t determine its actual characteristics with any amount of certainty. 

The common features we ascribe to ghosts is what we learn from popular culture where the concept of “ghost” has changed considerably through time.

The most common idea about a ghost is that it is the spirit of a dead person (or animal). This implies there is a “spirit”. However, we can’t define or measure “spirit,” either, because it has not ever been captured or measured. It’s more of a faith-based belief, like the soul.

Ghosts are interpreted as being what remains of a person that has not passed to the next realm of existence.

Fact: There is no scientific conclusion that any other realm exists for our “being” to pass to after death.

For reasons that are not consistent through time, paranormalists conclude that some unlucky folks may remain incorporeally stuck here after bodily death. Alternately, some paranormalists say that ghosts could be a form of psychic projection of the human mind.

Early scientific researchers (in the 1800s) who studied the concept in a methodical way, avoided the term “ghost”. Instead they used terms like “phantasms of the dead” or “apparitions”.

Your neighborhood paranormal investigator is fond of describing a ghost as a manifestation of the “energy” of a former being. “Energy” in this case is also used incorrectly since there is no energy sustained after you die. When bodies decompose, that energy is released into the environment.

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Do people still practice magic?

By Stuff They Don’t Want You to Know via YouTube

As humanity’s understanding of science and technology evolved, magic seemed set to become another historical footnote. Except, that is, for the people that still practice it today.

James Randi: How to Squash a Paranormal Claim

By Big Think via YouTube

The James Randi Educational Foundation has never met a “psychic” it couldn’t discredit—easily. Still, Randi understands why such frauds appeal to people.

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Deepak Challenge to Skeptics

steven_novellaBy Steven Novella via NeuroLogica Blog

Deepak Chopra doesn’t appear to like skeptics much, or understand them. He just put out a YouTube video challenging ”Randi and his cronies” to his own fake version of the million dollar challenge.

All we have to do, apparently, is make 50-100 years of scientific advance in neuroscience in a single peer-reviewed paper. Chopra_711_250pxI’ll get started on that right away.

Actually, even that probably would not be sufficient. The whole point of pseudoscientific goal-post moving is to keep forever out of reach of current scientific evidence. It doesn’t matter how much progress science makes, there will always be gaps and limitations to our knowledge. Chopra lives in the gaps.

Here is his exact challenge:

Dear Randi: Before you go around debunking the so-called “paranormal,” please explain the so-called “normal.” How does the electricity going into the brain become the experience of a three dimensional world in space and time. If you can explain that, then you get a million dollars from me. Explain and solve the hard problem of consciousness in a peer-reviewed journal, offer a theory that is falsifiable, and you get the prize.

The challenge is absurd because it is completely undefined. “Explain” to what degree? Science often advances by developing theories that are progressively deeper. Obviously we can explain consciousness on some level, CHOPRAand just as obviously Chopra would not accept that level as sufficient, but he gives absolutely no indication of how much deeper an explanation he would require.

A challenge without a clear way of judging the outcome is worthless. This is very different than the JREF’s million dollar challenge (now supervised by Banachek) which negotiates a very specific protocol with clear outcomes and a clear threshold for what will be considered success.

The vacuous nature of Chopra’s challenge reveals it for what it is – an insincere stunt that Chopra no doubt wishes to use for rhetorical purposes.

If you listen to the rest of the video challenge it is also clear that Chopra likes to operate in the gaps – he is making a massive argument from ignorance, or “god-of-the-gaps” type argument. In essence he is saying that because neuroscientists cannot now explain consciousness to an arbitrary level of detail (determined at will by Chopra, with an endless option to revise), therefore magic.

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Deepak Chopra Gets Owned

Is ‘Long Island Medium’ Theresa Caputo A Fake?

Some People Certainly Think So

Laura RosenfeldBy via Bustle

Every show on TLC really knows how to tug at your heartstrings, but The Long Island Medium does it pretty much better than anyone else. LongIslandMedium56That is because the Long Island Medium herself, Theresa Caputo, has an amazing ability to connect strangers with their loved ones who have passed away. By communicating through “spirit,” Caputo can learn how someone died, his or her nickname, and even deliver a message to the living. Her readings are so spot-on, it’s freaky.

Maybe even a little too freaky for some people. When a person has a supernatural ability like this, there are of course going to be skeptics. Caputo encounters them all the time on her show, like when one self-proclaimed skeptic, Brian, started to believe after Caputo’s tape recorder magically stopped without any prompting. Like with most issues in our society, the debate has mainly been alive and well on the Internet, the trolliest of troll-y places, since the show premiered back in 2011. Whether it’s through opinion pieces, blog posts, or videos, there are plenty of people online who make it their mission to debunk Caputo’s ability. So who are these people, and why do they think Caputo is not for real?

Caputo’s main opponent is James Randi, a former magician and escape artist who now spends his days “as the world’s most tireless investigator and demystifier of paranormal and pseudoscientific claims,” according to his website. caputo_250pxRandi is famous for his “One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge,” where anyone who can prove “evidence of any paranormal, supernatural, or occult power or event” will be awarded $1 million.

Randi claims Caputo uses a technique that many mediums employ called “cold reading,” where it may look like Caputo is simply chatting with the person, but she’s actually picking up information that she’ll use to make what she says seem very specific to the person she’s reading. He says Caputo’s questions about initials and life events are basically just guesses that she hopes turn out to be true. Randi, who has also taken on the famous mediums John Edward and James Van Praagh, awarded Caputo a 2012 Pigasus Award, which is awarded to parapsychological frauds who are most harmful to society.

Inside Edition performed an entire investigation on Caputo in 2012, which found that she was much less accurate in her live readings than she is shown to be on her TV show, as she would “strike out time and again.” Inside Edition had former psychic Mark Edward perform the “cold reading” techniques he believed Caputo uses, and the audience believed him.

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Also See: The Long Island Medium – Can She Really Communicate with the Dead? – News from InsideEdition.com

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Top 10 Paranormal Hoaxes

Via Paranormal Encyclopedia

The world-wide appetite for paranormal stories is a magnet for hoaxes. Some hoaxes are simply light-hearted fun but others have more serious consequences such as contaminating genuine research, wasting public money and destroying careers. Love them or hate them, here is our pick of the top ten paranormal hoaxes of all time […] …

# 10 • King Tut’s Curse

tutankhamun-1When Egyptian Pharaoh Tutankhamun’s tomb was discovered early in the 20th Century, a curse was found inscribed over the entrance: “Death shall come on swift wings to him who disturbs the peace of the king”. Before long, stories were being told about unnatural deaths of workers on the site. “King Tut’s Curse” eventually found its way into popular culture and set the stage for a whole sub-genre of horror stories and movies.

In 1980 the security officer for the original excavation site admitted that stories had been circulated to scare away thieves. Historical records show that most excavation workers went on to lead long and healthy lives.

# 9 • The Cottingley Fairies

cottingley-fairies-1_200x159In 1917 and 1920, young English cousins Elsie Wright and Frances Griffith produced a series of photographs depicting themselves interacting with fairies. In modern times it is hard to imagine how anyone could be fooled by these obvious fakes, but in the early 20th Century they were convincing enough to attract a huge following and dupe such notables as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

It was not until 1981 that Wright and Griffith admitted the hoax, although they continued to claim that they had indeed seen fairies and that one of the photos was genuine.

More info: The Cottingley Fairies

# 8 • The Cardiff Giant

Cardiff_giant_exhumed_1869_250pxIn 1869, workers digging a well in Cardiff, New York, uncovered what appeared to be the petrified remains of a giant 3-metre (10-foot) man. Archaeologists declared the body to be fake but the public reaction was more accepting, especially among those who considered it evidence in support of biblical history. The body became a business asset as crowds paid for a glimpse. Showman P.T. Barnum tried to acquire the body but eventually made his own replica, causing additional controversy over which was the genuine giant.

In December 1869, tobacconist George Hull confessed to the hoax. The body was sculpted from concrete and buried a year prior to the well-digging.

# 7 • Uri Geller’s Spoon-Bending

urigeller1_250pxDuring the 1970s Uri Geller enjoyed huge success with his mentalism acts, based largely on his alleged ability to bend spoons with his mind. Geller staunchly defended his claim to supernatural powers until hard evidence finally caught up with him. A 1982 book by James Randi exposed Geller’s tricks, and Geller was caught numerous times on camera manipulating stage props (e.g. pre-bending spoons). He has since earned a reputation for frivolous litigation after a series of failed lawsuits—mostly against people who publish unflattering material about him.

Despite never officially “outing” himself, Geller has tacitly confessed to the hoax. In 2007 he expressed the following change of heart: “I’ll no longer say that I have supernatural powers. I am an entertainer….My entire character has changed.”

More info: Uri Geller

#6 • The Amityville Horror

Amityville-Horror-house3_250pxIn 1974 Ronald DeFeo Jr shot and killed six members of his family in Amityville, New York. A year later the Lutz family moved in, only to move out 28 days later claiming they had been terrorized by ghostly presences. Their story became a best-selling book by Jay Anson and the basis of a series of films. The franchise has been highly successful, banking on the claim of being a true, verifiable story.

On closer investigation, however, it seems that not much if any of the story can be verified. Police and other records contradict the book’s account and many holes have been found in the story. In 1979, lawyer William Weber claimed: “I know this book is a hoax. We created this horror story over many bottles of wine.”

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Mind Over Metal

Joe NickellBy Joe Nickell via The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry – CSI

Can people move or alter physical objects simply by using a hidden power of the mind called psychokinesis? I have encountered many claims of such powers in the course of my work (since 1969) as a paranormal investigator. And I have pretended to have such ability myself—both as a professional stage magician and mentalist (a magician specializing in apparent psychic feats). In the fall of 2012, I attended a workshop that enabled me to investigate the latest popular expression of psychokinetic metal bending.

Psychokinesis

telekinesis_fullpic_250pxThe term psychokinesis (formerly telekinesis), or PK, derives from the Greek words for “mind” and “motion.” Together with extrasensory perception (ESP), it constitutes what parapsychologists refer to as “psi to describe the two seemingly closely related phenomena. However, the existence of psi has never been proven and, indeed, according to a sympathetic source: “Despite decades of research, psi continues to elude physical and quasi-physical theories of how it functions; it operates outside the bounds of time and space” (Guiley 1991, 468).

PK describes the alleged power of mind over matter, including such “micro-PK” acts as subtly influencing how thrown dice will land, or “macro-PK” feats like levitating a table or producing so-called “poltergeist” effects (actually, typically the tricks of children1). Psychokinetic metal bending is another alleged macro-PK phenomenon.

Geller the PK Marvel

Uri Gellermade millions in the 1970s pretending to bend spoons with his mind.

Uri Geller made millions in the 1970s pretending to bend spoons with his mind.

It appears that the first major performer of apparent PK metal bending (PK-MB) was Israeli-born former fashion model and nightclub magician, Uri Geller (b. 1946) (Figure 1). Claiming to be guided by super beings from a distant planet, Geller appeared to read minds, bend keys and cutlery with PK, see while blindfolded, and perform other feats—all of which skilled magicians easily duplicate. (I, for example, have driven a car while blindfolded [Nickell with Fischer 1992, 77].) He typically refused to perform when magicians were observing but, nevertheless, was occasionally caught cheating.

Renowned American magician and psychic investigator James “The Amazing” Randi once observed Geller up close. Posing as an editor when Geller performed in the offices of Time magazine, Randi saw the simple tricks behind Geller’s wonderworking. For example, while Geller pretended to cover his eyes as a secretary made a simple drawing, he actually peeked, thus enabling him to appear to read her mind and reproduce the drawing. Again, while supposedly bending a key “by concentration,” Geller had instead bent it against a table when he thought he was unobserved. (For more on Geller’s methods, see Randi 1982.)

More Benders

Spoon_bending_200pxGeller was soon imitated by other “psychics” who discovered that they, too, could bend keys and spoons. One was Judy Knowles, who impressed London physics professor and parapsychologist John Hasted with her apparent ability. Hasted invited James Randi to observe tests of Knowles in a lab at Bath. Randi arrived with colleagues and his checkbook, offering Ms. Knowles $10,000 if she successfully passed the test, which was designed by Harry Collins of the University of Bath. Collins had tested other spoon benders, but none had been successful, and some children had been caught cheating.

Briefly, the test involved Knowles holding the spoon in a . . .

The psychology of spiritualism: science and seances

The idea of summoning the spirits took thrilling hold of the Victorian imagination – and has its adherents now. But the psychology behind spiritualism is more intriguing

By via The Observer

A Seance scene in the classic German silent film Dr Mabuse (1922), directed by Fritz Lang. Photograph: Bettmann/Corbis

A Seance scene in the classic German silent film Dr Mabuse (1922), directed by Fritz Lang. Photograph: Bettmann/Corbis

As the evenings get darker and the first hint of winter hangs in the air, the western world enters the season of the dead. It begins with Halloween, continues with All Saints’ and All Souls’ days, runs through Bonfire Night – the evening where the English burn effigies of historical terrorists – and ends with Remembrance Day. And through it all, Britain’s mediums enjoy one of their busiest times of the year.

People who claim to contact the spirit world provoke extreme reactions. For some, mediums offer comfort and mystery in a dull world. For others they are fraudsters or unwitting fakes, exploiting the vulnerable and bereaved. But to a small group of psychologists, the rituals of the seance and the medium are opening up insights into the mind, shedding light on the power of suggestion and even questioning the nature of free will.

Humanity has been attempting to commune with the dead since ancient times. As far back as Leviticus, the Old Testament God actively forbade people to seek out mediums. Interest peaked in the 19th century, a time when religion and rationality were clashing like never before. In an era of unprecedented scientific discovery, some churchgoers began to seek evidence for their beliefs.

Katy and Maggie Fox

Katy and Maggie Fox

Salvation came from two American sisters, 11-year-old Kate and 14-year-old Margaret Fox. On 31 March 1848, the girls announced they were going to contact the spirit world. To the astonishment of their parents they got a reply. That night, the Fox sisters chatted to a ghost haunting their New York State home, using a code of one tap for yes, two gaps for no. Word spread and soon the girls were demonstrating their skills to 400 locals in the town hall.

Within months a new religion had emerged – spiritualism – a mixture of liberal, nonconformist values and fireside chats with dead people. Spiritualism attracted some of the great thinkers of the day – including biologist Alfred Russel Wallace and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who spent his latter years promoting spiritualism in between knocking out Sherlock Holmes stories. Even the admission of the Fox sisters in 1888 that they had faked it all failed to crush the movement. Today spiritualism thrives in more than 350 churches in Britain.

The tricks and techniques used by mediums have been exposed many times by people such as James Randi, Derren Brown and Jon Dennis, creator of the Bad Pyschics website.

Last week I spent 40 minutes with a telephone spiritualist who passed on messages from four dead people. Like all mediums, she was skilled at cold reading – the use of probable guesses and picking up of cues to steer her in the right direction. If she hit a dud – the suggestion that she was in the presence of a 40-year-old uncle of mine – she quickly widened it out. psychic 856_250pxThe 40-year-old became an older person who felt young at heart. And then someone who was more of an uncle figure. She was also skilled at the Barnum effect – the use of statements that tend to be true for everyone.

Among dozens of guesses and misses, there was just one hit – the correct name of a dead relative. Their relation to me was utterly wrong, as were details of their health. But the name was right and, even though it was a common name among that person’s generation, it was a briefly chilling moment.

Professor Richard Wiseman, a psychologist and magician, says my response to this lucky guess is typical. People tend to remember the correct details in a seance but overlook statements or events that provide no evidence of paranormal powers.

Wiseman’s work has also shown that we are all extremely susceptible to the power of suggestion.

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▶ James Randi – Fighting the Fakers

Via ▶ James Randi – YouTube

James Randi has an international reputation as a magician and escape artist, but today he is best known as the world’s most tireless investigator and demystifier of paranormal and pseudoscientific claims. Randi has pursued “psychic” spoonbenders, exposed the dirty tricks of faith healers, investigated homeopathic water “with a memory,” and generally been a thorn in the sides of those who try to pull the wool over the public’s eyes in the name of the supernatural. He is the author of numerous books, including The Truth About Uri Geller, The Faith Healers, Flim-Flam!, and An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural.

Secrets of the Psychics

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.

Psychic Secrets

Jamy_Ian_SwissBy Jamy Iam Swiss via randi.org

The secret is out: professional storefront psychics are mostly comprised of fakes, frauds, cheats, and con artists. Step into a psychic storefront – especially in New York City or Southern Florida where organized criminal elements of the Romani (gypsy) culture is a significant presence – at your own extreme risk.

Second psychic in Hingham fraud probe surrenders to police - Quincy, MA - The Patriot LedgerWell, maybe that doesn’t seem like a secret to many skeptics, but the fact is that since the inception of the modern skeptic movement, skeptics have pursued and possessed specialized knowledge in the realm of paranormal claims such as psychic phenomena. Of course, skeptics are interested in a vast panoply of pseudoscience – a glance down the list of subjects at the Skeptic’s Dictionary [skepdic.com] will produce an alphabetical list of nonsense, from the doofus to the deadly, “From Abracadabra to Zombies,” as it says on the home page.

But the paranormal is a special area of interest and expertise, partly because of the so-called science of parapsychology, which for more than a century-and-a-half has attempted to establish the existence of psychic phenomena in the laboratory. Unfortunately, this science has yet to produce so much as a single replicable, paradigmatic experiment (as compared with even a “soft science” like psychology which has hundreds of such examples that can be readily replicated by new students and scientists alike).

Another reason for this interest is the role of magicians in the skeptic movement, who themselves possess specialized knowledge not only of deception and illusion in general but also in particular of the methods of psychics, which often encompass techniques that magicians and particularly “mentalists” routinely use in their own work. Thus the magician has been a key player in parapsychology investigation since the first committee on psychical research was organized by “Scientific American” magazine, with Harry Houdini as a member.

And finally – surely far from least – there is the terrible predation and damage that professional psychics do. Whether it is a television talk-to-the-dead medium who entraps people in their grief rather than helping them to return eventually, as they must, to the normal living of their own lives, despite the loss of their loved ones – or professional storefront fortunetellers-and-takers who use their traditional finely honed psychological weaponry to rob people of their dignity and self-respect, their self-control, and often their life savings.

220px-Secrets_of_the_PsychicsVideoIn 1993, the “Nova” television series devoted an entire program, entitled “Secrets of the Psychics,” to James Randi and his work as a psychic investigator and consumer protection advocate. Although this episode of the famous science documentary series has been available in various recorded forms, including in segments on YouTube, the program has just been posted in its entirety [here (illuminutti.com) and] here.

The show covers the gamut of psychic claims, and Randi’s investigations and insights. He looks at Russian psychics who claim to be able to gain special knowledge about a person just from examining a photograph. He tries to test specially psychically altered water, which seems to (rather hilariously) possess the special quality of being untestable. He looks at claims of the alleged psychic power to alter people’s blood pressure and brain waves. The program provides a synopsis of Randi’s legendary investigation of the faith healer Peter Popoff, and also provides a useful overview of Randi’s debunkings of Uri Geller during Geller’s metal-bending heydays.

Oh, and a young long-haired magician with a waxed moustache offers a brief original demonstration of psychokinesis in the first three minutes of the show. Go take a look!

The show is twenty years old but its principles and subjects are as fresh as today’s headlines, and literally so.

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James Randi – Secrets of the Psychics (Full)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

Secrets of the Psychics was a PBS NOVA episode following James Randi‘s work.[1] Also appearing in stock footage are Peter Popoff, Uri Geller, and many others.

In the program, “Randi argues that successful psychics depend on the willingness of their audiences to believe that what they see is the result of psychic powers.”[2]

This program is not to be confused with a later UK documentary Secrets of the Psychics, which was transmitted under this title as well as Secrets of the Super Psychics.


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Whatever Happened to Parapsychology?

Glenn McDonald, Discovery News via LiveScience

mind_body_225pxIt seems that stories of the paranormal sprout up every day, and everywhere, in pop culture and the media. Weird news websites number in the hundreds, and there are entire television series dedicated to psychic abilities, hauntings and paranormal investigation.

But that’s all showbiz, really. The actual academic study of parapsychology — the established term for phenomena such as clairvoyance, psychokinesis, telepathy and precognition — has seemingly disappeared since its heyday in the mid-20th century. So what happened to parapsychology?

It hasn’t gone anywhere, said John Kruth, executive director of the Rhine Research Center in Durham, N.C. It’s just become disorganized, underfunded and — in the realm of traditional science — largely ignored. The Rhine is one of a handful of privately funded groups in the United States still doing active research into parapsychology, sometimes called “psi phenomena.”

“People have never stopped doing research in these areas,” Kruth said. “But the skeptic community is strong and vocal, and they’re much better at working the media.” Kruth attributes much of the field’s decline in the United States, during the 1970s and 1980s, to media-savvy debunkers such as James Randi.

esp_200px“Certainly there are fraudulent practitioners out there, and we’re always watching for that,” Kruth said. “It’s like we have the frauds on one side and the debunkers on the other, and we’re in the middle, still trying to do science.”

Critics respond that, as a field of scientific study, parapsychology has much bigger issues. In short, the science has a fundamental evidence problem.

“It’s fallen into disuse due to the fact that there’s just nothing there,” said Michael Shermer, editor of the quarterly journal Skeptic and columnist for Scientific American. “Parapsychology has been around for more than a century. (Yet) there’s no research protocol that generates useful working hypotheses for other labs to test and develop into a model, and eventually a paradigm that becomes a field. It just isn’t there.”

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Dowsing: The Pseudoscience of Water Witching

By Benjamin Radford via LiveScience

dowsing 730_300pxDowsing is an unexplained process in which people use a forked twig or wire to find missing and hidden objects. Dowsing, also known as divining and doodlebugging, is often used to search for water or missing jewelry, but it is also often employed in other applications including ghost hunting, crop circles and fortunetelling.

The dowsing that most people are familiar with is water dowsing, or water witching or rhabdomancy, in which a person holds a Y-shaped branch (or two L-shaped wire rods) and walks around until they feel a pull on the branch, or the wire rods cross, at which point water is allegedly below. Sometimes a pendulum is used held over a map until it swings (or stops swinging) over a spot where the desired object may be found. Dowsing is said to find anything and everything, including missing persons, buried pipes, oil deposits and even archaeological ruins.

[…]

Dowsing: No better than chance

Skeptic James Randi in his “Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural,” notes that dowsers often cannot agree on even the basics of their profession: “Some instructions tell learners never to try dowsing with rubber footwear, while others insist that it helps immeasurably. Some practitioners say that when divining rods cross, that specifically indicates water; others say that water makes the rods diverge to 180 degrees.”

Though some people swear by dowsing’s effectiveness, dowsers have been subjected to many tests over the years and have performed no better than chance under controlled conditions. It’s not surprising that water can often be found with dowsing rods, since if you dig deep enough you’ll find water just about anywhere. If missing objects (and even missing people) could be reliably and accurately located using dowsing techniques, it would be a great benefit: If you lose your keys or cell phone, you should be able to just pull out your pendulum and find it; if a person goes missing or is abducted, police should be able to locate them with dowsing rods.

Science differs from the New Age and paranormal belief in that it progresses, correcting and building on itself. Technology and medicine are continually advancing and refining. Designs and techniques are improved or abandoned depending on how well they work. By contrast, dowsers have not gotten any more accurate over centuries and millennia of practice.

MORE . . .

Benjamin Radford is deputy editor of Skeptical Inquirer science magazine and author of six books including Scientific Paranormal Investigation: How to Solve Unexplained Mysteries. His Web site is www.BenjaminRadford.com.

Confronting The Woo-Woos Head-On…

james-randi-69By James Randi via randi.org

Back in September of 2007, I was invited to speak at the prestigious TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conference in Monterey, California. To do so, I had to literally get up out of a hospital bed in Florida – very much against the advice of my doctors – and fly off to address what is arguably the toughest, most influential, and savvy audience to be found anywhere. During that heady experience I met actress Goldie Hawn, neuroscientist Vilayanur Ramachandran, entrepreneur Richard Branson, and prominent skeptical author Stephen Pinker, all for the first time, along with literally dozens of other celebrities.

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Watch the full video below.

I committed homeopathic suicide during that lecture, a stunt I’ve done all over the world to make an important point about homeopathy, that it has no ingredients that will help or affect any ailment, symptom, or disease, and that it’s inane to take it seriously.

Seriously…

During my talk, which can be seen and heard here (and below) I opened and downed an entire bottle – 32 tablets – of homeopathic Calms Forte* sleeping pills, the main ingredient of which was “coffea cruda,” which is not made from instant coffee, nor brewed coffee, nor caffeine, but unroasted coffee beans, friends, but diluted – literally – billions of times, so that there isn’t even a single molecule of any active substance in a truck full of the tablets! I was confident that I’d not toss and turn that evening…

*which has since changed its formula to use “passion flower” rather than coffea cruda as the “active ingredient,” perhaps to invoke a more exciting reaction…?

Well, a Jack Myers was in that audience, and he was apparently not favorably impressed by my attitude or my opinions. Mr. Myers labels himself an “economist,” a media ecologist, author, documentary film producer, and publisher of economic reports on media, marketing and entertainment. Jack’s also a recipient of the George Foster Peabody Award, so I was surprised, following his attendance at TED, to read on his internet site a strong denunciation of me and my statements. In fact, he commented, ominously:

I found Mr. Randi’s presentation, itself, to be very misleading and disingenuous.

Fightin’ words, I’d say, but that tirade – strangely – was deleted from his site shortly after it was published. With the aid of friends, I managed to find an account he’d sent to an Internet columnist who wanted to know more about what she’d seen. I’ll share that with you, and break in to comment. Rather often. It began:

First [Randi] told us not to believe anything he said.

Well, not quite. As I always do, I suggested to the TED audience that they shouldn’t merely accept blindly what I’d said, but should look into the situations for themselves. Jack misheard me, I guess. He continued:

Then he told us homeopathic products are worthless, which he “proved” by swallowing a bottle of homeopathic sleeping pills. There was no seal on the bottle but he presented it as if he was opening it for the first time, even removing the instructions. I don’t believe they were, in fact, the original pills. I know many people who take those exact pills and they do work. I hope he doesn’t prove his “theory” with people who might “try it at home” and potentially die.

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Not to worry, Jack. As I said, I’ve done this “suicide” act all over the world for some twenty years now, and the only problem I’ve had has been people laughing to hear just how naïve and dense others can be when smooth-talked to by the operators who obviously also got to you…

Secondly, Randi denigrated those who use herbs and homeopathic products as part of a medical practice. My daughter is a practitioner of Oriental Medicine and studied four full years in an accredited master’s program to gain her degree. She uses many herbs and remedies that have been handed down and have been effective for centuries that would be classified as homeopathic. I wonder who pays Randi – the medical institutions? The AMA? I would like full disclosure on his funding.

Rejoice, sir! That data is all available to anyone who asks for it, because the JREF is registered as a 501(c)3 charity, and by law must provide that information to anyone who asks for it. So, just ask, Jack! And no, we’ve never received a cent from Big Pharma, as you suggest, nor from those perfidious doctors who actually put real medicine into their patients’ bodies.

Next, Randi believes there is no afterlife. Again, he seeks to make anyone who does believe into a fool. He’s entitled to his opinions, but why should it be at the expense of those who disagree with him? I like many others believe there is another level of existence – an afterlife.

No, Jack, though you may choose for yourself any title or definition you want, of course. If you wish to think of yourself as a total jackass, be my guest…!

I have seen someone who has the abilities Randi pooh poohed and am convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that a true communication occurred. It changed my life and my beliefs and, by the way, cost me nothing. I don’t feel he has a right to dismiss my beliefs as foolish and idiotic. I agree there are charlatans in every field – but that doesn’t mean he has a right to dismiss someone’s beliefs just because he doesn’t agree with them.

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Well, perhaps it did cost you, Jack. It appears that you witnessed a demonstration that quite impressed you and changed your basic opinions on how the world works. But just think, man! Now you’re potentially rich, a million bucks wealthier than you were before you revealed this to me, because my organization, the James Randi Educational Foundation [JREF], is prepared to pay your “someone” a million bucks upon the demonstration of that ability that I scoffed at! Wow! Now, this guru/saint/medium/gypsy/whatever may be shy – so many are, I’ve found – and may be so strongly spiritual that he/she shuns taking such easy money, but isn’t it worth a try…? C’mon, Jack, give the wheel a spin!

No?

I wonder why… Jack struck me as a far more dependable and worthy opponent in this brouhaha, but just see up ahead how perfidious he actually proved to be. Read on, as he throws down his gauntlet…

MORE . . .


James Randi: Homeopathy, quackery and fraud

Sylvia Browne: Wrong Again

The Randi Show –

Randi dives into the most recent of “psychic” Sylvia Browne‘s failed predictions, hoping that this one may be spectacular enough to put her out of business for good.

via The Randi Show – Sylvia Browne: Wrong Again – YouTube.

Cold Reading

via The Skeptic’s Dictionary

“In the course of a successful reading, the psychic may provide most of the words, but it is the client that provides most of the meaning and all of the significance.” —Ian Rowland (2000: 60)

Note: to understand cold reading you must understand subjective validation.

psychic_300pxCold 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. 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.

Thus, a good manipulator can provide a reading of a total stranger, which will make the stranger feel that the manipulator possesses some special power. For example, Bertram Forer has never met you, yet he offers the following cold reading of you:bertram-forer_200px

Some of your aspirations tend to be pretty unrealistic. At times you are extroverted, affable, sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary and reserved. You have found it unwise to be too frank in revealing yourself to others. You pride yourself on being an independent thinker and do not accept others’ opinions without satisfactory proof. You prefer a certain amount of change and variety, and become dissatisfied when hemmed in by restrictions and limitations. At times you have serious doubts as to whether you have made the right decision or done the right thing. Disciplined and controlled on the outside, you tend to be worrisome and insecure on the inside.

Your sexual adjustment has presented some problems for you. While you have some personality weaknesses, you are generally able to compensate for them. You have a great deal of unused capacity which you have not turned to your advantage. You have a tendency to be critical of yourself. You have a strong need for other people to like you and for them to admire you.

Here’s another reading that you might find fairly accurate about you:

People close to you have been taking advantage of you. Your basic honesty has been getting in your way. Many opportunities that you have had offered to you in the past have had to be surrendered because you refuse to take advantage of others. You like to read books and articles to improve your mind. In fact, if you’re not already in some sort of personal service business, you should be. You have an infinite capacity for understanding people’s problems and you can sympathize with them. But you are firm when confronted with obstinacy or outright stupidity. Law enforcement would be another field you understand. Your sense of justice is quite strong.

The last one was from astrologer Sidney Omarr. He’s never even met you and yet he knows so much about you (Randi 1982: 61). The first one was taken by Forer from a newsstand astrology book.

psychicFair_210pxThe selectivity of the human mind is always at work. We pick and choose what data we will remember and what we will give significance to. In part, we do so because of what we already believe or want to believe. In part, we do so in order to make sense out of what we are experiencing. We are not manipulated simply because we are gullible or suggestible, or just because the signs and symbols of the manipulator are vague or ambiguous. Even when the signs are clear and we are skeptical, we can still be manipulated. In fact, it may even be the case that particularly bright persons are more likely to be manipulated when the language is clear and they are thinking logically. To make the connections that the manipulator wants you to make, you must be thinking logically.

Not all cold readings are done by malicious manipulators. Some readings are done by astrologers, graphologists, tarot readers, New Age healers, and people who genuinely believe they have paranormal powers.

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Sylvia Browne’s Biggest Blunder

By Ben Radford via The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry – CSI

From June 2007

The tragic consequences of listening to psychic advice were brought into sharp focus in January 2007, when yet another psychic vision from Sylvia Browne was revealed to be wrong.

Why don't you remember this headline?

Why don’t you remember this headline?

Several years ago during one of her many appearances on the Montel Williams show, Browne told the parents of missing child Shawn Hornbeck that their son was dead. His body, she said, would be found in a wooded area near two large boulders. Furthermore, according to Browne, Hornbeck was kidnapped by a very tall, “dark-skinned man, he wasn’t Black, more like Hispanic,” who wore dreadlocks.

According to a spokesman for the Hornbeck family, following the Montel broadcast Browne tried to get money from the family: “She called Pam and Craig about one month after the show and pretty much offered her services to continue their discussion for a fee. Pam was that desperate that if she had had $700 in her bank account she would have put it on the table. We are talking about a mother who would have sold her soul to have her boy back.”

In fact, Hornbeck and another boy were found very much alive January 16, 2007, in the home of Michael Devlin, a Missouri man accused of kidnapping them. Hornbeck had been missing for four years, but his parents had not given up hope of finding him despite Browne’s misinformation. Devlin, a Caucasian, is not Black, dark-skinned, nor Hispanic and almost certainly did not have dreadlocks at the time he allegedly abducted Hornbeck.

Within days of Hornbeck’s recovery, critics such as James “The Amazing” Randi spoke out against Browne. CNN’s Anderson Cooper featured Randi and gave refreshingly skeptical (and harsh) coverage of the case, calling attention to Browne’s highest-profile failure to date. Browne, in a statement posted on her Web site, responded to the criticism, stating that “I have never nor ever will charge anyone who seeks my help regarding a missing person or homicide. In these cases I choose to work strictly with law enforcement agencies involved to aid and not impede their work and only when asked. To be accused of otherwise by James Randi and others like him is a boldface [sic] lie. . . . If the brilliant scientists throughout history had a James Randi negating every aspect of their work, I doubt we would have progressed very far in medicine or in any technology. . . . I cannot possibly be 100 percent correct in each and every one of my predictions.”

Yet her documented track record is one of nearly 100 percent failure rate instead of 100 percent success. Browne’s confidence in her body of work is baffling, and her claim that her flawed visions were “one human error” is an amazing understatement.

Also see:

Telepathic Girl Baffles Researchers with Her Ability to Read Minds

I love this kind of nonsense, it’s always entertaining. If she were really psychic she would know about James Randi’s $1,000,000 paranormal challenge.

All she would need to do is “show, under proper observing conditions, evidence of any paranormal, supernatural, or occult power or event” and she would take home the $1,000,000 prize!!!!!!!  Can you imagine winning $1,000,000? Wowee kazowee!!!!!

But alas, MY psychic abilities are telling me she would never take the challenge. I wonder, why?

Mason I. Bilderberg (MIB)

via Who Forted? Magazine

Nandana Unnikrishnan doesn’t want $1,000,000!!!

Being autistic, Nandana Unnikrishnan is not like other girls her age. Despite the troubles that come with such a developmental disorder, autism sometimes lends itself to unusual and amazing talents, but never one like this: Nandana is allegedly telepathic.

According to initial testing, it appears that the young Indian girl has the ability to read her mother’s thoughts and emotions with no physical contact, able to pass ESP tests with flying colors, even going so far as to type out entire poems that have been telepathically communicated to her. The results have stunned skeptical researchers like Dr. Phillip John of the Indian Psychiatric Society, who told the Khaleej Times that he believes Nandana’s case is genuine.

“We see several autistic children with savant skills like unusual Mathematical skills, extraordinary memory about calendar days and dates. In such cases, they have access to their memory. In some people with schizophrenia, there is a symptom called “thought broadcast” wherein they believe their thoughts are known to others. psychic_fraudIt is not transmission of memory. In Nandana’s case, she has access to her mother’s memory and there is a transmission of memory, that too without a medium. This is the first time I am seeing a case like this. Here, we are talking about memory as a function which is why it is very surprising. This is a very rare phenomenon of transmission of memory without a medium.”

Nandana’s parents first became aware of her bizarre talents when they began to notice “unusual coincidences” when it came to her almost premeditated responses to her mother’s thoughts and feelings.

“I used to feel strange when she would come to me and say the name of the food I was thinking of preparing for her”, Nandana’s mother Sandhya, told reporters. “The same way, if my husband and I had decided to take her somewhere, she would know about it without being told about it and would start reacting to it.”

MORE . . .

James Randi on Dr. Oz and Homeopathy (VIDEO)

Written by JREF Staff

In the latest installment of our ongoing video series The Randi Show, James Randi goes in-depth on Dr. Oz‘s recent support of homeopathy. Should a medical doctor with a large television audience promote baseless pseudoscience? Randi thinks not.

via James Randi on Dr. Oz and Homeopathy (VIDEO).

Eneregy Healing: Looking in all the Wrong Places

By Robert Todd Carroll via The Skeptic’s Dictionary – Skepdic.com

(This article was written in response to “The energy to heal” by Jenny Hontz, Los Angeles Times, July 5, 2004.)

reiki-hand_200pxHow is it possible to get relief from swelling, pain, nausea, headaches, anxiety, and an assortment of other ailments without the use of medicine or surgery? It happens all the time and has been going on for centuries. It’s called by many names but these days it’s mostly called “energy healing.” Whatever name it goes by, ultimately it amounts to faith healing. The amazing thing about it is that the healer need not even touch the patient. In fact, the healer need not even be in the presence of the patient. Powerful medicine, no? Yes, very powerful and not completely understood, though there are many theories being offered, the most common ones these days being couched in terms of chi or prana, meridians, auras, and chakras. Is there any evidence that there is a metaphysical life force (call it “energy” or “chi” or whatever you want) that determines health depending on whether it is blocked or flowing? If there is, I’d like to see evidence for it that’s not just post hoc reasoning and begging the question.

In the eighteenth century, Franz Anton Mesmer had the ladies of Paris convinced he could heal them. He convinced himself he had tapped into a new force. He called it “animal magnetism.” There’s about as much evidence for animal magnetism as there is for chi. Most scholars now believe that Mesmer stumbled upon hypnotism. He eventually figured out that he didn’t need the magnets he was using. Just waving his hands did the trick. Modern day nurses practicing what they call “therapeutic touch” seem to have hit upon the same formula. Aura healers and chakra healers have been practicing their craft under different names for centuries. In Japan the practice of energy healing is known as reiki. Psychometry636They just wave their hands over the patient and “feel” the energy moving. The patient feels it, too. Great stuff but what’s really going on? How did so many different people independently discover energy healing? It must be because there really is energy that can be manipulated to bring about healing, right? Not necessarily.

Nine-year old Emily Rosa tested 21 therapeutic touch (TT) practitioners to see if they could feel her life energy when they could not see its source. The test was very simple and seems to clearly indicate that the subjects could not detect the life energy of the little girl’s hands when placed near theirs. They had a 50% chance of being right in each test, yet they correctly located Emily’s hand only 44% of the time in 280 trials. If they can’t detect the energy, how can they manipulate or transfer it? What are they detecting? Dr. Dolores Krieger, one of the creators of TT, has been offered $1,000,000 by James Randi to demonstrate that she, or anyone else for that matter, can detect the human energy field. So far, Dr. Krieger has not been tested.

MORE . . .

ReikiCat

Can you spot what is odd about these pictures?

Via Richard Wiseman

Here are some great Colgate ads – can you see what is wrong with them?

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To put you out of your misery…
In the first one the woman has one finger too many in her hand.
In the second one a phantom arm is floating there.
In the third one the man has only one ear.

Did you spot them?

Secrets of the Psychics – James Randi

Secrets of the Psychics – James Randi
Original broadcast: October 19, 1993

Description via PBS.org:

james-randi-69Can 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.

James Randi Videos Added!

James Randi is one of my heroes.

I’ve just added a new series of James Randi videos from the “James Randi: Psychic Investigator” series from 1991. There were 6 episodes, Randi investigated Mediums, Astrology, Psychic Surgery, Dowsing, New Age, and Psychometry/Graphology – all in front of a live audience.

These video links are now permanently located above, in the pulldown menu links just below the iLLumiNuTTi banner. Enjoy!!!🙂

Who is James Randi?

Biography*

JamesRandi_300pxJames Randi has an international reputation as a magician and escape artist, but today he is best known as the world’s most tireless investigator and demystifier of paranormal and pseudoscientific claims.

Randi has pursued “psychic” spoonbenders, exposed the dirty tricks of faith healers, investigated homeopathic water “with a memory,” and generally been a thorn in the sides of those who try to pull the wool over the public’s eyes in the name of the supernatural.

He has received numerous awards and recognitions, including a Fellowship from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation in 1986.

On October 19, 1993, the PBS-TV “NOVA” program broadcast a one-hour special dealing with Randi’s life work, particularly with his investigations of Uri Geller and various occult and healing claims being made by scientists in Russia.

He is the author of numerous books, including The Truth About Uri Geller, The Faith Healers, Flim-Flam!, and An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural. His lectures and television appearances have delighted — and vexed — audiences around the world.

In 1996, the James Randi Education Foundation was established to further Randi’s work. Randi’s long-standing challenge to psychics now stands as a $1,000,000 prize administered by the Foundation. It remains unclaimed.
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*From the official James Randi FaceBook page.

Top 10 Psychic Debunkings

Via Listverse

james-randi-69James Randi is a stage magician and scientific skeptic best known as a challenger of paranormal claims and pseudoscience. In this list we see 10 of his best psychic debunking (and have a bonus clip of a lecture of his). These are all extremely damning to the practitioners of these magic arts and Randi makes no apologies for his tough approach; in fact he is offering a reward of $1 million to anyone who can demonstrate evidence of any paranormal, supernatural or occult power or event, under test conditions agreed to by both parties. As of this time, no one has claimed this prize.

10 • Graphology

According to Randi, a large number of European businesses uses graphology (the ability to determine a person’s traits by their handwriting) to help in their hiring process. In this clip, Randi tests a professional graphologist to determine whether they actually do have the ability to recognize certain traits, or whether their results are determined entirely by chance.

9 • Astrology

Astrology is the ability to forecast a person’s life based upon the positions of the stars and other heavenly bodies. In this clip we see a very prolific astrologer giving a reading for a selected person in the audience. The best part of this clip is the series of witty comments at the end made by Stephen Fry. Excuse the sound quality at the start – it does improve.

8 • Psychometry

Psychometry is the ability to determine information about a person through their personal possessions. In the clip above, James Randi sets up a test for a woman claiming to have psychometry abilities. Unfortunately for her, the test did not go well.

7 • Crystal Power

Crystal power is the idea that certain crystals effect a person in a particular way. For this reason they are used for healing and psychic readings. In the test above, a professional crystal healer was tested. This is definitely one of the best clips. Despite the result, the “psychic” took it all very well.

6 • Aura Reading

Aura reading is the ability to see the aura (a field of color that radiates from an object) around people. In this clever test, James Randi has the reader see the auras of 5 people and then has them stand behind a thin wall. The reader then determines where each person is standing behind the wall based on their auras.

5 • Telekenesis

Telekenesis is when a person is able to move objects with the mind. In the 1980s, James Hydrick developed a cult like following due to his abilities. In this clip, we see James Randi debunk him on television. Some years later Hydrick was exposed as a criminal and he confessed his psychic fraud. He admitted that he learnt his trick whilst in jail. I am not sure what he spent time in jail for, but it may well have been crimes against fashion.

MORE . . .

Uri Geller

via The Skeptic’s Dictionary – Skepdic.com

“If Uri Geller bends spoons with divine powers, then he’s doing it the hard way.”James Randi

“Because a good magician can do something shouldn’t make you right away jump to the conclusion that it’s a real phenomenon.” —Richard Feynman

“Geller is at his ingenious best in laboratories where he is being observed by scientists who believe he has extraordinary ESP ability and think—without justification—that they have ruled out every possibility of fraud.” —Milbourne Christopher

geller

Click Image To Purchase

Uri Geller is most famous for his claim to be able to bend spoons and keys with his mind. An international star in the psychic circuit, Geller is a Hungarian/Austrian who was born in Israel and lives in England. He claims he’s had visions for many years and may get his powers from extraterrestrials. He calls himself a psychic and has sued several people for millions of dollars for saying otherwise. His psychic powers were not sufficient to reveal to him, however, that he would lose all the lawsuits against his critics. His arch critic has been James “The Amazing” Randi, who has written a book and numerous articles aimed at demonstrating that Geller is a fraud, that he has no psychic powers, and that what Geller does amounts to no more than the parlor tricks of a conjurer.

Geller has been performing for many years. The first time I saw him was in 1973 when he appeared on the Johnny Carson Tonight Show. He was supposed to demonstrate his ability to bend spoons with his thoughts and identify hidden objects, but he failed to even try. He squirmed around and said something about how his power can’t be turned on and off, and that he didn’t feel strong right then. Randi had worked with Carson’s producer to change the spoons and metal items Geller planned to use, as there was a suspicion that Geller likes to work (i.e., soften) his metals before his demonstrations, as would any careful conjurer.

View Geller’s Tonight Show lack of performance (courtesy of James Randi):


(video source)

I have always been fascinated and puzzled by the attraction of Uri Geller. I suppose this is because nearly every one of our household spoons is bent and what I would like to see is someone who can straighten them, with his mind or with anything for that matter. Likewise with stopped watches. I have several of those and I would love for someone to use his powers, psychic or otherwise, to make them start running again. Of course, even I can get my stopped watches to run again for a short while by shaking or tapping them, but a permanent fix would be appreciated. There is something mysterious, however, about a person who has built a career out of breaking things.

MORE . . .

Thoughtography

via The Skeptic’s Dictionary – Skepdic.com

Thoughtography was made popular by psychiatrist Dr. Jule Eisenbud, who wrote a book about a Chicago bellhop named Ted Serios, who claimed he could make images appear on Polaroid film just by thinking of an image.

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Theodore “Ted” Judd Serios was a Chicago bellhop known for his production of “thoughtographs” on Polaroid film. He claimed these were produced using psychic powers. (Wikipedia)

Since the publication of Eisenbud’s The World of Ted Serios: ‘Thoughtographic’ Studies of an Extraordinary Mind (1966), others have claimed to be able to perform this feat. Eisenbud claimed that Serios made his thoughtographs by psychokinesis and that some of them were instigated during out-of-body experiences.

Charlie Reynolds and David Eisendrath, both amateur magicians and professional photographers exposed Serios as a fraud after spending a weekend with him and Eisenbud. Serios claimed he needed a little tube in front of the camera lens to help him concentrate, but he was spotted slipping something into the tube. Most likely it was a picture of something that the camera would take an image of, but which Serios would claim came from his mind rather than his hand. The exposé appeared in the October 1967 issue of Popular Photography. Serios’ psychokinetic powers began to fade after the exposure and he has remained virtually unheard from for the past thirty years.

Many years after Serios faded from the paranormal spotlight, Uri Geller began doing a trick in which he produced thoughtographs. Geller would leave the lens cap on a 35mm camera and take pictures of his forehead. He claimed the developed film had pictures on it that came directly from his mind. There is no doubt that the images came from Geller’s mind, but perhaps they took a more circuitous route than he says. James Randi, magician and debunker of all things paranormal, claims that thoughtography is actually trickery done using a handheld optical device (Randi 1982: 222ff.; 1995: 233) or by taking photos on already exposed film. Intelligent people who are ignorant of photography are susceptible to being duped about psychic photographs and photographs of  prehistoric monsters or fairies, as was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes.

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See also:

Psychic Tricks, Fraud and Forer

Forer Effect

via Unnatural Acts that can improve your thinking

forerThe 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. crystal_ball_01Scientific 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.
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James Randi‘s fiery takedown of psychic fraud

via http://www.ted.com

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.)

The Tricks

via Project Barnum

• 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

MORE . . .

More via Granit State Skeptics: learn how psychics work by reading the Psychic Pamphlet.

Overdosing on Homeopathic Medicines

massive-homeopathic-overdose-homeopathy

via Homeopathy: there’s nothing in it | The 10:23 Campaign

What is homeopathy?

Ask many people what they think homeopathy is and you’ll be told “it’s herbal medicine” or “it’s all-natural”. Actually, it is neither of these.

warning-homeopathy-not-medicineFew people realise that homeopathy involves diluting substances so much that there’s literally nothing left in them.

Homeopathy is an absurd pseudoscience, which survives today as a “complementary” or “alternative” medicine, despite there being no reliable scientific evidence that it works. (keep reading)

Contrary to popular belief, ‘homeopathy’ is not the same as herbal medicine.

Homeopathy is based on three central tenets, unchanged since their invention by Samuel Hahnemann in 1796.

The Law of Similars

The law of similars states that whatever would cause your symptoms, will also cure those same symptoms. Thus, if you find yourself unable to sleep, taking caffeine will help; streaming eyes due to hayfever can be treated with onions, and so on. This so-called law was based upon nothing other than Hahnemann’s own imagination. You don’t need to have a medical degree to see the flawed reasoning in taking caffeine – a stimulant – to help you sleep; yet caffeine is, even today, prescribed by homeopaths (under the name ‘coffea’) as a treatment for insomnia.

The Law of Infinitesimals

Following on from his ‘law of similars’, Hahnemann proposed he could improve the effect of his ‘like-cures-like treatments’ by repeatedly diluting them in water. The more dilute the remedy, Hahnemann decided, the stronger it will become. Thus was born his ‘Law of Infinitesimals’.

MORE  . . .

James Randi Encourages Skeptics to “Overdose” on Homeopathic Medicines

via James Randi Encourages Skeptics to “Overdose” on Homeopathic Medicines – Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach – News – The Daily Pulp.

Also See:

Long Island Medium – The Learning Channel

via The Skeptic’s Dictionary

Long Island Medium is a television program on The (so-called) Learning Channel featuring Theresa Caputo doing readings as a psychic medium in the tradition of Sylvia Browne, James Van Praagh, John Edward, and thousands of other men and women claiming to get messages from dead people. What are the odds that Caputo is not deluded or a fraud? I’d say they’re about the same as those for Gordon Smith or Allison DuBois or Char Margolis or Noreen Renier or Sylvia Browne or Rosemary Althea or Lynn Ann Maker or Greta Alexander or Phil Jordan or James Van Praagh or John Edward or George Anderson or Dorothy Allison.

Theresa Caputo is just one of many unsinkable rubber duckies, as James Randi calls them. No matter how many of these characters skeptics expose, dozens more will pop up to replace or join them. Why? Not because they really get messages from the dead or have special powers, but because people want to believe in them, people are easily deceived, and most people don’t understand subjective validation and how it works. For more on how subjective validation works see “Gary Schwartz’s Subjective Validation of Mediums.”

It is understandable that many people want to reconnect with loved ones who have died. Belief in the afterlife and in spirit communication seems natural to many people. People who are skeptical of life after death seem to be in a minority, so there is little reason to distrust such beliefs when there is substantial communal reinforcement for them.

Another reason these rubber duckies remain unsinkable is that they are playing a win-win game. Skeptics don’t have a chance against them. Even when caught in egregious falsehoods–as Sylvia Browne has been several times–support for their work increases rather than suffers. When Sylvia Browne appeared on the Montel Williams show and told the parents of a missing 10-year-old boy that their son was dead, she did not lose any followers when four years later Shawn Hornbeck was found alive. Browne had also claimed that the man who took Shawn was a “dark-skinned man, he wasn’t black — more like Hispanic.” She said he had long black hair in dreadlocks and was “really tall.” She was wrong on all counts.

She was also wrong about the vehicle driven by Michael J. Devlin, the man convicted of kidnapping and child molestation in the case. Another alleged psychic, James Van Praagh, said that two people were involved in the abduction and that a person who worked in a railroad car plant was involved and the body might be concealed in a railway car. He was wrong on all counts.

A look at Van Praagh’s message board will reveal why such errors do little to destroy people’s faith in characters like Browne or Van Praagh. To the devoted believer, the psychic can do no wrong. If there was an error, it wasn’t the psychic’s fault. What may appear to be an error may not really be an error. It’s possible the psychic got his or her wires crossed and mistook one spirit for another. And so on. And, as Van Praagh and Browne have often said, they’re not gods and not infallible. When you’re validated you’re right and when you’re wrong your fallibility is validated. For the alleged psychic it is always a win-win with your devoted followers.

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Extraordinary Occurrences: The Time James Randi Said “Yes”

by via Who Forted? Magazine, August 7, 2012

Today (August 7, 2012) marks the 84th birthday of the one and only James Randi, the man loved (some might say worshipped) by skeptics the world round and squarely hated by just about everyone who claims to have a paranormal power of some kind.

Randi, a magician by trade, set up the James Randi Education Foundation in 1996, an organization that offers a whopping one million dollar prize to anyone who can demonstrate their extra-human powers under watchful scientific eyes. This challenge has never been bested and remains the bane of psychics, spoon benders, healers, and even ghost hunters.

Sure, Randi might not be well liked by those claiming superpowers, but his contributions to the field of paranormal research are valuable and necessary, even if those contributions consist of saying “no” more times than we care to tally. In a forest of extraordinary claims, it’s nice to know there’s someone pulling weeds.

It seemed fitting that today, on his birthday, we should look at one of the very few instances that James Randi was presented with an incredible feat.. and instead of shaking his head and uttering that word he’s so familiar with, widened his eyes and said “yes”.

The Man Who Stared at Notes

Dr. Arthur Lintgen, a physician from Pennsylvania, is a man who claims a seemingly extraordinary, if somewhat less than useful, talent. He doesn’t read minds, tell the future, or talk to the dead, but can he can tell you what songs are on a vinyl record just by staring at it, and no, he doesn’t need the label. Lintgen claims he only became aware of his strange ability when challenged at a party in the 70′s, and found, to his surprise, that he could correctly identify records just by looking at the grooves.

Keep Reading: Extraordinary Occurrences: The Time James Randi Said “Yes” | Who Forted? Magazine.

Top 10 Psychic Debunkings

James Randi is a stage magician and scientific skeptic best known as a challenger of paranormal claims and pseudoscience. In this list we see 10 of his best psychic debunking (and have a bonus clip of a lecture of his). These are all extremely damning to the practitioners of these magic arts and Randi makes no apologies for his tough approach; in fact he is offering a reward of $1 million to anyone who can demonstrate evidence of any paranormal, supernatural or occult power or event, under test conditions agreed to by both parties. As of this time, no one has claimed this prize.

Watch the Top 10 Psychic Debunkings.

Psychic Defective: Sylvia Browne’s History of Failure

The most extensive study of alleged psychic Sylvia Browne’s predictions about missing persons and murder cases reveals a strange discrepancy: despite her repeated claim to be more than 85 percent correct, it seems that Browne has not even been mostly correct about a single case.

via CSI | Psychic Defective: Sylvia Browne’s History of Failure.

Randi $1,000,000 paranormal challenge

James Randi, a.k.a. The Amazing Randi, magician and author of numerous works skeptical of paranormal, supernatural, and pseudoscientific claims has for about ten years offered “a one-million-dollar prize to anyone who can show, under proper observing conditions, evidence of any paranormal, supernatural, or occult power.” His rules were little more than what any reasonable scientist would require. If you are a mental spoon bender, you couldn’t use your own spoons. If you claimed to see auras, you’d have to do so under controlled conditions. If you claimed to be able to do remote viewing, you wouldn’t be given credit for coming close in some vague way. If you were going to demonstrate dowsing powers, you would have to be prepared to be tested under controlled conditions. If you were going to do psychic surgery or experience the stigmata, you would have to do so with cameras watching your every move.

Continue: Randi $1,000,000 paranormal challenge – The Skeptic’s Dictionary – Skepdic.com.

Here is a video clip of Randi exposing Geller and Popoff from NOVA’s “Secrets of the Psychics”:

Critical thinking explained

Critical thinking explained in six kid-friendly animations
 

 

 

 

 

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