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            SKEPTICISM ESSAY – PSYCHIC FORTUNE TELLING.

 

                                    DEFINITIONS

 

Psychics are people who claim to be touch with spiritual and supernatural forces, which give them the power, or transmit powerful energy through them, enabling the psychics to find out things about you that they should not, and supposedly could not possibly discover by more natural means.

 

A psychic may take a ‘reading’ (an intuitive mental sense impression or series of impressions) from contact with a physical object, such as a glove, a key, a car, or a house. They will, if their alleged power works, deduce something about the person or people associated with the place or artefact, even if the people involved are long since deceased.

            Some psychics do not need an object, especially if they have a direct line of communication with the person who they are trying to read, in which case they will try to psychically gain some insight into the nature of that person.

            Some psychics focus on a person’s past, deducing things about a person, which the psychic should not know. As the person being ‘read’ will usually, if alive, know their own past, such a reading is usually for the benefit of entertaining or informing a third party. However a psychic may also wish to show a client  (customer) something of the past, in order to be respected in their predictions about

The future.

            Other psychics focus squarely on the future, predicting the success, or more rarely failure of an impending relationship, career change, business venture, etc.

            The tools of the Psychic trade vary enormously. Some psychic’s just use their own minds, and mayor may not need to make physical contact with a client or some object(s) associated with whatever the client wishes to know about. Such objects may include the client him or herself, as in palmistry (reading the lines of the hand) or phrenology (study of bumps and ridges on the head). . Other psychics will use apparatus, and devises, ranging from astrology charts, to rune stones, or a crystal ball, to aid the reading.

            In many ways, the apparatus or absence of it is almost irrelevant. The reading with a set of runes is not much different in principal than the reading with a tarot card pack – the emphasis is on the psychology, and the ability to give the blarney by the psychic. Astrologers claim that their work is more scientific, as it involves some mathematical calculation and procedure, but such a claim is, as I shall show, utter nonsense.

 

                                    HOT AND COLD PSYCHIC READINGS

 

                                                COLD READINGS 

            There are two kinds of Psychic Reading. Cold readings and hot readings. Cold readings are those in which the Psychic is not supposed to have any prior knowledge of the client or place under investigation or testing for psychic impressions before the psychic does his or her reading.

            There are two ways in which this kind of reading can be done convincingly. 1/. The Psychic blatantly cheats and does some research into the client or the place involved in the test.  If the client is well known, (a celebrity) a great deal of documented evidence will be available through the media and nowadays, the Internet.  Even a non-famous individual can be quickly checked out. Many psychics who show off their skills to a public audience have friends planted in the audience or in the crowd line as people queue to enter a venue. These people will ask customers what they hope the psychic will find out if the person talked to be picked out as a subject. The answers given by the customer are then secretly given to the psychics.

            Some psychics actually get access to the mailing lists through which tickets are being sold, and have assistants check up on people by visiting friends or going through public records about them. As many people visit psychics for information about deceased relatives, a simple study of obituaries in the media can reveal a great deal of data.

            Some psychics will use plants in the most obvious way – giving them psychic impressions that the plant then makes a loud fuss about being absolutely spot on target – Of course it is – they did it right through rehearsals.

            A plant may also play the part of a sceptic, eagerly criticising the psychic, who then does something so unexpected that even the ‘sceptic’ is silenced. This helps to deter any real sceptics from speaking out. If too many sceptics are in the audience and challenging the psychic, the psychic will invariably end the show claiming that the spirits are not getting through. The audience may or may not receive a refund for this.

            One of the best known and most loved of all psychics was the now deceased Doris Stokes, a household name in the 1970’s, from England who, unknown to many adoring followers, and her book readers, used to have people write to her with their problems hoping for her psychic insights and skills as an agony aunt. Stokes would write back offering some advise and offer the people free tickets for her shows. The people concerned would go along, oblivious that the cunning old crone had carefully chosen their seat numbers for them. From the stage, she would then focus on them as total strangers 9helped by not having directly met them) and get direct sense impressions from the psychic world about them (in fact all data they themselves had revealed in their letters to her).

            Some psychics are not so callous or ruthless.  In fact their readings will be genuinely ‘cold’. This does not however involve being in tune with any spirits or heavenly forces. All it requires is a series of vague generalizations.

            A psychic giving a true cold reading will   ask questions of the audience like, ‘Does anyone have a deceased father called Colin?’ In an audience of several hundred people, someone is going to be the son or daughter of a ‘Colin’. Names like Ethelred, Ichabod or Bartleby are not likely to be given, as the chances of anyone of that identity being around in even the largest of UK audiences is rare.  The psychic will miss more often than he gets a direct hit, but few will remember the failures. The true cold psychic just plays on a law of statistical averages.

            Such vagueness works wonders on an audience where many are eager to believe in the act anyway (and it rarely is anything but an ‘act’), with observations on the lines of ‘you used to travel’  - never You went to Bahrain in 1987, and stayed in a hotel called the Waldorf, where it rained a lot and you met with a man called Karl Brock, who didn’t like the way they boiled the eggs of a morning.’ 

The psychic may tell you that you will soon come into some money.  You won’t be told that it will be on Saturday the 6th of May and that your lottery numbers will be 7, 9, 23, 42, etc. (note that these are merely random examples. Do not blame me if these numbers never come up on your own lottery tickets). 

The predictions made by a psychic are invariably cheery and optimistic. Few dare to predict when an audience member will take ill or die horribly. This is part of their appeal. By giving vague insights into the future, they often leave people thinking they have been more specific about good things than they have been. If a gambler in the audience hears them saying he will come into money, he may well put more money into a casino bet, or onto a horse he hopes will win a ace. Now any gambler who gambles often will win sometimes, so even if the win that comes is a small one, the gambler may well believe that the win was predicted accurately by a psychic he saw a few weeks, months or even years before it happened.

 

                                    HOT READINGS

 

Here the psychic makes less pretence about what he or she already knows about the people or places to be ‘read’. Often, this is when someone wants the psychic to tell him or her something about the future, or to have his or her assistance in solving some kind of mystery. Many psychics offer their services to the police when there are reports of missing people or talk of a serial killer on the loose. While the police appreciate anyone offering to help in any inquiry, they often find the assistance from psychics next to useless, or gleamed merely from media disclosures and overheard conversations relating to the case.

Hot readers often like to investigate haunted castles and pubs, where the history of some tragedy, which has spawned the claims about a haunting are well, documented. Such psychics then make a theatrical display out of showing how it might have ‘felt’ to be the victim of the tragedy of yesteryear –such ‘ghostwatch’ investigations are now a common staple of the television stations whenever soap operas fail to brainwash us enough.

 

                                    ASTROLOGERS

 

So far, I have looked at Psychics like mediums, Channellers, and spiritualists, who operate best with large audiences. Some may just as likely work with smaller groups of people, or in one to one readings for paying clients. (Few psychics work for nothing).

Astrologers can operate on large audiences, especially media Horoscope readers, such as those who have daily columns in the newspapers and magazines on our stands. Some, like Russell Grant, and Mystic Meg, even have a large TV and radio audience. (In Grant’s case despite being proved to be a charlatan who has sometimes recycled verbatim horoscopes he first wrote and published decades before).

Newspaper horoscopes are the most generalised of all psychic readings. The psychic is usually writing up a short few sentence statement of what will happen to approximately one 12th of the population each time he writes a daily forecast of events for Aquarius (to pick just one sign – Mine as it happens).  Nothing is more sweeping than a claim that Neptune entering Sagittarius increases my chances of finding true romance today, as well as that of some Brazilian milkman born within about twenty days of me. 

For other astrologers, only a close detailed personalised horoscope really counts, as in creating a horoscope specific to anyone on earth, some mathematical skill and set procedure is required.

To make a horoscope, any astrologer needs to be told certain information. This is data beyond their psychic ability to discover. You must tell an astrologer your date, and time of birth, and where you were born. In my case, it was February 9th 1962, on a Friday, at 6 AM in the morning, in Ancoats hospital, Manchester.

Given this data, any astrologer will work out my birth location as latitude, and longitude reading, and then they will look in a book of start charts for where the Moon, Sun, and various planets were in the heavens at that time in relation to my co-ordinates.  This data is then mapped onto a ‘Horoscope chart’ in a pattern, which should, and most likely is exclusive to me.

The charts are often inaccurate anyway; many people do not actually know the time or location of their birth. They will usually know the date and where their parents lived in their children’s infancies. They will not know which hospital, if any their mother was nearest to when she went into labour. Worse, many doctors sign birth certificates long after a birth, and simply estimate an approximate time of delivery.  When exactly is a child born anyway? A birth can be quick or prolonged. Are we born as the waters break? As our head pops out of the womb? When the umbilical cord is severed and we first cry? Minutes or more can separate such events.

Even on rare occasions when a Horoscope gives accurate details of birth time and location it is never remotely mathematical – it involves the most basic arithmetic, and looking up data, which is freely available in books of a kind, also used by astronomers.  It makes a pretty drawing on a circular diagram. It is now that pseudo-science and nonsense take over from the basic mechanical process. The astrologer will draw lines and patterns linking and aligning certain planets and zodiac constellations. Once the horoscope circle is marked by such interesting patterns, the psychic aspect of the reading takes over, as the astrologer works out for you what such lines and conjunctions and patterns mean to your goals in life, your love affairs, and your income, etc. There is no science in this – merely imagination, speculation and assumption, based in some ways on how much the astrologer already knows about the person or people for who the chart is drawn.

Again, generalisations take over from specifics. The astrologer has no idea when I will find a true lover to take as a wife than Saturn knows. The assumption of astrology that the planets dictate or know my destiny is twaddle.  We know that planetary body exert gravity – Newton knows more than I do on this and ‘m not arguing. We know that the Moon and Sun between them affect ocean tides. We also know that people are composed largely of water – the assumption of astrology is that the planets to influence our behaviour draw this water inside us.  Astrologers go from this flimsy assumption to add on one that says they are able to predict our futures by tuning in to planetary patterns affecting us. The planets must have their work really cut out in a situation involving thousands of people of different star signs, and horoscopes, in a major event like an earthquake or a football match. Does Mars really know who will win the next FA Cup? I doubt it.

 

OTHER KINDS OF FORTUNE TELLING.

 

            Most fortune telling doesn’t involve doing a few sums and claiming to be scientific. Most psychic reading is a mixture of good psychology and story telling skills. Take Tarot Cards. Here, the psychic deals out a very pictographic forerunner to modern playing cards, which can be used in exactly the same way.  The cards are shuffled and laid out in a set pattern, which may be a circle, cross or straight line, or whatever the psychic prefers. Some cards represent the past, some the present and others, the future. The psychic will then pick out from details on the cards, and general notions of what a card represents, and tell the client or customer what they want to hear. Much of the story will be based on what the psychic already knows about a customer. A customer who is quiet can give away a lot of information by being aloof, through how they dress, whether they have a wedding ring on, - what kind of car or other transport they arrive in, etc. As a reading goes on, the customer will usually be expected to say if the reader is right or wrong, and the reader will adjust the story and predictions accordingly.

            Tarot cards are rich in symbolism and multiple meanings. The Death card doesn’t mean someone dies if it is put on to the card table – it simply represents change and transformation.

            Poets and writers to inspire their work, as it can be used to create any of a billion stories, often use the tarot. Psychics just do the same. All you need is a pack of cards and the gift of the gab. When I first got a setoff tarot cards I did a few readings to see if I could manage to convince some people I was psychic. I achieved it easily. I had studied the cards for only a week. After readings, I told my clients that I was just using deduction and psychology and story telling. Many refused to believe me. Some insisted that I was psychically gifted.

            Runes-tones, dice, I Ching Hexagrams and other objects used in divination are based on the same basic principle as the tarot. This applies even to patterns in tealeaves, and the entrails of a goat as read even before Roman times. The reader merely has to find a pattern and make up a story that will please the listener. ‘Yes, you will win the war against Sparta. Yes, the bombs will quickly make the enemy surrender… yes you chose the wine wisely… etc.

            A psychic reading is just a story – a made up snippet of information. Sometimes it can be accurate by chance. Sometimes it can be accurate because a psychic has found out about things through non-psychic means.  Sometimes it is hopelessly wrong, but people only remember the accurate bits, and often far more specifically than they were ever given out. None of it is scientific, least of all astrology, which most loudly claims to be. If the stars were to influence us, it would not be from birth anyway, but from conception, but the exact instant we were conceived is impossible to know for most of us.

       

Arthur Chappell       

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