Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Regulating Magick

In this article that discusses possible new regulations for British psychics, this old canard gets brought up.

Kelly says the bottom line is that if psychics can speak to the dead, why has nobody claimed the $110,000 prize offered in Australia and the $US1 million ($A1.07 million) that James Randi is offering in the US, to anybody whose psychic claims can stand rigorous scientific testing?

There are actually a number of reasons. The first is the obvious point implied by the article, which is that many psychics are frauds. In fact, it's pretty hard to make money doing spiritual work without some sort of con scheme. John Edward managed to finagle a TV show based on his "psychic powers," but anyone even somewhat familiar with the technique can tell that he's a classic cold reader. He might also be psychic, but most of the time his whole spiel is just a trick.

Magical or psychic abilities provide a statistical edge, but they are not 100% effective. This is especially true with mediums, since the vast majority of spirits do not roam the Earth after death looking for a psychic to talk with. It is very unlikely that someone dead for more than a month or so will be available to chat - they either will have reincarnated or moved on into the spiritual realm. A sincere medium is left with a very small pool to draw from in terms of available spirits, and what are the odds that any given client will want to speak with one of the tiny percentage of departed souls that chose not to move on? I'm not sure, but I can tell you it's probably not enough to pay the rent, let alone fill a television show.

The second reason is that Randi doesn't actually test just anybody anymore. After at least one close call in which a low-profile psychic nearly managed to pass the preliminary test, they issued a press release stating that from now on they would only accept challenge applications from psychics with "media presence" - that is, the psychics most likely to be frauds, and for whom the downside of failure could be catastrophic to their careers. My guess is that given these constraints, the Randi foundation is certain to keep its money, and in fact I'd be surprised if anyone tries for it at this point. Among other things, by the time you reach the level of "media psychic" these days you generally are rich enough not to need Randi's money.

I don't know much about the Australian prize, but $110,000 is not very much money to receive in return for opening up a really disturbing can of worms. This is the third reason - the day that someone manages to prove that magick can produce real physical effects and is recognized by science, laws will be proposed all over the world regulating its use. For me, as an effective magician, I'm much better off having the government think of me as deluded rather than dangerous.

UPDATE: We already live in a country where this can happen. Imagine how much worse it would be with the government getting in on the action.

The Randi Foundation will be ending their million dollar challenge in 2010.

Also, browsing their applicant forum I came across this thread and had a hard time keeping myself from laughing uncontrollably at work. This woman claims that she can make people piss their pants with the power of her mind. She failed the preliminary test, but... wow. There's a spell I would like to learn! It would be so much fun at boring department meetings or dull speeches.

From the thread: "Ms. Hunter says this ability is a gift from God, and that she is one of His angels." If that's true, I think the Gnostics were right all along about the Demiurge.
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