Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Bad Psychic

One of the reasons that I bash debunker-type skeptics less than you might expect is that even though I don't agree with them on the existence of paranormal phenomena, I'm of the opinion that they perform a valuable service. They expose fraudulent psychics, preachers, and others who claim to have special powers but who really are nothing more than glorified confidence artists preying upon credulous marks.

Statistically speaking, psychics who show off their abilities - particularly for paying audiences - are more likely to be frauds than are those who keep said abilities to themselves. Here's an account of a particularly bad performance that happened in Middlesbrough, UK. British psychic Sally Morgan asked members of the audience to submit photographs of deceased loved ones with whom she would attempt to communicate as part of her show. However, one of these photos was not what it seemed.

Sally then became in direct contact with the woman in the photo who began to tell her that there was a lot of confusion around her death and that she felt it was very very quick. She later went on to say that the day Wednesday has a specific link to her death and that she either died on a Wednesday or was taken ill that day.

As the woman in the audience was not responding to any thing Sally was saying, she decided to ask how the woman in the photo was related to her. It turns out the woman in the audience got the whole concept of submitting a picture of someone you wanted to talk to from the afterlife completely wrong – and for some unknown reason submitted a younger picture of herself.

The hall erupted in laughter, which quickly changed into disapproving mumbles that lasted the rest of the night. No matter how hard Sally tried, she was unable to get the audience back, who were becoming increasingly disgruntled with the number of ‘misses’ she was getting. Not only that, but the audience seemed to become more restrained when Sally was asking them questions.

I'm highly critical of skeptics throwing around questions like, "if you're psychic, why haven't you won the lottery?" because such questions are based on a huge irrational assumption - that if you can do something by means of psychic ability it automatically follows that you can do anything imaginable by means of psychic ability. If psychic ability is a real thing it most certainly has limits like every other phenomenon. With magick I can hit a probability shift of somewhere around 100 to 1 against. For comparison, the Powerball lottery has odds of 100 million to 1 against.

As an aside, my best on the Powerball is 4 numbers out of 6, which I did twice over the course of about 200 trials - not bad, but not good enough to win me a substantial sum. Likewise, the James Randi Educational Foundation Paranormal Challenge (mentioned in the Wikipedia article) requires you to (1) pass a preliminary test with odds of about 1000 to 1 against, and then (2) pass a final test with odds of a million to 1 against. Any competent scientist should know that beating those odd with even a totally reliable 100-to-1 phenomenon is basically impossible.

However, this question isn't nearly as hard as any of those. A real psychic should be able to tell if a person is alive or dead, or at the very least not receive any "messages from beyond" from somebody who still is alive. Whether this was deliberate test or if Sally was simply undone by the seemingly boundless power of stupidity is hard to say. There's no mention of the woman who submitted the photo being a debunker, but she might have been. If so, her ruse worked quite well and derailed the entire show.

To be clear, there is another possibility here - that Sally may be in contact with random spirits who pretend to be audience members' loved ones. I ran into that a lot as a teenager when I was experimenting with stuff like Ouija boards and channeling, and finally gave up both as useless in terms of acquiring objectively verifiable information. But if that's the case, the proper response is no different than if the whole act is a confidence trick - audience members should not believe a word that she says. Even if spirits are making it up, the information is still made up.

Even though I will grant that the latter situation is a possibility, Morgan's adoption of the moniker "Psychic to the Stars" throws up an enormous red flag. I don't know if this is as true in the UK, but over here in the States so many "psychics to the stars" have been outed as confidence artists that the title is practically a joke. At the very least, it's better suited to tabloid advertisements than any sort of legitimate paranormal inquiry.

What I will say is that if Morgan is for real, she needs to learn some proper spiritual techniques that will allow her to reach the spirit she's looking for, or return nothing if no such spirit is found. And it should go without saying that if she's a fake, she needs to just knock the whole thing off.

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Nerd said...

Watch that lady drop over dead next Wednesday. LOL

Scott Stenwick said...

Well, if that happens Morgan would be vindicated to a degree, and I'll be the first to admit it. Still, I'm not holding my breath or anything.