Psychics are Dark Fantasy

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I remember being uncomfortable about the “psionics” in Dungeons and Dragons back when I was a kid.  Psychic powers seemed more appropriate in science fiction than fantasy.  I mean, we had Mr. Spock’s mind meld in Star Trek, Jedi mind tricks in Star Wars, and telepathy in X-Men.  Fantasy was for, well, dungeons and dragons, wizards and magic.  But in fact, psychics in the real world are totally fantasy.

Unfortunately, some people find the concept of psychic powers to be more than plausible.  They believe in them, and believe in people who claim to have them, giving them money and power over their very souls.

When fantasy is given such power, I have a different term.  I call it old-fashioned charlatanism.

Our species has celebrated such liars for centuries, if not forever.  Since the rise of science and technology, however, we now have powerful communications media to let them reach wider and wider audiences that are more desperate and more gullible than is healthy around such unscrupulous hucksters.

What recently sparked this train of thought again were the shocking events in Cleveland, Ohio, and the rescue of three young women released from a decade of captivity.  One of them, Amanda Berry, was the subject of a prognostication by self-proclaimed psychic Sylvia Browne on the Montel Williams Show back in 2006.  Browne, using her psychic powers, told the girl’s mother that she was dead, and the mother died a couple of years later believing that.

This is terrible and disgusting, but it gets worse.  She’s done this before, falsely telling parents that a missing boy was dead, when he was later found alive.

This is a morally ugly and terrible thing to do to people.  She causes pain to people, lies to people, and makes the world a worse place, by pretending that cold reading tactics and guesses are actual psychic powers.

She’s not the only one.  TV shows, networks, and publishers have a reprehensible track record of giving these people a platform and audience.  Jonathan Edward’s show Crossing Over on the SciFi Channel and more recently Long Island Medium are a couple of other prominent examples of these modern con artists who exploit desperate, grieving people.  We should not enable these evil predators.  Sylvia Browne and her ilk are vultures.

Vultures

I’m tired of the effort to actively ignore these blights on our society.  I respect the rights of people to believe what they want, but I don’t respect all those beliefs.  I couldn’t be a moral, scientific, logical person and do otherwise.  Let me let James Randi spell it out in this video:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rwiCog9queM&hl=en_US&version=3]

Think about this vulture making obscene amounts of money exploiting desperate, emotional people with missing children or other deeply held concerns.  Think about a mother dying thinking her daughter was dead based of unsupported claims of psychic powers when that daughter would someday escape to her freedom.  Miss Cleo was a psychic joke that law enforcement took down, but there are more that they should not only stop working with, but denounce and even prosecute when the opportunity arises.

This is not the first time Sylvia Browne has mistakenly told parents that their missing child was dead, but it ought to be the last.

(Cold reading; Miss Cleo)

11 COMMENTS

  1. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of champion of logic, Sherlock Holmes, believed in psychics. It is sometimes despair, clinging to hope. Imaginen a persons more simples,I do not think that all said.

  2. Hum… because we are science fiction writers we have to believed in everything? Because I am also a fantasy writer I have to believe in fairies and unicorns? I think sometimes people forget the most important part of science fiction: IT IS FICTION. We imagine, as Umberto Eco says: plausible worlds, that at least I don’t intend my readers to believed are true worlds. I agree with Mike and more: There are some things that MUST stay fiction as they are, otherwise they became dangerous.

  3. For a science fiction writer, you certainly do poor research. You base all your comments on the worst of pop culture and charlatans like James Randi who only go after obvious fakes and ignore anyone who might actually force him to fork over that big reward.

    As I said, read the book by Dr. Braude who talks about Randi’s nonsense. Or find some other books on the subject by scientists in this field instead of pop culture fluff.

    Universities have researchers who specialize in the paranormal. Serious studies have shown that some people do weird shit. That’s not my or anyone else’s opinion. That’s fact.

    On a personal note, my older brother and my best friend were both told by respected doctors that they were dying of pancreatic cancer in just a few short months. They and their families lived with that diagnosis of a very ugly death for many weeks only to find out that the doctor was wrong. Does that mean we should declare all doctors cruel fakes because of this misdiagnosis? By your definition, that’s a yes.

    If I say no, by your definition, I am party to that cruelty.

    What nonsense.

    NOTE: Did you know that one of the links to your name leads to another author’s page?

    • Marilynn, I don’t expect this to really hit home as you have obviously bought into the concept and are apparently refusing to look at the evidence from an unbiased viewpoint: no valid testing of any kind has ever revealed any support for so-called psychic powers. It’s all based on our mental abilities to fool ourselves, find connections where none really exist and ignore factual information that doesn’t support our world view.

      Like I said, I don’t expect you to respond favorably to the above. But on another note: It’s kind of rude and childish to point out a bad link – as if it was somehow Mike’s fault – without providing the actual link so that it can be corrected. I get the sense that finding a bad link is somehow a “victory” for you; if so, and if you think that finding one somehow diminishes Mike’s argument, I’ll further suggest that participating in this discussion is probably not appropriate for you.

      Update: I found that link and have corrected it.

      • If a sceptic wants to talk about this subject and not sound ill informed, he should read the latest scientific research instead of pop culture and the people outside of the field who refuse to even study the current data.

        I would suggest the same method for any controversial subject.

        Some things scientists didn’t believe twenty years ago are now hard science facts.

        As data is collected and our methods of attaining that data improve, we learn more about everything.

        Having a closed mind makes a very poor scientist or science fiction writer.

        • Marilynn, I’ve written before on this blog and my own that I’m skeptical of some close-minded skeptics. This isn’t a case where that applies. There is not any recognized scientific results in favor psychic powers (I saw one a year or two ago about precognition in an experiment, but it was not able to be duplicated and was ruled a false positive). Just because some “academics” or “philosophers” write some papers about the paranormal doesn’t make it accepted science. I’m an empirical scientist and would love to see some convincing data that points to something cool and unknown for us to study, but it isn’t there at this stage. I try to have an open mind, and do on several subjects where there’s good evidence but not compelling evidence yet (e.g. UFOs, certain cryptids). Psychics don’t have that evidence despite a lot of past effort trying to obtain it.

    • Thanks for pointing out the link problem. We tracked it down.

      As for the rest, well, I have the biggest problem with the worst of pop culture. They have no powers except to take people’s money in return for doing some cold reading.

      My university doesn’t have anyone specializing in the paranormal, and almost none do. A few folks like Braude, a philosopher, should not be confused with the scientific community at large. If they have real, repeatable evidence of something outside our current understanding of the natural world, they can present it. Scientists are skeptical but open to compelling data. Nothing so compelling yet has been presented. You’re misrepresenting fringe activity as mainstream and accepted when it is not. All the anecdotes in the world are worth nothing without carefully controlled and analyzed studies, which are often not conclusive themselves and require more work. It’s a lot of effort to advance our knowledge, and we have to go slow, or get things badly wrong.

      I would love to believe, but my standards are high: satisfy mainstream science. Until then, I would be a bad scientist and professor to accept it or teach it. Furthermore, such unsubstantiated beliefs do indeed fuel vultures like Sylvia Browne who find enough believers among the populace to make millions for doing nothing but cold reading.

  4. I’m not apologizing for Sylvia Browne. I’m saying you can’t say that psychics don’t exist because some so-called psychics have been wrong.

    I’m sure some psychics have told these families the exact opposite, as well. Desperate people believe what they want to believe, and parents need to believe their child is still alive.

    As to psychic ability being real or not, I suggest the book, THE GOLD LEAF LADY AND OTHER PARAPSYCHOLOGICAL INVESTIGATIONS by Stephen E. Braude, as a starter on the subject.

    And, James Randi is as big a fraud as most so-called psychics. A subject covered in this book.

    Both sides of the issue are as full of nonsense as the other.

    • I don’t agree with you. There are not two equal sides. There’s one side claiming magical powers that have not been supported by scientific study, and a side saying there’s fakers who are claiming magical powers that have not provided credible evidence for their claims, even with huge sums of money available if they do.

      I’m not saying psychics don’t exist. I’m saying there’s no credible evidence that psychics exist, and the psychics making millions and getting on TV have no track record of success or credibility, and any reasonable person should call BS on them for the great harm they do. If you say the opposite, you’re culpable. Sylvia Brown and her ilk are parasites.

  5. Whoa, talk about a diatribe!

    In all fairness, nothing involving humans is 100% because we are human. Even pro athletes can’t even come close to 100% perfection at anything.

    To require people who call themselves psychics to be 100% correct on their predictions, or there are no such things as psychics, is a ridiculous assertion.

    • Marilynn, you’re making a strawman argument and it’s unfair. I didn’t say that psychics had to have a 100% success rate, and no skeptic is claiming that either. The truth is that psychics do no better than non-psychics at knowing anything: http://www.livescience.com/23852-esp-psychic-powers.html

      There’s a million dollars James Randi has offered Syvia Browne and any other psychic to collect if they can do anything close to what they claim. Browne hasn’t gotten the money and neither has any one else. Check out: http://www.wired.com/science/discoveries/news/2007/01/72482?currentPage=all The threshold for winning the million dollars is short of 100%, you might notice.

      You’re apologizing for a woman who incorrectly told a mother her daughter was dead based upon her psychic powers. Who previously incorrectly told other parents that their son was dead. If Browne can’t get this right, I think she ought to shut up and stop claiming she knows anything, because it’s really evil, and people should stop putting her on TV like she knows anything, because that’s evil, too.

      I appreciate it if you want to believe, but there’s absolutely no compelling unbiased evidence that there’s any psychic who knows anything more than anyone else, except for perhaps how to prey on the gullible and desperate.

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