Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Why I Doubt Psychics

The accusation is often levied against skeptics of psychics that we are closed-minded, or as fanatical as the psychic supporters. Some invent names for us like "materialist" to cover for their lack of a convincing argument. Contrary to all of that, I am not a materialist, fanatical or otherwise. And having been once a supporter of psychics, I certainly cannot be accused of having a closed mind. I simply require that, prior to my dismissal of well-established scientific laws/theories, those claiming the ability to violate said laws/theories demonstrate that ability, in a statistically significant way, and under controlled conditions provided by, and in the presence of, those with a vested interest in seeing them fail. Any skilled conjurer can appear to succeed in front of an uncritical audience that gives them infinite wiggle room and wants them to succeed. Just watch John Edwards or Silvia Browne to get an idea of what I am talking about. And don't forget Project Alpha.

Let me give you an example of what I mean. I happen to be one of those mathematical freaks that has a calculator in my head. I can multiply 2 digit numbers and add successive 2 digit numbers faster than you can punch the "=" button on a calculator. Now this no doubt sounds like a bold claim to some, and they might doubt my claim, and I don't blame them. But if one of them offered me $1 million to demonstrate it under their controlled conditions, I'd be there in a heartbeat, and I'd take their money. I'd stand on my head, let whoever they liked control the calculator, whatever. Hell, I do it for beers now, why not?

There are many such opportunities for the psychics, but they can't ever perform in them. They fail in Vegas (why hasn't a psychic won the WSOP?), they fail with James Randi (who just makes sure they can't cheat), they fail with lotteries (where's the headline "Psychic wins 4th straight!"), and they fail in sports (just think of what a telekineticist golfer, pool player, dart thrower or table tennis player could accomplish). There is only one rational conclusion to be drawn from this overwhelming lack of evidence. The effect of such efforts is minuscule, if it exists at all.

No comments: