How do they do that
How do they do that

This article appeared in New Humanist September 2003

How do they do that

In 1991 Granada Television broadcast a series of six episodes called James Randi, Psychic Investigator . It changed my life. True I was always sceptical but I had no idea that there were actually organisations of sceptics throughout the world.

Randi with his combination of showmanship and acute intellect captured my imagination. The thing I most wanted to know about psychics was how do they do it

My first step was to study the art of conjuring. Randi follows in the tradition of other great magicians such as Houdini and Maskelyne both famed for their exposures of fake mediums so it seemed the logical thing to do.

I found that conjuring techniques enabled unpsychic people like myself to duplicate some well known psychic feats such as bending cutlery or reading minds with comparative ease. In fact using trickery instead of mindpower produces such a similar effect that I personally cant tell the difference.

Now I could impress friends and strangers alike with my new found skills. The problem was that, like me, they wanted to know, how do you do thatAs Im sure youre aware the consequences of revealing a magicians secrets are dire. Suffice it to say the equipment used is normally reserved for the neutering of cats. However a moments thoughtful reflection will reveal the basic methodology of most tricks: How does the magician appear to bend spoons By doing it when youre not looking thats how. Thats not going to be easy, I hear you cry. Exactly! Thats what takes the time and practice. How about telepathically reproducing a drawing sealed earlier in this nice brown envelope Answer: Somehow the magician gets to see what youve drawn. Impossible! No its not but it is very devious.How many psychics actually do this type of thing Not very many, is the answer. There isnt any need because theres another trick. A trick requiring no smoke, no mirrors and no sleight of hand. This is cold reading. The term cold reading was once only used by sceptics and magicians but recently it has become much more widely known, although not necessarily that well understood. It is the most commonly used method behind such mysteries as mediumship, palmistry, astrology and a host of other varieties of psychic reading. It refers to the ability to read someone the psychic has never met before.In essence the method involves a combination of throwing out amorphous statements that are reinterpreted by the sitter as having some deeper personal meaning, and asking questions to which they then obligingly provide answers. A couple of examples to illustrate:Psychic: Theres a legal matter around you that is causing a bit of worry at the moment.
You: Golly yes there is. How could you have possibly known about that
Your stunned response could be as a result of any of the following: You are seeing a solicitor about moving house, making a will or going through a divorce.
You were stopped for speeding and given a fine.
Youre about to take a law exam.
Youve complained about something to your local trading standards office.
You robbed the local post office and have a bag of cash under your bed.You get the idea. But even if legal matters are completely wide of the mark its easily covered by re-questioning your spirit guide who explains that what they actually meant was someone who you know is concerned about a legal matter and you should ask around as you might be able to help.As for asking questions this can be either quite blatant as in,Whos Harry
Who drives a blue car
Why am I getting something to do with hairdressingOr it could be more subtle such as using pauses to put psychological pressure on the sitter to respond. He says youre worried about workNow even if I went through all the techniques used in cold reading I wouldnt want to leave you with the impression that this system can be used to explain everything a psychic does when giving a reading. There are numerous other ruses that can be employed and if a piece of information should fortuitously come the psychics way then this is not the stuff of miracles; it is the less discussed hot reading.For example I once did a series of readings for a journalist and after obtaining my subjects addresses I telephoned the local library to ask who was listed on the electoral roll at that house. Better still we now have the Internet as a resource. Websites such a Friends Reunited can provide a wealth of information if you are prepared to do some digging. At a more local level why not keep a database of newspaper cuttings listing Births, Marriages and DeathsOf course if I was a local psychic Im sure my best source of information would be the sitters themselves. Once they have told me all about their friends (in complete confidence naturally) then should their friends pay me a visit, miracles await. They will then tell their friends just how good I am.

These and similar subterfuges are the real secrets. A magician might deceive you but at least you know its a trick. With a psychic its still a trick but sadly most people dont even realise it.

Copyright 2003 Tony Youens

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