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Research Topic: Astrology and Psychics
By Ian Mander, 11 November 2005, updated 15 November 2005.
Question: Why do people bother with this stuff?
Answer: In the case of the astrology peddlers and psychics,
there's actually quite a lot of money to be made from it. Television and
stageshow psychics are undergoing a bit of a surge in popularity as con
artists rediscover just how easy it is to fool people. Advertising for
telephone psychics is becoming more and more common as the same type of
people also discover it's (arguably) easier than the other main sort of
pay-for phone line.
As for the people buying into it (not just with their wallet, but also
with their beliefs, time etc) some just want entertainment and may limit
their "dabbling" to reading horoscopes in a newspaper
or women's magazine, or watching the occasional carefully edited television
show where a self-proclaimed medium claims to contact dead people
and pass on messages from them. At the other end of the interest spectrum
are those who are desperate to know if their own deceased loved ones have
made it somewhere OK; quite possibly they have never finished mourning
for them, so are easy prey for the seance-conducting con artists. In between
there are people longing for something more interesting in life than their
boring everyday routine and those whom alternative realities - fantasy
rather than science - is more appealing. The common thread for people
spending time and money on it is a suspension of rational thought and
the belief that it won't hurt anyone or anything. Having suspended rational
thought they don't consider the wasted time or what they could better
have used that time for.
Astrology - the belief that the position of the stars affects our
normal daily lives. The idea is rubbish, of course, unless you're an
astronomer who daily travels to an observatory to look at stars and
Horoscope - a listing (often in a newspaper) of what you can expect
from your day, based on the time of year of your birth. Horoscopes are
typically so vaguely written that any of them could apply to any person.
Medium - someone who claims to be able to communicate with dead people.
Psychic - someone who claims to have extra-sensory powers.
Mark Mayer calls himself a "Mind
Illusionist". He states "A mind illusionist is a performer
whose show appears to be “psychic” in origin but is actually
accomplished through conjuring means." I agree that mind illusionists
perform the same tricks as the con artist self-styled psychics but would
add that they make no nonsense claims about having psychic powers. Mark
Mayer stresses that he does not have pschic powers but television psychics
(for example) repeatedly claim they do have that sort of power. I contend
that mind illusionists are making an honest living, while psychics are
just lying for their living. Not good.
It's significant that no television or telephone psychic has managed
to win the James Randi Educational Foundation's One
Million [US] Dollar Paranormal Challenge for anyone who can prove
they have psychic ability. The Foundation says "To date, no
one has ever passed the preliminary tests." The Challenge started
in 1964 (then US$1,000).