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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 their lives than their boring everyday routine, and those whom alternative realities – fantasy rather than real life – 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 planets...
  • 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 psychic 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).

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