Archives for posts with tag: supernatural

A few weeks ago, myself and some friends decided to go to the Joe Power show when he was in Cork. We were curious to know what went on at such events, so we purchased a cheapo voucher and headed along to his show in the Metropole Hotel last Friday night.

The audience was quite large: maybe as much as 200 people. It was a mixed bag of people, old, young, men and women. Certainly more women than men with more older people in attendance.

Joe started late. One of his first questions to the audience was whether any of them had been to a psychic show before. Very few people in the audience had been to one.

Joe got stuck in straight away, happening on one of the most serious of subjects imaginable: suicide. The manner and some circumstances to do with the death were discussed with family members. A troubling line of questioning, to say the least. When he was done with this, he asked the father if he had been to hospital or had some trouble down below? When the answer was negative, he told him he might need to go.

Joe then went to other members of the audience, some of whom were responsive to his questions, some less so. Here are some brief (low) highlights:

‘Anyone shot down? Planes?’ he asked, possibly forgetting that few enough Irish people were involved in WWII. (He counselled the audience member not to go on a plane).

He discussed divorce problems with another person and what their sex life was like.

A fire in the house? Yes – 40 years ago. ‘We can go back as long as you want’.

‘Why are there 3 people buried next to each other? A young boy or young man? ‘No, just two – mum and dad’ ‘You’ll probably find I’m right by the way. You might need to look back’.

‘Just to let you know he’s around and he can see what’s going on’.

Brought up some private family issue where a family member went to prison for a while.

Told one man he might be getting 18 months in prison in the future.

Told another man he should get tested, maybe for bowel problems. ‘Get the missus to check around’.

What also struck me was how much stuff he just got completely wrong. Lots and lots and lots of questions never hit their mark. If the questioning wasn’t going anywhere he would simply move on as if it didn’t happen. My top marks on the night went to the people who made his life difficult. One woman blanked him completely, so he quickly moved on – indicating that the reading wasn’t for her. There were a few others where his questions went nowhere.

He would leave his questions deliberately vague, so he’d ask if it was father, or father in law. Dates like 26 or 19 were converted into people’s ages if it suited. Wigs (he asked a lot about wigs) became hair extensions. Because many of the subjects were older, he touched on health issues such as cancer, diabetes and hospital visits, or lifestyle issues such as losing weight, pigeons and gardening. As if willing him to succeed, many of his respondents made his life easy. They would try to answer his vague questions on numbers and hair and accidents with something that happened to them, even though this often had nothing to do with the deceased relative. In this way they were able to connect to him despite the fact that the overall narrative was confused, mixing things happening today with something concerning the death.

Almost always, he would simply say vague things about the dead people, like “he’s looking after you” or ‘he misses you a lot and thinks of you’. I’ve written about this before, but grieving is a process which often involves letting go. I don’t think psychics help this process at all, because the underlying message is that they are still there, still watching. Such talk does not help people move on.

This is what passed as Friday night entertainment. Banality, sadness and voyeurism reigned. There were a lot of cheap laughs at the event, but they were often at the expense of the people involved. We are not entitled to be given this kind of window into their lives. People deserve more privacy than this. Professional counsellors, not public psychics, are a far better solution for such problems.

My advice? Next time there’s a psychic in town, save your money or go to the pub. It’s a better use of your time and money.

Over the past few years, I have developed a habit of skepticism, which perhaps could be described as the careful use of critical thinking in the face of extraordinary, supernatural or highly unusual claims. So, if I hear someone talking about healing crystals or angels or UFO’s or homeopathic cures or divine miracles, my immediate reaction nowadays is disbelief.

Skepticism is not something that comes naturally to me. I have a relatively trusting nature, so for me, skepticism is hard work. I’d love to believe – I really would – it’s just that alarm bells go off in my head which can sometimes make for awkward situations in otherwise polite company. 

So, when I hear about people using the phrase “at first I was skeptical, but..” in the context of “witnessing” something such as a UFO or a miracle cure or some other such nonsense, it’s become clear to me that these people doesn’t know the first thing about proper skepticism. Most people simply don’t realise the extent to which they can be manipulated or deceived by false arguments, hidden prejudices, partial evidence and statistical anomalies.

My journey into skepticism has been a long, but highly rewarding journey. In my teens, I read Martin Gardner’s “Fads and Fallacies“, which presented the other side of Homeopathy, Biorythms, UFO claims and Scientology. Much later on, I read Carl Sagan’s “Demon Haunted World” and his “baloney detector kit”. Around the same time, I came across James Randi’s website with his million dollar challenge. I developed a keen interest in identifying logical fallacies and exposing urban legends using More recently, I have become a keen subscriber to Brian Dunning’s Skeptoid and the superb “Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe” podcasts.

In the light of a media culture that seems to thrive on feeding mistaken notions rather than challenging them; in the light of a world where sophisticated marketing techniques are employed by all manner of cults and fringe groups; and in the light of multi-million industries peddling all manner of snake-oil cures, maybe it’s not too late to bolster our skeptical abilities. 

I would recommend the above books, websites and podcasts if you are interested in learning more.

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