Friday, January 26, 2007

I Coulda Been a Psychic

I'm reading Michael Shermer's book Science Friction and he has a chapter where he plays at being a psychic after only day of preparation in doing "cold readings." Cold readings are where the "psychic" has to read a person "cold," that is to say, he has to figure out things about the person without having met or spoken to them in order to make the person think the "psychic" is, indeed, psychic.

One of the main ways of doing this is to make vague, general statements that apply to virtually everyone, like, "You're sometimes awkward in new situations, but when you get comfortable, you can be the life of the party." People who visit psychics don't seem to notice that these sorts of statements do, in fact, apply to virtually anyone, but instead think the "psychic" has a great insight into them in particular.

I bring this up only because I thought of this when I was a teenager but never was enough of a jerk to actually do it to people. My thought, which again, I never carried out, was that you could call someone up and pretty easily make him or her think you were spying on him or her through the window. Now, remember, this was in the 80s, when people didn't have cell phones or wireless phones much. Since a good proportion of people had their phones in their kitchens, and since kitchens tend to have a lot of the same things in them, I figured I could say something like, "You're in your kitchen right now, near the refrigerator. There are some dishes in your sink. You've got a lot of stuff stuck to the door of your fridge." That kind of thing. Really freak 'em out.

It's basically the same trick. Like I said, I never tried it, but it likely would have worked. Would have been less risky in the days before caller ID, of course. But it's kinda funny that, on my own, I worked out how you could do that to people if you wanted to, but that the people it's actually being done to, the ones visiting "psychics," want to believe so badly that they don't recognize it for what it clearly is. Because everyone I've ever told the phone thing to got it right away, saw how it would work and why. It's obvious when it's explained to just about everyone. I guess it's like a magic trick: when you see how it's done, it's so clear, but until then, you just can't imagine how they did it.


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