Yesterday, I hit the Quad Cities Psychic and Paranormal Expo, my third trek to this annual gathering of bioharmonic healers, crystal peddlers, and ghost stalkers. Last year, I went to as many booths as I could and related my experience at each. This time I wanted to choose one to concentrate on and relate the results in greater detail. With so many purveyors of pseudoscience, alternative medicine, and clairvoyance to choose from, the potential for amusement seemed brighter than the auras that were being read.
At a shaman’s station, the despcriptive posterboard proclaimed that he would remove traumatic imprints and enhance enlightenment centers. But it also noted that these were only half sessions, so presumably my enlightment centers would receive only a truncated improvement and the traumautic imprints would only be partially exorcised. That seemed like paying for half a tonsillectomy or root canal, so I continued to stroll.
I next tried an astrologer, who told me that the time of one’s birth determines which planet will most impact a person’s life. Maybe mine is Saturn, hers is Mars, and the past-lives reader in beads, purple hair, and crescent moon dress at the next booth is Jupiter. Curiously, the one planet that would seem to have the most impact on all of us, Earth, is irrelevant to all this. I asked the astrologer how those who are most affected by Pluto were impacted by its downgrade to dwarf planet status. She seemed uncertain what I was referring to, but I wouldn’t expect Neil Tyson to know the inner workings of Sagittarius horoscopes, so perhaps we can forgive her ignorance of astronomy.
From there, it was onto the mediums, those who claim they can communicate with the dead. This took some time since these were by far the most popular tables and longest lines. People want to think they’re hearing from their loved ones or are having an issue resolved and these nattily-attired ghouls provide these assurances.
They always give the answers the recipient wants, the recipient in turn praises the experience to others, and the cycle continues. I asked the mediums if they could speak with those who had passed on and they all assured me they could. I asked if they could reach my older sister. That I never had an older sister would serve as an immediate, handy test of their abilities. They all said yes, with one cryptically offering, “Whoever brought you here knew to bring you to me.” Well, I brought myself and I knew I was going to seek out mediums to see if they could pass the most basic test, so I guess she was right.
Watching them dream up stuff about a person that never existed would have had comedic value, but not $50 worth so I moved on. I decided to attend a class on intuition that was free and being taught by the woman who arranges and coordiantes the expo.
She identified herself with the moniker Mystical Moonspinner and declared, “I am a psychic medium.” Stepping from beyond the podium, she turned to us Muggles and asked, “How do you know if you’re intuitive?” Hmm, well if it’s real, I would guess your intuition would tell you.
Moonspinner, however, suspected that everyone has intuitive abilities but that they can be repressed.
“Most everyone is born with intuition,” she said. “You will sense things when you are a child. Maybe the imaginary friends aren’t as imaginary as we think.” That’s what I’ve said, too. Of course, I was 6 when I said that.
Moonspinner continued. “We start out completey open to the idea, but as we go though life, we are told that we’re not supposed to see things, we’re not supposed to hear things, we’re not supposed to know things. We start thinking it can’t be real so I shut it down.”
But that changed when she 12, as she started having mood swings and couldn’t figure out why. A good guess would be that she was going through puberty. She had entered a fragile time where developing children leave behind the elementary school mentality of most classmates getting along in order to gravitate toward cliques. It is a time of change and new experiences so it can be simultaneously frightening and exhilarating, and those living it are left with a 12-year-old’s ability to comprehend and process it all. But this is a rational explanation, which the audience had not come for, nor was the presenter prepared to deliver one.
“I figured out that my empathic abilities were coming back,” Moonspinner told us. “It would take the form of my arm hurting and then finding out the person I was speaking with had had a sports injury in the same place.”
These experiences are explained by the Law of Truly Large Numbers. With billions of people undertaking several hundred actions per day, the normal goings on will sometimes lead to circumstances such as the arm story. Events like this happen coincidentally and require no supernatural explanation. Believing otherwise comes from selective memory, as Moonspinner is unikely to recall a time that she started hurting and there was no nearby injury victim, or the time she was talking with someone who had a pain she wasn’t receiving in phantom form.
She will remember only the incident she described, and because it has meaning to her, she assigns a powerful connection to it. This phenomenon known is known as subjective validation.
Next, she said spirits of the deceased also tried to contact her, but it scared her so she developed two types of netherworld repellent. “Visualize a bubble and the spirits will flee from you,” she informed us. “Or picture a white light coming down and clearing out your psychic clutter.”
Back to how the tween Moonspinner began realizing she had a resurgent talent. “I started knowing things. How many of you guys have thought, ‘I should call my friend Barb’ and then the phone rings and it’s her?”
Most of us, I imagine. But we have also have had many more times that we thought of Barb without her calling, and many times when Barb called without us having envisioned her first.
But to Moonspinner, it means, “Your brain is telling you, and you have to be aware of those things. I just know things ahead of time.”
This prescience did not include knowing who was going to fill the 3 p.m slot at the psychic fair she was coordinating, as that time period was listed as “To Be Determined.”
Moonspinner continued to regale us with tales, revealing that she had done a reading eight months ago in which she told a customer something big was going to happen, and it did. “Experiences like this give me validation.”
Validation, yes, but only the subjective kind. It seems profound because it had a huge impact on her, but it fails to consider any other factors that could be in play, such as “something big” being vague, or the customer who believed in the psychic taking deliberate or subconscious steps to help fulfill this prophecy.
Our psychic then opened the floor to questions and an audience member wanted to know why strangers walk up and tell her their life stories.
“Because you were an Indigo child. If we took away your shell of a body, we would be left with a ball of energy and yours flows differently and your force field is attractive to people.”
And if Moonspinner’s shell was taken away, she would no longer have the body part from where she just pulled that spiel. Other audience members covered any questions I would have had about dream interpretation or future visions, so I went another route.
“Is this a testable ability and, if so, do you know if it’s ever been tested or subject to studies?
She replied, “I’m a believer, but I’m a skeptical believer.” I felt like throwing up, but guess my spirit bubble held it back.
“I do ghost hunting too,” she continued, “but I’m a skeptic until I can’t prove otherwise.”
Of course, this inverts where the burden of proof lies, which is always on the person making the claim. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, and negative evidence is no evidence at all.
Addressing the lack of studies, she said, “Can you hook me up to a machine and have it proven? Not that I know of.” She then hedged and related, “Well, actually, I was hooked up to an aura reading machine when a customer from a reading I had just finished asked me a followup question. My reader later told me later that my aura had changed when I was answering the question.”
Nice anecdote there, one of many she shared in lieu of any data. No, a medium relating what an aura reader had told her is not the type of study I had in mind. Rather, we could try someting like this. We could take six subjects,each of whom has one of the following distinctions, all unknown to the psychic: Colorblind, lefthanded, Canadian-born, registered independent, professional fisherman, and hardware store worker. The psychic could spend 30 minutes talking with each person in the presence of neutral observers who would also not know which person had which distinction, making this a double blind study. Afterward, we could ask the psychic to match the person to their distinction. The chance of going 6-for-6 by chance would be one in 46,656, so doing this, especially repeatedly, would be strong evidence for the ability.
So when Moonspinner states, “I have known things that there is no way I could have known, but how do you prove that,” we have the answer.
She then moved onto a tale in which she had been thinking about teaching a class, but didn’t know what topic it should be. Five minutes later, she got a call from a fellow psychic who wondered if she would like to teach a class on mediumship. While the audience swooned with this further confirmation of the speaker’s power, I was wondering why two psychics would need a telephone to communicate.
In her final anecdote, Moonspinner told about when her toddler nephew was riding a small motorized 4-wheeler toy. “It could only go about 6 miles per hour, but he is only 3 and I’m overprotective, so I was kind of worried. But his mother said it was OK, so I deferred to her. But after three minutes, I started asking, ‘Where is he? We need to find him now.’ About a minute later, we saw him walking the 4-wheeler back up the driveway with a gash on his knee. He had wrecked it and gotten hurt.”
Both she and the audience attributed her insistence that they check on the toddler to her psychic ability and not her overprotective nature. This type of continual communal reinforcement, post hoc reasoning, subjective validation, and selective memory can convince a person that normal occurrences are a gift from beyond, above, or similar preposition.
Despite my serious doubt about all this, I didn’t completely shut my mind to the possibility of intuition. Because when Moonspinner asked if anyone had ever had an intuitive experience, I knew I would be the only one not raising my hand.