“Good luck harm” (Superstitions)


You find a four-leaf clover, but when bending down to pick it up, a black cat crosses your path and you’re back to break-even on the luck front. In our culture, other traditional signs of good fortune have been number 7, horseshoes, and a rabbit’s foot. Meanwhile, misfortune is said to await those who break mirrors, walk under a ladder, or open an umbrella indoors.

Of course, these vary by culture. The Chinese see 8 as lucky and the swastika was considered a symbol of good fortune in Sanskrit-speaking lands being coopted by the Nazis in an extreme act of cultural appropriation.

While most persons see superstitions as quaint, others take them more seriously and are convinced they are behind good or bad luck. When persons do this, their actions can accurately be ascribed to post hoc reasoning and subjective validation.

But there may be a scientific explanation for why humans fall prey to such beliefs. According to Dr. Steven Novella of the New England Skeptical Society, superstitions arise from a need to feel in control. The illusion of control can be either primary or secondary. The former occurs when the person undertakes a physical action he or she hopes will lead to positive results, such as clutching a favorite stuffed animal, a pitcher pointedly avoiding stepping on the foul line, or an employee wearing red to every job evaluation. Secondary control refers to trying to access an external force, be it astrology, a deity, or a cosmic energy, and seeking to benefit from it. Novella writes that humans have developed overactive detection sensors and sometimes assume that events result from design instead of chance. This leads them to attempt to control or contact the entity responsible.

But overactive sensory detection may also carry an evolutionary advantage. Noticing an authentic pattern, such as cobra-strike victims succumbing to a painful death, would be a significant survival tool. Meanwhile, the detector misfiring and causing us to freak out over a harmless spider or to think that a lucky fedora will help our team win will have little detrimental effect. This would push the brain’s pattern-recognition ability into overdrive and cause it to error on the side of caution.

The British Journal of Psychology referenced a study in which subjects gauged the relationship between pressing a button and a light coming on. There was no connection between the two; the illuminations were randomly generated. But most subjects considered the relationship to be at least moderately casual, even though this was an illusion. Crucially, the magnitude of this illusion increased in a pattern consistent with how superstitious the person was. Their level of superstition had been determined in pre-study questionnaire.   

In another finding cited by Science, participants who lacked control of their situation were more likely to perceive a variety of illusory patterns, such as seeing images in noise, forming mistaken correlations about the stock market, detecting conspiracies and, yes, developing superstitions.  

Then in “Evolution of Superstitious Behavior,” by Kevin Foster and Hanna Kokko, the authors assert that superstitions arise because of a misunderstanding of cause and effect. But they also posit there may be times when natural selection adopts strategies that lead to frequent errors in assessment, as long as the correct responses help with survival and adaptation. In other words, the baseless fear of a black cat crossing your path is the tradeoff for your fright at a cobra doing the same.



“Shake, Prattle, and Roll” (Ideomotor Response)


Summoning the dead, determining the location of buried items without a metal detector, and making known the thoughts of the uncommunicative would all be remarkable traits. But while none of these disparate abilities exist, there are people who believe they possess them, and the explanation lies partly in the Ideomotor Response.

This refers to a physiological trait that is responsible for unconscious, unintentional physical movements. Examples would be unknowingly tapping your foot while music plays, spiking a non-existent football as your team needs to stop the clock, or aimlessly doodling during a boring meeting (perhaps a redundant phrase). Probably the most lucrative manifestation of the Ideomotor Response was when a man trying to dream up a way out of debt mindlessly twisted a piece of metal until he accidentally fashioned the first paper clip.  

Dr. William Carpenter coined the phrase in the mid-19th Century as a portmanteau of “ideo” for ideas and “motor” for muscular movement. He linked Ideomotor Response to hypnotism, somnambulism, and what came to be known as the Placebo Effect. Since then, it has come to be associated with other things, and the person experiencing it may have no awareness of executing any movements. This leaves them potentially vulnerable to the suggestion that mystical forces are at work.

Consider dowsing and divining rods. Dowsing refers to trying to locate underground water, while divining rods can be used to look for anything a mind can come up with. The implement is usually a wishbone-shaped twig or a long, narrow piece of metal. More recent products feature ersatz electronics complete with beeping sounds and blinking lights. Operators hold the device in front of themselves and the rod’s point will allegedly start quivering when the person is standing at or near the desired object. When this happens, it might seem like magic or perhaps that some undiscovered geological feature is being tapped. It actuality, it’s just the Ideomotor Response doing its thing, occasionally aided by confirmation bias. It’s the person shaking, not the object or an unknown force.

This is one of the easier pseudoscientific ideas to test and dowsing has repeatedly flunked the exam. It was the most common method of attempting to win the James Randi Million Dollar Challenge and the grand old man of skeptics still has his money.

Spending a few bucks (or even few hundred bucks for the supposedly advanced models) in a futile attempt to find subterranean water is not that big of a deal. It’s another matter when such devices are touted as being able to find bombs. Despite exorbitant prices of up to $25,000, such products have been snagged by persons in war zones desperate for a solution, and there have been fatal results.  

While not responsible for the loss of life, the Ideomotor Response has manifested itself in another tragic way, facilitated communication. This is the notion that an otherwise uncommunicative individual can make their thoughts known on a keyboard, via a second person holding the subject’s elbow or wrist in a certain way.

This was initially billed, incorrectly, as a miraculous way for parents to be able to know what their mute child was trying to tell them. It later became the avenue for false charges of child abuse, as the patient, though the facilitated communicator, seemed to type out molestation allegations against a caregiver.

However, even the most basic test of the purported abilities have shown facilitated communication to be without merit. When only the subject has been shown an image, then the communicator is brought in and asked to help the subject type in what they saw, the failure rate is 100 percent.

Returning now to harmless manifestations of the Ideomotor Response, we will address Ouija Boards. On such objects, tweens play an innocuous, if dull, game. Matt Walsh is the latest in a long string of panicked evangelicals who consider the boards to be a devastating demonic doorway. However, the only force in play is the Ideomotor Response. For as Neil Tyson has noted, the spirit controlling the planchette always uses the same vocabulary, idiosyncratic phrases, and spelling errors as the person they are co-piloting with.

This was best demonstrated on an episode of Penn & Teller: Bullshit! Two persons playing with the board were asked to stop and were then blindfolded. The board was then stealthily turned 180 degrees and when play resumed, the duo moved the planchette to where it would have gone had the board never been turned. So either the Ideomotor Response is responsible or the demons have permanent residency in the players’ eyelashes.



“Doubt of a shadow” (Shadow people)


Shadow People are beings that appear to be flitting about in one’s periphery. Heidi Hollis has been the main perpetrator of the notion that such visions are of real creatures and she views Shadow People as malevolent types out to annoy, scare, or even harm us, though they stop short of inflicting grievous bodily injury or death.

Whether it comes from Hollis or another believer in Shadow People, the gist of it is that these beings are seen furtively from the corner of one’s eye, then are gone when the viewer turns to get a better look. This could be caused by an animal, such as a mouse in the house or something larger in the wilderness, but most instances of Shadow People likely stem from perception errors. This is more likely in places that are heavily-shadowed or low-lit. That is because those surroundings overwork the brain as it tries to pick out a pattern.

For those favoring the sensational over the scientific, there are suggestions that the glimpses are of extraterrestrials, reptilians, demons, time travelers, astral projectors, or multi-dimensional entities. Or perhaps the Lucky Charms leprechaun. Since the image is so fleeting and peripheral, it can be twisted into just about anything. More important, these ideas are untestable, unfalsifiable, and unprovable. Explaining Shadow People as interlopers from another planet, time, or dimension is using one unknown to explain another. This represents the lowest-quality research and is similar to those who try to establish Bigfoot as a hybrid of a Kodiak and an unknown large mammal. Or those who say that the lack of evidence for auras is owed to another unproven notion, blocked chakras.

Sketoid’s Brian Dunning noted a further problem with supposed solutions that employ phenomena we know nothing about, including whether they exist. He wrote, “Let’s make an outrageous leap of logic and allow for the possibility that interdimensional beings or astral projectors are real. What characteristics would they have? How would we detect their presence? What level of interaction would they have with those in our dimension?”

With no way to know, test, or even reasonably speculate on these answers, we are left to pursue a more rational approach to explain the apparent apparitions. Consider, for instance, hypnogogic hallucinations, which are vivid, lucid, and occur when drifting off to slumberland. Its twin is sleep paralysis, which take place when one is waking.

Another possibility was raised in a Science article, which reported what happens when a particular section of the brain is excited. From the story: “When the left temporoparietal junction is stimulated, it can create the illusion of a shadow person. Given that such experiences are often heightened in psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia and paranoia and those who believe they’ve been abducted by aliens, the results could lead to a better understanding of these neurological conditions.”

According to the article, Swiss scientists were trying to determine why a patient was experiencing seizures when they applied a mild current to her left temporoparietal junction. This caused her to report the she felt the presence of a silent, stationary person behind her. Such delusions are common in schizophrenia sufferers, who  have illusions of being watched by a stranger, alien, or demon.

The article further explains, “In order to recognize its own body, the brain uses sensory information, such as visual and proprioceptive cues. The TPJ is known to put some of these cues together. When this function is disrupted, the brain perceives two bodies instead of one and mistakes the second for that of a stranger.”

So then, hypnogogia, sleep paralysis, and temporoparietal junction stimulation are  plausible explications for those who receive regular visits from Shadow People. For those who have this experience infrequently, the answer may be apophenia and pareidolia. This refers to humans’ distaste for randomness and our tendency to see patterns even where none exists.

As the Polite Skeptic wrote, “Our brains…are the most advanced computers on the planet, but they’re processing gargantuan heaps of data every second. Everything we see, hear, feel, taste and smell depends entirely upon our brain’s passive, running-in-the-background interpretation of what’s going on around us. These are based on light waves, vibrating air, particles floating near our faces, and electrical signals from the skin.”  

Understanding all these points is the one way that Shadow People, at least metaphorically, can be brought into clear focus.







“Free spirits” (Quad Cities Psychic and Paranormal Expo)


Each year, the Quad Cities Psychic and Paranormal Expo rolls into town. Another tradition is me having 86 cents in my expendable income account. That has kept me from paying for any paranormal products or psychic services, but I have some magic of my own and always come away from these events having gotten something for nothing.  

My first stop this year was at an essential oils table, where I was assured the merchandise was “100 percent certified pure therapeutic grade, with nothing synthetic.” When it comes to the only oil I ever buy, motor, synthetic is a good thing, so I’m curious what this is all about.

I asked the two women what they could tell me about the oils and they inquired if I had any aches or pains. Indeed, my head was hurting so they referred to their chart that recommended peppermint. Later, I checked other essential oil businesses and websites for their headache cures and among those listed were lavender, eucalyptus, rosemary, spearmint, roman chamomile, magnesium, turmeric, frankincense, wintergreen, birch, jasmine, sage, marjoram, bergamot, ginger, and basil. By the time I tracked all those down it would be way past the four hours my headaches normally last and it would be gone anyway.   

As to these ladies’ recommendation, per their instruction, I put a couple of drops on my fingertip and lathered up my forehead and the back of my neck. This caused a pronounced burning sensation, meaning the pains on the inside of my head were now matched by ones on the outside, so I at least had symmetry going for me.

Brushing off the unpleasantness, I asked if the oil had healing properties. Assured this was the case, I asked if they knew the science behind it.

“There’s lot and lots of science. Our company is all about science.” What they lacked in specifics, they made up for in enthusiasm and assurance, so I continued.

“If there’s an active ingredient in it, is there a chance you could use too much of it?”

“Other companies, yes, but not ours. This is 100 percent pure.”

“But if it has healing properties, I would think there would be a danger of overdose. If you take a bottle of Excedrin, you’d be dead.”

“But that’s not all-natural.”

“Natural could still do you in. Hemlock is natural, too. So with the peppermint oil, is there a way to determine the proper dose?”

There is a look I get from psychic and paranormal fair merchants when I start lobbing anything beyond remedial inquiries at them. They are used to being asked, “What can craniosacral therapy do for me,” not, “Can you explain the mechanism behind craniosacral therapy?” Questions about the science are answered with “lots and lots” as opposed to providing examples of peer-reviewed articles and double blind studies.

I got that look, which they then turned on each other. They traded stammers before one of them offered that I should start with a drop or two and work up to what works for me. Of course, if no amount worked, I would keep going until I overdosed, which is what I was trying to avoid.

I was about to make this point when one of them changed the subject by offering me oil-infused chocolate chip cookies. I can’t ask probing questions if I’m chewing on confectionaries. To wash it down, they handed me water with lemon oil added.

“What does this do for you?”

“It helps with dehydration.”

Water helps with dehydration. Really glad I’m not paying for this information.

Glancing at the comparison chart that recommends oils in lieu of over the counter medication, I asked, “So for body aches, instead of Tylenol, I should take chamomile?”

“That’s right.”

“Why not just take Tylenol?”

“Because ours is pure.”

Oh, that’s right, you told me that. I need to look and see what oil helps with memory.

I then made my way to another table, where I asked a middle-age bespectacled woman with shoulder-length blond hair what she was offering.

“Readings, Reiki, and energy clearing.”

“What’s a Reiki healing?”

In a dreamy voice she intones, “Oh it’s wonderful. I love it. It holistically heals you from the inside. A week ago I got arthritis real bad and had Reiki done and I haven’t had it since.” There have been about 10 million such anecdotes in Reiki’s favor, none of them accompanied with an explanation for the mechanism behind it.  An eternal optimist, I hoped to be the first to track this down.

 “How does it work?”

“It’s spiritual. It’s the universe. It’s the angels. It’s the spirit guides and all the energy they use to heal you.”

“What type of energy does it use?”

“Well, we’re all made of energy. The Earth is made of energy, you, me, all living creatures, that type of energy.”

So someone would take my energy then give it back to me. Again, glad I’m not paying for these services.

Turning the subject to another of her offerings, I asked, “What’s energy clearing?”

“That clears away the energy we pick up from other people as you’re walking around or you’re living with them.”

“But that kind of contradicts the Reiki healing. Wouldn’t the energy clearing cancel out the Reiki energy you received?”

“No, it’s not connected. The energy that’s been cleared is low level. Depression, for instance, does not have a high vibration. The session helps to clear the clutter that builds up from negative thoughts and actions,” she told me. “Have you ever been talking to someone that just makes you sad for what the world has come to?”

Boy, she nailed that one. Why isn’t she manning the mindreading booth?

Moving on, I found a merchant who focused on a haunted house south of Buffalo, N.Y. He owns the house, he told me.

“Do you live in it?”


“Does anyone live in it? Besides the ghosts, I mean?”

“No, I’m fixing it up.” He’s probably using sub-contractors for the various tasks, like remodeling, wiring, and ghostbusting.

He further explained, “I’ve researched the spirits in this house and its history. There was a failed exorcism there, another guy died there. Some people left after two months. Another family got out quickly and left all their stuff behind. People have tried to live there but it’s hard.”

I tried living in upstate New York for a while, I know what you mean.

“How do you research it?”

“There’s lots of scientific ways of researching it. Then there’s the personal, the feelings you get when you’re there.” So he bases it on science and feeling, and I have a feeling he’s exaggerating the science part.

This fellow was giving a free (there’s that key word again) presentation about this, so I followed him into the speaking room. Wonder if all this makes me a paranormal investigator investigator.

Once there, he enthralled audience members (well, with one exception), telling tales about these spooky surroundings. He assured us, “There’s definitely a dark entity there.” I imagine that’s called nightfall.

His talk contained the phrases, “something’s holding the spirit there,” “there’s a portal in that room that can’t be closed,” and “spirits are crossing a threshold.” There was talk about “an Indian chief” and “a woman in white at the pond,” both of whom he reported capturing on film. He also related a story about how a K2 meter stayed lit when he attempted to contact a former resident. “There was no explanation for it,” he said.

That’s because he didn’t ask me. The K2’s purpose is not to enable the dead to communicate via beeps and flashing lights as you walk up creaking stairs. Its function is to detect electromagnetic radiation and indicate the radiation’s strength and direction. There is no evidence deceased homeowners have the ability to leave this radiation behind.

When I asked if the K2 meters were designed to chase ghosts, he said no but added, “When your body dies, energy can’t be created or destroyed. There’s still that energy somewhere. If you ask a question and it flickers, perhaps it’s paranormal.” And perhaps it’s from the cell phones, video cameras, and computers you brought in.

Other audience members asked questions like, “Are you worried about driving off the friendly ghosts and leaving only behind the evil entities,” and “If the house burned down, would the spirits go back out the portal?” Meanwhile, I got in a second question, about why ghosts in his photos would still be wearing clothes. He answered that they did that somehow, some way, so that people in the present could recognize them. By this point, I realized the peppermint oil wasn’t helping any and my headache had gotten worse.



“Remember the data” (Anecdotes vs. evidence)


While “Don’t knock it until you try it” is the cliché, skeptic leader Brian Dunning thinks a better suggestion is, “Don’t try it until you knock it.” He was being somewhat sarcastic, as no opinion should be formed until all available evidence is considered. But his point was that personal experiences are inferior to data.

When it comes to favoring personal experience, this mistake is most frequently committed with regard to alternative medicine therapies and products. People often trust their perceptions more than any other source. But clinical test results provide a much better assessment of efficiency than someone’s word that it worked.

Our senses are prone to error and not everyone’s are as pronounced as the next person’s. Further, we all carry preconceived notions, biases, and expectations. Then there are mood swings, good days, bad days, and medium days. Hence, the assessment of a person grabbed off the street will be filtered through his or her prejudices, biases, preconceptions, preferences, and forgetfulness. It is impractical that their anecdote will be proof that the product or procedure will work (or fail) for everyone.

That’s why scientists use controlled, randomized trials. These will overcome the biases and other weaknesses addressed in the previous paragraph. As Dunning explained, “If you want to know whether listening to a binaural beat will make you fall asleep, a science fan knows not to try it to find out. She knows her sleepiness varies throughout every day and she knows that the expectation that it’s supposed to make her sleepy skews her perception. Instead, she looks at properly controlled testing that’s been done. Those subjects didn’t know what they were listening to, they didn’t know what it was supposed to do to them, and some of them unknowingly listened to a placebo recording. She knows the difference between real, statistically-sound data and one person’s anecdotal experience.”

Trying an untested product compromises a person’s ability to objectively analyze testing data about that product. This is also true in areas beyond alternative medicine. It can come into play while reading a horoscope, seeing an alleged ghost, or attending a psychic seminar. A cousin of mine did the latter and afterward, she excitedly posted there was “NO WAY” the psychic have known what she did, save an esoteric ability.

This is known as subjective validation, where an experience being personally impactful is considered evidence that the phenomenon is authentic. But with psychics, there are issues regarding cold reading, selective memory by audience members, and the lack of confirmatory testing. In my cousin’s case, the experience resonated with her because she had an intense experience, but that is not controlled data. A test could be designed, and in fact have been carried out, and no medium has ever consistently performed better than chance.

Still, persons will insist they know something works because it did for them. But this is not necessarily what happened. During the 2016 Olympics, athletes tried cupping and elastic kinesio tape, two alternative therapies completely lacking in evidence and with no plausible working mechanism behind them. Desperate for the extra edge against fellow world-class athletes, Olympians tried them and their personal experiences convinced them it worked. Yet these swimmers, runners, and gymnasts also had access to personal trainers, excellent nutrition, regimented rest periods, massage, icing, and other attentiveness that guaranteed they would perform at their peak. Giving the credit for victory to cupping wins the post hoc reasoning Gold Medal. Michael Phelps, after all, had collected plenty of first-place finishes before he started overheating, misshaping, and discoloring his back. There’s also the issue of those who tried these techniques and came in 17th.  

Now we will examine another instance in which personal experience is treated as preferable to tested evidence. An Answers in Genesis chestnut is “Were you there,” which they genuinely consider a solid retort to proof about the age of the universe, Earth’s earliest days, and the development of homo sapiens. This is a vacuous, absurd reply. No one questions if Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence by asking historians if they were there when he dipped his quill into ink.

This supposed “gotcha” question reveals Young Earth Creationists’ substantial ignorance about how science works. As Dunning explained, “Scientific conclusions are never based simply on personal reports, but upon direct measurements of testable evidence. Nobody’s been to the sun, either, but we know a great deal about it because we can directly measure and analyze the various types of radiation it puts out.”

Likewise, chemists can’t see quarks and astronomers can’t see dark matter, but these entities can be measured and their attributes analyzed. The answer to a time-honored riddle is that a tree falling in forest does indeed emit soundwaves whether anyone is there to perceive them. Likewise, Earth formed, heated, and cooled regardless of whether this was being witnessed. Researchers understand the science behind the various dating methods that are used to determine this. In the same way that DNA is preferable to a witness at trial, radiometric dating, carbon 14 dating, and the speed of light are more important than the fact that no one from Earth’s earliest days is alive to recall it.

From those that deny something has happened, we move to those who assert that something has happened despite lacking concrete evidence for this claim. Specifically, some persons will wonder what’s the harm in using a product or technique if it makes a person feel better.

The harm can come in such forms as using Therapeutic Touch instead of antibiotics. Such methods not only waste time and money, but the patient may bypass legitimate medicine that would work. And in certain cases, such as with colloidal silver, black salve, and some essential oils, active ingredients are being ingested and overuse can be dangerous.

Another way in which personal experiences are trusted over clinical evidence is to claim, “I know what I saw.” Yet senses are prone errors, deficiencies, and bias. A popular video asks viewers to count the number of times a basketball is passed between a group of persons. When most respondents are asked to give that number, they usually give the correct response. But they also fumble when asked the follow up question, “What walked through the group while the ball was being passed?” It was a man in a gorilla suit ambling by, yet most viewers missed it because they were so consumed with keeping track of the number of tosses.

“Our memories change dramatically over time and were incomplete to begin with,” Dunning wrote. “And who knows how good was the data that your brain had to work with was to begin with? Lighting conditions can come into play, as can movement, distractions, backgrounds, and expectations of what should be seen. Possible misidentifications and perceptual errors all had a part in building your brain’s experience.”

That’s why Bigfoot sightings are not considered to be “case closed” proof of the beast’s existence. Anthropologists would need to look at testable evidence, which in the case of Sasquatch, is utterly lacking.

Out of frustration, aficionados of alternative medicine, conspiracy theories, cryptozoological critters, and a Young Earth will sometimes label scientists and skeptics “closed-minded.” But closed-mindedness includes refusing to change ideas no matter how much contrary evidence one is presented with. Since phone calls from 9/11 hijack victims described Islamic terrorists, Truthers concocted an evidence-free ad hoc assertion that those victims and the family members they telephoned were in on the government’s plot.

Meanwhile, being open-minded means changing your position when you discover you’ve been mistaken. I balked when I first heard that race was a social construct instead of a biological one. Using some of the reasoning addressed earlier, “I knew what I saw,” and clearly race had to be biological since I could see the difference between someone from Canada and someone from Nigeria. But as I learned about alleles, gene frequency, migratory routes, blood types, and the Human Genome Project, I changed my mind.

There are mounds of evidence that disprove such notions as chemtrails, chiropractic, a flat Earth, vaccine shedding being the cause of disease, and the first man being spoken into sudden existence 5,000 years ago. Yet hardcore adherents to these ideas consider the skeptic or scientist to be the closed-minded one.

People who assert this think of science as an unbending set of dictates from dour men in crisp lab coats or arrogant academics perched in ivory towers. However, science is a process that continually adapts, refines, improves, adds to, subtracts from, and alters data, according to where the evidence leads. And that refinement is subject to still further peer review, examination, and testing. That is why scientifically controlled data on the ability of a eucalyptus rub to cure rheumatism will always be preferable to what Aunt Tillie says.

“It was a dark and stormy day” (Eclipse fears)


Eclipses initially inspired fear, but today we understand the mechanics behind them, so they inspire, um, well, I guess it’s still fear. At least among some groups. And I’m not referring to the science enthusiasts who are fretting that an all-day road trip may turn into nothing more than a cloud viewing.

First, the basics for any second graders or Flat Earthers who have stumbled onto the blog: A total solar eclipse happens when the moon is close enough to Earth and it simultaneously crosses the path of the sun. This results in the moon blotting out the sun for a few minutes and a shadow being cast on part of Earth’s surface.

For a competing hypothesis, we leave the astronomy book and head to a Flat Earth group active in Colorado, headed by Bob Knodel. This bunch was profiled last month by the Denver Post, and the article related this exchange between Knodel and his underling:

“How are we Flat Earthers supposed to explain to our friends the solar eclipse in August,” asked one attendee. The room fell silent. “We’ll have to do more research and get back to you on that,” Knodel replied.

While awaiting his further investigation, let’s look at a few other ways the approaching eclipse may have been handled by other Flat Earthers. I say ‘may’ because, while I consider my Poe-meter finely tuned, it does get tough with these guys.

Now, being a Flat Earther normally requires more than thinking our planet is a plane instead of a sphere. The belief sets up a series of ad hoc rationalizations. For example, the planet being dark and light simultaneously would be impossible on a flat Earth, so an idea was invented that the sun and moon do a continuous loop over Earth and remain a fixed distance away from each other.

This, in turn, requires embracing geocentrism and a stationary planet. This supposed static loop of Earth’s star and satellite, however, would make an eclipse impossible. Rather than admit this, Knodel and his ilk are engaged in unspecified further research. And while this research has yielded no explanation of what is blocking the sun if not the moon, Flat Earth proponents are still using the celestial event to try and bolster their cause.

For example, they argue that an object’s shadow can never be smaller than the object itself.  They will use a ball and flashlight and point out the resulting shadow on the wall is larger than the ball.

This demonstrates why the Scientific Method embraces peer review and not self-produced videos. Mic.com quoted physics professor Will Kinney, who noted that treating the sun and a small flashlight as similar is the mistake here. While a flashlight sends out a narrow, concentrated beam, the massive sun sends broad light to all parts of the solar system.

Per the article, “Because of the sun and moon’s size and distance, they look like they’re the same size, but they’re not. You could re-create the solar eclipse at home, but not like it’s being done on YouTube videos. What you need is an extended light source that is at such a distance that it’s almost exactly the same apparent size as the thing you’re blocking it with.”

Beyond that, the only points I could find ascribed to Flat Earthers were probably Poes. A Reddit user described the upcoming eclipse as “maintenance downtime of the sun/moon hologram, which will get a firmware upgrade.”

Another argued that the moon is 400 times larger than the sun, so that’s why the latter’s light is being eclipsed. This was dismissed by Flat Earthers as trolling, not because of the complete lack of evidence for it – Flat Earthers are fine with such distinctions – but because it contradicts the Flat Earth model where the sun and moon are about the same size and always the same distance apart.

From here, we will move onto those who think the eclipse is real, but feel it entails more than an explicable celestial event.

We will begin with educateinspirechange.org, which embraces the most ubiquitous of the pseudoscientific approaches, the misuse of the word ‘energy.’ It managed to get that word in a dozen times during its essay on the eclipse. Here’s a sample: “As the Total Solar Eclipse gets closer, energies are rising more rapidly than ever. In the last few weeks, have you noticed people acting abnormal, like a person who is normally chilled out becoming anxious? This is because of the energy making its way to us.”

This is, of course, selective memory. In reality, some people act out of character during times of unremarkable celestial body positioning and others act normal during an eclipse. Still others bind together unrelated items and top them with a bow of post hoc reasoning.

Continuing, our anonymous author writes, “During this total solar eclipse, you will be engulfed much more intensely by the glittering streams of magical light beaming around the moon. I cannot explain with words how intense and magical this energy to come is.”

His stated inability to explain it with words doesn’t stop him from trying. Here are the results of those efforts: “The sun represents focus, self-expression, and is aggressive while the moon is something we use as a means of really putting our goals within reach. The total solar eclipse is a way for us to provoke external changes. It forces us into taking the route we have to in order to reach where we need to be.” That part could be seen as true, as some astronomy geeks are planning a route so they can see the eclipse in its totality.

Next, our writer “strongly suggests focusing on the moon’s energy and using your Labrodite crystals to get things going and provide you with a protective vibration.” He has no specific advice for those whose Labrodite crystal supplies are low, or who lack any vibrating protections. But he closes a mostly foreboding discourse by encouraging us to “not be afraid of what is to come.” Now there’s some advice of his that I can take.

Not all worry is about what will be overhead. In South Carolina, there have been concerns about what creatures the eclipse may unleash. The state’s Emergency Management Division tweeted a map of where eyewitnesses over the years have said they have spotted lizard people. The agency warned, “We do not know if lizard men become more active during a solar eclipse, but we advise residents to remain ever vigilant.” This increased awareness seems to be working, as no reptilians have been spotted this week in Myrtle Beach.

Meanwhile, sciencealert.com reports there is angst about the eclipse being the  precursor of a collision with Nibiru. The gist of Nibiru beliefs is that this rouge planet will eventually either collide with Earth or throw it off its axis. Either way, Earthlings are hosed. This makes for a supple belief, as its ominous nature fits in nicely with awe-inspiring phenomenon, but its inevitability enables it to work when nothing special is going on.

Most often, though, it is when something noteworthy is happening skyward that Nibiru believers get excited – about our impending doom. The Hale-Bopp Comet’s initial appearance, in fact, was the genesis of the notion that a runway giant planet is coming to get us. Nancy Lieder predicted that Nibiru would annihilate Earth in 2003, which then became 2012, which then became she won’t say because it would cause panic, a justification whose lameness is only topped by its arrogance.

It is understandable why the ancients ascribed natural disasters and phenomenon to gods and goddesses. Lightning bolts being Zeus hurling a spear, wind being a bellowing giant’s breath, a tempest being an upset Neptune, got it. Similarly, it’s easy to see why an unexplained blotting of the sun would freak people out. But unexplained does not mean it was inexplicable, and astronomers eventually figured it out. Which is what makes Ann Graham Lotz’s take on the eclipse so pitiful.

Despite our complete understanding of what is happening and why, Lotz is determined to put a Bronze Age spin on it, punctuated by self-congratulation and self-righteousness. She quotes Joel 2:31, which reads, “The sun will be turned to darkness before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.” She cites this scripture without explaining why the eclipses that have come along since the verse was written have been free of Earth-changing calamity.

Lotz wrote that when reading this passage, “I knew with hair-raising certainty that God’s severe judgment was coming on America! The warning is triggered by the total solar eclipse of August 21.” This is nothing more than subjective validation and a belief that the strength of a conviction matters more than its accuracy.

As to the amateur astronomers and school children enthused about the event, Lotz has strong condemnation. “The celebratory nature regarding the eclipse brings to my mind the Babylonian King Belshazzar who threw a drunken feast the night the Medes and Persians crept under the city gate.” Ah, got it. This is all just a distraction that will enable to Iranians to conquer our heathen selves.

Where most of see the alignment of the astronomical bodies and the laws of astrophysics, Lotz sees a holy harbinger. “God is signaling us about something. Time will tell what that something is.” These impossibly vague descriptors will allow Lotz to claim any tragedy at any time as fulfillment of her prophecy.

The aforementioned ancients had little knowledge of what was going on in their world, so they constructed supernatural explanations. Initially, their gaps in knowledge were extremely broad and were filled in with concocted deities. As knowledge expanded, those gaps shrank and today there aren’t many left. There are a few, such as not knowing how life originated, and some folks find comfort in these gaps, thinking the lack of full scientific understanding means that their god did it. But Lotz takes it even further. Even though we understand what an eclipse is and why it occurs, she still insists in foisting her fears and fantasies onto it.

In summary, Monday will bring one of the following: Divine judgement, mass extinction via a careening planet, reptilian generation, a mysterious object overhead, magical moon rays, or a standard solar eclipse. In any case, I’m there.

“Doctored evidence” (Exorcism)


Dr. Steven Novella is a leader of the skeptics movement and in this capacity regularly has to fend off damage done to the name of his employer, the Yale Medical School, by his coworker, Dr. David Katz. The latter uses the university’s reputation and resources to endorse all manner of unproven techniques and procedures and then calls them medicine.

On top of this, Novella has now another prominent man with Yale ties to do battle against. Dr. Richard Gallagher, a Yale alum psychologist, has expressed belief in demon possession and has found sympathetic forums in CNN and The Washington Post. The issue is not so much Gallagher’s belief as it is his dangling of his education and scientific background to try and bolster this contention. As we will see, this appeal to authority is only one of a half dozen logical fallacies Gallagher commits in making his case for diabolical disturbances.

CNN’s piece this month featured extensive quotes Gallagher fed to credulous interviewer John Blake. It also contained a token appearance by Novella, who is only mentioned beginning in the 63rd paragraph. Up until then, Blake had unquestioningly allowed Gallagher to talk of persons levitating, objects flying off shelves, victims speaking perfect Latin, and a 90-pound woman throwing a 250-pound man across the room.

The CNN piece is less evidence for demonic possession than it is for Gallagher being in possession of fallacious thinking skills and faulty reasoning.

For example, he claims that allegedly possessed persons display hidden knowledge, such as how the exorcist’s mother died or what pets he owned. But this could be explained through cold reading. As to demonstrating unexpected strength, Novella noted this would not be unusual for someone hyped on emotions and fueled by adrenaline. As to the Latin, there is no telling if the person had ever studied the language, nor is there reason to suspect this would be a favored method of communication among Satan’s soldiers.

There is also the sizable issue of all this being hearsay. Gallagher provides no video evidence nor any other means of documenting his extraordinary claims. It is reasonable to expect more proof for claims of flying people and objects than a person saying it happened. There is no way to try and corroborate his tales or examine them for signs of trickery, hidden accomplices, or fabrication.

Further, even if these phenomenon had occurred, they are unexplained and it is the appeal to ignorance to fill in that gap with invisible visitors from the underworld.

Other than the anecdotes about defying the laws of gravity and physics, the cases cited by Gallagher are explicable through cold reading, educated guesswork, selective memory, and subjective validation.

What Gallagher lacks in evidence and substantiation, he makes up for in ad hoc reasoning. Specifically, he says demons won’t submit to lab studies or video analysis because they want to sow doubt, not confirm their existence.

To this, Novella retorted, “Skeptics will recognize this a special pleading, otherwise known as making up lame excuses to explain why you don’t have any actual evidence.”

Similarly, Gallagher credits demons with being tricky and able to avoid persons when they choose. Novella notes this is nearly identical to the rationale offered by aficionados of other unverified phenomenon. They claim aliens are too advanced to allow themselves to be observed, that Bigfoot has mastered stealth, that psychic powers are dulled by a skeptic’s negative vibes, or that western medicine is incapable of testing its eastern counterpart.

Novella reports that he has seen scores of videos of alleged exorcisms and they all lack any spectacular footage. No unimagined strength, no spinning heads, no sudden recitation of a dead tongue, nobody taking flight, no little girl slamming a man into the wall with a flick of her wrist.

Again, Blake tosses a bare bone to skeptics near the end of his story by giving Novella a brief say. But even this is followed by Gallagher being allowed to respond to his opponent’s criticism, while the token doubter is afforded no such luxury. Then the story ends on a sympathetic note for the exorcist.

I have noticed a decline in CNN’s standards. They still put out lots of good products, but allow themselves to be taken in by the occasional tripe, so this story was none too surprising. By contrast, I was saddened to see that the publication responsible for the Pentagon Papers and exposing Watergate had allowed itself to become a venue for such topics.

In his Post column, Gallagher gives passing praise to skepticism and science before veering sharply into the appeals to personal incredulity and ignorance. He wrote,  “The subject’s behavior exceeded what I could explain with my training. I could only explain it as paranormal ability.”

A basic distinction of the skepticism and science Gallagher had earlier alluded to is that an event being unexplained does not make it inexplicable. Nor is the observer granted carte blanche to fill in the blanks with the answer he favors. For evidence to be of any value, it must be attained through the Scientific Method.  

Toward the end of his column, Gallagher fires off two more logical fallacies. He commits the appeal to consequences by bemoaning, “Those who dismiss these cases unwittingly prevent patients from receiving the help they desperately require.” And those psychologists who encourage mentally ill patients to engage in guerilla warfare against furtive monsters are committing malpractice.

Gallagher completes his traipse through the fallacy landscape with an ad hominem, calling skeptics “closedminded, “vitriolic,” “unpersuadable,” and “materialist.” Even if all that is true, it provides zero evidence that demons are being conjured on  Gallagher’s couch.

“Corrective memory” (Mandela Effect)


In my early 20s, I had memorized every batting champion and pennant winner in baseball history, so I decided to tackle home run leaders next. I went to the shelf to retrieve the book that contained this information and it was nowhere to be found. I only thought I had put it there. The brain that had soaked up a thousand pieces of baseball information in the previous week failed me when I tried to recall where I had put the book earlier that day.

Probably all of us have had these false memories, but when the same delusion happens on a mass scale, it is dubbed the Mandela Effect. This refers specifically to the aftermath of Nelson Mandela’s death in 2013, when many persons were certain they had seen his funeral procession years earlier.

Another well-known example of the Effect is many persons thinking they recall a film that never existed, Shazaam, starring Sinbad. Also, the Berenstain Bears are frequently mis-remembered as “Berenstein.”

It’s unclear why these phenomenon happen. With the anthropomorphic grizzlies, it has been speculated that since “stein” is a much more common ending for last names than is “stain,” those who grew up with the Bears were exposed to many more examples of the former. This may have helped created a false memory, which would be easy enough since the stain/stein distinction was less important than the Bears’ personalities, appearance, and adventures.

As to the fictitious flick, persons likely confused it with Kazaam, Shaquille O’Neal’s tragicomic attempt at thespian arts. Shaquille and Sinbad sound somewhat similar, and the latter has Middle Eastern fantasy overtones, so the blanks were filled in with false memories.

As to the example that gives the Effect its name, when Mandela was released from prison in 1990, there was a march that may have resembled a beloved figure’s funeral procession in terms of length, attendance, tributes, and displayed emotions. His release and its immediate aftermath may be what persons are mistakenly remembering as a funeral.

Offering a more paranormal rationale is ghost hunter and psychic Fiona Broome, who wrote that this might be evidence of an alternate universe. As she describes it, we may move in and out of these universes, sometimes taking memories with us. But if this were true, we would also be sliding out to a reality where Mandela still lives and another where he overthrew the South African government in the 1960s, and no one is claiming to have recalled these circumstances.

Broome is not offering a testable hypothesis so there’s nothing substantive we do with her idea. Instead, let’s consider more reasonable alternatives.

Brains confabulate invented recollections to fill in memory gaps. We might, for example, misattribute later memories to earlier events, or think our childhood trip to the creek was with our best friend when it was really with his brother. These fabricated recollections are sometimes provided by someone else. While a few persons may have mistakenly remembered Hannibal Lecter telling the FBI trainee,  “Hello, Clarice,” many more people think they recall this line because they heard someone else saying it. Indeed, being exposed to a false memory can cause it to become implanted.

And if the false memory centers on something important to the listener, confirmation bias makes it even more likely to take hold. One of the Birther claims was that Obama’s step-grandmother was captured on tape talking about his Kenyan birth. No such tape exists, but Birthers continued to parrot it because the idea was attractive to them. Conversely, the 1990 New York Times article describing Obama as Hawaiian-born is not something they would be likely to remember.

So then, common cognitive errors are all that is needed to explain the Mandela Effect. At least that’s the case in our parallel dimension.

“Lookalike context” (Doppelgängers)


A motorist once saw my nephew enter a residence, then was perplexed four blocks later to again encounter my nephew, who was driving past him in the opposite direction. This was possible because the motorist has spied a pair of identical twins.

Had the motorist shared this story is some online forums, however, a solution more sinister than a split embryo would have been blamed. Doppelgänger is a German loanword that in today’s usage normally means lookalike, but more traditionally referred to an apparition that portends doom for the person it resembles.  

Per the legend, if a friend, stranger, or family member sees another person’s doppelgänger, it is an omen that harm will befall the authentic individual, while seeing one’s own doppelgänger means death. Doppelgängers might attempt to provide advice to the person they shadow, but this advice is meant to confuse, mislead, or cause ruin.

In English, doppelgängers are sometimes referred to by a much less excellent term, the umlaut-free “fetch.” By whatever name, there are legends that Abraham Lincoln and Percy Shelly saw their own. These stories are only told because these men met an early demise. There’s not much narrative in, “Dwight Eisenhower saw his, but the doppelgänger was thwarted and Ike lived to a ripe old age.”

Another tale centers on a 19th Century French schoolmarm, Emilie Sagée. Students swore they saw her doppelgänger many times, after which Sagée would always be exhausted. There is no way to confirm or refute these claims, though they most likely are a case of students messing with their teacher. 

Similar stories were passed down by Scots, Norse, and ancient Egyptians. The Scottish story was most prominent on the Orkney Islands, where inhabitants feared evil fairies would give birth to sickly infants, then replace them with identical-in-appearance human babies. Similar themes were the focus of the American films Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Changeling.

Doppelgängers also appear in works by Fyodor Dostoevsky, William Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, Edgar Allen Poe, and Charles Dickens. They are often described as casting no shadow and having no reflection, though it’s possible the root of doppelgänger mythology may be another myth, Narcissus.   

To the best of my knowledge, no one believes that Narnia, Chewbacca, or Bilbo Baggins are real. People obsessed with these notions might be geeks or aficionados, but they are not delusional. By contrast, persons fond of Bigfoot, angels, and ghosts are convinced they are real even though their existence has not been verified.

Doppelgängers straddle this line. While they appear in works of fiction, they are also at the center of tales told by persons who pass the stories off as true. Most persons enchanted by the idea of doppelgängers consider them imaginary and in the same category as campfire stories, Poe works, and Lon Chaney Jr. movies. But there are a few believers, just like Ken Ham believes in dragons and unicorns and some Earth-based spiritualists believe in sprites and leprechauns. These positions are unorthodox even in the credulous creationist and cryptozoological camps, but people who hold them feel their case is bolstered since the creatures existed in tales from different cultures and over many centuries, but this is an ad populum. Neither the number of adherents nor the fervency of their beliefs has any bearing on whether something is true. 

There have been some documented cases of persons genuinely thinking their loved one has been replaced by an impostor. These are the results of brain injury, brain malfunction, or hallucination. This is more likely if the injury or malfunction impacted spatial reasoning. Similar occurrences that took place before science understood this might be how some doppelgänger legends were born.

If that’s boring and stodgy, another speculation holds that doppelgängers are visitors from another dimension or another corner of the multiverse. This always seems to be a one way road. We Earthlings are never able to access these portals, vortexes, or wormholes. I can live with that, we’ve got Renée Zellweger and guacamole on this side.

“Taken for a Spin” (Quad Cities Psychic and Paranormal Expo)

Psychic Fair. You know when and where, just CONCENTRATE.

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.
“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 unlikely 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 something 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.