J. R. Malloy quotes Michael Shermer's attack on mediums.
While no subscriber to this list would *defend* spiritual mediums,
is there anyone who thinks that they shouldn't be chastised,
debunked, exposed, criticized, and yes, even verbally attacked
as liars and charlatans?
> Deconstructing the Dead
> "Crossing over" to expose the tricks of
> popular spirit mediums
> By Michael Shermer
> Like all other animals, we humans evolved to connect the dots between events
> so as to discern patterns meaningful for our survival. Like no other animals,
> we tell stories about the patterns we find. Sometimes the patterns are real;
> sometimes they are illusions.
> A well-known illusion of a meaningful pattern is the alleged ability of
> mediums to talk to the dead. The hottest medium today is former ballroom-dance
> instructor John Edward, star of the cable television series Crossing Over and
> author of the New York Times best-selling book One Last Time. His show is so
> popular that he is about to be syndicated nationally on many broadcast
> How does Edward appear to talk to the dead? What he does seems
> indistinguishable from tricks practiced by magicians. He starts by selecting a
> section of the studio audience, saying something like "I'm getting a George
> over here. George could be someone who passed over, he could be someone here,
> he could be someone you know," and so on. Of course, such generalizations lead
> to a "hit." Once he has targeted his subject, the "reading" begins, seemingly
> using three techniques:
> 1. Cold reading, in which he reads someone without initially knowing anything
> about them. He throws out lots of questions and statements and sees what
> sticks. "I'm getting a 'P' name. Who is this, please?" "He's showing me
> something red. What is this, please?" And so on. Most statements are wrong. If
> subjects have time, they visibly shake their heads "no." But Edward is so fast
> they usually have time to acknowledge only the hits. And as behaviorist B. F.
> Skinner showed in his experiments on superstitious behavior, subjects need
> only occasional reinforcement or reward to be convinced. In an expose I did
> for WABC-TV in New York City, I counted about one statement a second in the
> opening minute of Edward's show, as he riffled through names, dates, colors,
> diseases, conditions, situations, relatives and the like. He goes from one to
> the next so quickly you have to stop the tape and go back to catch them all.
> 2. Warm reading, which exploits nearly universal principles of psychology.
> Many grieving people wear a piece of jewelry that has a connection to a loved
> one. Mediums know this and will say something like "Do you have a ring or a
> piece of jewelry on you, please?" Edward is also facile at determining the
> cause of death by focusing on either the chest or the head area and then
> working rapid-fire through the half a dozen major causes of death. "He's
> telling me there was a pain in the chest." If he gets a positive nod, he
> continues. "Did he have cancer, please? Because I'm seeing a slow death here."
> If the subject hesitates, Edward will immediately shift to heart attack.
> 3. Hot reading, in which the medium obtains information ahead of time. One man
> who got a reading on Edward's show reports that "once in the studio, we had to
> wait around for almost two hours before the show began. Throughout that time
> everybody was talking about what dead relative of theirs might pop up.
> Remember that all this occurred under microphones and with cameras already set
> Whether or not Edward gathers information in this way, mediums generally
> needn't. They are successful because they are dealing with the tragedy and
> finality of death. Sooner or later we all will confront this inevitability,
> and when we do, we may be at our most vulnerable.
> This is why mediums are unethical and dangerous: they prey on the emotions of
> the grieving. As grief counselors know, death is best faced head-on as a part
> of life. Pretending that the dead are gathering in a television studio in New
> York to talk twaddle with a former ballroom-dance instructor is an insult to
> the intelligence and humanity of the living.
> Michael Shermer is the founding publisher of Skeptic magazine and the author
> of How We Believe and The Borderlands of Science.
> Stay hungry,
> --J. R.
> Useless hypotheses, etc.:
> consciousness, phlogiston, philosophy, vitalism, mind, free will, qualia,
> analog computing, cultural relativism, GAC, CYC, and ELIZA
> We won't move into a better future until we debunk religiosity, the most
> regressive force now operating in society.
This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Fri Oct 12 2001 - 14:39:43 MDT