Just prior to leaving for The Amazing Meeting 9 in Las Vegas (TAM 9) my better half and I (Tamara, she’s also an active skeptic) and another buddy decided to show up for a psychic fair taking place at a hotel conference room in Edmonton, Alberta. Advertised as an ‘ESP Psychic Fair’ where folks could come to part with some of their hard-earned money in exchange for a chance to learn about everything from the future to the dearly departed and even financial advice.
The three of us are all skeptically minded folks, and we are also well versed in cold-reading techniques. As an aside for those who are not familiar with the technique; Cold reading is the practice of using a person’s verbal and non-verbal cues to guide the ‘reading’ in such a way as to make it seem like the psychic reader is getting lots of ‘hits’ (accurate statements) when what is really happening involves the reader taking advantage of information provided by the person being read. This information comes in both active and passive forms, including basic data such as the age, gender, and clothing type and/or hairstyle of the person being read. It also comes in subtle feedback such as verbal statements, facial expressions, head nodding, and even smiles. A person may not believe that they exhibit subtle cues when listening to a cold reader, but those cues are often there especially for the credulous.
Tamara ultimately decided upon one psychic lady who charges $80 for a 30-minute reading. Tamara said she chose this psychic in part because (almost unbelievably) she was cheaper than most of the others, and also because she claimed to have helped police solve crimes. Her printed materials espoused her as a ‘World Renowed Psychic” (sic), which as a writer made me die a little inside. So, because she was pretty much booked up for the day we found a slot about an hour later and booked in for Tamara to get her very first psychic reading.
We passed the intervening hour looking at costume jewelry presented in various new-age formats, and were accosted by several psychics who were tossing around predictions and assessments of us in an effort to impress us enough to sit down and pay for a full ‘reading’.
After what I felt was a rather dull hour, we trotted over to the ‘world renowed’ psychic for Tamara’s reading. Tamara plopped herself down in front of the psychic while buddy and I nestled into some nearby public seating to wait for the end result, but not a minute into the reading I heard my name called and sure enough the psychic felt that I was somehow critical to Tamara’s reading and invited me to sit in on the event. While there were a number of general aspects of the reading that were highly annoying, I’ll get to those later since there were a few key problems that stood out for both Tamara and myself:
- The psychic talked about how Tamara and I were going to be together forever. This is possible, who can say? The psychic, however, was adamant that “this is the guy”.
- The psychic then asked Tamara how many children she has (one would think a psychic could establish that), and Tamara answered her honestly that she has one child. At this point the psychic told her that there is going to be another birth in her future and another child will be on the way. There are a number of serious problems with this statement, the first of which is that Tamara is going to be 40 this year and while childbirth probably is possible, she is beginning to push the age limit for conception. The real troubling factor here is that the psychic was adamant that I was to be Tamara’s partner going forward, but I am ‘fixed’ and cannot procreate (sexually anyway), so if Tamara is indeed going to be with child again, it means that I am going to have to accept the idea of her being with another man to become impregnated? Not likely.
- Lastly, the psychic asked what I did for a living and learned that I am a writer. She took the time to assure me that I will have success in the future and maybe even a movie deal, and that I should “just keep at it” and success will come. Unfortunately for this psychic she made the mistake most folks make when they meet a writer – they assume the writer is struggling. I won’t bore you all with my financials but I’ve had more than one book sell over 1 million copies and my work has been translated into 8 languages. I’ve done OK and am not struggling.
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of this psychic was that she didn’t predict anything. In fact, when we listened to the recording we realized that she asked Tamara directly questions like what she does for a living, if she has children, the age and gender of the children, her job, and the list goes on. It’s clear to me that the people that go see psychics like this go because they like having someone to talk to for an hour, and they enjoy the fact that the psychic tells them pleasant things about themselves or their futures. I imagine that folk’s emotional batteries get recharged by hearing that their shitty lives are going to be somehow better going forward, which is kind of sad and pathetic when one thinks about it.
Sadly, however, this costs a fair bit of money and as with the psychic Tamara and I saw, we were encouraged to return for multiple readings (at $80 for 30 minutes no less). Wouldn’t it be better if these people just developed meaningful relationships with those friends and family in their lives and spent their time and money developing those relationships rather than lining the pockets of those who are either knowingly or unknowingly less scrupulous? Certainly that $80 could go a long way to taking one’s spouse, children or friends out for a lunch and a good conversation rather than blowing it on a psychic who’s doing nothing but cold reading and angling for future returns.