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10 April 2010

Skeptical Investigations: The Psychic Fair, Part 3

In case you missed them, I'll link to parts one and two.

We were at a psychic fair, so I figured that I might as well get a reading.

Oddly enough, her testimonials were 100% positive.

One of the psychics billed herself as 90% accurate, and I was in favour of seeing her. Unfortunately the line was appallingly long, and I heard from several people that she was "bad" (I can only guess at what that means). So I asked around, and soon the four of us (myself, the missus, and two friends) were waiting to see a tarot card reader who was supposed to be excellent. There was some debate, then and afterward, regarding whether a tarot card reader could be considered a "psychic". Probably not, and some (but not all!) avoid making claims about the future, but regardless the practice of tarot certainly does involve certain, shall we say... unjustified metaphysical claims?

One of my friends went first. I couldn't hear any of what was said, as it was quite loud in the church, but afterward, he actually seemed impressed. This is completely understandable. He was apparently told that his sister was on some sort of journey (why such information would be useful to him, I have no idea; presumably the psychic was showing off)—which she was.

"I see a haircut in your future..."

Unfortunately, I can't really comment on this as I didn't hear exactly what was said, and have to rely on second-hand reports. Even if it were as simple as the reader saying, "Your sister is on a journey," this would not be an extraordinary claim. In the event that my friend has a sister (he does), she would be likely to be near in age to him, and thus the appropriate age to go on a trip (after high school, with friends, etc.). Even if she weren't on some sort of vacation, journeys are so often metaphorical! The reader has only to claim that she is seeking out her true self (again, not an extraordinary claim for someone in her late teens or early twenties), and suddenly she's right! In the event that my friend did not have a sister (I'm not convinced that he hadn't mentioned his family earlier in the reading, but I'll give him the benefit of the doubt), the reader had certainly seen us milling about before the reading—if he didn't have a sister, he obviously had two close female friends who could easily fit the bill: "someone who is like a sister to you".

When it came time for me to take a turn, I tried to be earnest and excited; ready to learn. I wanted to see what would happen, and I didn't want to get the reader's back up by being overtly skeptical. I didn't want to lie to the reader, but I also didn't want to supply her with any unnecessary information. Being no slouch, I had removed my wedding ring before entering the fair, and my OUT Campaign lapel pin as well. One of my friends later claimed that removing my wedding ring was a form of lying, and this resulted in quite a rousing debate between the two of us. I define a lie as an intentional misstatement of fact, and I believe that failing to provide information is not the same as providing false information. She disagreed, opining that my wedding ring was part of me, which I found to be an unjustified assertion. But I digress.

Throughout the experience, the reader was constantly seeking confirmation, and I decided to give it to her. "Is any of this making sense to you?" she'd ask? "Absolutely!" I'd say. I understood exactly what she was trying to achieve, and it made perfect sense to me!

One of my friends decided to try a different tactic. About halfway through her reading, she started answering "no" to that question. Apparently the reader was somewhat upset by this, and began thrusting her finger into the tarot card in question, as though my friend were myopic and unable to make out the figures and symbols that were so apparent to her.

I made a recording of my reading so that I wouldn't have to spend my time madly scribbling notes, however it was very loud in the church and at times I couldn't make out what the reader was saying. (It didn't help that for the first half of the reading there were folks wandering around banging drums. At one point in the recording one of them is heard to say, "Just clearing the energy...") I've transcribed the reading in its entirety here, with a summary of the predictions made at the end. You'll see me repeating what she says quite a lot; I did that to ensure that I had heard her correctly, and as a way to remain involved without volunteering too much information.

Reader: Have you had your cards done before?
Gem: No, I haven't.
Reader: Oh, good: a virgin! Okay...
Gem: Just tell me what to do.
Reader: Nothing!
Gem: Oh. [Laughs.] Well, that's easy!
Reader: Tell me what you want to look at.
Gem: I... I'm not sure what you mean.
Reader: School, work...
Gem: Oh!
Reader: ...girlfriend, boyfriend, whatever.
Gem: Relationships, I guess.
Reader: Okay, relationships?
Gem: Sure.
Reader: All right, all right. [She shuffles, then lays out the cards in three stacks.] Pick one.
Gem: A pile?
Reader: Yep.
Gem: That one.
Reader: [She begins laying out cards.] We are definitely looking at the changes around you.
Gem: Okay.
Reader: Like... it's like the end of one era and the beginning of a new era.

Gasp! I got married less than three months ago! How did she know?

She may have, but she probably didn't. Let's look a little more closely at this statement. I'm in my mid-twenties: I'm at the age when people are graduating from university, switching from "jobs" to "careers", getting married, having their first children, buying or renting their first homes... I'll readily admit that I was a little startled when she said this (unaccountably so), but that's the point. It's a Barnum statement: we're all going through changes all the time, and I helpfully filled in the blank with the specific recent change that occurred in my life. If she'd said it to you, what would you have thought of?

Unfortunately, she ruins the illusion with some needless shotgunning.

Reader: You accomplished something, you finished something: maybe school, maybe university... something. You finished something, so you're moving on.
Gem: Okay, that makes sense.
Reader: You're really looking. Did I do the right thing? Where am I going? What am I—? You know? Those kind of things.
Gem: Yeah.
Reader: Pick one card that's gonna be you.
Gem: Why not this one?
Reader: Okay. [She flips the chosen card.] Well, you're definitely a pentacle man.
Gem: Okay. What does that mean?
Reader: That your feet are frequently firmly planted on the ground. You know what you want and you're gonna go for it. It's almost like you're making a plan...
Gem: I make a plan...
Reader: You know what I mean?
Gem: Yeah.
Reader: In your family... it's like you hold it together. You know.
Gem: Yeah. For sure.
Reader: It's like you outsmart them. Is that the truth?
Gem: I don't know. I mean, my family's pretty smart folks...
Reader: But you outsmart them, and I'll tell you why. [She gestures toward a card.] See this male? See this female? That's saying to me—see how they're chained?—that's saying to me: sometimes you have, like, arguments.
Gem: Arguments. Yeah.
Reader: You can be aggressive.
Gem: Yeah, I can get into arguments.
Reader: It's not like punching or kicking or screaming. Nothing like that. Maybe it's like a lot of yelling.
Gem: Yeah, I... I can yell too much sometimes.
Reader: Yeah, that's what this here is saying. [Unintelligible. There are drums in the background. It's something like, "It's an issue that involves your concerns."] Emotionally you know how to hold it together. You... you're starting to get a grip.
Gem: I'm starting to get a grip on things.
Reader: Yeah. Does that make sense to you?
Gem: Yeah, sure.

This is a fair example of the rainbow ruse: I'm aggressive—she notes that I'm not violent; it wouldn't do to call a paying customer a brute!—but I'm not, because emotionally I know (or am learning) how to hold it together.

Reader: Now, over here, see that woman peeking? Okay, sometimes you take on too much.
Gem: I take on too much.
Reader: Imagine you're walking down the street carrying a bunch of logs. You take on too many goals at times.

More Barnum. (And a metaphor that doesn't go anywhere.) Everyone I know complains about how busy they are, about how they're always taking on too much. This statement may seem tailor-made to fit me, but just about anyone would think so!

Reader: Okay? But look over here. You've got a nine and a nine, right? Now over here with all the work and all the knowledge you have, you can work at home.
Gem: I can work at home?
Reader: Yeah, you can work in an office and you can work at home. Okay? Now over here you have the world. Now that's saying to me that you're going to learn a lot of things in your life. You're very intellectual, you're very smart.

She thinks I'm smart! How flattering!

Gem: I love to learn.
Reader: Yeah. You are very smart. And that's one of the wishes you have from Heaven.
Gem: I'm sorry? That's—
Reader: That's one of your wishes from Heaven.
Gem: That's one of my wishes from Heaven?
Reader: Yeah.

Damn. I was hoping that my wish would be for more wishes.

Reader: Right. It's good to have to know, to learn, to grow. You're always gonna grow, you're always gonna learn in your life, because that's who you are—that's what you are. You're a pentacle: a pentacle is a learner, a pentacle is—
Gem: A pentacle is a learner...
Reader: Yeah. Like movement. There's a lot of movement, okay?
Gem: Like from place to place?
Reader: Yeah, like going all over, visiting, or whatever, working all over. I don't see you just staying in one spot.
Gem: Hm. That makes sense.
Reader: Does it?
Gem: Yeah.
Reader: I don't see that, not now.

I'm confused here. It seems like one moment she's telling me that I'm a vagabond, and the next I'm a homebody. Maybe I was giving her mixed signals.

Reader:Right now, you're very excited, right now you're very happy, right now you want to fly.
Gem: Yeah, I do.
Reader: Like that's where you're at right now. You're in the right spot.
Gem: I'm in the right spot right now?
Reader: Right now. Should you decide to pack your suitcase and take off, hey, go for it!
Gem: Hm. Maybe I will!
Reader: You know what I'm saying? 'Cause... because the energy around you right now is to learn.

Wow, I didn't know that I was in for an energy reading, too! I was just in this for the cartomancy!

Gem: It's to learn?
Reader: Yeah, and to grow. You want experience. That's why you have the world, that's why you have this. It's gonna happen.
Gem: Great!
Reader: But you know, for the next couple months, you are gonna be bored a little. It's like you're tying up loose ends. You know, it's like, "Oh, I gotta do this, I gotta do that, I gotta do this, I gotta do that." If you haven't already started that process. But you're definitely tying up loose ends. So let's look at something else.
Gem: Okay.
Reader: You wanna look at something else? You're just ready to jump up...
Gem: Well, I'm... I'm excited about this! Uh...
Reader: Did any of this make sense to you?

Notice how she's constantly looking for course corrections? It actually began to get rather bothersome, having her ask "Is this making any sense to you?" all the time.

Gem: Yeah! Yeah, absolutely. Um... How 'bout... how 'bout work?
Reader: [She lays out more cards.] You're going to be negotiating, eh?
Gem: Negotiating...?
Reader: Like making a contract. Negotiating.
Gem: Okay.
Reader: [Unintelligible.] Not right now.
Gem: Not right now. Okay.
Reader: [Unintelligible.] I'd wait until... Let's see, what is today. The twentieth?
Gem: Yeah, I think so.
Reader: Okay. I would wait until the third or fourth.
Gem: April third or fourth. And then I'll be negotiating?
Reader: The opportunity's gonna come to you, okay?
Gem: Okay. Like, for a job?

Perhaps this is quibbling, but I never claimed to be unemployed, or even interested in another job. I'm quite happy where I work, and I'm not looking to go anywhere else.

Here I'm doing something that some might consider lying. It's certainly intentionally deceptive. But I'm not making any misstatements of fact. Besides, she's the fortune teller: if she's just reading the cards, they're not going to be swayed if I try to nudge her in another direction.

Reader: Yes.
Gem: Yeah? Okay.
Reader: Show your enthusiasm.
Gem: Okay.
Reader:But after like the third or the fourth, that's when you'll have your interview... I don't know. I'm just saying... that would be the proper time, 'cause then you'll get what you want. Should you go tomorrow, or on Monday—say you go on Monday, or on Tuesday—'cause the cup is upside down, eh?
Gem: Okay...
Reader: It's not right side up. You won't get the money you want.
Gem: Okay.
Reader: You understand?
Gem: Yeah. So... so I should hold out?
Reader: Yeah... I would go to the interview, but I would be careful.

At least she's not telling a guy who's presumably unemployed to blow off all of his interviews until next month. That's something.

Gem: Be careful. Okay.
Reader: 'Cause you are going to negotiate. All right? Interesting, eh?
Gem: Yeah!
Reader: Let's look at a girlfriend.

She's playing the odds, there, I guess.

Gem: Okay.
Reader: [She lays out more cards.] It's saying: "Quit listening to Dad."
Gem: "Quit listening to Dad?" He does like to give advice... [Laughs.]
Reader: You know yourself, you know your brain, just do what you want. All right?
Gem: Okay. Sure.
Reader: If you listen to Dad, you're not going to have a good choice... in your life, when it comes to women. [Unintelligible. Could be, "Where he's like, old school."] So how was this?
Gem: It was neat! Yeah, you know, like I feel like I've got a direction now.
Reader: Yeah, that's the whole thing.
Reader: Uh, we don't, like, per se, uh, give... Well, I did say some things that were in the future... [Unintelligible.] So you gotta be very careful. And how I know that, I'll let you know right now, is I follow the moon system, eh?
Gem: The moon— Which system is that?
Reader: Ah! Well you should learn it! All people should learn it. Right now the moon system, right now, is growing into a full moon, eh? It's growing this way. So that means, uh, like this would be the perfect time to go for a job, this would be the perfect time to buy that
new car or date that new girl.

Sounds like lunacy, to me. ;)

Gem: Okay.
Reader: Now the next moon is gonna be going this way, and things are gonna work against you. But you can still work with it. You can still work with it. You know, just like when you're going to a meeting just say something like, um, "I want to decrease that negative power he doesn't think I can't do it." Like that. Like that's how you handle it.

She gave me her card, I thanked her and paid her, and that was that.

Although she gave out several pieces of generic, fortune-cookie-style advice: "It's good to have to know, to learn, to grow." "You know yourself... just do what you want." She also made several claims about my personality (these are staples of cold reading, and are generally used to impress the client with the reader's insight). These aren't predictions, but are instead observations (or simply guesses), and are not of any particular use to me. Her hit rate varied (I've never listened to my father's advice about women, sometimes to my detriment. I do love to learn.) She was no Gregory House, but she didn't do too badly.

She only made a few real predictions, which I've summarised here:

Prediction: I'm going to move from place to place. I'm not going to stay in one spot.
Specificity: Very general.
Hit/Miss: Who knows? Probably a hit, but there's no time-frame given. We're going to TAM in July, and the missus wants a proper honeymoon, so we will be travelling this year. But that's certainly not a low-probability hit.

Prediction: I'm going to be bored for the next couple of months.
Specificity: Specific, but subjective.
Hit/Miss: Miss! I'm implementing two new power forecasting systems at work, organising meetings for the Winnipeg Skeptics, preparing a presentation on homeopathy for next week, auditioning for a play, planning a trip with the missus to Vegas for TAM, and trying to finish all of the DLC for Fallout 3 before Super Mario Galaxy 2 comes out!

Prediction: I'll have a job interview after the third or fourth of April.
Specificity: Specific on the event, but vague on the time-frame.
Hit/Miss: Miss! (Although she didn't give an expiry date for this prediction, so if I ever go to another interview in my life this will be a hit.) Originally the prediction was pretty vague, but I nudged her in the direction of a job interview, and she then confirmed that this was what she was talking about.

It's worth noting that during the time-frame that she gave for my interview (after the third or the fourth of April), the moon was waning (the full moon having occurred on the thirtieth of March), which directly contradicts her advice about getting a new job when it is "growing into a full moon" (waxing). To be fair, I think that it's all balderdash, but I figured that I ought to point that out.

So that's it for the psychic fair! I bought some lovely tarot cards as a souvenir, and we were on our way.

What can I say? I'm an unabashed packrat, and I love kitsch.

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