Friday, January 12, 2007

Randi vs. the TV Psychics

I love the Amazing Randi. He's made it his life's work to look at people who claim they can talk to ghosts, or sense spirits, or communicate with Venusians, and say, "dude, whatev."

I'm no cynic - I'd love for all of that junk to be real. It would be rad to live in a universe where spooky messages can be passed from beyond the grave - or just to know what happens when you die. I'd love it if Bigfoot was real, if those sasquatch howls were the real thing. If sparkly things in the sky were aliens, if the weird lights I once saw in the desert were from another planet. If dinosaurs still lived in lakes, and if people could bend spoons just by wanting to.

But it's all just kind of goofy. Bridges aren't haunted, toilet paper rolls don't unspool because there's a poltergeist in your apartment. It's nice to think so, though. Or to pretend for a night that it happens like that.

For the last ten years James Randi has offered a one-million dollar prize to anyone who can prove they possess paranormal powers. No one's ever won. From the recent article in Wired:

'A Nevada man legally named "The Prophet Yahweh" planned to seize the prize for charity by summoning two spaceships to a Las Vegas park last year, but negotiations broke down when he announced he was bringing several armed guards to the demonstration in case any "negative personalities" showed up. An inventor who claimed to have built a device that could sense the psychic distress of an egg about to be dropped into a pot of boiling water recently abandoned his application when the foundation suggested the egg be threatened by a hammer instead, in case the invention was really just detecting steam.

'"One a week gets as far as a protocol negotiation, and then drops off," says Jeff Wagg, who administers the challenge.'

But now Randi's changing the rules - before anyone can come to the Randi Foundation, they have to prove their powers somewhere else first. That frees them from dealing with anyone who walks through their door, folks looking for fame or who are just delusional. So instead, they'll be going after people, targeting the jerks and TV psychics who take advantage of people who really, really want to believe that they have another chance to talk to their friends and family who have passed on. You know Sylvia Browne, yeah?

Lookit her there, all thoughtful. She goes on Montel Williams all the time, writes books, tours the country and gladly accepts your cash in exchange for relaying messages from loved ones who have died. Once upon a time she accepted Randi's challenge, to undergo the tests of the Foundation and prove to Randi and the world that she really had paranormal powers and wasn't just a sideshow charlatan. Then she backed down, posting an open letter on her website saying that she wasn't interested in Randi's money, or his validation. Which is too bad - again, from Wired:

"That's a disappointment, because if Browne's claims were ever to stand up to a scientific test in an adversarial process, it would be an unprecedented event in modern history, potentially changing our scientific understanding of the universe. Instead, you can buy a psychic phone call with her for $700."

So. I love James Randi.

If laser beam eyes were real, dude would have them.

(oh, yeah - Wired link found via BoingBoing.)


Pato said...

Yeah, I feel like I have to kind of lean way off to the side of the screen when I see that guy's intense look. I bet he's won a lot of miles off that look.

Matthew Jent said...

In a tag team staring contest, he's the one you want on your side.