Some people say they are “psychic”, but what do they mean? The label encompasses a diverse mix of talents and skills, and there are many ways to fake them.
Telepathy, also known as “mind reading,” is listening to other people’s thoughts. The term teleempathy sounds too much like telepathy, which is why people often use the term “empaths” for people who pick up on the emotions of others. Someone skilled at reading nonverbal cues in facial expression and body language may seem like a mind reader to people who are unaware of these tiny muscle contractions, which can last only a fraction of a second. Interestingly, these “mind readers” may not consciously know how they receive this information, so they may actually believe they have psychic talents. A variant of this is “psychometry”: reading “vibrations” or other impressions of objects. Again, most of the true information can come from people watching and reacting to the “psychic’s” statements.
Remote viewing and clairvoyance
Contrary to popular usage, the term “clairvoyant” does not mean all forms of psychic ability or the ability to predict the future. More correctly, seeing distant objects can be classified as ESP (Extra Sensory Perception), Second Sight or a “Sixth Sense”, because information does not come through the five senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. The easiest way to fake this is with a partner who gives clues. For example, a theater act might have the “seer” blindfolded on stage. The partner will move through the audience and pick up an object from one of the spectators. The partner then uses words that contain keywords for each type of item. “O seer, tell me what object of this woman I have in my clutches!” “Woman” and “clutches” can be coded for “woman’s wallet”. If the gender is different, then the object could be a man’s wallet.
Astral projection describes out-of-body experiences in which a person travels to another part of the planet or the “spirit world.” Once again, the prankster can provide information to the audience from an achievement.
You will know that the person is not pretending to be able to see the future after winning the lottery several times. Most people who claim to have this ability make very general predictions, for example, “A man with dark hair will play an important role in his life for the next year.” This phenomenon is also subject to what psychologists call “confirmation bias”: people remember the ones that “came true,” but forget the many other predictions the person made that didn’t come to pass. Once again, the person may believe that he really does have this ability; he does not recognize that he is reading the person’s reactions to his more general predictions in order to make the more specific ones.
Mediums and spiritualists claim to speak with the dead. The charlatans pretend to have information that “only the dead person would know” by playing on their target’s strong emotions towards the dead person and their desperation to contact. Reading body language while making general remarks, “I feel like the letter G is important.”
The mark might exclaim, “Grandma!”
Possession acts as a vessel for a spirit or other non-corporeal being. Many people find this easy to fake with a bit of acting, some movement and eye rolls, and a creepy voice. Consider giving it a try the next time you find yourself in a boring class or business meeting.
Wouldn’t it be great to move things without touching them? Telekinesis (sometimes called “psychokinesis”) is one of the best “parlor tricks” for phonies and stage magicians: magnets under a table can make an object move across it; thin wires can pick up objects; mirrors or CGI can create the visual illusion. Come on, you know you tried to “Use the Force” to make things move like a Jedi at least once when you were a kid. A popular trick in the last century was “spoon bending”: holding a metal spoon by the handle and spinning the bowl out of position without physically touching it (remember seeing that in the Matrix?). The secret in real life is to vigorously rub the thinnest part of the spoon’s neck before holding it: the friction heats and weakens the metal, which then bends under the weight of the top.
Starting fire, or controlling fire, also looks impressive in a stage act. Stephen King coined the term “pyrokinesis,” but the phenomenon was first documented in the 19th century, when a man named William Underwood created fire “with his breath.” Most people think that he had a piece of match hidden in his cheek, which would ignite when it came into contact with air.
Can “laying on of hands” or other use of mental energy stop bleeding, heal wounds, or cure disease? There are examples of “faith healing” in many religious traditions, including the Christian New Testament. A strong placebo effect can occur if the patient believes in the cure. The movie man on the moon showed a disturbing example of the kind of deception someone can perpetuate with a sleight of hand and a piece of animal liver.
Some people claim to see auras or energy fields that surround living things and get information about the emotions or health of the individual from the colors. Again, this information can often be picked up by someone skilled at reading body language.
But is it something real?
Despite the obvious ways that people can perpetuate deception or trickery, the scientific data in the field does not completely rule out psychic abilities. Parapsychology researchers have been running controlled experiments for nearly a century, and even the US government had a program designed to develop psychic spies, Project Star Gate, which they declassified in the 1990s. conclusively the existence of these skills, but they were also not a clear proof that the skills not exist. Personally, I’d love to see them verified; the world would be an even more interesting place if people could do some of these things. As Shakespeare wrote: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horace, than you dream of in your philosophy.”