Some call it the greatest scam in history. Have you ever gone to a Psychic or had your palm read? Throughout history, throughout the world, they defy explanation. They are psychic readings. Everyone has either had one or knows someone who has. People find these readings astonishing, and with good reason, since they are often intriguing and incredible.
Here’s how it usually goes down. You go to see a psychic – someone to whom you are a complete stranger. The psychic, usually female, describes your personality with pin-point accuracy. She identifies events in your past and present. Her reading may include the names of people you know, and specific facts about your personal life, career, and plans for the future. She refers to your innermost thoughts and problems, and provides wisdom and guidance which seems to make sense. She may also offer glimpses into the future which have an uncanny way of coming true.
I last went to a Psychic in March of 2005. She said my Mom had a lot of expectations, which isn’t really true. She also said that I wasn’t specific enough about my goals, or finishing things which may be true. She said there would be an issue with my right knee. Instead it was with my left bicep. She also said Vegas would be a hit for me, and cruise ships wouldn’t be. The opposite is true. She said, I’d be doing magic well into my 60’s, which is kind of obvious, isn’t it? Also she mentioned I’d be buying and selling real estate and through a tall guy with red hair, I meet a guy who golfs, who has a great idea and will mentor me financially. I’m still waiting for that to happen! Basically it didn’t work for me, nor did the 6 times before that I tried it.
Nonetheless, this is a psychic reading, and it is the essence of today’s psychic industry. Countless, even thousands have been moved, impressed and thrilled by such readings, and offer testimonials like, “I found my reading absolutely fantastic, I really enjoyed it”. “Everything that he said was absolutely right on, and everything that he said that was going to happen to me seems absolutely fantastic. I was very impressed actually. He did a personality analysis on me and it was really right – right on.”
There are many testimonials similar to the above. If sincere and enthusiastic testimony were an infallible guide to truth, then no one could doubt the authenticity of psychic ability. But they are not. Maybe they could be.
The above is a real quote, from a real person. However, the reading she had been given was a complete scam. I know, because the psychic is a friend of mine. My friend, who shall remain nameless, gave the reading and there was nothing psychic about it. Instead, He used ‘cold reading’ – the psychologically deceptive technique is what I’d like to dedicate this blog to.
So what is cold reading? It’s a deceptive psychological strategy. Among other things, it can be used by someone who is not psychic to give what seem to be a very convincing psychic readings. Cold reading is neither one single technique, nor one single procedure. It is better to think of ‘cold reading’ as the collective term for a set of techniques which can be used in different contexts to achieve different goals. I want to focus here on the way cold reading techniques are used to deliver a convincing psychic reading to a complete stranger.
The psychic industry is vast, and accommodates many tastes. At the junk food end of the market, there are instant phone readings which recycle lame pre-set scripts for every caller. The people doing the talking are trained to say the right things, promise the earth and, most of all, keep the customer on the line. These conveyor-belt miracles are cheap, quick, and offer mental nutrition on a par with Donald Duck cartoons. This may sound unfair, and it is. I apologize to Donald Duck cartoons.
At the haute cuisine end of the market are one-hour private consultations which cost the earth and deliver heaven on a stick. In the age of the personal trainer and the personal therapist, it should come as no surprise that those with a taste for designer life accessories can hire their very own slice of psychic. If presidents and royalty do it, it must be good, right? A global industry, and growing.
Glowing testimonials such as the one above are more or less the sole fuel of today’s psychic industry. If people were not impressed by psychic readings, the industry would completely collapse. But people are, and the industry is global and growing. Today, it enjoys unprecedented popularity thanks to the internet and infomercials and telemarketing.
As an industry, it may not yet be as big as oil, but it is older, will last longer, and is vastly more profitable. To profit from oil you have to find it, transport it, refine it and sell it. To profit from psychic readings, you just talk to people and they give you money. And whereas the world will one day run out of oil, it will never run out of people wanting a psychic reading. We could get to the point where we no longer take in nutrition through a hole in our head, but I guarantee you there will be some guy walking into Madame Zoratta’s parlor for a psychic reading.
It is hard to say exactly how much talking, and how much money, is involved. One source I checked said that in 1998 the psychic network industry in the U.S. alone would soon be worth 1.4 to 2 billion dollars. In The U.K. the industry is similarly flourishing if not quite so well developed. Their TV channels do not accommodate 30 minute ‘infomercials’. I guess that’s one good reason for Psychics to move there, and almost makes up for the fact that it rains a lot and nobody looks cheerful.
There are only two ways to account for all these readings, and all this money. Either the people giving the readings are genuinely psychic, or they are not. If they are psychic, their clients are paying for access to genuine psychic insight. If they are not, people are falling for a scam. And if this is true, then it is the biggest, most enduring and most popular scam of all time.
The great thing about cold reading, as far as its practitioners are concerned, is that hardly anyone knows about it. In an age when consumers are more cautious and informed than ever before, none of them know the first thing about cold reading. No public book store in the world contains a single work on the subject. I found one buried here. The Full Facts Book Of Cold Reading, by Ian Rowland.
As Pierre Bayle put it in Dictionary, “In matters of religion, It’s very hard to deceive a man, and very hard to undeceive him.” Hey, I cannot prove that psychics use cold reading. My friend Eliza goes to a psychic regularly and swears by her. But I can, and hopefully have, given you all the information you need to decide for yourself.