Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Psychics in the news

A reader tells me there was an article in the LA Times about psychics, and wants my comment.

Some pull-out quotes:
Since the Biz section is preoccupied today with matters of mortality, I figured I'd take a look at those who employ otherworldly means to help people prepare for the inevitable. It's an industry that, by some estimates, runs into the billions of dollars annually.
Let me pause here to apologize to all the "legitimate" psychics out there who resent being lumped together with the scammers. I'm braced for a flood of calls and e-mails threatening all manner of hexes and curses. But if you're that good, you should have contacted me before this column was published.
But the more I thought about it, the more I understood that what fortunetellers are selling isn't a tangible product. It's a sense of hope, of taking control of uncertainty. It's the same product religious types have been selling for centuries.
"This industry has been around forever, since before there were laws. It's something we want. We're wired for this."
The writer of the article, though rather critical, is still far more generous than I would have been. You'd have to be pretty gullible to believe in psychics--it's even worse than astrology! And yet, it's a billion-dollar industry, as the article says. None of that money is from the million dollar challenge, I can tell you that.

For skeptics, there's always the question of whether bunk like this is propagated by overly credulous people or intentional lying. Many psychics are the latter, though you can't ever underestimate the ability of people to fool themselves.

As for the "sense of hope" being offered by psychics, what kind of hope is that? It's the kind of hope that shrivels up and disappears upon closer inspection of the truth. This is the very definition of "false hope". Sure, there is some value in false hope, but don't confuse it with the real thing.

Are we "wired" for this kind of thing? I doubt it. I think it's way too cynical to say that every human behavior is made inevitable by the ancient evolutionary history of the human species. Oh, I'm on the verge of ranting about evolutionary psychology here... but another time. For now, I'll just ask, are we wired for racism? Possibly, but that sure doesn't justify it.

Oh, and did he just compare psychics to religion? If I were religious, I'd be insulted.