Magicians Verses Psychics

Since I’m currently having a conversation with Connie Sonne about her TAM7 test, I figured that I should share my thoughts about psychic abilities. I am pretty sure this may alienate me from both psychics and skeptics, but as always I feel the need to jaw on about these things.

Magicians and psychics often produce the same effects. The difference is with the explanations.

A magician will say, “I’m going to show you something amazing, which I can do because I’m clever. I won’t tell you how I did it, but rest assured there is a realistic explanation of how it happened. I am tricking you.”

A psychic will say, “I’m going to show you something amazing, which I can do because I am in touch with certain powers. I can tell you how I did it, but you won’t believe me. I’m not tricking you.”

This distinction is sometimes blurry, as some magicians adopt the trappings of the psychic, and some “psychics” are merely magicians who try to pass themselves off as legitimate phenomenons to bilk people by trading on a sense of wonder.

All the magicians I have met share a universal characteristic. To a one, they believe that there is no such thing as an actual psychic. Those claiming to be psychics are either poor deluded fools (the unsuccessful ones), brilliant but dishonest magicians (those who are able to demonstrate some abilities), or bald-faced con artists who possess little or no talent other than blatantly playing off the hopes and fears of the common folk (many famous TV psychics). A few have stated that they’d like to believe there’s a real psychic out there, but mention it in the same way as one might a unicorn or kick-ass flying robot.

I think much in the way it’s hard to eat at the fast food place where you work, or difficult to look at religion the same way if you’re the son of a preacher, it’s hard to accept the idea of a legitimate psychic when you spend your time:

1) Brilliantly mimicking psychic phenomenon
2) Exposing callous frauds

Before we go any further, I have to set a baseline. The simple fact is that while I am unable to rid myself of the superstition I know flies in the face of all logic, I have likewise NEVER had an experience with attempts of testing psychic ability that fell outside of the realms of probability.

I’ve tried astral projection, automatic writing, divination, card prediction, mind reading, cloud bursting, and nothing’s happened. I *wanted* it to happen, even went so far as to tell myself, “That one didn’t count,” and trying over. Still, nothing worked.

In the same way, my attempts at slight of hand have always failed except on a few friends and my 3-year-old. I don’t practice, which is essential, so there you go. I’m a baseline amateur in everything that’s being discussed.

So, now I’d like to expound on two competing theories I have about psychic abilities:


I get into a lot of trouble with folks due to my reluctance to state things as fact. The fact is, when you’ve been wrong as much as I have in my life, you start getting a little cagey about what you cling to as the truth. So, I have a lot of “in-between” beliefs. Ones that folks might believe are mutually exclusive, but I think could both be correct. This one examines the psychic’s claim that investigation negates their ability, and couples it with the fact most skeptics agree that psychic phenomena has yet to prove itself in a laboratory setting.

I need to mention that true skeptics, in whose ranks I count James Randi, do not say, “Psychic powers do not exist,” but rather that there is no evidence that they do and that it’s foolish to believe in them until they are proven to exist. I need to assure them that in this hypothesis I’m not refuting their beliefs, and I am not calling them close-minded. I hope to revisit this point as I go on.

In his book, The Vodou Quantum Leap; Alternative Realities, Power, and Mysticism, Reginald O. Crosley makes a statement that a sure way to shut down someone’s ability to commune with spirits or what have you is to have a devout Protestant in the area. Not a Catholic, mind you, but a Protestant. He was very insistent that Catholics wouldn’t work. Basically, a Protestant will ruin your whole Vodou ceremony because the Protestant counteracts the group energy needed for a successful event.

I bring this up because it’s very very similar to the whole “non believers ruin my psychic abilities” argument. The idea is very simple. If someone isn’t down with the proceedings, they’re going to be a wet blanket on everything and no one is going to have a good time. Because the general consensus in the free-thinking population is that people claiming to be psychics are deluded or lying, this is always seen as a lame excuse.

However, I’d like to point you to my descriptions at the top of this rambling collection of words. Magicians seem more like adults to me. They are shepherding you through this experience, always in control, always making sure you see what they want you to see. Again, if you say, “well many psychics do that too!” I would say to you that they aren’t psychics. They are magicians in psychic drag. In fact I would say that MOST of whom people think of when they hear the word “psychics” probably fit into this category. People who are out to deceive, who call people dupes behind their back, who without conscience cheat people out of money when they claim to be helping them. They are the worst type of adults, the type that lie to you and take advantage.

I think that most of the time what you see in the Million Dollar Challenges is just that, a battle in the war between the honest “hey we’re just guys doing tricks” magicians and the “hey I’m a guy with special powers” magicians. I think James Randi has made a significant impact in protecting people from fake psychics.

So, are there even any “real” psychics out there? It there a “child” equivalent to my “adult” description? I believe so, but in a very specific context. I firmly believe that the state in which psychic phenomena happens is an extremely fragile one. It requires the same suspension of disbelief that a piece of theatre requires. It’s like Wiley E. Coyote walking off a cliff and not noticing the ground has disappeared. Once you lose that belief, you fall. Now here comes the part of my belief that no one, psychic or skeptic, is going to like:

Once that fall happens, the magic *never* existed. It is retroactively destroyed. The universe removes the phenomenon. The mask falls away, and underneath you see nothing but mundane reality.

I have no good way to articulate this, but basically what I’m saying is that “real” psychic phenomenon is a function of shared imagination that is real until it is tested or explained. In essence, it does not exist and one has to be foolish in order to believe it does. I go on to further state that there are such people who are free from the constraints of logic and therefore able to experience this type of phenomenon.

However, once the phenomenon is explained (and it can *always* be explained eventually) it ceases to work. That’s why “actual” psychic ability only “works” in pockets of isolation where everyone believes it. Now, just as the Internet has created the availability of a global network of people who connect with each other outside of their own country, I believe that there could very well be a society behind “normal” society, one where psychic phenomenon works. (Please note that I’m using “psychic phenomenon” where the word “magic” might be more apt, but in this case I’m using that word to refer to conjuring.) Again, these will only work if they aren’t disturbed. As soon as an “adult” shows up, the game is over and the magic doesn’t work any more.

A skeptic who reads this will say that it never worked. They would be right. They’ll then say my observation is stupid. It is. It’s childish. It’s the spiritual equivalent of getting shot in a game of “cops ‘n’ robbers” and refusing to fall down. At its heart, that’s what people who are using psychic powers are doing. They’re saying “Go away, reality, we’re all doing something fun!” It’s playtime with your brain, which I believe could totally work if everyone’s on board.

The fact still remains, however, that it doesn’t work for me. This is why it can never be anything more than a theory to me. To state anything else would be dishonest.

If you haven’t read The Men Who Stare at Goats, then you may be unaware that there are people who make decisions that affect you every day who truly believe they have psychic abilities. They gleefully explore these powers, in an attempt to understand them. They are truly childlike in their beliefs.

The problem is, that this happy-fun-time world of exploration and shared belief is the spiritual equivalent of a Hello Kitty Themed Chat Room, and there are sweaty forty-year-old men with specially decorated rooms in their house who want you do come over for a birthday party and not tell your parents. The idea of play, exploration, and “let’s see what happens” of psychic abilities is full of people who will take advantage of the open, trusting nature that is *essential* for this sort of experience, and turn it to their own advantage.

It is because of this that we *need* people like James Randi. Even if they enforce rules that are no fun, or try to keep us away from the “bad kids” who know all the best games, we need the adults. This kind of scrutiny is needed to protect people from those wishing to take advantage of them.

That being said, however, I have to come back to the fact that none of this has ever worked for me. That’s the bottom line. In this particular theory, I’m guessing it’s just that I don’t believe strongly enough, as any attempts I have to “believe” feel artificial.


It’s so hard to be honest when you end up looking like a complete moron, but I cannot deny that I retain this hypothesis as well. You have an unreliable narrator folks. I was kicked out of the Air Force for being crazy and try as I might I find the old delusions sneaking in. So there you have it. Hypothesis #2 is that in a world of the blind, there are some who can actually see. They learn at an early age that they can’t let on what they know. Someone who knows how to recognize the signs can tell who’s who and feel their influence, blah blah blah. It’s complete crazy bullshit and completely ingrained into me so hard that I can’t rip it out without taking my spine with it.

In this world, TAM7 was a mercy killing of Connie Sonne’s reputation as a psychic to keep her from falling victim to darker forces. In this alternate reality, Banachek is a powerful psychic in his own right, and brought in by Randi to help him fight against a cabal of Spiritualists that can trace their ranks back to Mina Crandon. Randi belongs to a fraternal order of magicians founded by Houdini to find and protect inexperienced psychics from those that run the cabal.

The path is two-fold:

1) Make the public doubt the psychic by publicly humiliating them
2) Make the psychic doubt his or her own powers by employing misdirection that fools not the eye, but rather the mind.

This effectively negates the psychic’s usefulness, protecting him or her from those who would wish to harness their power to harm others. This isn’t some idealistic world where they then go back and offer you a job. You’re left alone, wrecked and powerless, but alive. In this way, they keep you safe. The Million Dollar Challenge is there to draw you out, because if you *believe* you can win a million dollars, you may just have enough juice to be a danger to yourself.

Of course, the Fraternity also goes head-to-head with members of the cabal, so not all those who accept the challenge are innocent.

While my first theory is full of semantic trickery and second-guessing, this one is full-on crazy. Again, my only salvation from slipping into this world is my own complete lack of ability. A paranoid delusion is no fun if you’re not the center of attention, and I’m not in the frame of mind to ignore reality.

Still, this sort of thing is fun to think about.

I mentioned that I stated that I had two theories, but I should point out that there’s a third *possibility*, and its a refrain I’ve been singing for a long time. This is simply that psychic powers don’t exist, TAM7 was a legitimate test, and Connie Sonne performed to the best of her ability but still fell within the statistical outcome of all three wrong.

While my two theories are not things I can remove from my mind, I choose to operate in the third possibility. I can’t spend my time defending things that I hold in my brain with no actual proof. Life’s too short.

If you got this far, thanks for reading. If you want to discuss any of these points, I can, if you happen to be able to unravel them from my bizarre wanderings. The only thing I ask is that you take these theories as simply that, and don’t try to engage with me as though they’re things that I am claiming to be true.

That kind of thing will make us both crazy.


About paulgude

Paul Gude writes small books, makes stupid music, draws silly pictures, and does weird things on stage.
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