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Can an Idiot Be Psychic?

Book Review

David Bloomberg

Volume 23.5, September / October 1999

With one of their most recent books, the publishers of the Complete Idiot’s Guide series may be trying to reach its declared audience. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Being Psychic certainly is not meant to reach intelligent or knowledgeable readers. Even most of those who believe in paranormal claims would likely have a hard time getting through the volumes of utter nonsense that fill this book.

Previously, these guides have dealt with step-by-step instructions on how to do something (buying a car, writing a resume, gardening, etc.), and parts of this book deal with how people can supposedly learn to use their intuition, get a spirit guide, etc. The authors are trying to put psychic powers in the same realm as cars, resumes, and gardens-everybody knows those things actually exist; similarly, the authors declare that everybody is psychic. They proclaim it to be real, and simply move on from there.

The authors do acknowledge the existence of skeptics, and even specifically mention CSICOP and James Randi. But their understanding of skepticism is quite skewed. They claim that skeptics have to prove “that psi doesn't exist” and wonder what they will say “when evidence finally arrives that proves psi exists as a natural force.”

They also take several potshots at skeptics. In comparing the logical and rational mind versus the intuitive mind, they say the former needs proof while the latter is “trusting,” and the former is “critical” while the latter is “loving.” Obviously, it’s better to be trusting and loving than critical! Less subtle is their claim that, before it happened, skeptics would have “been as unbelieving” of a claim that Charles Lindbergh could complete his flight as they are now of astral travel. It’s hard to believe the authors didn't know they were setting up such a blatantly false straw man argument, but if that is truly what they think about skeptics, it’s no wonder they vilify them as having closed minds and even say “the public may confuse these two types of extremists-fanatical followers of all things paranormal and ever-suspicious skeptics.”

Oddly, the authors themselves seem to fall into the category of “fanatical followers of all things paranormal.” Indeed, it’s hard to believe they have not lost their life savings to a confidence artist by now, since they seem to believe absolutely everything associated with the paranormal.

They cite several well-known “psychics” to support their claims, including Uri Geller. (Amusingly, they state that “skeptics continue to debunk Geller and his feats.” Since they seem to fully believe in his powers, this implies they don't know what the word “debunk” means.) They cite firewalking as an example of an “unsolved mystery,” ignoring the fact that one does not need to be in any sort of special trance state to do it. They talk of hypnotically regressing people to past lives, ignoring the vast amount of evidence dealing with false memory implantation. They cite therapeutic touch and Kirlian photography as valid-the latter is even “proof that auras exist.” They claim that Einstein had a “psychic experience” because he “is reputed to have formulated the Theory of Relativity while resting.” They cite the Fox Sisters as having invoked spirits to “rap on and levitate objects,” ignoring the fact that they later admitted it was a hoax. They perpetuate the incorrect claim that the late Jeane Dixon predicted President Kennedy’s assassination. Such inaccuracies are only the tip of the iceberg.

It is intriguing that they repeatedly try to claim scientific backing for some of what they say, but don't, of course, cite anything specific. They even claim that “one thing that physicists and psi scientists agree on is that physics and psi probably follow the same set of natural laws.” They appear to want to have the credibility associated with the word “scientific,” without having to deal with any of the rigors of the scientific method.

The book is not completely devoid of good advice. There is one small paragraph that says, “Certain types of schizophrenics also report hearing voices, and if you start hearing voices out of the blue, your first stop should be your doctor’s office. We also recommend that you make sure you're truly hearing psychic information before acting on your premonitions. And whatever you do, don't try anything dangerous because you think it’s based on your intuition!” But that’s pretty much the extent of it.

Their message is, quite plainly, that “everyone is psychic.” Period. There is no doubt. And if you dare to question the supposedly positive results of psi studies, then you're just as bad as those who “ridiculed” Galileo, Newton, and Einstein!

Well, they certainly put skeptics in their place. Thankfully, that place is somewhere outside the realm of The Complete Idiot’s Guide.

David Bloomberg

David Bloomberg is the chairman of the Rational Examination Association of Lincoln Land (REALL).