Indonesian Skeptic Puts Psychic Powers to the Test
January 18, 2012
The following is a report from skeptic Lukas Dion Pradityo in Jakarta, Indonesia, of an investigation he conducted after learning of four local individuals with claimed psychic abilities: two with a “sixth sense,” including one who can allegedly predict the eruptions of Mt. Merapi; one “witch doctor” who can supposedly diagnose illness by touch and cure by traditional medicine; and one allegedly clairvoyant Islamic teacher. Pradityo asked each of the claimants to bring their own magical object for the test, performed double-blind tests of the claimants’ abilities, and reported back to us.
When I had set up the appointment by phone, I had asked all of the claimants if they were able to detect magical objects if it were hidden under a cup. All of them said yes, so I gave them a very brief overview of the experiment. Of the four claimants, two backed down: the sorcerer from Mt. Merapi and the witch doctor from Surabaya.
One of the claimants from Surabaya happened to be in Jakarta recently. He had a job interview the day before and was willing to meet me at my office the following day, the 26th of November. This claimant, whom I’ll call DD, was recommended by one of my coworkers. DD arrived at my office with his cousin at around noon, about an hour late for the appointment. After the introduction I began the preliminary interview. DD is only twenty-four years old, is single, and has a diploma in mechanical engineering from a respectable university in Surabaya. He is currently working in a construction company as a project engineer in Surabaya. He claims he has a sixth sense and has had it since he was around six years old. He can sense when there are ghosts, djinns, or other spirits around him when other people can’t see them. He is also a healer and specializes in sprained limbs and broken bones. He heals people by massaging them and praying at the same time. People are healed not because of him but because of the prayer and the power of Allah through his massages. I observed during the preliminary interview that DD was calm and even-headed when I asked him about his background. When I started to ask about his abilities, he started showing signs of nervousness by brushing his left hand through his hair numerous times.
I had asked him to bring a magical object with him for the experiment. He showed me his ring. I photographed the ordinary-looking ring next to a Rp 200 coin (Claimant 1, Exhibit A & B). The ring became magical because he always wears it when he prays. It says it always protects him from harm. He claimed that during a fight the ring helped him defeat his opponent with just a few punches. I asked him if he can feel the aura of the ring with his hands and he said yes. I then asked him if he could feel the aura of the ring if I put a coffee cup on top of it and he also said yes. Finally, I asked him if he can detect the ring if I hid it under one of ten coffee cups and he also said yes, albeit with same hesitance. I then asked him if he is willing to perform the experiment and he also said yes, but with a lot of hesitance this time. I then explained the double-blind experiment to him and also stated that I have to record the experiment with a video camera. When I asked him how many times he can correctly pick the right cup out of ten tries, he finally balked and said that his powers aren’t that strong yet—that he was only an apprentice and would probably fail the test. I encouraged him to take the test just for fun without the video camera and he finally agreed.
By coincidence, my coworker who recommended DD was also at work that day, so I had asked him to be my assistant. After I explained the protocol to him, we started the double-blind experiment. The procedure is exactly the same as the one with the sorcerer in the article “A Mug of a Different Color”, but this time I used a meeting room for the experiment, a hallway for my coworker to hide behind, and another hallway to the toilet. DD was with me the whole time and we never saw my coworker during the course of the experiment.
I am happy to report that even though my assistant and the claimant are old friends, the double-blind experiment still worked. Out of five tries, DD missed all of them! He then quit after the fifth try. Once again he said that he is still an apprentice and told me that he has a friend in Surabaya who is much more powerful than he is. He would try to arrange for him to meet me when I got to Surabaya the following week. I then thanked him for coming and for having the courage to do the experiment. I would be contacting him again when I arrived in Surabaya.
On the 29th of November, I took the first flight to Surabaya to meet with the second claimant, who I will call FKL. Another coworker had recommended him to me. We had scheduled the meeting at my hotel room at 1:00 PM and he arrived quite promptly. FKL came with his nephew, who works as a reporter for a local Surabaya newspaper, along with him. FKL looked the part of an Indonesian sorcerer. He wore a black shirt and pants, longish curly hair, and a mustache and beard. We all sat down on the floor of my hotel room. My hotel room was a bit dark because the drapes were closed and there were only two lights on.
After the usual pleasantries, I asked him about himself. His day job is as a construction worker. Like DD, he felt he has had magical powers since he was a small child. He used to do black magic when he was in his teens but then finally realized the error of his ways and then turned to white magic. He realized that all the powers he has are given by Allah and has since used his powers for goodness. Besides healing people with prayers, he also persuades other people who use black magic to return to the right path.
He said he could prove to me the power of his magic. When his son was in elementary school, he had shown signs of dyslexia. FKL then meditated for a few hours to seek guidance from Allah. He then suddenly saw a vision of a black circle, which he took as a sign from Allah on how to heal his son. He then drew a black circle on a piece of paper and then asked his son to stare at it while he meditated nearby. His son says that he saw the circle disappear and reappearing over and over again. After that incident, his child’s academic record seemed to improve.
He told this story while drawing a round, black circle on a piece of paper. He then placed the paper upright against a chair and asked me to stare at it while he meditated nearby. The black circle seemed to disappear, of course, so I decided to give him some insight on how the rods and cones of the retina work in a dark room. He looked deflated after my explanation, but, to his credit, he didn’t become defensive about it and actually seem to accept my scientific explanation for this phenomenon.
I then asked him about the magical object that I asked him to bring. He pulled out a gold and diamond ring that once belonged to his grandfather (Claimant 2 Exhibit A & B). As with DD, I asked him if he could detect the aura of the ring if placed under a coffee cup and whether he could select which cup the ring is under if there are ten cups in front of him. Like DD, he balked at the protocol of the experiment. His excuse was that his powers are from Allah and he should not show off or else Allah would take the powers away from him. Also as with DD’s experiment, I encouraged FKL to take the test just for fun without the video camera and he finally agreed.
The ten cups were on the desk beside the bed. I asked FKL’s nephew to be the hider. After arranging the cups by random, hiding the ring, then rearranging the cups again, he then went into the bathroom and closed the door. Meanwhile, FKL and I were in the hallway facing the other way. After I hear the door to the bathroom close, FKL and I then went to the cups. He hovered his hand above each of the cups before finally picking one of them. I am pleased to say that out of six tries he only got one right. He quit after the sixth try. He restated his initial excuse that his powers are not for showing off but only to help other people. I still thanked him for his participation in the experiment and I also asked him if he can find other people like him who are willing to be tested. Since this is the third time I have tested sorcerers with white magic, I asked him to find someone with black magic for me to test. He doubted he could find one that is willing to do the experiment but he was willing to try.
After they left, I called DD and asked him if his friend was able meet me at my hotel. DD was apologetic but his friend happened to be out of town that week. DD has promised to arrange the meeting the next time I go to Surabaya.
Well, that’s how the experiments went. I realize that the two experiments above couldn’t be considered valid because:
- The claimant and the hider knew each other.
- The rooms where the experiments were held were less than ideal.
- There were no video recordings of the experiment.
However, even with those extremely less-than-perfect conditions for an experiment, the double-blind experiment still works and both claimants badly flunked their tests.