Psychics: Why Believe Them At All?


Psychics and their antics are a common presence on our blog. Whether it’s Joe Power being grumpy on a Liverpool street or Jayne Wallace contacting the spirit of Michael jackson through twitter, we’ve covered it. It’s not surprising, really. Psychics make so many extravagant claims that they’re bound to attract those of us with a Skeptical bent.

Except me.

For some reason, I’ve never been that bothered about psychics, even though as woo goes, psychic powers are up there with the best. Psychics claim extremely ridiculous and hard-to-believe powers, yet are incredibly popular with the public. And they’re everywhere! People reading fortunes through crystal balls and tarot cards, others contacting the dead or reading your mind. You find them at seaside towns, in circuses, on the internet and on phonelines. You even get travelling fairs that run the full gamut of ‘spiritual’ woo. Most people will have heard of the ‘Mind, Body and Spirit’ festival.

I’ve not generally been that bothered by all this. I got into Skepticism through religion and UFOs (they’re especially fun if you combine the two – just ask Tom Cruise). Psychic ‘stuff’ always seemed so obviously bunk to me, that I thought if people wanted to spend money on that crap, then it’s their prerogative. It’s not like psychics turn up unannounced at your house and demand you pay for a reading. If you want a psychic reading you have to go to them. It’s your choice.

Of course, it’s not as simple as that. If a pillock wants to spend £50 on a crystal pendant, fair enough, but if someone grieving for a loved one pays the same amount to a psychic just to hear a load of guff that interferes with the grieving process; well, that’s a different story, but one which others have covered better than me elsewhere.

The trouble is, I’ve found myself becoming intrigued by this whole weird psychic circus. (I blame Marsh’s blogs!) I can’t get my head around why anyone believes the claims of most of these self-proclaimed psychics in the first place, even before they empty their purses/wallets of their hard-earned cash; and here’s why: they’re terrible at being convincing! Take Derek Acorah, for instance (you don’t have to if you don’t want to). I recently came across an interview he gave for the Daily Express last month. He was promoting his forthcoming new show on Sky Real Lives, the latest in a series of masterpieces of television such as ‘Most Haunted’ and ‘Derek Acorah’s Ghost Antiques’. In this show he would be working with people’s personal objects, like jewellery, and with pet animals such as dogs and cats. Derek would use the objects, usually a brooch, to receive ‘messages’ via a process he calls ‘psychometry’. Let’s hear his personal description of this process:

“Every article that a human being touches, emits vibrations for all time. Once I start to get close to these articles, I get mental images from bygone times.”

At this point, the interviewer asked him if he “was getting any vibrations now”. He replied:

“I’m afraid not. I can either be ‘open’ or ‘closed’. I only open up to the spiritual influence when I do spiritual work. When I close down, I’m just Derek. At the moment, I’ve shut down and they know from that side to adhere to that. Otherwise I would be potty.”

Otherwise?

Let’s bypass the fact that this vibration thing is nonsense in the first place, and give ourselves up to the exciting ride of Derek’s bonkers, freewheeling guff rollercoaster. So Derek is basically a tuning fork for past events, a bit like Christopher Walken in The Dead Zone, only in reverse. He touches objects and recieves mental images from their past. Apparently, these can be quite graphic images. Whether he means graphic in terms of a good pixel ratio, or lashings of sex and violence, he doesn’t say; but Derek will fondle your jewellery and presumably tell you a story about your dead Gran. It may involve a really clear picture or her sex life. Or both. Who knows? Either way, it’s made up – I mean, the owner of the brooch will be made up.

As for communicating with animals, which is the other aspect of his new show, you’d think there would be a language barrier (there’s a reality barrier, but what the hell, we’re having fun riding the Derek Acorah guff rollercoaster), but Derek has that covered:

“What I do is get very close to the animals and even though they can’t speak, they talk in a universal language. The animal’s thought message will come through instinct and can be deciphered by me.”

Go, Derek Doolittle! Is there anything this polymath of the psychic world can’t do? He even communicates with a python, apparently. I think he’s after the Harry Potter demographic. Strangely, the Express talked about Derek’s conversation with a python as something particularly remarkable. I don’t think it’s that big a deal considering Derek can already do the amazing feat of talking to animals in the first place! It’s like sailing the world in a dinghy just to be complemented on your mooring skills when you reach harbour. Are pythons renowned for their bad communication skills or something?

I’m not that impressed myself. I once had the misfortune to catch him on TV supposedly talking to someone’s dead cat. Isn’t communicating with live animals a bit of a step down? If we’re talking skills here, communicating with the dead is definitely one up on communicating with the living.

On a side note, Derek’s spiritual experience with the dead cat was incredibly bizarre. He stood still for a while, silently tuning himself in (or having a stroke, I’m not sure), then opened his eyes and reeled backwards, saying in a startled voice: “Whoah, you’re a big boy!”

It’s a domestic cat, not a frigging lion!

Unfortunately, it turns out Derek has plans for a show exclusively about animals, where he will be a kind of behavioural therapist for pets. Surely there can’t be much to it:

“Hm… Tiddles is telling me he likes cat food and sitting on garden walls for seven hours a day. Does this sound like the Tiddles you know?”

“Yes.”

Wow, I’m a psychic.

It’s all so preposterous! Even if I try to open my mind and take this stuff at face value, it simply comes across like the fanciful nonsense that it is. Does anyone at all, anywhere, really believe Derek was talking to someone’s dead cat on that stage? The camera shots of the audience at this point were telling: glazed, vaguely bewildered, expressions on the faces of every one of them. I don’t understand how there is any groundwork for belief whatsoever. That’s what makes the thought of people going to psychics for serious reasons, like speaking to dead relatives, so confusing to me. Yes, you’re desperate, but you may as well hold a seance with your fridge. At least with some woo, like say acupuncture, you could feasibly believe there might be something in it if you didn’t know the research, but five minutes with a psychic should be enough to leave you guffawing with laughter and vowing never to visit one again.

Maybe I’m being too harsh. Maybe they’re not all like Derek. Maybe some of them are genuine, but just don’t want the limelight, fame and money that genuine psychic powers would bring them. I would dearly love to be proved wrong, but leaving my skepticism aside for one moment and switching to cynic mode, I sincerely believe I won’t be.

As for Derek, it’s easy to claim he’s a fake, but maybe he’s just deluded. I’ll leave you with a comment he gave in response to the interviewer bringing up Derren Brown’s criticism of Derek:

“He is not a medium… he’s not a psychic with spiritual gifts. He’s not. Unlike David Blaine, who has psychic gifts.”

One word, Derek: magician.

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  1. #1 by Michael on November 18, 2009 - 10:13

    Colin. Calm down dear. “Why do people believe in weird things?” is a book by Michael Shermer. For those who don’t know Shermer, he is the editor of Skeptic Magazine and author of several books (quite a few have recently been released in Audible form as they are recordings of his lectures). This book would be a first stop in finding out why people go for this woo. He has actually investigated quite a lot of woo, from Holocaust Deniers to Remote Viewing (which starts the book off). Shermer is a psychologist and a former evangelical christian. He is a keen cyclist and was ‘experimented’ on by a nutritionist who was using Shermer as he PhD research guinea pig, by giving him additives and special drinks to assist him in an across America cycle race. Hilarious isn’t the word to describe what happened and then Shermer found out about the PhD thesis which was from some non-accredited nutritionist university. Shermer does a good bit of research on a TV psychic which shows ‘how fixed’ these things are and how much editing goes on. Shermer also describes the ‘type’ of people who become ‘believers’ some through tragic circumstances. The oddest group are those who think they have been alien abductees. These appear pretty normal but have this deep rooted fear which comes out of post hypnotic suggestion- which is really dangerous.

  2. #2 by Damian on November 18, 2009 - 14:02

    I notice he still refers to the readings he does from objects as “psychometry”, even though the correct term is now “Token Object Reading”. This was renamed so as to avoid any confusion with “psychometrics” … perhaps Sam should inform Derek of this.

  3. #3 by Michael on November 18, 2009 - 16:32

    Guess what? I have done a little bit of researching and found a comment on a psychic blog from a former fan of Derek- it is quite revealing. After reading it the guy posted back informing the bloggers that Derrek’s missus (also his manager) threatened to sue if he didn’t remove it.
    Here is the link- it is quite a good read and only takes a couple of minutes.
    http://www.unexplained-mysteries.com/forum/index.php?showtopic=33281

    HaDeHaHa

  4. #4 by Colin H on November 18, 2009 - 19:16

    Shermer’s book is one of those that I will eventually get round to reading. Like so many!

    I think what got to me was that even the audiences on Derek Acorah’s shows seem unconvinced. You can almost see them thinking, why the hell have I come here? Yet the media still treat him like he’s credible. Same goes for so many well-known psychics. I wonder whether the reason people don’t publicly criticise psychics is because they’re worried about upsetting the very small number of grief-stricken widows who believe in it. No-one wants to tell someone in mourning that they’re being tricked, because it may come across in the wrong way.

  5. #5 by LZ on November 19, 2009 - 08:59

    I propose that henceforth Mr. Acorah should be referred to as Dreck Acorah. Why? From the dictionary….

    dreck  –noun
    Slang. 1. excrement; dung.
    2. worthless trash; junk.

    Q.E. and, if you will, D. I thank you.

  6. #6 by Gittins on November 19, 2009 - 10:27

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/nov/06/police-psychic-leads-death-ghost

    “A police force has defended spending £20,000 investigating a man’s death after his ghost was said to have told psychics that gangsters had forced him to drink petrol and bleach.”

    A man in Wales committed suicide after a fight with his girlfriend, but psychics told police he was murdered by a gangster called “Tony Fox”.

  7. #7 by Marsh on November 19, 2009 - 12:18

    Ahh, Gittins, clearly not a listener to Righteous Indignation then! Where I spoke about this story in detail. Expect to see it on the blog on Saturday (it’s scheduled you see…)

    Still, thanks for the linkery!

  8. #8 by Gittins on November 19, 2009 - 13:43

    Nope, but I’ve listened to all the skeptics with a K podcasts, if that counts for anything.

    Being the football fan you are Marsh, what’s your take on this one then?
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/8364226.stm

    “Arsenal striker Robin Van Persie has flown to Serbia for a novel form of treatment – placenta fluid is to be dripped on his injured ankle.”

    Sounds like a deleted scene from one of the Saw movies.

    A bit at the bottom also caught my eye, when someone from Bristol University said that usually we would use acupuncture. Because sticking pins in him would really sort out a torn ligament, right?

  9. #9 by Damian on November 19, 2009 - 17:57

    To be fair to Derek, his turn on last week’s TV Burp almost makes me forgive him for everything he’s ever done…

  10. #10 by Kian Gray on July 15, 2010 - 16:18

    i like the magic tricks of David Blaine but Chris Angel is much better.;;,

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