One reader's rave

"Thanks for the newspaper with your book review. I can’t tell you how impressed I am with this terrific piece of writing. It is beautiful, complex, scholarly. Only sorry Mr. Freire cannot read it!" -- Ailene

Help the Honey Badgers in their fight for freedom of speech and thought!

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

An Old Memory, Reconsidered

Today, while reading an issue of the Journal of Scientific Exploration, I recalled an incident from my childhood and started to see it in a new light.

When I was about 12, my father sometimes played a card-guessing game with me. IIRC, he would hold up a card from a face-down deck, turned away from me, and I would guess the rank and suit. Then he would show it to me. On one of these occasions I kept guessing, not the card he was holding, but the next card. This seemed to go on for 15 or 20 cards, though unfortunately we weren't keeping track.

At the time I was a believer in ESP, but at the same time understood something about scientific standards of evidence. So I realized that this experience, although remarkable, was still anecdotal and couldn't actually be considered to prove anything.

But in the past year, I've learned from my brother that he's remembered some episodes in which our father tried to hypnotize him, a skill he'd been taught by a friend he made as a teenager. Geoffrey also remembers some things that he construes as episodes in which he was trying to hypnotize our mother. And he's indicated that he believes he was successful in at least some cases with both of them.

So now I'm wondering whether this would account for my experience too. Is it possible that my father used a post-hypnotic suggestion to cause me to forget, after he told me what the next card was going to be, that he had told me — so that I would think I was getting something clairvoyantly when in reality I was simply repeating what he'd just told me? If something like this is doable, it might well be considered more plausible than either the "incredible fluke" or paranormal explanation.

In this connection, it's interesting that I don't remember having a visual impression of the cards; I just said the first one that came to my mind. That is, I was "perceiving" verbally even though the supposed information source was visual. Proponents of psi usually claim that it's normal for sensory modality to remain unaltered in anomalous information transmission.

In a related matter, the other day I decided for the first time to experience a "psychic reading," after seeing a sign advertising them for only $5. As soon thereafter as was practicable (within maybe 15 or 20 minutes), I wrote down as much of it as I could remember.

As I came upstairs she told me that the special was only for a "character reading, not future or love life." I was resolved to maintain as neutral a face as possible and not provide any feedback.

After having me write my name and birthdate, she started by saying, "Nothing's come easy to you. You've had to work hard for everything you have." This struck me as pretty off-base. Academically and intellectually, things generally came very easy to me. This did have its down side, as it contributed to my feeling alienated from my peers. Nonetheless, it's hardly consistent with what the psychic said. On the other hand, it is true that I've worked for quite modest wages, due to social anxiety that inhibited me from seeking other employment from what I had before I graduated from college, and at the same time kept me largely oblivious to my creative potential. I didn't experience this as "working hard," however, but as being stuck in a rut. I worked long hours sometimes because my boss wanted me to, but I didn't experience the work as particularly hard qualitatively.

Next she told me my parents were "symmetric" in terms of personality, and that I was like both of them. This struck me as dubious inasmuch as I don't think my parents were that similar to each other. I think I'm more like my father in some ways, such as being pretty autonomous, but we're far apart on the extravert-introvert scale. I think my mother was considerably less autonomous and less assertive.

"Half the people you know you don't really like, and the other half have nothing in common with you. Is that right?" I raised my eyebrow at that, and when she pressed the question I just shrugged. I don't think it's true at all. Most people I know I know through activities and groups I've chosen based on shared interests, such as radical politics, science and skepticism, and science fiction. I don't like all of them of course, but do like a good number and get along reasonably well with most.

"You're always worried about losing what you have so you're afraid to make a change. But a change or a move would be good for you." Notice that she's starting to prognosticate here, even though she'd said she wouldn't. It's true that I've tended to be fearful of change, at least till the last couple years, but I'm not aware of anything I've recently failed to do because of fear of losing what I have.

She also said, "I see that you've been thinking about making a change or a move, but you've been holding back." She asked "Is that right?" again, and I responded as before.

"Even when you have something good you don't enjoy it because you're afraid that something is going to go wrong." That's sometimes been true in the past, because I'm anxiety-prone. But it hasn't been true since I went on the SSRI paroxetine. Of course, the statement is likely to be true of most people who'd pay to see a fortune-teller, so this may well be something she says to everyone.

Finally, "I see that there's going to be a big gathering of the family soon." Clearly she's prognosticating here. "Big" and "soon" are vague terms, but I'll report if 5 or more of us get together within the next six months, without any initiative on my part (which I have no plans of making).

Eric Hamell


Monique (Owned) said...

Interesting, that was a thought provoking post.

odel said...

A good post.
Thanks for sharing it with PhACT.

stripey7 said...

Well, it's been nearly two years since I posted this, and there's been no "big family gathering"; I've met with no more than one relative at a time. So much for that "psychic."