Has anyone taken a psychic reading here?
August 4, 2009 5:07 AM   Subscribe

Has anyone taking a psychic reading? I am thinking of taking a reading from Char Margolis? I do know of James Randi foundation, and I am aware that there are lots of scams. I am skeptical, but I'd like to check for myself before deciding one way or the other. It would be great to hear from someone who has actually taken the reading (either with Char or someone else). How was the experience like? Is it worth spending the time and money (Char charges 600$).
posted by raghuram to Society & Culture (99 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I haven't taken a psychic reading with Char, but $600 seems a little steep. I would be willing to do one for you for only $599.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 5:11 AM on August 4, 2009 [11 favorites]

There aren't "lots of scams", there are only scams. There is no such thing as a psychic.
posted by Loto at 5:14 AM on August 4, 2009 [14 favorites]

ActingTheGoat and Loto:

Thank you for the response.
Have you taken a reading personally or know of anyone who has taken a reading? It is easy to mock, it takes time to test and verify. I mocked at my mother when she spent lots of money learning Reiki and Pranic Healing, until the day I fell sick and she healed me. I was a kid then, now I know better, not to make fun of anything until I verify it.

No, I am not defending psychics :-) I just want to make sure, we don't dismiss anything just because it 'sounds' crazy.

Thanks again, for the response.
posted by raghuram at 5:20 AM on August 4, 2009

How about "sounds impossible?"

People who claim psychic readings actually predicted anything are exemplifying the phenomenon of confirmation bias, at best.

You obviously don't care about the rational arguments here. Fine, it's your $600 you are flushing down the toilet.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:24 AM on August 4, 2009

raghuram- I see you are new to Mefi. Welcome!

I will say right now that maybe AskMe isn't the place to ask this kind of question. You might find someone who has taken a reading with the person that you mention, the chances are though that you will just be unleashing an almighty pile-on of (justifiable) scepticism.
posted by ClanvidHorse at 5:32 AM on August 4, 2009 [4 favorites]

If she wants to do it, then she wants to do it, OK? She has said she wants to check for herself, and it's her time and money to spend.

But first, I would recommend seeing some of Derren Brown's work on 'psychic reading'. I don't doubt there are some who believe they have a genuine gift, but some people who call themselves psychics are just good at cold reading and charging for it. I would check with a local spiritualist church to find a reputable one - and report back! I'm sceptical but intrigued.
posted by mippy at 5:33 AM on August 4, 2009 [2 favorites]

See here regarding Char Margolis
posted by mippy at 5:34 AM on August 4, 2009

fourcheesemac - it is not that I don't care about rational arguments. Let me ask you this - doesn't Reiki and Pranic healing sound impossible too? I mean, how can a normal human being 'learn' to 'cure' by just touch (in the case of Reiki) and not even touch (in the case of pranic healing)? It sounds impossible, right? But it works, I have experienced it first hand, and there is a science behind it.

All I am saying is this - why not check it out and verify, instead of dismissing it because it sounds impossible? I might come back here and post my experience, IF I decide to take the reading (cost being a major factor here). I just would like to know, from someone, who has actually taken a reading or knows someone who has taken a reading, how was the experience like, before spending the money.

Thank you for the response.
posted by raghuram at 5:34 AM on August 4, 2009

If you are going to "test and verify" start with the $10/$20 person in your neighborhood. You'll save a lot of money.

Googling for Char Margolis scam brings up some resources you can review. This youtube video has an interesting title but I can't watch it right now to see if it is any good.

I knew you were going to ask this question
posted by mikepop at 5:36 AM on August 4, 2009

The link mippy refers to is broken; here is the archive, search for "CHAR MARGOLIS AT HER BEST". It is a reading Char Margolis gave to Larry King on TV, interspersed with commentary.
posted by gensubuser at 5:41 AM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

I am not naive to believe everything I read/hear/see. But I also don't dismiss things right away, just because something 'sounds stupid' or 'sounds impossible'.

It is interesting to see so many people make fun, without checking it out. It is one thing to be sceptical (I am highly sceptical myself) its another to totally dismiss and make fun, without bothering to check
posted by raghuram at 5:41 AM on August 4, 2009

...and there is a science behind it.

No, there really isn't. Of course, if you could provide me studies in the form of peer reviewed literature and well constructed experiments I would be willing to reconsider.
posted by Loto at 5:43 AM on August 4, 2009 [6 favorites]

Raghuram. The problem is that you want to believe so bad that nothing anyone says will change that. In fact nothing anyone CAN say will change your mind so why dont you spend your US$600 the way YOU want to spend and be done with it.

As for 'checking it out' that only sounds like and putting a cloak of 'rational' over the 'irrational'.
posted by london302 at 5:44 AM on August 4, 2009 [2 favorites]

If you are honestly considering throwing away $600 of your money to get a "psychic" "reading", then you in no way can be described as a "skeptic".

By the way, there's no science behind reiki or pranic healing and any resemblance those things have to modern medicine is incidental at best.
posted by downing street memo at 5:45 AM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

This is already not ending well.

Raghuram, I think you might not appreciate how saturated with skeptics our wonderful metafilter may be. There are some really nice, and quite religious folks here, too, but generally, your kind of query gets hammered hard.

To my knowledge, no metaphysical approach yields repeatable and predictable outcomes for illness. Sometimes, they yield benefits for coming to terms with a difficult world via fantasy, and that's what religion is for, I think.

Good luck though. (My experiences with all psychics, faith healers, religions, and 'energy' therapies, etc.) was mostly via my late, now quite dead, first wife. She was grasping at straws near the end, and quite a wonderful person. None of these approaches had any detectable effect, and the fact that she's dead should maybe be one of the data points you keep in mind. (I have a recorded reading from a psychic she employed... very sad to say the least. Rampant and utter nonsense about her condition and prognosis.)
posted by FauxScot at 5:46 AM on August 4, 2009 [5 favorites]

....and also very expensive.
posted by FauxScot at 5:47 AM on August 4, 2009

Well, there's sounds stupid and sounds impossible...how about sounds expensive?

Most of us here have done enough research on our own to know that psychics are usually just guessing hoping you remember the hits more than the far more numerous misses. If you've heard of JREF, you've heard of "cold reading". Any you have to ask yourself why these claimed powers never seem to be able to be duplicated for scientific research.

There's absolutely no reason to believe that Char is any different from Sylvia Browne or Kenny Kingston or Miss Cleo or any other famous psychic.

Besides, what would a testimonial prove? People misremember their readings ALL the time. They'll give the psychic a clue in how they ask a question or even right out say what their looking for and surprise...the attentive psychic will find it. Plenty of people leave their readings smiling, but they wouldn't if they knew they were just ripped off and all the soothing reassurances from Uncle Robert on the other side telling us not to worry about the money were all false.
posted by inturnaround at 5:50 AM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

OK, I'm going to attempt to actually answer the question instead of snarking all over the place.

I've done two "psychic readings" for fun - one at Coney Island, another at a street fair in Cleveland. The most interesting thing to me was that during the 10 minute reading, both of them said three specific (by psychic standards, at least) things that were exactly the same. That made my cold, skeptical heart flutter just a little.

Most of what a psychic will tell you is pretty vague. That way when you "meet someone in the next 6 months who has an impact on you," that can be anyone from a new love interest to the loan officer who approves your mortgage. If you remember a few of these "hits," the many misses that were also included in the reading are more forgettable. The psychic will also look for cues about you from the way you dress, jewelry you're wearing, how you react to questions and statements. A good psychic is actually a very perceptive interpreter of non-verbal communication.
posted by ferociouskitty at 5:50 AM on August 4, 2009

I had a psychic reading done once, for about an hour, at psychic center/church thing, and it was well worth the $20 recommended donation.

This was about 15 years ago. I had no idea what I would get out of the experience, and I wasn't expecting the things she said to be "real". But she did some stuff, and described my aura to me (If I remember right, even gave me crayons so that I could draw it in all the appropriate layers of color!) and a couple of past lives. It was a fascinating day of doing something I normally wouldn't do. If you don't believe in psychics, then you're paying someone to get an impression of you or a feeling about you, and give you some phrases that you can "try on for size" and see if you want that to apply to you. They tell you about the person they think you are. Is that psychic? Not so much. Is that useful? In its own way, yes, I found it to be very interesting. I did not make live-altering decisions based on the experience, but it was a tool to make me think. What is the probability that this sentance that really upset me was something she says to almost everybody? What about this thing that she said that I didn't make much sense of, is there any useful way to apply that to myself?

$20, yes, it was more entertaining than a movie and popcorn.
$50, counting for inflation and whatever, sure, if you want.
$600, no way.
posted by aimedwander at 5:51 AM on August 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


Start with Kirlian photography and aura photography (again, I have experienced aura photography myself, so I am not pulling anything out of thin air, I am the most sceptical person I know of)

The best way, is to experience it. Find a good pranic healer (or reiki, there are other methods like magnetic healing etc, I can't speak for them, I haven't experienced them myself). Your only challenge is to find a genuine healer, and avoid the scam artists. If you manage to do that, you'll start believing in no time.
posted by raghuram at 5:54 AM on August 4, 2009

I, too, try to keep an open mind about areas that are not necessarily scientifically verifiable. But I have one unbreakable rule, which I strongly recommend to you: if anyone offers you a service which would be defined as psychic (readings) or religious (praying for you) and puts a price tag on it, they're fake. Gifts or donations afterwards, your choice, fine. (Which is why you don't buy a ticket to go to church, although you will undoubtedly be "encouraged" to give money during the service.)

Asking for the money upfront automatically makes what they're doing fraudulent, based on the rules of a spiritual universe. And yes, I have had readings from other people, and found them pretty useless. On the other hand, I use both Tarot cards and the I Ching to help me see and think about situations, and they can be helpful. I also do readings for other people -- always for free -- and they say they find them helpful. Psychic readings can't hurt you, they might help you, but if you have $600 to spend, why not look for a better way to spend it?
posted by kestralwing at 5:57 AM on August 4, 2009 [2 favorites]

I am the most sceptical person I know of

I can guarantee that this will most certainly not be the case here.
posted by ClanvidHorse at 5:57 AM on August 4, 2009 [21 favorites]

I checked out the Youtube video linked by mikepop. I suggest that you watch it, then read my observations.

Char is using a technique called cold reading. She starts by asking Monique (her caller) if there's "anyone who's an A or M initial around you"? Monique confirms that there is someone whose name starts with M. Eventually she gets Monique to tell her that she knows someone called Martin. Later Char asks if there is a "J or a G". Monique knows someone called John.

Char then asks Monique whether John "is family to you?" You'd think that a psychic would know that, but anyway. Char asks whether he is considering "making a change in his car or vehicle" and then whether he is contemplating "making a change around his work". These are both safe bets, particularly with someone calling a telephone psychic. Monique confirms that he is contemplating changing his job, and Char deduces that John is frustrated in his work.

Char then asks if one of Monique's parents are deceased ... once again, isn't this the sort of thing that a psychic ought to know? Monique mentions another deceased relative and Char asks whether Monique has some jewellery of hers. You would think this is a safe bet, once again, but in fact Monique does not have any of her jewelery. But her mother does - Char says "Your mother!" as if she had deduced this through her ESP.

Frankly, I think your mind is made up - but watch the video, look for other Youtube videos of her. That way you'll at least recognise her techniques when she uses them with you.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:58 AM on August 4, 2009 [8 favorites]

I ask for proof and you tell me to "just do it" and provide me two links which actually contain information debunking the two things you are using for proof.

You are doing it wrong.
posted by Loto at 6:01 AM on August 4, 2009 [3 favorites]

It's worth noting that "seeing something with your own eyes" is not proof that it works in a reliable, replicable way. I recommend you spend some time reading up on the placebo effect.
posted by proj at 6:02 AM on August 4, 2009 [3 favorites]

Let me ask you this - doesn't Reiki and Pranic healing sound impossible too? I mean, how can a normal human being 'learn' to 'cure' by just touch (in the case of Reiki) and not even touch (in the case of pranic healing)?

FWIW, I would critique your argument. We know, scientifically, in peer-reviewed literature, that the placebo effect works. We know, for example, scientifically, that emotions and belief and visualizations in cancer care can improve treatment results, and therefore these aspects are commonly involved in cancer treatment protocols. These things (Reiki, etc.) MAY work, but they probably do not work for the reasons their practitioners believe.

I got my tarot cards read once - I spent about $20 and I did it for fun. It was generic, obvious and said nothing that would not apply to any counterculture-ish college student (which I obviously was). For me, at the time, $20 was a reasonable price for fun. I would ONLY recommend someone go into a psychic reading for fun, so if you have $600 to spend on an amusing good time, go for it.

So in turn, I ask you, what do you hope to gain from this? Some amusement, or the name and date you'll meet a future spouse? The disease you'll die from so you can work to avoid it? For all those who are skeptical (obviously I am) and throwing derision your way, I wonder whether they gamble. I don't, but I think gambling and psychic readings are equally ridiculous; and therefore equally valid wastes of money in pursuit of a good time.
posted by bunnycup at 6:02 AM on August 4, 2009

Fauxscot, I agree with you. It doesn't seem to be ending well :-( I guess I picked the wrong question to ask :-(

To all those who say Reiki and Pranic Healing is a scam:

It is not, and there is a science behind it. Psychic readings are expensive, but Pranic healing and reiki aren't (at least not as expensive). So people, go check it out. I made fun, lots of fun, when my mom spent her hard earned money (and lots of it) learning these healing techniques, until the day she healed me, and others, in front of my eyes.

Back to psychics - I've googled, and I've read articles for and against psychics. If it were cheap, I'd do it first and then post here, about my experience. since it is an expensive experiment, I thought it is sensible to check with someone who has already had an experience with it.
posted by raghuram at 6:06 AM on August 4, 2009

go for a good tarot reading- much more accurate than a psychic
posted by assasinatdbeauty at 6:13 AM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

Let me start by saying I am a huge, HUGE skeptic of psychics and other supernatural phenomenon. I wouldn't pay $10 for a psychic reading at Coney Island. I don't bother with the horoscope. Etc.

Through work, however, I have been in a position to have a reading by another famous psychic. She gave me vague information that certainly applied to my life, but also could have applied to almost anyone's life in the room. But as we were all leaving the room, she grabbed my coworker by the hand and said "Stop eating wheat. It's not good for you." I was a little dumbfounded--my coworker had been having serious stomach problems for months and had been to many doctors, but had been very private about the situation. Only two other people knew about it, it did not come up in the meeting and the psychic had no way to know this. My coworker stopped eating wheat, and the problems went away.

I am still skeptical. I don't know how that happened, and I wouldn't place my trust in it for guidance on my life. But in addition to that experience, I know that a crime in my hometown was solved by a psychic, and that my aunt received very strange information from one that turned out to be true years later. I don't know how to explain any of that.

I've met Char, although I haven't had a reading from her. I found her to be very nice and seemingly very genuine about her abilities. I would not personally spend $600 on a psychic reading. I don't know what it is that you're looking for, and I'd be very wary of finding it down that path, but I'm not going to sit here and tell you OMG NO DONT DO IT. Unfortunately, I don't think you can find the proof that you're looking for regarding the validity of psychic readings, and the fact that you're torn so much about whether to trust it or not makes me concerned that you might be more vulnerable to being taken advantage of than others (but then, most people who go to big-deal psychics are probably struggling with something major, so maybe not). Whatever you decide, best of luck to you.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 6:14 AM on August 4, 2009

I think, regarding psychic readings and reiki (and many other new age practices), several things are happening that science doesn't understand or can't quite explain. For one, there is the placebo effect. For another, there is confirmation bias (where we get the results we expect). For another, I think we don't fully understand exactly how powerful stress reduction really can be as a factor that allows our bodies to heal.

I think the reason that good psychics, faith healers, and non-western healers in general work for many people is that they are REALLY good at paying attention to the small signals we all give off, and they are also very good at relaxation techniques and making us feel comfortable.

Check out cold reading for more info. Unlike a hardened skeptic, I think cold reading is part skill, and part natural talent. Even when taught cold reading techniques, I think some people are just naturally better at it than others. I also don't think cold reading should be dismissed outright as a complete scam. Like everything, some use it for good, some use it for evil.

Ultimately, in any psychic reading, you are paying someone to give you their perception of you, and what you want and hope for, and what you are likely to achieve or fail at. The question is, is this worth $600 to you?
posted by lesli212 at 6:14 AM on August 4, 2009

Tarot readings are much more valuable than psychic readings, but both are equivalent in the sense that neither predict the future nor know anything beyond what value you attribute to them. At least tarot cards don't cost six hundred bones, and to those who know how to use them, they can actually provide a different perspective on your problem.

Here's my personal experience with a psychic. My aunt had arranged to have a psychic come give readings at her house, so me and my mother went and got read individually. My reading is somewhere on a tape, I'd love to find it and actually compare and analyze it but the tape is long missing. I do remember a lot of it, and most of it was generic dribble that I could have read by reading any old issue of Oprah.

My final conclusion is that psychics are phooey, otherwise anyone of them would have claimed the $1 million JREF prize!
posted by Meagan at 6:19 AM on August 4, 2009


I said start with those two links. They are sceptical, but give you some idea about what aura is.
posted by raghuram at 6:22 AM on August 4, 2009

Check out cold reading for more info. Unlike a hardened skeptic, I think cold reading is part skill, and part natural talent. Even when taught cold reading techniques, I think some people are just naturally better at it than others. I also don't think cold reading should be dismissed outright as a complete scam. Like everything, some use it for good, some use it for evil.

No one is saying there's no skill or talent in cold reading. It's certainly a performance and naturally some are better at it than others.

But cold reading is a scam if it is presented as some divine intervention or communication with the dead or anything other than guessing with style. I'd have no problem with it if it was done as a parlor trick...but when people lie and say they're talking to your deceased mother when they're not...it's exploitation and sick.
posted by inturnaround at 6:24 AM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

Re: peanut_mcgillicuty's coworker: Maybe the psychic overheard some conversation, or maybe she noticed that your friend was farty or otherwise discomfited, and picked the most likely issue? I tell you, these people are crazy observant. It's like being a detective and a poker player all rolled into one.
posted by lesli212 at 6:24 AM on August 4, 2009 [3 favorites]

Two questions for you to think about:
1. Suppose you knew that Char was not actually psychic at all. But that she was good at seeing if people are upset, and talking about things that might help, good at giving some useful perspective without any special psychic skills. Would that be worth $600? Do you think you could find someone else around you who has those skills, or is willing to talk things over in that way, for cheaper?

2. You say you want to test. What method will you use to test whether she has psychic abilities? It can't just be that her predictions are true, because perceptive and insightful non-psychic people make true predictions all the time. Also, many psychic predictions are phrased in a vague way, or are likely to be true for most people ("do you have unresolved business with a friend from the past?" "did someone recently betray you?" for example) -- so having those kinds of predictions be true doesn't give good support for the claim of special psychic abilities.
posted by LobsterMitten at 6:27 AM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

re: inturnaround: I don't think that's necessarily true. Just after her mother died, my aunt when to a seance and "spoke" to her again, and she was SO comforted by it. She went back a few times (and spent more money, of course), but the psychic told her after a few visits that her mother had said all she needed to say.

My aunt is not the type who would ever visit a therapist, and she gained a lot of closure by "speaking" with her mother one final time, hashing out some final issues. And the psychic didn't string her along forever, which I think was really responsible, all things considered.

If the psychic had been using her talents for evil, my aunt would have been seeing her twice a month for the past decade (um, wait, kind of like therapy).
posted by lesli212 at 6:29 AM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


I did. The problem with those two subjects is that there is no study referenced to support the claims you are making. Look in the references for the two pages, it is all new age books and articles. The Kirlian photography one does actually include a reference to the Journal of Applied Physics but that is explaining the physics behind the photography -not- the interpretation provided by Kirlian.

There is also a link to a paper submitted to an IEEE symposium that discusses how Kirlian photography -might- be used for medical imaging. The other problem? The IEEE symposium doesn't have the same review process that their periodicals do.
posted by Loto at 6:29 AM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

I had somebody read tarot cards for me once when I was in college. It didn't cost me anything and I still wanted my money back.

Also a friend of my grandparents talked a wart off my hand when I was a kid. It was the damnedest thing. He seemed like he was really doing something and he acted very solemn and I was a kid and when that wart went away, I really believed that he had talked it off. But just because I had that experience as a child doesn't mean I now as an adult don't understand the placebo effect and want to spend $600 to stay in a haunted castle to check and see if ghosts are real. You want to waste your money then go waste your money. But if you want people to tell you to waste your money then go to Yahoo! Answers, because you are just going to raise our blood pressure.
posted by ND¢ at 6:34 AM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


1. No, it is definitely not worth $600. However, what would be interesting to see, is if she is able to tell me things about me that she would have no way to learn, unless I tell her, which I am obviously not going to do.

2. If I take a reading, I wont be giving her any clues (If she asks me, does your mom's name begin with T? I'd probably say 'may be' or 'you are a psychic, aren't you supposed to find out'?) If she can get info about me correctly, without me giving any clues, then that is something to note. Also, if she is going to be vague, I'll press her for specific details.
posted by raghuram at 6:38 AM on August 4, 2009

re: inturnaround: I don't think that's necessarily true. Just after her mother died, my aunt when to a seance and "spoke" to her again, and she was SO comforted by it. She went back a few times (and spent more money, of course), but the psychic told her after a few visits that her mother had said all she needed to say.

It's sick that someone charged your aunt good money to lie to her. I'm glad it brought her comfort, but she was exploited for the financial gain of the psychic. The lie should at least have been free...
posted by inturnaround at 6:41 AM on August 4, 2009

Well I don't mind speaking up to answer the question from personal experience, but I know nothing specific about Char.

I was living in New York in the mid 80's. I owned an art gallery, went to lots of clubs, rode a motorcycle and ran with a gang. I was working at Dow Jones at the same time, and one day decided that full time employment was seriously interfering with my nocturnal activities, and so decided to take a year off. You know, to really raise hell before I got too old or career oriented to do so any longer.

Back then Area and Madame Rosa's (where Jean Michel Basquiat was the DJ most Sunday evenings) were the clubs we'd most often hit if venturing out of The East Village. Just for context this picture was taken around that time.

Madame Rosa's had a bunch of resident fortune tellers, and one evening a bunch of us were hanging there when we realised we'd never had a reading of any kind. So one by one we ponied up to a curtained booth, entered and got read.

The woman clearly couldn't tell much about my background, she spoke a few generalities and then told "what you are doing now is only temporary" and "its not in your long line" and "there is something else about you, something technical" and "you'll pull it all together into something technical somewhere far, far away from here" .

She had no idea that I did quantitative analysis for Dow Jones, and had been employed by Bell Labs for a number of years before that. I said absolutely nothing to her, fully aware of cold reading techniques as both my grandparents were with the carnival. But now I'm a banker living and working in London. So yeh, I sorta believe in this stuff.

However I've got a family predilection: I'm part Native American, and my great grandmother always used to teach us about herbs and the woods and the animals and the spirits, trying to pass along what she had learned as a kid.

But I had to be a jerk, ignoring her as often as I could to watch cartoons. Still, some of it sunk in.

Yeh, I'd try it. Not for $600 though.
posted by Mutant at 6:41 AM on August 4, 2009

The best way, is to experience it. Find a good pranic healer

On the contrary, I'd say that experiencing that a cure works should in no way make you believe that it actually works. There are too many ways we can get fooled (here's a list). The only thing we can reliably trust are repeated, controlled, double-blind studies.
posted by martinrebas at 6:47 AM on August 4, 2009 [2 favorites]

I'm going to give you the gift of my psychic abilities for free (this once):
I wont be giving her any clues
My magic powers tell me that you will.
If she asks me, does your mom's name begin with T? I'd probably say 'may be' or 'you are a psychic, aren't you supposed to find out'?
My magic powers tell me that she will respond saying that not everything always comes clearly, and that if you want a chance to be helped by her magic powers, you will have to relax and calmly let them pervade your mind, rather than struggling against them.

My magic powers also tell me that you will be out $600 in any case.

Now go spend your $600 and prove me right. That's "science" right? Show this thread to Char so that she can peer review.
posted by Flunkie at 6:48 AM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


"Yeh, I'd try it. Not for $600 though."

That is exactly my problem. It is the price, otherwise I wouldn't have posted, I'd have simply done it myself and then written about my experience. Since it is expensive, I thought it'd be a good idea to ask if someone has had a reading from her, and how did it go.

I understand that I've brought up a topic that most people are sceptical about, including me. Still I don't understand the necessity for replies like 'dont have kids'

Thanks to all those who responded so far.
posted by raghuram at 6:51 AM on August 4, 2009

If I take a reading, I wont be giving her any clues

Also, be warned that we all underestimate how many clues we give off. Here's an account from someone who read a few books on cold reading and then played the part of a psychic for a Penn & Teller show.

A quote: "The standard stuff would hook them and then I would start making guesses based on my observations and their feedback. One person wrote up on a comment card that I was a terrific addition and amazing, and two people summoned the manager to tell him how I knew stuff I couldn't possibly have known".
posted by martinrebas at 6:53 AM on August 4, 2009 [2 favorites]

2. If I take a reading, I wont be giving her any clues (If she asks me, does your mom's name begin with T? I'd probably say 'may be' or 'you are a psychic, aren't you supposed to find out'?) If she can get info about me correctly, without me giving any clues, then that is something to note. Also, if she is going to be vague, I'll press her for specific details.

Do you really think you're the first person to come up with this plan? The way you dress, the way you speak, your body language - you are a walking bag of clues to a talented cold reader. If you go in under a sheet and claim to be mute you might present a challenge, but then the psychic can always claim you are too "closed" etc. if you won't answer any questions and either send you on your way or give you vague predictions, etc.

Really, take 20 bucks and find a reader in your neighborhood. You'll learn that even a small player is a good cold reader and if someone is charging $600 they are just that much better a reader/performer and/or have better marketing. Consider it step one of your experiment.
posted by mikepop at 6:54 AM on August 4, 2009

edit: if you won't answer any questions she'll just claim you are too "closed" and either send you on your way...
posted by mikepop at 6:55 AM on August 4, 2009

I do know of James Randi foundation.

Suppose Char really has psychic abilities. Now suppose that Char also needs to make a living, which is why she charges $600 for a "reading." Why doesn't Char combine said abilities and desire for money by accepting Randi's challenge, thus earning $1 million? One possible answer is that it is easier to fool many credulous suckers than to submit herself to rigorous examination.

Another possible answer is that all the "negative energy" impairs her mystical channel.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 6:55 AM on August 4, 2009 [3 favorites]

"Really, take 20 bucks and find a reader in your neighborhood. You'll learn that even a small player is a good cold reader and if someone is charging $600 they are just that much better a reader/performer and/or have better marketing. Consider it step one of your experiment."

This makes more sense than many answers here :-)
IF I do any kind of experiment I'd come back and post.
posted by raghuram at 7:00 AM on August 4, 2009

Heard this story from a friend, who has a friend who used to manage a call line for a psychic (I don't know which one).

Their most common repeat caller was male. The most common question was "When is she coming back?" My heart made a small breaking noise when I heard this.

According to my friend's friend, they cut these guys off - if they spent more than $30K in a month on the line.

If you drop $600 on this, the only thing you'll find out is if Char is a good cold reader and psychologist or not. You won't find out if she's really a psychic, because she isn't. Is that worth $600?
posted by rtha at 7:02 AM on August 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


The American Tarot Association offers readings over the Internet at no charge. Before you drop $600.00 on Char Margolis, why not get a free reading online first?

ATA members are not only trained, but they have a published Code of Ethics that all members must abide by.

As far as I'm concerned, tarot is just a glorified Rorschach (sp?) test. But the ATA members take it seriously, and are committed to not ripping you off. Get a reading online or find an ATA member in your area. You'll save money and you'll have as good an--if not better--experience than if you go see Char Margolis.
posted by magstheaxe at 7:03 AM on August 4, 2009

I used to be a phone psychic, and I can tell you- even though I laid out the Tarot cards, and used the official meanings in the little book that came with them, what I was really doing was listening to the caller's questions and answers, and feeding them what they wanted to hear. It's REMARKABLE how much people say and don't realize they've said it.

It's a reflexive habit people have, and as long as you listen carefully (and in-person psychics have the advantage of watching your behavior, too,) anyone with a reasonable awareness can figure out what you want to hear, and enough details to make you feel absolutely certain they're psychic.

That said, if you want a psychic reading from an experienced Tarot Reader (hundreds of readings!) I'll charge you $3.99 a minute, which is way cheaper than $600 bucks. Or, AskMefi to find out what your future holds/whether you should DTMFA/if you should eat that/what to wear on a first date skiing. You'll get EXACTLY the same service- people guessing what you and your life are like, to provide guidance- for free.
posted by headspace at 7:03 AM on August 4, 2009 [6 favorites]

[A few comment removed. It looks like this is in okay shape at the moment, but folks need to keep their answers a little more focused on the question asked as much as possible, and Raghuram, you need to stop using the thread as a platform to make assertions about the efficacy of techniques.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:08 AM on August 4, 2009

"But the ATA members take it seriously, and are committed to not ripping you off. Get a reading online or find an ATA member in your area. You'll save money and you'll have as good an--if not better--experience than if you go see Char Margolis."

yeah, this makes a lot of sense. Thank you for the info, I am not aware of Tarot cards, but no harm in checking them out. Thank you.
posted by raghuram at 7:13 AM on August 4, 2009

Let me do a reading for you for free, right now. Imagine me burning incense, sitting at a small table, dressed in flowing robes.

You absolutely have not taken any course, or read any books on conceptual analysis. I am confident of that. Prediction: 100%.

Continuing to play the odds: you have zero background in philosophy of science, or scientific analysis. Prediction: 90% - there are actually scientists who are religious, though none that I know of who have any background in analyzing the foundations of science... that's where the other 10% enters. Still a safe bet.

Never mind - I won't snark.

You say you saw things with your own eyes. That means less than nothing. Do you believe the "magic" in a magic show is real? You saw it with your own eyes, and most likely have no idea how it was accomplished. And yet, there is a very mundane explanation every single time. Believing is the key here. Your eyes can deceive you, and your beliefs impact what you "see" - magicians are specialists in playing on these effects. JUST LIKE PSYCHICS ARE. Think about it. If you want to treat it like a magic show, go ahead, spend the money on the ticket - it's pure 100% entertainment. But $600? That's an expensive ticket to a magic/psychic show, unless it's Vegas and they throw in some singing Wayne Newton for even more entertainment.

Effects you described with being cured, are very easily explained. Placebo effect. End of story. The practitioner could have been slapping you with a dead rat, and the effect would have been exactly the same. You'd have experienced a cure - because whatever was ailing you was highly susceptible to the placebo effect, which is a real medical effect. Nothing to do with the particulars of the practice reiko smeiko.

And don't kid yourself that you are a skeptic. Let me make another 100% prediction - you actually have never taken a philosophy class in skeptical reasoning. I understand that you think you are a skeptic, but you really are not - you are the very opposite. Of course, if I was taking a reading of you as a psychic intent on ripping you off for whatever money I could get, I'd say to you: "you are a person who is skeptical and generally finds it hard to trust people in certain situations". Ya know, most people think of themselves like that, so odds are, you too would think to yourself "right on!". And if not, you'd soon forget it, or focus on my weasel out of "in certain situations"... because let's face it, everybody is skeptical and finds it hard to trust people in certain situations... like f.ex. trusting psychics. Bingo. It's so easy, taking money from the gullible. Don't be a mark.
posted by VikingSword at 7:18 AM on August 4, 2009 [5 favorites]

In Denver, there are Psychic Fairs. Cheaper and you can pick a couple to test against each other.
posted by CodeMonkey at 7:25 AM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

My friend went to an "aura reader" about a month ago. She came back raving about how accurate the person was so for $15 for an hour reading I went with her. It was REALLY interesting. A fascinating, charismatic person who I honestly believe had only the best of intentions. I do not think he was intentionally cold reading. But - clearly he was NOT psychic. Things he got right - I am married (I wore my ring), I have children, my life has changed dramatically in the past ten years (I look about early-mid thirties), a medical condition I mentioned in the waiting room while he was in the room too, my children are incredbly intelligent and one of them is psychic/spirtitual (why yes, they are all brilliant), that I have back pain (I also have boobs you can't miss), the type of person my husband is. Things he got wrong - the number of my children (he said two, I have four, then he said they were teenagers so not really children but none of my children are close to teenage), a thyroid condition (just checked last month actually because my husband DOES has a malfunctioning thyroid), that the friend and I were incredibly close and I was a "mother" to her (nope), my marriage was in trouble (I was clearly somewhere around the age for a seven year itch plus he knew my friend had marriage problems). The jury is still out on my previous life as a man (he saw my unshaved legs...)

Like I said, it was fascinating to see him make reasonable assumptions (that a married, curvy woman in her thirties holding a friend's baby comfortably is a mother herself) that bang up against non-formative behaviour (really, how many educated women nowadays produce a litter of children?). Anyone with experience with Enengram (sp?) or other personality mapping tools could reasonably guess what kind of man I would be attracted to and marry. I felt he was more in a therapist role and with the right customer he could really help someone discover some truths about themselves and see pattern in their life. But, in that case they would probably be better off with a real therapist. He was cheaper though.
posted by saucysault at 7:27 AM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

To all those who say Reiki and Pranic Healing is a scam: It is not, and there is a science behind it.

There is no scientific evidence to support these practices, nor is there any evidence to support psychic phenomena. Either you have been lied to, or you fundamentally do not understand what science is.
posted by Tooty McTootsalot at 7:28 AM on August 4, 2009 [6 favorites]

BBC 3 Bullsh!t detectors exposes three mediums. Psychics might get lucky with guessing and prompting, but some also just flat out cheat.
posted by illenion at 7:34 AM on August 4, 2009

If you did this experiment, I'd recommend as something of a "control" you also visit a mentalist (someone who performs similar feats as a psychic but admits they are done through non-supernatural means), particularly one who does private cold readings. Although it's not perfect, since it's not a blind study—since you have one particular psychic in mind you want to test and would recognize her. Ideally, someone else should arrange two readings for you, one from an alleged psychic and one from a mentalist, without telling you which is which, then seeing if the psychic can tell you more than the mentalist. Sort of a psychic Turing test, if you will. But that's not possible if you already know which one is the alleged psychic.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:48 AM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

As you're pitching this as an experiment, I want to strongly second lesli212 and say that you should read up on cold reading (2, 3, 4, 5). It's a set of fairly simple techniques that can give a very powerful impression that the reader really does have access to hidden knowledge about you. I read this book a few years ago and, despite being a terrible actor and pretty poor at reading faces, managed to give readings to fellow uni students that they remembered as being freakily accurate.

I'm heavily biased against psychic powers being real, largely thanks to this principle. But data is everything in science, so I respect you for wanting to carry out this experiment. All I ask is that you read up on the techniques that are used by "psychics" worldwide and go in with your eyes open. VikingSword raises a good point: everyone accepts that stage magicians have learned to exploit flaws in the way we perceive and think about the world, to create the impression that they've done something impossible. Just because I saw the girl sawn in half and can't explain the trick doesn't mean I have to accept that it was real; Consider the possibility that "psychics" are just applying similar principles to a different style of performance, and look for the common verbal tricks.

Ideally, make a recording of the session. All humans are prone to confirmation biases and otherwise faulty memories. Being able to re-visit the session later will show how your memory of the psychic's accuracy compares to what was actually said.
posted by metaBugs at 7:55 AM on August 4, 2009

If you can easily afford to burn $600, then why not? Go ahead - it will probably be interesting, if not actually psychic. Obviously people get something out of talking to this woman, or she would not still be in business. Personally, I would start with something quite a bit cheaper and go from there, but your financial situation may be different.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 8:10 AM on August 4, 2009

metaBugs points you to Ian Rowland's book. It would not be a bad purchase, not because it teaches you how to cold read but because it has a chapter on how to avoid being read in this way.
If you go to a psychic, you should prepare yourself for how to politely go about protecting yourself from being cold read, in order that you better understand what happens in the reading.
If you wish, send me a mefi mail and I will give you a summary of the basic things you should do - these won't interfere with any genuine powers in any way I can see, but will trip up those attempting to do a cold reading.
posted by edd at 8:12 AM on August 4, 2009

In case you missed it earlier, you should definitely read the link that gensubuser posted above in which Gregg Easterbrook deconstructs an appearance by Margolis on Larry King Live. (That was five years ago, though, so who knows? Maybe Margolis has developed real psychic abilities since then.)

Back to psychics - I've googled, and I've read articles for and against psychics. If it were cheap, I'd do it first and then post here, about my experience.

I'm curious as to why you're set on Margolis specifically. Is there some particular reason you believe she's better than other psychics? As others have noted in this thread, there are many who are far cheaper than she. Or perhaps it's because she's expensive that you assume she's better than other psychics? It's a natural assumption to make, but not necessarily a correct one.

In Predictably Irrational, Dan Ariely describes an experiment in which two groups of people were given what they were told was a new analgesic for headaches. One group was told the medicine would be priced at $0.10 per dose, the other $1.50 per dose (I don't remember if those were the exact numbers, but those will do for illustration). In fact, both medicines were placebos. Not only was a placebo effect observed, as expected, but those who were told the medicine was more expensive reported that the medicine was more effective than those who had received the "cheaper" medicine.

More expensive doesn't always mean better, even though we are deeply inclined to think so. Why not start by trying a $20 psychic rather than a $600 one?
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:19 AM on August 4, 2009

No, I am not particular about margolis. If you know of anybody else who is "supposedly" good, and cheaper, I'm willing to give them a try.

Yes, starting with $20 makes a lot of sense. I just need to find someone in my area. If I do, I promise to post my experience here. I don't have any pressing problem in my life to solve, it is just a fun experiment to do.
posted by raghuram at 8:34 AM on August 4, 2009

Seconding everyone who said that if you're interested in this type of thing, start with something more affordable.

When I was a child, my mother and her best friend used to go to "Thelma, the Card Lady" (a woman who lived in our hometown who did cold readings with a regular deck of cards). I was fascinated by hearing them talk about her, so when I turned 16 they sent me to her as a birthday gift (she didn't read for anyone younger than 16). She charged $20 for a 30 minute session.

She asked me no questions before starting the reading (although I have no idea what my mother may have told her ahead of time), but she said some very perceptive things about me personally and even made a few specific predictions (a major one, that couldn't have simply been "guessed," came true).

I enjoyed it. It was fun, interesting, even a little spooky, and it gave me a lot to think about. It was well worth the price, even if it hadn't been a birthday gift, but it's not something I've ever felt a burning desire to do again.

I certainly wouldn't ever go to someone who charged an exorbitant fee. To me, that's a sign of someone who preys on desparate people (i.e. someone who's willing to pay $600 is not doing it for fun, or even for general insight, they're desparately hoping that their $600 will buy them something -- the question is, what?)
posted by amyms at 8:43 AM on August 4, 2009

It would be great to hear from someone who has actually taken the reading (either with Char or someone else).

Sure. I saw one when I was younger for kicks. Cost me 40 or 50 dollars. It was random cold reading stuff with a very, very hard sell to do monthly payments for monthly "spiritual cleansings." Its a scam the way all psychics are a scam.
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:45 AM on August 4, 2009

Some friends hired a psychic to come do a reading for all of us at a party last summer. It was expensive - $50 - and while it was kind of fun as a one off thing, I didn't learn anything I didn't already know. Was it helpful? Not really. I was going through an incredibly difficult time in my life and reaching for straws, so the fact that he told me things would settle down in the next 6 months was comforting. Granted, things generally do settle down within 6 months, so, you know, not exactly evidence. I do not, for what it's worth, completely disbelieve in psychics or auras or any of that, by the way. I keep an open mind and feel that there are more things in heaven and earth horatio etc.

The majority of his predictions were completely wrong, although he did say that I would soon have men coming out of the woodwork, which came dismally back to me about three months later as I was watching a plumber, an electrician and one of their helpers, all male, dismantle my kitchen wall. He was a nice enough guy but frankly I wish I had my fifty bucks back. Now, $600 to you may be as $50 to me - a bit painful but bearable. In that case, you don't have much to lose. If $600 is, on the other hand, a lot of money to you as it would be to me, then I really recommend following some of the advice upthread and finding a cheaper psychic.
posted by mygothlaundry at 8:58 AM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

My question to YOU: what do you think a psychic could ever tell you that's worth $600?

Typical generic readings include:

you will meet someone wonderful
someone will change your life
you will come into money
you wlil have harder financial time
a friend is going through a hard time but it will get better
you may have a relationship problem
someone close to you is not feeling well...etc. All this stuff happens to EVERYONE.

I guess I'm just wondering: what could a psychic ever tell someone that isn't kinda already obvious?
posted by dzaz at 9:22 AM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

Do you really think you're the first person to come up with this plan? The way you dress, the way you speak, your body language - you are a walking bag of clues to a talented cold reader. If you go in under a sheet and claim to be mute you might present a challenge, but then the psychic can always claim you are too "closed" etc. if you won't answer any questions and either send you on your way or give you vague predictions, etc.

No, I am not claiming that I will fool her or any other psychic, but I can try.
Also, this is a phone reading, so she can't read my body language. She only has to depend on what I say, so all I have to do is, be careful with how much I give away.

If $600 is, on the other hand, a lot of money to you as it would be to me, then I really recommend following some of the advice upthread and finding a cheaper psychic.

Yes, it is a lot of money. That is reason why I asked this question in the first place, just to know if someone has taken a reading, and how was the experience.
posted by raghuram at 9:27 AM on August 4, 2009

But once in a while, there is nothing wrong to be adventurous, and try things that are outside my comfort zone and for fun.

Have you tried skydiving? It will be a much better story than "I wasted my money on a 'psychic'".
posted by borkencode at 9:54 AM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

Hmmm. This thread is certainly interesting. I am very grounded, down to earth person, but I'm open to all things possible on this earth. I live in a community where clairvoyants and intuitive people are accepted and have experienced conversations and readings with them many times. The best readings I've ever had have actually come from gifted astrologers, which can give you a solid basis for many parts of your personality and talents without going overboard on the psychic thing. There is A LOT more to astrology than the crap you read every day in the paper.

I saw a psychic and yes, he told me things about myself that no stranger could know. He knew what work I was involved with and what line of work I would be pursing. However, he also "saw" things he said would come true in the near future that simply didn't. So I do think there are highly intuitive people out there, and it is surprising how many metafilters have no experience with this.

I would start with an astrologer or reccomened Tarot reader, which shouldn't cost you more than 150 for a good one. It will give you a lot to think about.
posted by Rocket26 at 10:05 AM on August 4, 2009

I was just reading this for fun but when I just read that you are considering on spending $600 on a PHONE reading I had to chime in. I can't even imagine that's nearly as fun or connected as doing it in person.

It is your money, and the government is printing lots more of it, but you may as well be calling Miss Cleo.
posted by zephyr_words at 10:09 AM on August 4, 2009

There is A LOT more to astrology than the crap you read every day in the paper.

No, there really isn't.
posted by proj at 10:17 AM on August 4, 2009 [2 favorites]

Yes, I agree, there is a lot more to things than what meets the eye.

This experience happened to a friend of mine.
There is a place in India, where they do astrology reading, using your name, date of birth and your thumb print. They record the session and give you the tape. The past they told her, was one hundred percent accurate. There were a few things they told her about her grandparents etc, that she herself didn't know. It took her a couple of days to verify, by calling up her parents and grandparents. All this, just from the name, date of birth and thumb print. They didn't ask her if her mom's name begins with A or E, they just told her.

They did some predictions for her. However, they also told her that she can change the course of her life if she tried, and nothing is set in stone.

Again, I have no idea if their predictions would come true. But what is interesting here, is that they told her things that they have no way of knowing, and even some things about her family that she herself didn't know.

That said, it was a very cheap experiment for her, costed her a fraction of 600 bucks.
posted by raghuram at 10:20 AM on August 4, 2009

"He said he did visit a psychic once who managed to tell him things that wouldn;t have been obvious through cold reading, which made him wonder - like you - whether there is something which science can't explain. "
When it isn't cold reading, the next most common tactic is hot reading. Also, don't ever ask a scientist to explain it. Ask a magician.
posted by edd at 10:20 AM on August 4, 2009

I think the problem is that most scam artists are just out for a buck; while what they do is immoral, they usually take advantage of the greedy, people who are somewhat culpable in being taken.

Psychics, however, prey on the weak- either emotionally vulnerable or intellectually vacuous. The examples are numerous- Larry King's pet psychics have caused parents untold pain by telling them their missing children are dead while alive, or alive while dead. Jonathon Edward's television show was egregiously edited to only show his hits, never his misses when he did his "talking to the dead" schtick. They deliberately try to find people who have diminished mental capacity - for whatever reason- and take their money by offering false hope.

This is a particulary ugly form of opportunism, and it is why psychics, in particular, are treated with such revulsion by skeptics.

Please don't spend your money here; you are feeding a vile machine.
posted by jenkinsEar at 10:22 AM on August 4, 2009 [2 favorites]

*cost* her, not *costed*
posted by raghuram at 10:22 AM on August 4, 2009

All I am saying is this - why not check it out and verify, instead of dismissing it because it sounds impossible?

This is a profound and important question.

We evolved to believe the evidence of our own eyes. We did not evolve to believe the results of scientific experiments or the logic of skeptics. So you're going to have an overwhelming urge to check things out for yourself. This is not a bad thing.

However, before embarking on a venture like this, it's worth checking into the ways our senses can fool us. Our senses didn't evolve to give us perfect information about the physical world. They take all kinds of shortcuts and make all kinds of inferences. That doesn't mean they are flawed. That means they evolved to help us find food, mates and to help us escape from tigers. If you think you see a tiger, the smart thing to do is to run. If it's not a real tiger, so what?

Our senses definitely didn't evolve to help us determine whether or not psychics are real or scammers.

Scammers are experts in how our senses can fool us. If you want to beat a (possible) scammer at his own game, it behooves you to become an expert in the same area. Scammers WANT people like you to come to see them. They want you more than they want dumb people. They want people who are smart and who like to check things out for themselves.

Note that most of us BELIEVE in the accuracy of our own sense. That's understandable. While your senses can (and do) lie to you, it's very hard to live your live accepting that. If you really take that to heart, you wind up standing on very shaky ground. Nothing might be what you think it is. You can no longer trust your own eyes.

(Imagine a cave man, standing there thinking, "Hm. I think I see a tiger, but of course my senses might be fooling me." That caveman would be right, but he also wouldn't live long. If you were designing humans, you would design them to believe in their senses, regardless of whether their senses were accurate or not.)

The truth is, you CAN'T trust your own eyes. You can trust them in certain circumstances, but in others, they are prone to failure. It's hard to even live with that reality in your head: that you SOMETIMES can't trust your own eyes.

Those sometimes are specifically the times that scammers make use of. That is their expertise.

I've met SO many people who believe their senses are infallible or mostly infallible. Many of these people are skeptics. In fact, skeptics are the worst. They understand that senses can lie, but they think their skepticism gives them special dispensation. "Sure, OTHER people can't see the truth, but I can." No. NO ONE can see the truth. We all have massive blind spots.

This is one of the things science addresses. It addresses it in two ways: one, it addresses it by using external tools -- tools that aren't our senses -- to measure phenomena. Two, it uses consensus, e.g. repeatable tests done by many people. (Something is not considered true in the sciences if just one scientist thinks it's true.)

For you to go up against a possible scammer with just your skepticism and your general smarts (and your eyes wide open) is NOT a fair fight. The scammer will beat you.

Have you heard about Project Alpha? Some scientists were going to test psychics to see if they had actual special abilities. James Randi contacted them and said essentially what I just did. He said, "Please don't trust your intelligence. Fake psychics are experts at fooling people -- even really, really smart people. Please have a professional magician on hand to help you evaluate the psychics."

The scientists ignore him (had they listened to him, they would have had to admitted that their senses could be fooled), and so Randi got a couple of fake psychics to enter the study, and the psychics totally fooled the scientists. Do you think you can do better than them?

I have my own views about whether or not true psychics exist, but I'm not going to share them here. They're irrelevant. My point is that whether they exist or not, you are in no position to figure this out on your own. Not unless you know for sure that you've NEVER been fooled by a magic trick.

Your intelligence and gut will serve you well all your life, but they have their limitations.

By the way, if I was a fake psychic, I would be thrilled to take your $600. Maybe I'd take it and tell you that you have a paper clip in your pocket. If you said, "Ha! Caught you! I don't have a paper clip in my pocket," I'd say, "Damn!" and then whistle as I strolled to the bank with your money. If it so happened that you did have a paper clip in your pocket, so much the better. Either way, I win.

At the very least, I urge you to do this: decide how much you're willing to spend on a psychic. Let's say it's $600. Offer them half before the reading, and the other half if the reading is convincing. If they refuse, that suggests they aren't too secure about their skills. If they accept but only earn $300, that suggests something else. If they ear all $600, maybe they're really psychic -- or they fooled your senses.

One more thing: I once dated a girl who was totally convinced by a psychic because he told her all sorts of things about herself that "no one knew." I asked her about those things, and, as it turns out, they were all things that people close to her knew or could figure out with some detective work. When I brought this up, she said, "Oh come ON! Why would the guy go to all that trouble?" That told me that if I wanted to make money as a fake psychic, it would pay to do a lot of "troublesome" detective work. People would believe I had psychic abilities before they learned that I would bother doing research.

Along these lines, I was recently trying to find some info on an old friend I lost touch with over 20 years ago. She doesn't use the Internet, and she got married and changed her name (and I didn't know this). Still, within a few hours, using various databases, I learned her new name, where she lives, the names of her kids and husband, what she does for a living, where she lived earlier, the fact that her father recently died, etc.

I was able to look up one of her old locations on google maps and see the little red house that was across the street from where she used to live.

Should I call her and say that I've developed psychic powers? I could say, "I'm getting a picture of a little red house with blue shutters...."
posted by grumblebee at 10:43 AM on August 4, 2009 [12 favorites]

The phrase "open-minded" which I see bandied about here is an interesting one. I'm going to go into a digression, but I hope that you'll bear with me.

Physicists are often seen as less rigorous by mathematicians. One particular case in which this is the case is in the so-called delta function. Physicists used it long before there was a mathematically rigorous justification for it, much to the chagrin of mathematicians everywhere. But eventually the mathematicians caught up, and it's a well-used and well accepted tool for everyone. So why is it that this worked? It would seem that physicists are what one could call inferentially permissive--that is, they allow themselves certain types of inference that mathematicians dot; in comparison, one should call mathematicians inferentially restrictive. This seems the intuitively obvious way to look at this.

However, a closer examination yields that the exact opposite is true; that those that might be naïvely called permissive are in fact those that are restrictive. Why? Well, If a physicist used all tools of inference he could, he would run into the paradoxes that mathematicians concern themselves with. So in fact despite appearances, physicists in fact work in an inferentially restrictive domain.

Why do I bring this up?

Well, the term "open minded" is a bit of a funny one; often those who shout it from the rooftops should perhaps consider the mote in their own eye. Most of those that I know that firmly believe in many beliefs like Astrology, Reiki, ESP, and many other beliefs that I find questionable refused to consider the fact that they could be wrong about these ideas. They are incredibly closed-minded to the idea that these disciplines could be wrong; they refused to examine a great amount of evidence that lies against them, instead trading often on anecdote and flawed reasoning.

Look at the thread above; there are many fascinating anecdotes above about posters and their friends who've had interesting experiences with psychics and the like.

But the plural of anecdote is not data.

There are reasons that people question these ideas. And, to be fair, closed-mindedness can go both ways. There are many wonderful and mysterious things out there, and we don't know all the workings of the universe.

But this doesn't mean we should throw the baby of rationalism out with the water of skepticism.
posted by vernondalhart at 10:46 AM on August 4, 2009 [4 favorites]

Yes, verify how, exactly?

I know this guy, who's pretty famous in certain circles. He does sleight-of-hand stuff, mostly with coins, some with cards. I've seen him do these things at the dinner table, with him working no more than a couple of feet from me. I know about the distraction techniques that magicians and sleight-of-hand artists use. I've seen him do some of these tricks several times.

And yet...I've never figured out how his does this. The card stuff. The coin stuff. I know that you can't make a coin teleport from your pocket to my pocket, and yet I've seen it done with my own eyes.

What I'm saying is: just because you see it done doesn't mean jack.
posted by rtha at 11:36 AM on August 4, 2009

I'm a bit surprised by the tenor of the responses here-- not in their underlying message, but their harshness.

In any case, all the advice you've gotten to

a) actually read a book on cold reading;
b) if, you just want kicks, go to someone local and cheaper

is good advice.



On another note, remember that an experienced reader can detect quite a lot of information about your emotional responses by phone-- your pauses and changes in inflection can serve as proxies for "yes" and "no".

Finally, you might want to go a psychic fair, and get several readings from different people on the same day; notice how the kind of responses you get change when you a) first be your usual, probably rather responsive self and then b) go out of your way to defocus your gaze, keep a stone-faced expression, hold your body still, and say nothing and offer no non-verbal responses during the course of the reading.

If you're curious about the difference between small-time psychics and big-name psychics, check out Jon Ronson's long account of hanging out with Sylvia Browne:


Now, does any of this mean that the specific person you have in mind is either a conscious charlatan or given to a particularly convenient and profitable form of self-delusion?

Absolutely not.

But do the odds run in a certain direction?

Why yes, they do.
posted by darth_tedious at 11:48 AM on August 4, 2009

Since vernondalhart has raised the issue of open-mindedness (others may have alluded to it), it's worth watching this essential YouTube on that subject.

One of the most entertaining experiences I've had at a party was a guy who did cold readings. I didn't know anyone there except the person I went with, and apparently he didn't know most of the people either, but he sat down on a couch with half-a-dozen women (who did know each other), held their hands and looked into their eyes, and "read" them to the point where the entire group was giggling and gasping. They probably offered up a lot of information along the way themselves. The one response I remember was along the lines of "That's not her current boyfriend, but that's her ex-boyfriend to a tee."

Afterward I chanced to discuss it with him and he said he did not want to discuss his techniques at the party. I asked him about doing it professionally for a social group I was part of, and he flat-out refused. He said it was pure entertainment and he simply would not do it for money.

I think that's the only ethical way to handle this. It's a party trick. It can be fun, and I suppose if you want to waste your own money on a party trick, go for it. People spend much more on the slots when they hit Vegas. But at least they can say they enjoyed the bells and whistles.
posted by dhartung at 12:13 PM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

I did it once about 10 years ago at he urgings of my wife and her sister. I cannot remember the woman's name, though was supposed to be a psychic of note. I think she was out of Texas, and specialized in phone readings. I also remember it being crazy expensive, though I don't remember if it was $150 crazy expensive or $300 crazy expensive.

Now I am very skeptical, but I like to think that I am at least broad enough in my skepticism to include skepticism of absolute statements like "there is no such thing as psychic." However, I thought the reading itself was very bland and generic, I gave me nothing that even hit close to home. I may have been doing it wrong -- I did have a lot of issues at the time but decided not to tell her about them, hoping she would come up with them on her own. But nothing, not even anything I would have thought was clever in a scammy sort of way. I felt completely robbed.
posted by rtimmel at 12:18 PM on August 4, 2009

Yes, verify how, exactly?

I've just had my computer spit out a random key. It's on the screen in front of me right now as I speak to you on the phone. As you're psychic it's surely unecessary to tell you how many digits long the key is. Let's have that key before we go any further.
posted by juv3nal at 1:16 PM on August 4, 2009

to avoid mad hacking skills, disable internet connection on said computer. If your psychic has access to some mythical global-range super TEMPEST rig, well then you really shouldn't be messing with the NSA
posted by juv3nal at 1:20 PM on August 4, 2009

I disagree with the people here who are saying the the OP is especially close-minded. (He/she does seem a bit close-minded about his mother's "gifts," but he/she seems open-minded about psychic phenomenon.) And I disagree with people who say that scientists and skeptics are open-minded.

I'm a skeptic, and I'm close-minded about many things.

We're all close-minded to some extent. How can we not be? We can argue about whether or not one should be close-minded about psychic abilities, but surely everyone here is close-minded to the possibility of Bugs Bunny or Darth Vader actually existing. None of us believes in the tooth fairy. Some things are so outlandish that, even if we give lip service to the idea that "anything is possible," in reality we are completely close-minded about them. If you can't find your wallet, how open-minded are you to the possibility that it was stolen by a purple dragon named Billy?

So since we're all open-minded about some things and close-minded about others, the question is, what things SHOULD we be close-minded about? Life is short, so what things are not worth keeping an open mind about? The tooth fairy and Billy the dragon are obvious contenders, but what about secret world government, acupuncture and psychic abilities? Should one be open-minded or close-minded about these things -- or some sort of minded between open and closed?

This is a complex question. Many of us -- who have spent years reading skeptics literature -- have (rightly, I think) made our minds up about psychic phenomena, but we should try to think back to before we first subscribed to "The Skeptical Inquirer" or whatever. One can be a smart person and believe in something like psychic abilities -- or at least be open to the possibility.

Also, to make a decision about whether to be open or closed-minded about a particular subject, it's often imperative that you shave with Occam's Razor. Those of us who do know how valuable that tool is. I can't imagine living without it! But, alas, it's not common knowledge and it's not taught in schools (at least it wasn't in my school). And knowing about it isn't enough. To really reap the benefit of the Razor, you need to use it for years and have it in your gut.

(I'd bet almost anything the OP is not a disciple of Occam. If he/she was, he/she wouldn't be contemplating spending $600 on a psychic. Occam is much cheaper! All you skeptics are, I think, wasting your time trying to explain why psychics are not real. If someone hasn't internalized tools like Occam's Razer, they are not equipped to buy your explanations.)

Occam's Razor is why I'm close-minded about psychics. IF what they're doing is real, then it's extraordinary. And as skeptics always say, "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." Why? Because how else can we live?

I ask you why you have a black eye, you say, "Someone punched me," and I'm open-minded about that possibility, because it's a non-extraordinary explanation for a black eye. You say, "a UFO landed, a hatch opened, an alien came out and held a strange device against my face," and I'll say "prove it!" If I accepted every extraordinary claim without strong evidence, I'd have bought the Brooklyn Bridge five times over by now.

It's extraordinary to claim that psychic abilities exist for several reasons: they've repeatedly failed to show up in controlled circumstances, there's no accountable area in the brain that we know of that could produce them, etc.

On top of that, there are simpler explanations for everything psychics can do:

Explanation A: the "psychic" has supernatural powers.

Explanation B: the "psychic" is using tried and true scam techniques, such as cold-readings, research and flat-out guessing.

There are hundreds of books that explain how Explanation B works. There are no books that explain how explanation A works.

Does that mean that A is definitely wrong and B is definitely right? No. But A is so likely to be wrong that I'm comfortable being close-minded about it, which is just another way of saying I'm not going to waste my time thinking about it. Because life is short.

If you are open-minded about psychics, my question is "Why psychics in particular?" There are all sorts of fanciful things that MIGHT be true. Why are you specifically open-minded about that one? It's an interesting question to ask yourself.

I've had this discussion with a few people, and here's what I generally hear:

1) "I've had psychic experiences myself."
- I don't have time to discuss this here, but if you're interested in possible explanations for these experiences that don't involve the supernatural, they are out there. Pick up any Skeptic text on psychics. I've had these eerie experiences, too. However, from copious reading, I'm convinced they are not supernatural. I'm convinced they are coincidences, and that the human mind is just bad at estimating how likely coincidences are. They are VERY likely. We tend to think they aren't, so when they happen, we interpret them as magical.

2) "Many serious scientists believe in it!"
- This is just false, but you're forgiven for thinking it, because the media makes it seem like all sorts of scientists believe in supernatural stuff. There are a FEW who do, but they are crackpots. By and large, the scientific community does not accept psychics as real.

Also, always remember that Science is a huge endeavor with many sub-fields. You shouldn't care what ALL scientists believe when it comes to psychic phenomena. You should care about what psychologists, neurologists and (maybe) physicists and biologists think. An astronomer or geologist weighing in on psychics is not giving us a valuable opinion. So when the media says "a scientist," take a closer look. What is his field? What organization is he affiliated with? Does he publish is peer-reviewed journals, such as "Nature"?

3) "I don't know why I'm open-minded about it. I just am."
When I first got into the skeptics movement, I held onto my believe in the Loch Ness Monster. I used to say, "I don't believe in UFOs, bigfoot or spoon bending, but I do believe in the Loch Ness Monster. I don't know why. It just seems like it might be true."

I still don't know why I held onto that belief. I guess I wanted some magic in my life, and it seemed hard to DISPROVE something that might live deep in a murky lake.

I no longer believe in Nessy, but I think all would-be skeptics should take my plight seriously. Do you want to give up on magic? It's fine if you don't. But if you don't, it's a little silly to embark on a fact-finding mission. "Magic" is best left unexplored. If peek behind the curtain, you're likely to be disappointed. Unless, like me, you're fascinated by what goes on behind curtains.
posted by grumblebee at 1:29 PM on August 4, 2009 [2 favorites]

I've just had my computer spit out a random key. It's on the screen in front of me right now as I speak to you on the phone. As you're psychic it's surely unecessary to tell you how many digits long the key is. Let's have that key before we go any further.

Cool. I can get juv3nal to believe I'm psychic by sneaking a video camera into his house and pointing it at his computer screen!
posted by grumblebee at 1:31 PM on August 4, 2009

Two relatives insisted that a psychic they'd seen twice each was amazingly accurate and probably the real deal. The "psychic" told me that I was not financially comfortable (true, but I'd driven up in my sister's rustbucket of a car), I'm a romantic soul (I was wearing a summery flowing dress), and talked smoothly about my past lives (schmaltzy story about my past self finding passionate love lasting across lifetimes, etc). It became painfully clear when she started talking about my present and future that she was making bunch of guesses from observation because she started making feeler statements ("I'm getting a sense that . . .") and when I didn't react she'd drop it and go in another direction, but if I nodded the tiniest bit, she instantly said emphatically, "Yes! Yes, that's what I see" and ran with it. It was mildly entertaining but otherwise a waste of money.

If you're interested in whether there is or could one day be real telepathy, given the current framework of known science, you might like a couple of the chapters in Michio Kaku's Physics of the Impossible.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 1:58 PM on August 4, 2009

dhartung: That youtube video is exactly what I was thinking of. Note that a lot of the things that he cautions people about are present in this thread. In particular, presenting scenarios that you can't explain, but that anyone else has absolutely no basis for evaluating the extraordinary claims presented.
posted by vernondalhart at 2:03 PM on August 4, 2009

Cool. I can get juv3nal to believe I'm psychic by sneaking a video camera into his house and pointing it at his computer screen!

If you can get a fix on my address and get a camera in place between the time the call starts and I ask you for the key, you probably are psychic.
posted by juv3nal at 2:06 PM on August 4, 2009

This is how I view it. There are artistic geniuses that are born artistic from birth. No one can explain it. There are musical prodigies that are born musical from birth. No one can explain it. And there are people with varying degrees of talent. So I believe that there might be people who are psychic and there might be people who are amazingly psychic. There are definitely things and people in life that we cannot explain. So I'm willing to have an open mind that some people truly are psychic and it's just something we can't explain. And I'm even willing to believe that there are some psychic people who have good advice to give.

On the other hand, there are tons of people who are con artists. Tons of them. So, I personally would not spend $600 of my hard earned money unless someone whose judgment I TRULY trusted told me that they believed that the Psychic REALLY is legitimate. I wouldn't spend the money until I got a personal recommendation from someone I knew and trusted.
posted by gt2 at 10:09 PM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

2. If I take a reading, I wont be giving her any clues (If she asks me, does your mom's name begin with T? I'd probably say 'may be' or 'you are a psychic, aren't you supposed to find out'?) If she can get info about me correctly, without me giving any clues, then that is something to note. Also, if she is going to be vague, I'll press her for specific details.

That's the thing, though - most subjects don't realize they're giving away clues. Said subjects also have a habit of misremembering the reading. For example, I used to TiVo Lisa Williiams' "Talking to the Dead" show on Lifetime. One couple that appeared on an episode happened to post on a skeptic board about how real Lisa was, how right on, and how she didn't cold read at all, she didn't ask questions she told them things, they didn't give clues. However, I re-watched that specific episode and found out they were wrong. Lisa constantly asked questions like "Is your father still us?" (They replied no, he had passed.) "OK, because I see him standing here beside you..." The couple looked to be Asian (they were from Macau) in appearance, which is probably why Lisa said at one point in the reading "He seems to be speaking Chinese. Did he every call you 'Baby'?" The woman excitedly replied that he called her "bebe," which is "baby" in Portuguese. "Right, he is speaking in Portuguese to me." (A minute ago it was Chinese - and not Mandarin or Cantonese. Obviously she was cold reading.) Anyway, my point is that that couple swore up and down that Lisa did NOT ask them questions and that they did NOT give clues, but in reality they did.

I agree with the others - if you're that interested in getting a psychic reading, start out locally with one of the $20 readers. Six hundred dollars is a lot of money that could be probably be better spent elsewhere.
posted by Oriole Adams at 10:29 PM on August 4, 2009

One other point - if any of these folks had actual psychic powers, why are they charging enormous sums of money in order to make a living? Why don't they just continually pick the winning lottery numbers and live off of those millions?
posted by Oriole Adams at 10:35 PM on August 4, 2009

Whatever you do (it's your money, do what you want) please don't call it an "experiment". I am pretty confident you will not be running any sort of experiment with a hypothesis and a controlled environment.

Call it what it is: You're just going to give it a go and blog about it.
posted by like_neon at 5:15 AM on August 5, 2009

I think there's quite a difference between learning what a psychic reading is like, and "deciding one way or the other" about psychics. I had a reading years ago that changed my life and my world view, and still resonates today, but the dozen or so other readings with other folks I've had over the years, and even the few repeat visits I had with the same person who blew my mind, were less than memorable. Together, the duds gave me a pretty good grasp of what a generic reading will tend to "be like," but the mind-blower delivered the goods on deciding what's possible.

To learn what a reading is like, go have some; everybody's advice to do so on the cheap with locals sounds reasonable, but I'd guess you're unlikely to be impressed; doesn't sound like any of the advisors here were (setting aside those who already know all there is to know about the world and what's possible because they're Scientists).

I wish I could recommend checking out the person who so impressed me; back in the day (30 years ago) I would have without hesitation. After my reading, a loose community of folks who'd also had readings from this person formed in the little town I was living, so I got to hear recordings of many readings from others who were usually as stunned as I'd been.

These were as impressive for their impact as they were different for each readee; there was no cosmic boilerplate being delivered, and cold-reading didn't really seem possible. The reader (a "trance channel," so not your garden-variety psychic) sat with eyes closed responding to questions from strangers he'd usually had the briefest of glimpses of and did no pre-interviewing of. In my case, the reading started 2 minutes after I arrived, a total stranger, without any info being given or requested, either then or when the appointment was made, and my questions were purposely detail-free, like: "How can I deal with the issues coming up with my wife?" to which I received a 5-minute recap of a "previous life" together that so richly and particularly mirrored both the feelings and the circumstances of our current dilemma and even the entire flavor of our connection from the beginnings of our knowing each other in this life, that I was dumb-founded, and get goose-bumps thinking about it to this day. I didn't conclude from this that we'd actually had such a life, or even that reincarnation was a true thing. But at the very least, it demonstrated conclusively to me the capacity of one mind to "see" deeply into another, which was world-view altering enough.

Disappointingly, a recent "for old times sake" reading I had with this person over the phone was preceded by a 20-minute interview about what we'd both been up to, ostensibly just "catching up," but the reading was filled with advice and comments that seemed obviously to have been built around my update. I concluded that apparently my psychic had lost something over 30 years of doing readings for a living (it hadn't yet become a career for this person when we first met).

Anyway, if you want to have your mind blown, I think you're right to guess that you get what you pay for, and do need to do some rummaging around for currently mind-blowing readers with national and growing reputations, not just take your chances with your local psychic-fair performers (not to disparage them, but you would be resorting to chance). Sorry, don't know where to point you for that…

If you want to do some reading about whether psychics could really be doing something "psychic," I suggest reading some Dean Radin, Russell Targ, Gary Schwartz, and Lynn McTaggart, a journalist who tracks paranormal research. The first three are no doubt amongst the wacko fringe previous posters were referring to, but they are all credentialed, working (lower-case) scientists nonetheless, and have many interesting points to make and research to describe. (Actually, the Schwartz book might be a good place to look for "vetted" psychics.)

Have a good trip.
posted by dpcoffin at 11:18 AM on August 5, 2009

I concluded that apparently my psychic had lost something over 30 years of doing readings for a living (it hadn't yet become a career for this person when we first met).

Quite possibly the time and/or inclination to do research on people who have made appointments ahead of time, which plenty of psychics and mediums do, according to The Psychic Mafia, a book by a (supposedly) reformed crooked medium.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 12:21 PM on August 5, 2009

All it takes is one black swan; but everybody's a liar until you've seen one yourself.

(All those with Confirmation Bias!! retorts, please line up on the right, under that sign that says: Doesn't Apply to Us; We Took the Class)
posted by dpcoffin at 1:00 PM on August 5, 2009

I used to be a phone psychic. I made a pretty decent salary working from home at night while going to school.

MeMail me if you want any of the details, but in a nutshell, it was a combination of vauge statements that could apply to anyone ("I see you are on the brink of making an important decision and experiencing uncertainty") and feeding off clues they gave.

As an experienced psychic, I will do your phone reading for the bargain price of $450. I should warn you in advance that I do see that you are on the brink of making an important decision.
posted by Sheppagus at 1:18 PM on August 5, 2009

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