Michael Shermer on Psychics and Other Con Artists - Joe Rogan


5 years ago



Michael Shermer

7 appearances

Dr. Michael Shermer is the founding publisher of Skeptic magazine, host of the podcast "The Michael Shermer Show," and a Presidential Fellow at Chapman University. He is the author of several books, the most recent of which is "Conspiracy: Why the Rational Believe the Irrational." https://michaelshermer.com/


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I was going through Instagram the other day and there was this one person who was talking about the purpose of life and when you die, what's going to happen. And I immediately just started laughing. I'm like, you don't know. Right. How are you saying this? Like when you die, what happens? And he was like one of them spiritual type characters is just kind of a huckster. There's a lot of spiritual hucksters out there these days. There are, yes. In the 90s, we debunked all those psychics talking to the dead. That hasn't been too popular in recent years, but that was a big thing. People caught on to that little earpiece thing. Yeah, the earpiece or just the cold reading. I see a father figure as this of grandfather, father, uncle, friend of the family. And he's saying something about it's okay for you to forgive yourself. Oh, okay. How about like, well, where was the will? He hid his will somewhere. Where is that? We want to know that ring he had. Where is that? If you're just vague enough, I mean, like a horoscopes. If you're just vague enough, people are like, oh my God, it's right all the time. It's always right. Like that's not even a real horoscope. If you really want to pay attention to actual astrology that you, they have to know the date you were born, the time you were born. It's not just the month of August. Right. You know, it's like, they got to know morning or evening, you know, what do you think about all that stuff? It's all bunk. Is it? Yeah. Yeah. Why has it been around so long? Well, because the, well, it's called the Barnum effect where, you know, PT Barnum, you just offer something for everybody. So if you make it general enough, you know, I, I sense you're an intelligent, wise person that people really enjoy your company and, and you like going to parties and being with other people. And yet you like the quiet solitude of a walk on the beach and people going, yep, that is so me. Well, I've pretty much described every scenario you can have. You're alone. You're with people. It's one of those things where if you talk to someone who is an actual believer in astrology, like they, they are so convinced. I got a friend of mine who was trying to tell me that he makes all of his decisions based on consulting with his astrologer. Well, Reagan, well, Nancy Reagan did that for his travel after he was shot. She got real paranoid about that. Well, so part of the problem is the astrologers and psychics are themselves remembering their hits and forgetting their misses, the confirmation bias. So I knew a psychic or a magician who was working the psychic friends network. Back in the nineties when it's hard to make a living as a magician doing kids parties, they all want to have their own Vegas show, but only a few people get that. So you got to do something on the side. So this guy was doing psychic friends network and he told me all about it. They gave him a book, a three ring binder, you know, here's the kinds of things you should say. And, you know, people are calling for love, health, money, career questions. So you can spend 20, 30 minutes at three 95 a minute just going through there. You know, I sent you in a relationship right now and one of you is more committed than the other. Tell me about that. 10 minutes later, you know, they're still talking and you're thinking about travel. You're not happy with your job. There's some financial stress in your life right now. And then he told me about stuff like now go get a crystal and then a candle. I want you to set it up here on your desk and this would go on and on for hours and they charge by the hour and they charge by the hour. So one of the problems that psychic friend networks had was people were not paying their phone bills because they, you know, come back on $800 phone. They would just not pay it. So the phone companies cracked down on the psychic friends network company going, Hey, this is getting out of hand. People aren't paying their bills. So they had to ratchet it back a little bit. That's right. They would do it through the phone. That's interesting. Yeah. They wouldn't get a credit card from you. They would just stay on the line with you. Right. So he told me that when he first started, he got like 60 cents on the minute for the three 95 that per minute, but then they bumped it up as he got more experience and kept them on the line longer. They gave him bonuses. Now you get a dollar per minute or whatever. How is that not illegal? I mean, he's not even a psychic. Shouldn't you have to like, if you want to be a doctor, you have to go and you got to, you know, go to medical school. You got to get a degree. It shouldn't do interesting history there because in New York city, for example, it was difficult to outlaw like the three card Monty guys on the sidewalk with the cardboard because it's just kind of a game. Right. Now it would be illegal to sell fraudulent stocks or something like that or sell a product that's advertised as a health product when it's not. But if say in that case, it's under food rather than drugs or say no health products, like a vitamins are under different standards than say medical drugs. A psychic is more like an entertainer. So this is for entertainment purposes only so we can do whatever we want as opposed to a medical doctor that's dispensing advice. So I've worked that on maybe doctors about example, maybe I should have said engineer, but the point is like, if you're going to work as a psychic, like on a psychic network, you have a business of selling psychics. Yeah. Like you should be able to, you have to exhibit some sort of psychic something. Yeah. Well, they can't, you know, under controlled conditions, they always fail. There's nothing that's ever been done. No, no, no. One thing that I've read that statistically more people can recognize that people are staring at them. Yeah. Like when they're looking at you from behind, is that horseshit? Well it's not been, it's not been consistently replicated. So is it possible that some people with a certain sensitivity can detect? Well, we, okay. So one explanation, the skeptics explanation is that if I'm in a, say a Starbucks or something and I kind of have a sense that people are talking about me, maybe looking at me and, when I look and that catches somebody's eye and they turn to me and I think, oh, that person's looking at me or vice versa, I'm looking at them and then they sense something or whatever. So there could be some element of chance to that. Now, the guy that does this, Rupert Sheldrake, you know, he believes that it's actually some kind of like psychic power through the medium. Like when I'm looking at you, something's coming out of my eyes and tickling your neck, so to speak. That's his morphic resonance. Morphic resonance. Yeah. So if a woman, a British experimental psychologist, he's tried to replicate that and he always fails. And then this other woman, Marilyn Schlitz, she also tried to replicate it and she was able to replicate some of it. So there may be an experiment or bias. It's not clear if it's the skeptics that are biased or the believers that are biased, but in that case, it's best to just say, you know, we don't know it. So the default position, the null hypothesis is that it's not true until you prove otherwise. And that's a difficult one to prove. If I say, well, why is the effect so subtle? Why can't you go to Vegas and become a millionaire gambling or play the stock market? We know traders just need a tiny, you know, 0.01% advantage over the other traders or whatever they can make money. You mean in terms of just psychic ability? Yeah. So if the psychic ability is a very broad term, right? It's almost like saying drugs because like there are certain drugs that put you to sleep and certain drugs that make you hyper, they have very different effects. So saying psychic ability, like maybe you have the ability to see if someone's looking at you, but you don't have the ability to pick the lottery. Right. So the hard part in testing psychics is to pin down what exactly are you saying you could do? Right. And that's where it gets pretty fuzzy. So these like, why is it legal for the phone psychics? Because you can't pin them down. If somebody says, look, I'm just giving relationship advice. Why is that illegal? If I say like the Tony Robbins Netflix documentary, I'm not your guru, which is basically I am your guru. He has that moment in this huge auditorium. There's like 3000 people there and he gets this woman up on stage and she's got relationship problems. He says, do you have your phone? She goes, yeah, take out your phone and call him right now. And she talks her through dumping this guy on stage on the phone and he's at work or something. He's like, what? And then she hangs up and everybody's happy that she did this. Now, is that a good thing or a bad thing? I have no idea. That's great for show business, but what if, you know, so I mean, that seems crazy. Like how do you know what kind of relationship they really have? Now, somebody that talked to both of them, right? Wouldn't you somebody that I brought this up at an event recently, a party and somebody said, Oh, I know the backstory. His staff had been working the audience and they, they knew all about her and the relationship and it was about to go sour anyway. So we brought her up. It's like, okay. So this is the thing with, you see the psychics on TV. There's a lot of stuff you don't see. They work the audience. They know people fill out like the psych, the faith healers. They fill out prayer cards. Yeah. They put their name and address and their ailment. And then, you know, the faith healers have a little earbud in there and they're listening to the person in the back reading. Okay. Here's the person they have, you know, clacoma or whatever. And you hear them calling this out. So there's a lot of that that we don't see.