Professional magician and longtime skeptic James Randi has issued out a call to scientists. Magicians like him are ready and waiting to use their skills and knowledge to aid in the exposure of flim-flam.
In the ongoing quest to debunk bunk, scientists use the scientific method for exposing people who call themselves psychics, mediums and mentalists. The problem with this method however, is that it was developed to understand nature, or reality. Con-artists cheat, nature doesn’t. So the scientific method fails to deliver, mainly because those who use it don’t expect to be fooled.
Here’s where the magician comes in. First of all, let me explain the difference between a magician, or conjurer, and a psychic. They both produce the same results, but the magician doesn’t claim any supernatural powers. A clear example of this is James Randi’s feud with self-proclaimed psychic Uri Geller. While Geller pretends his tricks have a supernatural origin, James Randi has been able to perform all of them by using no help other than practise and preparation. Of course this does not exclude the possibility of supernatural powers, but it does make them questionable at the least.
So, how do magicians help scientists to unravel the mumbo-jumbo of con-artists? They know how people are being fooled. If a scientist is given a spoon for inspection, he will hand it back satisfied that it’s a normal spoon. But a magician will know the “magic” will happen once the spoon is in the hands of the performer. Before their very eyes, the spoon is coaxed to give way after some gentle rubbing, something I have not been able to do with my girlfriend yet. Or how about mind reading and “speaking with the dead”? Derren Brown is able to do all this without magical powers, or so he claims. Maybe the actual trick is making us believe he’s a mere mortal!
It is in these and other tricks that magicians contribute significantly to the much-needed skepticism that will keep us save from Harry Potter. So if you are a scientist or magician, vex someone into a partnership with you to reveal the sense beneath the nonsense of the paranormal world. And while exposing frauds does not mean that there is nothing supernatural at all, it still pays off to think twice. It’s fun to dream, but you have to wake up eventually.
By the way, if you want to see James Randi in action, watch this video.
And for Derren Brown, see this.