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reader comments: psychometry

16 Jan 2011
Note: the following comments are from Russ, who is mentioned in the article on psychometry.)

Well, I shouldn't be surprised at your response, maybe it gives you comfort to cling to your paradigm. You have just thrown out the usual sceptic type questions and dismissive type rhetoric in your review of my experience.

reply: Well, this is a skeptical website. I don't think it will surprise anyone that my comments call into question your interpretation of an experience you believe was paranormal. I won't speculate as to why you cling to your paradigm, but I will tell you that I will stick with mine until I am presented with evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that psychic forces exist. It is my job as a skeptic and critical thinker to ask questions. What you call dismissive, I call looking at alternative explanations.

There is nothing wrong with my memory and in fact the events in the University classroom were written down by fellow students and a copy was given to me, so what I have said below is exactly what was said by the psychic in 1982 at Simon Fraser University.

reply: I wasn't implying that there is something wrong with your memory. If you know how memory works, you know it is not infallible, that it fills in the blanks with later experiences, some of which may be confabulations. In any case, I don't think your memory of the events is the main issue here and I grant you perfect recall for the sake of argument.

I deliberately performed this test on the psychic:

1. I asked the psychic to tell me (on the day I met her for the first time) what happened to my keys a few weeks before that meeting.

2. The psychic (Maureen McGuire) then told me and the class, including Professor Robert Harper: "I see a large boat filling up with something and it smells musty".

My reply to her after she said that was that that was it, she was bang on! A friend (Don Moore) and I were on my 21 ft. sailboat on a local river when ice cut a hole through the hull, we had to jump into the icy waters and swim to the dock where some people helped us out after we had screamed for help, as we left the boat I saw the cabin was filling up with ice and water. The odd thing was that the boat did smell musty inside as there was mildew on the cushions. The odds of the psychic guessing that are astronomical in my opinion. There were no clues that she picked up from me, she had never met me before and certainly did not know anyone else I had told about the accident, and not one person at the University including Professor Harper knew about my boating accident or that I even owned a sailboat, before my encounter with the psychic.

reply: If Maureen McGuire was a competent professional psychic working in your area, she would have done her homework before her demonstration in the classroom. The typical homework of a competent psychic would include reading newspapers, eavesdropping, knowing facts about the area in which she is performing, chatting up folks, etc. (All this is discussed in the entries on cold reading, warm reading, and hot reading.) You assure us that nobody could have informed her of your boating accident, and that there was no way she could have known about it. I'm not so sure, but let's assume you're right. The psychic says she sees a large boat filling up with "something" and it smells musty. You tell her that what she sees is your 21 ft. sailboat sinking and filling with ice and water. You tell her the cushions were musty smelling. (For a better understanding of what you've just done, see the entry on subjective validation.) She could have brought up any of a hundred different items; it was then up to you and your classmates to make sense out of them and give them a detailed rendition.

It's possible that she already knew about your boating accident, but she may have just been using her knowledge of the local area where there are boats or there may have been something in the news about a "large boat" and she just flashed on it. By the way, I'm not so sure a 21 ft. sailboat should be called a "large boat." 'Large' is a relative term. I guess it's large to you, at least for the purposes of validating your psychic encounter.

'Musty' was a nice touch, but not too much of a stretch for a boat. She could have thrown out 'red' and you probably would have found something to connect the word to.

She also had no way of knowing I knew a young man (Gary) that had a collection of guns—even I did not know that he had guns. Sensing that he was in danger from those guns was right on.

(reply: In the entry for psychometry, I quote an e-mail from Russ where he says that the psychic told him in the classroom that someone was surrounded by guns and his life was in danger. Six months later a friend of Russ's shot himself. Apparently, Russ contacted Maureen McGuire after the shooting, which he interpreted as the fulfillment of her "vision." She then told him that "she was in contact with him in the afterlife and that he did not mean to do it; he was drinking and it was an accident." Russ doesn't say so, but I doubt the psychic said "you have a friend named Gary who you scuba dive with who will shoot himself in six months." Again, we have a statement that isn't specifically about the person who shoots himself, that could be fulfilled by hundreds of scenarios in the indefinite future, that is validated by the believer.)

Dr. Harper and the 30-odd other students were all witnesses to what happened in that classroom.

There were also several other students in the classroom that were brought to tears by the accuracy of the psychic's readings, most of which were done randomly, i.e. the psychic picked up metal objects off a table not knowing who they belonged to.

reply: I don't doubt that some were brought to tears. I've seen people weep when a pet psychic claimed to be in contact with their dead spaniel. Houdini used to do readings as a part of a stage act until he came to consider it immoral because of the depth of the emotional nerves he would hit. A few years ago I wrote a review of a 20/20 program where Ian Rowland pretended to get messages from the dead. During the readings, at least one lady burst into tears. Even after the participants were told that Rowland was using cold reading techniques, the emotions didn't abate.

I don't accept that the emotional outbursts are due to the accuracy of the psychic's readings. I think they are due to the validation that the subjects give to words or images evoked by the psychic and the memories awakened thereby.

When she picked up my keys I was one of the last students waiting and I decided to identify myself so that I could test her as detailed above. My keys were just ordinary looking keys, house keys, car keys, padlock keys on a ring; there was no way to tell they were for a boat, the only one that was for the boat was just a standard padlock key which could have been for anything from a locker to a gate. There was no way to tell looking at me that I owned a sailboat, I was just wearing regular street clothing.

It does not matter to me if you don't believe what I say; I know it is as real as the ground we stand on.

reply: I do believe what you say. I don't accept your interpretation of the events. You could be right, but the probabilities favor a naturalistic explanation.

In my view, eventually science will come to understand the energies involved in ESP, perhaps modeling the human brain using quantum computers will prove fruitful.

I believe that a gifted psychic like Maureen McGuire (who also had worked with police to help solve crimes) has a different brain structure than most of us.

reply: And what, pray tell, is this belief in the psychic's "different brain structure" based on? What does the claim even mean? And, if it's true, how would it explain anything better than cold reading, subjective validation, confirmation bias, and the like?

Maureen told us that she had the ability since she was a young girl; she would be walking down the sidewalk and would know what people were thinking as she walked by them. Maureen does believe that in order for her to receive things they are being sent by others, so a transmitter should be very similar to a receiver as it is with radios and speakers/microphones for example.

reply: In Russ's first e-mail he expressed his belief that Dean Radin knows about these things. I suggest he read Radin's The Conscious Universe (and my review of it). He probably wouldn't believe me, but he may believe Radin when Radin explains why the mental radio paradigm is not a very good one.

This site is on the right track... http://www.neuroquantology.com/journal/index.php/nq/index

reply: Before you begin offering outlandish explanations for something, you should be sure there is something to explain. I think those doing anomalistic psychology are on the right track.

People such as yourself will someday be looked upon as 'Flat Earthers', living in flatland not able to see that there are other dimensions. It's OK; I once thought as you do but I saw the truth, somehow I expect you will take your view to your grave. I know you are wrong and that ESP is real. I have no axe to grind, I do not make any kind of living from the paranormal. Even Dr. Carl Sagan warned in his Cosmos TV series that we may be living in flatland.

I am a very scientific person who has studied many different fields of science from astronomy to physics to geology and biology. I think the study of consciousness and esp are the greatest challenges for science to understand.

It should also bother the defenders of the truth such as yourself that the majority of people believe in God which is certainly a para-normal and metaphysical thing! here's a good one for you... http://deanradin.blogspot.com/2010/11/im-skeptic-video.html. Bear in mind that Albert Einstein also said that 'the most religious people are those men and women devoted to researching the true nature of reality'.

Russ Browne

reply: No need to bring any gods into the discussion. That opens a whole new dimension for controversy.

I will give you and the Radins of the world credit for being persistent. What I will never understand, though, is why you believers would think that I wouldn't want to have ESP or psychokinetic powers. You have no idea.

Russ put on his Belief Armor and fired off one more broadside:

There was no press reports of my boating accident, there was no way for the psychic to have known that I had a boat that sank.  She also had no way of knowing that I was going to ask her a question about those keys, since it was my decision to ask about them, nobody else in the classroom asked questions as it was a blind reading.

She also had no way of knowing that I knew a guy that was surrounded by guns and whose life was in danger from those guns as later proved to be the case. (btw...I attended Gary's funeral later and his family and friends were very very upset at what had happened.)

Bob said..."reply: I wasn't implying that there is something wrong with your memory."

Well then there is something wrong with your memory, because you wrote in your earlier reply that after 25 years I may have forgotten what was said. This just reveals your non-objectivity since you are not even accurate about what you yourself wrote. You are like trying to nail jello to a wall, always looking for a way to squirm out. You are obviously trying to generate traffic probably so you can make some money selling ads and books, so you are highly motivated to have your dumb bias. I on the other hand have no motivation to sell anything or generate traffic, therefore your whole reason for running your site is problematic.

I don't care if you believe that Maureen McGuire is a gifted psychic, myself and my hundreds of other smart people know she is a real psychic.

I do however take your comment about mental radio, it is a crude analogy, I know that, quantum fields - such as those responsible for photon instantaneous entanglement and most likely ESP - are much weirder than electromagnetic fields.

You believe what you want and I will believe what I want to.  The fact is that the dominant information provider on the internet - Wikipedia - states that there is statistical evidence for ESP. They are correct and you are wrong and obviously very stubborn and dogmatic!

Russ Browne


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