Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Does the discovery of fake psychics provide good evidence that there are no genuine psychics?

Imagine 2 possible worlds:

a) No psychics exist due to the fact that anomalous information acquisition is simply not possible i.e the physical laws of nature prohibit what we refer to as ESP.

b) Psychics do exist, but they are comparatively rare.

It is clear to me that in world "b" there will be more fake psychics than in world "a". Why? Here's an analogy. If we lived in a world where £20 notes didn't exist, then it is likely there would also be no counterfeit £20 notes either. There would be no purpose in counterfeit £20 notes since no one would be fooled by them. However, in our world where £20 notes exist and they are in demand, then inevitably there will be many counterfeit £20 notes.

Similar reasoning applies to psychics, albeit to a much lesser degree. That is to say in world "a" there will be fake psychics, but it seems clear to be that they will not be as numerous as fake psychics in world "b".

Skeptics of the paranormal often allege that the discovery of fake psychics provides compelling evidence that genuine psychics do not exist. But since there are many more of them in world "b" this is not only false, but arguably (and admittedly counterintuitively) makes the existence of genuine psychics more likely.

In addition, they sometimes use the argument that since every psychic they have heard about turns out to be a charlatan, then it is reasonably, via induction, to infer there are no genuine psychics. But this is rather like a person flicking through a wad of £20 notes, carefully removing those counterfeit notes which are fairly easy to discern with the naked eye, and then declaring that since every note they've examined so far is counterfeit, it's reasonable to infer they all are! 

In other words skeptics focus on the easy targets and insinuate that similar debunking can be applied to all alleged psychics. And this is the strategy that skeptics of the paranormal seem to me to apply across the board to all paranormal phenomena (to be fair though such underhand tactics are pretty well universal no matter what the subject matter happens to be i.e. people have the propensity to attack the weakest articulation of a position or resort to attacking straw men, and to avoid addressing the strongest or most compelling articulation of a person's position on any subject).



  1. Like the one black swan analogy. If I have seen only white swans (normal people) and swans people have painted black (fake psychics) that does not mean there are no black swans at all, and probably nobody would think to paint swans black if there had never been any.

    Skeptics would say that painted swans means there are no real black swans but that does not follow, because even if I think I am in world “a” right now it only takes one black swan at any time to show I was really in world “b” all along. Yes?

  2. For some reason Jim Maskell your comment was marked as spam and I have only just seen it and marked it as not spam 7 weeks later!

  3. Well said Ian. As a spiritual medium myself I can assure you that genuine mediums do exist. I recently shocked a materialist who was trying to debunk mediumship on materialistic grounds by telling him he was deluded, his arrogant assumption was that there is only one possible world view - his!

    What really gets me is professional liars (magicians) who make money by simulating mediumship using magic tricks then claim that this proves all mediumship is a trick. That isn't even logical.


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