Mark Edward is a professional mentalist specializing in magic of the mind. Back in the 90s, he was a professional psychic who specialized in bilking people out of their money on the phone. These days he dedicates his time to exposing the techniques psychics and cold readers use to manipulate people. From his bio: “His amazing mind reading techniques make a statement about our limited powers of observation and our refusal to believe manipulation can easily happen to the best of us.”
Edward writes for Skepticblog (the main blog of Skeptic magazine) and recently posted about his experience with “psychic junkies” — who he describes as “absolute believers and the kind of lost souls who wouldn’t consider taking a bath without consulting his or her psychic first.”
On the extreme end of the extreme, Edward says are the “shut-eyes” — “A shut-eye in the vernacular of the mentalist or psychic entertainer is a person who buys into any and all paranormal belief systems without regard for any boundary whatsoever.” These people are, according to the former con-artist, the psychic medium’s bread and butter.
Without the shut-eyes and the psychic junkies out there, a mentalist’s job would be a tiresome affair. With their unending willingness to not only make the most tenuous connections to anything a psychic might utter, they also provide a safety net at live performances and radio appearances. When things that might ordinarily be cause for serious skepticism arise and there’s a shut-eye or a psychic junkie in the audience, it only takes one breathless moan or tearful validation from these adoring folks to smooth over any bumpy reading and make everything right again. Their input and enthusiasm allows for the most egregious batsqueeze to slide on by most group minds.
Edward goes on to talk about his first hand experience with psychic junkies and the thousands of dollars they willingly gave him to tell them what they wanted to hear, over and over again.
[I had] anxious callers who called me every day, sometimes as many a three times a day! This idolatry was utterly astonishing to me at the time – but a job was a job… The really sad part was that usually each time I talked to them, I told them the same thing over and over. The words might have changed slightly out of boredom on my part after awhile, but these callers often remained fixated on the same problem for weeks at a time. Thousands were spent on getting the same answer to the same question. Private readings were no different. I had one woman named Beverly who sat with me every weekend for nearly eight months. When I recently revisted the venue where I once worked giving readings to her and a legion of others to ask around researching this project, I heard that she’s still around – over ten years later.
I’m generally wary of calling compulsive behaviors addictions because I think it muddies up the definition of clinical addiction and opens the door for off-the-wall diagnoses. But, from reading Edward’s accounts, it sure seems like compulsive psychic behavior is every bit the “addiction” that compulsive gambling is — and it’s no doubt very real.
I googled around a bit and sure enough there’s a website for Psychic Junkies, PsychicJunkie.net, founded by Sarah Lassez, an actress who was, at her worst, spending $1000 a month on psychic consultations.
Even though psychics are repeatedly exposed as frauds, and even the big names like Sylvia Browne have been embarrassed on the public stage as incorrigible liars (go here for an example), people still pour millions of dollars into their coffers every day. If this were a rational problem, it would be easy to solve: show people proof that psychics are con-artists–and the proof is abundant–and there you go. But rationality has little to do with compulsive behavior, and even less to do with paranormal belief.
The video below is of Mark Edward exposing psychic charlatanism — good note to end on. And remember, friends don’t let friends go to psychics.