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So, you wanna be a psychic ? part 3

In the first two articles of this ongoing series, I have examined John Edward's cold reading methods in detail to demonstrate how they work. In this third part, I'd like to get into a thing in particular that is a bit outside of the cold reading proper, but decuples the powers of a paranormalist : the context.

What does context mean ? Many things. For a cold reading, it means :
* sympathetic, believing audience - or even better, an audience that NEEDS desperately to believe.
* lower the audience's expectations - so that they will accept anything as a success.
* rules that are meant to minimize distractions and criticism.
* harvesting information beforehand (personally or by trickery) - "hot reading".
* if a television show, editing and staging.

I have discussed these techniques to some extent previously, especially hot reading.

Now, let's look specifically at the rules of John Edward's TV show :

By entering the stage area, you're agreeing to be "read" by John. John cannot control who "comes through." So there are no "passive audience members." For instance, John has read the cameraman, soundman, and someone in the next room during rehearsals. If you feel you'll be too embarrassed, too frazzled, or just not interested, we ask that you give up your seat to someone who's anxious for a reading.

Have no expectations. You may REALLY want to connect with one specific relative...but there's a good chance they may not come through. Keep your mind open and welcome whoever comes through during the reading. We don't want you to be disappointed or broken-hearted if your chosen loved one doesn't come through. As John says, "Please don't put earthly expectations on a heavenly experience."

This can be an emotional experience! Know you're in a safe environment with lots of support and lots of tissues. John moves quickly from person to person, which can be jarring. There are plenty of people to share your experience and feelings.

Don't get "psychic amnesia." John coined this phrase to describe what happens when he goes to someone in the audience and they all of a sudden forget their family tree. You can use the following worksheet to jog your memory of your ENTIRE family.

Validation Is Important! Since John does not know your friends and relatives, it's very important you give feedback. A simple nod of the head, a yes or no answer goes a long way in a reading. Please don't give more information than John asks for.

Write it down! Have a pen and paper ready to write whatever messages John may pass along. If you are with someone, they can write down the information for you. If John reads the person sitting next to you, it'd be a nice gesture to take notes for them to review later. Chances are this info will take on more meaning when you get home and think about the reading.

Appreciate the message! Even if you are not the person being "read," John wants you to walk away knowing your loved ones are always around you, and to thank them in some way a prayer, a simple acknowledgment, or a kind thought.

In short, sympathy, sympathy, sympathy. Create a context dramatic enough for people to believe anything. Let's go thru these in turn.

Agree to be read : It doesn't get any more blatant than this. If you're not excited about appearing, then give up your place. The show only allows people who are already "pumped up" about appearing on the show and WANT to get results. This process of sifting ensures that skeptics are kept away.

Have no expectations : Exactly what it says - lower expectations. The more you lower people's expectations, the more readily people will accept anything you say, which means more hits for you. It could be anyone you know, or even someone you don't remember or know about. That way, you leave the person with a sensation of doubt and admiration even if you score no hits, as long as they are believers. Sneaky but effective.

Emotional experience : Accept your experience and "work with it". Let it sink in. In short, don't be a cold, logical skeptic ! That's what this rule is telling you. This again correlates with accepting the experience and working with John Edward in order to produce a synergistic end result. Without some acceptance, the reading couldn't work because, as I've demonstrated in the first two parts, the cold reading is all trick and no substance. It's like a magic trick - you have to accept the misdirection.

No psychic amnesia : A simple device to make the readings more efficient. I wouldn't really call this manipulation, although it does play in the "milk the illusion of hits as much as possible".

Validation is important : Now this is more than context - it's a cold reading tactic, pure and simple. If Edward was psychic, why would he need feedback ? Why would he need "yes" or "no" ? Because that's how he traces down his chain of hits, of course. He needs feedback to know if he's doing well or not. This is so blatant that I can't believe they put this in writing.

Write it down : Another way to expand the hits. If the John Edward people can get you to accept that other people's readings may apply to you, then you will count a great deal of "hits" that have nothing to do with your reading - it decuples his efforts.

Appreciate the message : Do I even need to say it ? Even if it didn't work, feel that something great just happened at this session !

As I said, all of this context-manipulation excludes skepticism and criticism from the "John Edward community" and ensures complete acceptance. Skeptics are routinely refused access to TV shows (even after prior commitment) when psychics like Uri Geller and John Edward perform, often at the latter's demand. Even when they are allowed, it is only as token opposition, in order to present a "balanced perspective". As related on the article Talking to Heaven Through Television :

Throughout the hour-long program, the in-studio, "stage center" presence of Browne and Van Praagh allowed the duo to dominate the program's dialogue. Both psychics took turns interrupting other guest's comments or reframing responses. Van Praagh appeared well-coached and practiced in his comments, while Browne, with a seat next to King, was able to maintain a visible screen presence throughout the program, often lowering her head as if in meditation, or frequently closing her eyes, cultivating a persona of mysticism for the studio cameras.

Larry King played the role of stage master, carefully controlling and managing commentary from Kurtz, Jaroff, and Boteach. If Van Praagh and Browne were stage center on Larry King Live, the other guests, including Edward, were side stage shows only to be revealed when King directed questions their way.

He goes on to analyze the statistical repartition of each participant's presence.

The context-manipulation determines what is a hit. Like any other form of perception, the "hit" is dependent both on what Edward says, and on what the recipient considers as acceptable.

Related to this subject, I thought you would get a kick out of the following. This is a good simple illustration of what I'm talking about here - acceptance of the most vague data as a "hit". Go to the Deep Awareness page and click on "Practice Targets". Check the contest on January 2003. Yep, the winners are us, Alison Randall (Alleee) and Francois Tremblay (Franc, me). Read our submissions. Now look at the image. Pretty unbelievable, huh ? These contests go to show the vagueness a believers will accept before refusing a "hit".

Finally, those interested in cold reading techniques will be interested in reading this article by Michael Shermer which I have not referenced in this series before : How to become a psychic in one day.

Well, this is the end of the "So, you want to become a psychic" series, as far as I'm concerned. If you have suggestions for a part 4, don't hesitate to send them in. Otherwise, I hope you liked it and that I've sparked in you the interest of becoming a psychic, or at least the critical tools to detect the psychics' tricks ! ;)

review written by Franc, 12/2003.

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