Ray Hyman is Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of Oregon and one of the leading figures of modern skepticism. He was a founding member of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (formerly CSICOP). He has been a consultant with the U.S. Department of Defense, helping investigate parapsychology for the government and is the author of many books, such as The Elusive Quarry, and many articles in the scholarly literature, such as his popular manuscript that teaches people how to appear to have psychic powers by using “cold reading.” A former magician and mentalist, he has been featured on the cover of The Linking Ring, the magazine of the International Brotherhood of Magicians. Hyman was a co-recipient of the 2005 Robert P. Balles Prize in Critical Thinking, and also CSI’s In Praise of Reason Award. For almost 20 years, he has run the popular Skeptics Toolbox, which trains rationalists in the best methods of advancing skepticism in our society.
In this conversation with D.J. Grothe, Ray Hyman recounts the history of his many critiques of the various Ganzfeld Experiments, which are scientific tests of psychic ability. He details his assessments of the later “Auto Ganzfeld experiments.” He shares his evaluations of other various research projects in parapsychology, and levels criticism against some skeptics who have too hastily dismissed parapsychology’s findings. He talks about his beginnings as a magician-debunker, and as a mentalist, and how he got involved in applying magic to his skeptical investigation of parapsychological claims. He explores whether or not the government should make fortune-telling illegal. He explains how leading scientists can believe in the claims of parapsychology, even without sufficient evidence. He describes some of his experiences with Uri Geller. He talks about the ethical implications of teaching non-magicians the art of cold-reading. He reveals ethical problems he has had with the Psychic Entertainers Association, and how giving psychic readings may cause real harm to clients. And he talks about how he may disagree with James Randi as regards the usefulness of magicians in conducting psychic research.