William Little – The Psychic Tourist

August 21, 2009

William Little is a freelance journalist based in London, England. He has written for the Saturday Telegraph magazine, Weekend Telegraph, the Guardian, The Times and the Financial Times. He has also worked for Arena, Esquire and Cosmopolitan, and contributed articles to the Independent, the Daily Express and the Big Issue, among many others. His recent book is The Psychic Tourist: A Voyage into the Curious World of Predicting the Future.

In this interview with D.J. Grothe, William Little recounts his experiences researching The Psychic Tourist, including his seminar with Sylvia Browne, meetings with UK mentalist Derren Brown, scientists Richard Dawkins and Nobel Prize-winning physicist Brian Jospehson, attending a psychic college, and his sister’s star chart predicting her death. He reveals his motivations writing the book, and talks about how his journalistic approach is different than the approach of some academic skeptics who write for more of an already skeptical audience. He explores what it might say about society if there is such widespread belief in psychics when there is so little evidence to support psychic claims. He contrasts the harm psychics do with how they may help people. He explains why he thinks of psychic belief as “disorganized religion.” And he talks about the skeptics he met who weren’t cold-hearted, but instead were interested in helping people.

Also in this episode, Jim Underdown recounts his experiences with famous psychics making bad guesses, including John Edward and James Van Praagh.

This is point of inquiry for Friday, August 21st, 2009. 

Welcome to Point of inquiry. I’m DJ Grothe a point of inquiries. The radio show and the podcast of the Center for Inquiry, a think tank advancing reason, science and secular values in public affairs and at the grass roots. Before we get to this week’s guest, here is Jim Underdown with a word about his experiences with some well-known psychics. 

I’ve crossed paths with a lot of psychics in my day. Psychics being anyone who pretends to be able to see into the future. Talk to dead people or read palms, tarot cards, tea leaves, scalps or rumps to get insight into a person’s life. I wasn’t kidding about the rumps. Sylvester Stallone’s mother, Jackie, claims to be a rump biologist. You know, someone who can read the contours of your coulis to tell your personality or your future. Now, some people think the very idea of Ron apology is suspect and they’d be right. It’s ridiculous. I’ve never had the privilege of having Jackie Stallone fondle my fanny, but I have seen some of the world’s most famous psychics in action in person. Some years back. Both John Edward and James Van Prague had nationally syndicated TV shows which had them allegedly talking to the dead. By the way, anyone can talk to the dead. It’s hearing back from them. That piques my skeptical curiosity. The Queens, New York based show Crossing Over With John Edward had already been on TV for a few seasons when Beyond with James van Praag started shooting a couple of miles from the Center for Inquiry, Los Angeles. I remember thinking, what gall for van Praag to be shooting so close to our independent investigations group. So we decided to get tickets to a few shows to see if there was any funny business going on. One of the things we wanted to find out was a van Praag was listening to audience members on the way in to get information. A name or some other juicy fact might go a long way toward making sound like he knows what he’s talking about. So we told fake stories while we stood in line. But none of them ended up on the show. I’ll tell you what else didn’t end up on the show. All the mistakes van Praag made during the taping. At one point, van Praag was talking to a widow and her children about the funeral service after the husband’s death. He kept talking about Jesus. I quote something about Jesus here. Okay. Saved with Jesus or something about Jesus. And if you believe in Jesus or a religious element and I don’t know, maybe a church with the name Jesus in it or there is something about Jesus. Unquote. Finally, the frustrated woman said, well, we’re Jewish. 

Do you think the audience laughing at James van Prague made it to air? Ha ha. 

I also got to see John Edward in action at a studio in Queens. He, too, had gobs of miss gases that no one in TV land ever saw. One time he went out on a limb and guess that someone the audience knew had been hit by lightning. Well, that’s a lot riskier than the who’s John or who’s married that they usually do in cold readings. A cold reading, by the way, is an interactive technique where one fishes for information while giving the appearance of receiving that information from supernatural sources. 

Getting hit by lightning is not something most people have direct experience with. I thought if he gets this one right, people will be talking about him forever. So I scanned the crowd of about 200 for anyone raising his hand. 

Nothing. Then John Edwards said something like, Boy, you’d think you’d remember a thing like that. No shit. After some dead air, Edward then backed off a bit. 

Now they’re telling me it has something to do with electricity, he said, referring to the spirits or wherever he’s talking to. Ha! He’s widening the category. There are a lot more plain old electrocutions and people specifically getting hit by lightning. 

Anyone? Nope. 

Let’s do a little math here to understand why he would even try something like that. I would argue that every one of the 200 members of that audience each knew at least 150 people between friends, relatives, old schoolmates, coworkers. Most people in general know at least one hundred and fifty people. That means the pool of possible names that John Edward was tapping into with any given question was at least 30000 people. So when he asks who’s John or Mary or even who is in a car crash lately, he’s fishing in a pond filled with 30000 possibilities with those kind of numbers. It’s not so impressive when he guesses correctly, even on long shots. Did he score with the lightning bit? No. But he did use another technique that rescued him from the crowd, getting too skeptical on him. He blamed them. He said, I don’t know when this will happen on the way home next week in the shower, whenever. But someone here will realize what I was talking about when I asked about the lightning. And you’ll want to kick yourself for not speaking up. Ha! Oh, that’s right. My mom got struck by lightning last year. Slipped my mind. Needless to say, that, too, ended up on the cutting room. Floor. I got to admit, there was one psychic who did do an accurate reading of me. It was a cat on the Third Street, prominent in Santa Monica, not a musician. 

A real cat with paws and whiskers. He picked a scroll off a rack that said, you will be happy in your work, huh? He was right. 

My guest this week is William Little, he’s a freelance journalist out of London, England. He’s written for the Saturday Telegraph magazine, The Weekend Telegraph, The Guardian, The Times, The Financial Times. He’s worked for a number of other publications, Esquire, Cosmopolitan. And he joins me on the show to talk about his new book, The Psychic Tourist A Voyage into the Curious World of Predicting the Future. Welcome to Point of Inquiry. William Little. 

Hello. Thank you. William, I loved this book. It’s like the only book out there that does this journalistic treatment of all the big psychics. It’s more of a popular treatment of the subject, though. It’s not you know, not that this is a I’m I’m not slighting the book for this, but it’s not a scholarly investigation into the claims. You think that’s a better way to advance kind of a skepticism about psychic stuff? Or was that even part of your agenda? 

Yeah, it’s very much part of my agenda. I came to the subject with the assumption that clever skeptics, academics rights essentially for a skeptical audience. And I think that for lots of people who actually believe in psychics who were watching popular television programs like psychic detectives, they’re just going to be put off by that kind of approach. And so I wanted to write a book which was a kind of a skeptic’s book for psychic believers, but also for skeptics as well. There’s a lot in that realm of humor in there, but there’s also a lot of analysis of quantum physics and the way that people or the reason why people believe in psychics. But there’s also a very strong narrative. You know, my sister had a prediction of death in an astrological both charts, and that was the reason for me on my quest to go and find the truth. And I think that pulls along a lots of people. But even though it’s it’s a popular take, I think there’s a lot of there’s a lot of truth in that. And there’s a lot of analysis by the back door, I think. And I think that, you know, a lot of people have their assumptions unpacked by the very last chapter. I think that, you know, a lot of the things that skeptics or academic skeptics will probably write about in their way, I think I’ve probably dealt with a lot of those things and put in a in an easier to read form and in a more amusing way, I hope. 

All right. I agree. I like the book a great deal. I want to talk about maybe your your motivations because your sister’s death predictions she got did that. What kind of fuel? A sense of righteous indignation. You wanted to go out there and look into this? Or was it your interest was just piqued by the astrological chart that you got for her? 

It was. I, I think I was way up and down about it. You know, I gave, you know, from one day having a really angry rant about psychics and the harm that they do. And, you know, it’s something to be very careful about who I show that part of me. 

So I didn’t alienate people. Right. 

To try to try to understand. And you know, Norman, because I know what levelheaded people, you know, can believe in psychics and do need them. And why is that? And, you know, and some psychics, you know, all owned by people, you know, they can to certain degree maybe help people through a crisis. You know, that is the idea that they’re poor people’s counselors. Sure. That can be unpicked quite easily. But there is evidence to show that, you know, occasionally, you know, people with maybe a few issues just need to go and talk to somebody. Sure. They can go and talk to a friend or a counselor. But folks generally a bit cheaper. So I can say that there was a there was a bit more complicated than, you know, just just getting angry. You know, some psychics were withholding people from sites were maybe offering support. And then there’s the whole issue about, well, what does it say about us as a society? If a large majority of us suddenly do you believe in this kind of thing when there’s not very much evidence for it? And that kind of journey, you know, looking at the reason why this belief exists, then there’s not much evidence which was quite key to what I wanted to do. And I like to look at that later on. And, you know, the same kind of issues around belief and delusion can exist in both ordinary people who go and see a psychic for reading. And also scientists like Dean Leighann Lord. 


Who, you know, are looking at their research, doing in quotation marks science, but then just looking for the evidence that supports his premise. 

And that’s in the same kind of thing. And so that was where was coming from. And I think that sitting down with my sister, that one Christmas. 

Awesome. Where are you thinking of going on holiday and her telling me what I was going to go sailing? But, you know, the birth child that you gave me say is I’m going to die in an accident on water and so is my daughter. I’m not going anywhere near water ever again. And, you know, that was that was a very neat hook to get into it because it showed it was a very personal story, but it also showed the harm that psychics can do. And, yeah, it was. And he weighs a whole lot of questions. 

So, you see, you had a lot of motivations in writing the book. It’s not just railing against the harm psychics do, but also these interesting questions your book raises. You know, why do people believe this without the evidence? And the big question I think your book raises is that even if in the UK, in Europe, generally, UK, yes, there’s a low rate of belief in religion. There’s a really high rate in the belief in the supernatural or like psychic type stuff. So, you know, people are going to believe the unsupportable claims regardless. And it’s it’s may be other factors that determine whether those unsupportable claims are certain kinds of religious beliefs or certain kind of paranormal beliefs. 

Yeah, I agree. There’s, like I call it, disorganized religion. The fact that it’s basically taking out the middle man. You know, people can go to church in the UK and there’s something on a pulpit. They’re giving a very general message about a book that was written more Hassin years ago. And people want to get to get something said about their lives immediately. And so going to see a psychic pain, they can see right in front of them that this person is supposedly channeling into the spirit world and offering messages just to them. And I think that goes a long way to reinforcing that belief because they see the magic happening before the very idea. And of course, you can buy that and say, well, why why they believing in this, you know? But they’re not they’re only remembering the hits. They’re not remembering the misses. But, you know, I think if the reason why the belief increases and also, you know, just like in the state psychic on television quite a lot over here. You know, only three years ago we had the first psychic who had a primetime slot on ITV. 

I mean, this is a time when, you know, Richard Dawkins, his voice from The God Delusion and skeptics and atheists are much more organized than ever been before. And yet on national popular television, we get information that we’ve never had before, which is psychic. We have the psychic called Sally Morgan and she does this TV challenge and it gets through the regular bypasses of regulations. And the regulations say that you can’t have a psychic on TV unless she’s being challenged or there’s a skeptic bagno and picking what she’s doing. The television program is a very clever format, but over a 30 day period, she’s given these challenges. You know, for instance, she could she could try and read some his mind and she’s Pitstick and a mind reader. And 10 times out of ten, she does very, very well. And the reason for that, of course, is that it’s very clever. And the first three bodies don’t seem to get edited in that way, you know, so long as it’s got a facade of a challenge. Well, then that’s okay. That, I think, is the reason why so many people, you know, believe in psychics and psychic books in the UK, probably just like in the states that or in the top 10 Jim Underdown. 

And it’s a paradox why it’s so popular when there’s such a growing and louder reaction to it from the skeptic in the scientific community. 

I think that skeptics don’t you know you know, I think about myself. I would read a stalkings. I would read offcuts cookbook. You know, I’m well educated. I know I read these kind of books at university. It’s, you know, thinking about stuff is what appeals to me. 

But that doesn’t really trickle down, doesn’t trickle down. 

And I think that I think it does alienate and, you know, it doesn’t really get to the heart of the way that people feel. You know, people want to feel connected to something. 

Let’s talk about that notion of alienating people. You know, you’ve mentioned a couple times. You’ve got these exclusive interviews with really big name psychics in the states in the UK. If you approach them as some hard nosed kind of Know-It-All skeptic, they’d shut the door in your face. Did you have to pretend to be more open minded than you were? Or are you actually open minded about these sorts of claims? 

Well, with Sylvia Browne. I just basically pay to go on her salon. You know, I paid a thousand dollars and I didn’t say that I was a journalist. And, you know, I had access that way. I wanted to observe with with, you know, 30 people and see how that went. 

Right. You saw her give predictions to a big group of her followers. And had she known that you were writing a book called The Psychic Tourist, you might not have been allowed to be there. 


I mean, I would definitely if I would have gone Sylvia Browne, you know, with a request for an interview, I would have perhaps have said, you know, I’m I’m psychic, not even believe I’m open minded or open minds enough for my brains for that, you know. But that’s the kind of thing that I have to said. 

They’re worth a lot of psychics in this country, you know, because because the story of the book is this quest. You know, I did go to them with saying, well, you know, I’m doing this book about psychics. I’m looking for the truth. 

I’ve just interviewed Brian Josef’s and he’s a great a Nobel Prize winning professor Jim Underdown, the physicist. And he reckons that there’s some way that, you know, psychics have the power of psychics can explain quantum physics. And can I come and interview about Jim Underdown? 

And so that opened the door. So you don’t feel like you were disingenuous as a journalist? You weren’t going undercover. There was access given because you were sincerely inquiring into these topics. Let me ask about Sylvia Browne. Since you went to her headquarters, you you saw her do her thing for her followers. Did she strike you as slimy? She’s kind of she’s kind of the enemy number one for a lot of skeptics, at least in the states. Maybe you can as well. 

You think she believes what she’s saying, or do you think she herself realizes she may be harming people? 

That’s a very difficult question. She’s been doing it for so long and she got so much invested in her self-image and who she is. 

You know, the idea that she isn’t psychic, would you know the idea that she. 

That she doesn’t believe it? You know, I suppose one could say that if she didn’t believe she’d have to be she’d have to be completely controlling over her public persona that she couldn’t never let it slip ever. 

It’s it’s Fisher Supplies that she’s kept it going for so long. I think that, you know, she has a lot of money from it. She runs this church. She’s got a lot of people who believe in psychics coming to see her shows, reinforcing her own beliefs. But, you know, even at the very beginning, she had she called it half and half believed it. And then when we started doing this kind of thing and, you know, she just got all these people reinforcing her family the whole time. And as we know with psychics, they will often justify any things that they get wrong. You know that the spirit guide is, you know, having a bad day or that they are only 85 percent effective. Jim Underdown. 

Right. We have this amazing capacity, psychics and skeptics alike, to self justify and make sense out of our own mistakes. And so it may not be that she’s this arch villain. She may just be impressively self-deceit. 

And I think I think the skeptics will look at the cases with Sylvia Browne, which get most publicity just as Shawn Hornbeck case, right where she falls flat on her face. 

She indeed. And they go, ha ha. She’s a charlatan. But if you then if you actually spend a bit of time and go to these salons and, you know, meet the people around her, you know, she’s not falling on her face. You know, she’s not giving advice, which is necessarily psychic, but she is giving advice, which she can see is helping these people. So and in some cases, it is dark. You know, one girl went to say, I saw you last year. I have these two guys on the go. You know, you said I should stick with a guy from the south. 

I’ve done that. Now, you went family. You know, he hasn’t family and services. You know, hanging there. He will give you a call. I don’t have his number. Well, get his number. 

I don’t know if it gets ridiculous, but today she she just works in a very in a way that she just seems to. And I give comfort to people think that the fact that they’re getting something out of it reinforces the belief in herself. 

Right. And I suppose a lot of skeptics don’t see that. They just see the stuff that she does on TV and they don’t see how they just then completely. Well, clearly, she doesn’t believe in her own powers because she’s makes such babies. Right. 

There there’s some reason that she might even believe her own hype because of these other experiences. 

And generally, I would say 90 percent of the time, surrounded by people who give good feedback. 

You’re right. Now she’s conscious. It’s self-selecting audiences, you know. And she she she ignores all that and she justifies all the criticism. And, you know, with Shawn Hornbeck, she will say Shawn Hornbeck’s parents should say, well, hey, you know, come on. I mean, they found the kid. 

You know, I’m 85 percent accurate. I call back all the time, which was one of those things. 

Yeah. But in Hornbeck’s case, she wasn’t just inaccurate. She was amazingly wrong on all the facts. You know, she described what a Hispanic guy kidnaped said, that he Hornbeck was dead, all that stuff. And just completely, you know, complete. 

I think that I think this is the interesting thing is that everything that she does psychically, she probably wrong. Will she have to go and get the same thing that, you know, people will remember the hits and forget permissive, but the stuff that she does in her cell phones, people believe that she’s being psychic. But really, she’s just you know, people say, so what’s what’s the name of my spirit guide? 

Oh, Catherine, your spirit guides Catholic, right? She’s just really checking. Yeah. Yeah. 

She’s not doing impressive feats of psychic powers. She’s just talking in an uneasy about things that either you believe or your you don’t but you can’t test. 

Yeah. Tell me about God or commonsense. You know, people people go to her without any common sense and say, you know, one woman said, you know, I’ve got this I’ve got this dog, you know, I need to own. He’s going to adopt to keep it company. So I do that. And so I will go, God. Yeah. 

And and then when one goes and says, I think I was Joan of Arc in another life and Sylvia said, God damn you weren’t you were Joan Sister Jeanne, you know, looking to the flames. 

And that’s why you feel so bad. You know, that’s that’s the kind of thing that goes on. 

Yeah. That was a laugh out loud moment in your book. You know, it’s funny. 

William, I could talk with you for episodes and episodes about Sylvia Browne. She’s big interest of mine, but you cover so much more in your book. So I want to also talk about what you went to the college for. Psychic Studies in the U.K. for this course show how to develop psychic powers. You went there as a skeptic. The book doesn’t portray you really as this kind of anti psychic on a mission, however. So when you’re at this college for psychic studies was. I mean, did you allow for the pass, Miller? You might kind of turn into a psychic at this event? 

Well, that all the way through the book. I, I did. I convinced myself to have an open mind because I thought I was if I want to be scientific about this and in a very amateurish way, you know, I wasn’t doing controlled studies, but, you know, I had to go with the possibility that I would see something amazing wrong while at the same time understanding how psychics work. 

And so I did go into these thing, you know, hope. I mean, I think that most get things over here, but we you know, when they go through these things that they fully hope, you know, they’re going to undermine. But if they do, you’ll be they lift the system, which is amazing. 

But so worth going with with with not so much my tongue in my cheek as more of an open why. But I say, well, I was at the psychic school. I yeah. I was just fascinated that the psychic college in one of most expensive districts of London, you know, could could exist because she was Georgian House. You know, it’s was making huge amounts of money. I’m just intrigued by the people who were going where they go, these and uneducated idiots or people who were who were very susceptible or Welday professionals. 

And when I went, I found that some of them were lawyers. Some of them were accountants. 

Yes, some of them were. You could say very open to spirituality. You know, they have that kind of mindset. But it was very surprising the kind of stories that they came out with. And I did all the techniques that, you know, they said I should have my chocolate. 

And, you know, I had to do readings for people, which is highly embarrassing because of. Even even if you know the kind of things that James Randi can do, you know, the cold reading, you know, is obsolete, you know. 

And that’s that’s one of the amazing things about the book that I sits on. I swap chairs with a with a very large woman. And I have a sense her energy through the chair. 

And all I could think about was hot five and and even by saying something as daft as hot flies. She was able to work with. Oh yeah. I ran here. That’s probably why you think I got hot, you know, and. 

Real, you know, a real interesting way into how psyche college can teach, you know, teach people to believe that they’re psychic. 

Even more than they might have already believed. So you’re you’re modeling some called reading behaviors, even if you don’t know what you’re doing is called reading, but they’re not. 

I mean, this is the interesting thing. They’re not even called raging. They’re just that they’re just they just closing their eyes, coming out with any old rubbish. The sitter is the person who’s doing all the work. 

It’s the person, you know, you could say to somebody, oh, I can see a bus. I know. And it’s an event for the person sitting opposite them to work with it and go, oh, yes, a bus. Yeah, I. I was on a bus yesterday and down there and the person said, oh, you were very cold. Oh, I was very cold. Yes. That’s amazing. Yeah. So this is kind of a constant interaction. Well, you know, psychics fall flat on their faces when they’re sitting opposite a skeptic or they’re sitting opposite a member of the public who doesn’t want to work with them. Right. And this is what I did in a couple of my readings. I just wouldn’t say anything or I would only give piece of information strategically to see what the psychic did with it. 

Jim Underdown just to kind of push it a little and see the reaction and see how far they would go. William, I love how in your research for the book, you didn’t only go out there and talk to the believers, but you talked to some big skeptics as well. What’s your take on Richard Dawkins skepticism about psychics? Do you think he’s would you say he’s more closed minded about it than you or I? Are you guys peas in a pod? Just different approaches. 

I would. Richard Dawkins takes a scientific approach. And so he despite his rhetoric, which can be quite damning, he will always he can’t shut the door of the possibility that there may be something there. 

Jim Underdown because that wouldn’t be the scientific spirit. 

Exactly. But he will catch that by saying or justify that by saying, well, you know, we’re doing all these tests over and over and over again. And we haven’t found anything. Any evidence that can withstand repeated tests. And so that surely suggests that there’s nothing that. But, you know, if somebody did come you with the idea that some people with a sixth sense in the tsunami, you know, you know, a couple of years ago were able, you know, the tribesmen were able to get to higher ground. You know, he would say, well, if if if there was some anecdotal evidence for that, well, there maybe there should be some reasons to go into it. Let’s go and check that out. 

But I think, Bernie, he actually thinks it would be fantastic if psychic powers were proven real, but then they wouldn’t be paranormal or supernatural. Just be part of the natural world. Indeed, yes. 

I’d like to let our listeners know that you can get a copy of The Psychic Tourist A Voyage into the Curious World of Predicting the future through our Web site point of inquiry dot org. William, I’m really interested in this intersection of conjuring, you know, kind of magic and legerdemain and the psychic world, both in history with stuff like the spiritualism movement. Also these days with UK magicians like Derren Brown, other magicians and mentalists. Darren Brown was actually one of your sources for the book? 

Yes, he was. He I interviewed him and he he’s an amazing fellow. He can convince a lot of people that he knows something about them using the supposed supernatural powers. It’s not these not supernatural powers he’s using. 

I love how good he is that he even convinces skeptics that he’s using great psychological prowess when he’s not even doing that. Sometimes it’s just magic tricks. 

A.J., I mean, some people think he’s a mind reader. Some people think he’s using cold reading techniques. But they Jemina, if he’s Devaux, psychic Phoebes seeing you much better than he’s doing the day he’s given the general information about Auvers. There’s a talking your whole way of talking my hallway Ohno’s, not talking in hallways, picture of a dog who I don’t think a picture of a farmer. Oh. Oh, yes, that’s right. Which is a family. So he would he will do that. And then he would do some general statements like, oh, you’re a very sensitive person, you know, and and, you know, he’ll work with those, but he’ll do it. Will do is he’s got the stage show on at the moment, which you overhear, which is doing a lot of crazy things, that he can throw a Frisbee in the audience and Sony will catch it. And he’ll tell them loads of things about their life. And, you know, the thing about Dirham Bar, which is skeptic’s have a have a bit of a problem with it, say he won’t always explain how he does it. He’ll just say, I’m not psychic. 

And even opened the door of it. While it’s not psychic powers, it might not be a simple magic trick. And so there’s still a little fuzziness, I think some some skeptics. Knock on sometimes a little for that sort of stuff. You don’t seem to have a problem with it because it’s not making people believe in the supernatural. 

Both skeptics argue that it is because because it doesn’t explain what he’s doing. Right. You know, people who believe in psychics believe a Derren branding psychic. One of my friends tells me that Delaplane may not know it, but Derren Brown is psychic. It’s a bit like saying James Randi is a psychic, but I know he’s psychic. 

There were spiritualists who believe that Houdini, as much of a debunker as he was actually engaged in kind of turning into spirit, formed to get out of those rope ties and an escape ologies. So, you know, believers will believe despite the evidence and I think that’s the big message there. What was your impression of Darren Brant? Did he did it make you want to bring magic and the kind of the Know-How that magicians have to the believing psychic community or or was it just kind of research for your own background? 

If your question is, you know, should people who were psychics, you know, use some of the techniques Tappan’s using, I don’t know. 

I guess what I was to make it clearer. That should believers in in psychic powers learn some of the magic tricks so that they’d be less gullible to the psychics? I guess that’s what I was getting at. 

Yeah, I think that, you know, a lot of you know, so if he shaves now, he does show how he does these things. And I think that thing can challenge people. There’s a lot of stories about skeptics, maybe parapsychologists over here. The academic psychologists who are skeptics will to say that they started their lives really, really believing and they were looking for evidence submitted in Blackfield Black Boys. 

I think you’ve interviewed one of those people. And she just couldn’t find evidence and say there is a kind of a journey for some people, you know, who were open to it and just keep on looking and looking at looking for evidence of magico low. There’s no evidence for it. And I think that Derren Brown calm can help people on that journey. 

Tell me about your interviews. You mentioned them already with Brian Josephs and the physicist, the Nobel laureate. There’s an assumption that if you’re a great scientist, you’re going to automatically be skeptical of psychic stuff. That’s definitely not the case with him. 

No. There’s also an assumption that if you win the Nobel Prize, anything that you say should be taken as gospel, which isn’t true. I mean, he he it for a particular thing. 

And then he used that reputation to go and look in the psychic powers. 

He believes that there’s evidence for telepathy, for the psychic phenomena. And what he’s doing is he’s a quantum theorist and saved from the theory for that. And he reckons that this is a combination of, you know, a level of quantum physics that we haven’t discovered yet with evolutionary theory, which which means that over time we we learn to use our nervous systems, communicate with each other over long distances. What do you say? Will weapons golf flies as well? I don’t have any evidence of it. What is a form of subatomic activity? Oh, no, it’s it’s a level much, much smaller than a level that we don’t even know yet. So it ever really get very far with him. Because it’s just a theory and he hasn’t got any evidence for it. And if you go and read his papers, you know, they’re very. They’re very worthy and they’re very, very academic and very theoretical way, but you can essentially boil it down to what I just said in about two or three sentences. What he believes. 

Do you think these believing scientists and I guess this a broader question, not just about psychic stuff, but an esteemed scientist, if he believes these unsupportable supernatural or religious claims? Does it hurt them in their career or he seems to be thriving? You know, as a professor of physics? 

Well, I think it probably does hurt their reputation. But, you know, on the one hand, people respect him for being a Nobel laureate. But a lot of people in the scientific community, if officers if you ask them about the work he’s doing, would just say, well, you know, it’s it’s ridiculous. 

You know, if you’re going to Loki’s, actually, you’re not going to find the evidence for that. 

But he would argue that there’s a conspiracy afoot. 

You know, magazines like Nature and, you know, other scientific magazines will just not print papers showing proving that a psychic or SY exists and that stuff. The big thing that he’s going on about, I mean, this is not true, of course, because, you know, all the research that the CIA and the American military have put into, you know, the the remote viewer program was based on research that was published in Nature magazine, and that was proven to be flawed. And so I think that these magazines have learned to be both more rigorous over time and also know that they’ve been burned. 

And they don’t want they do want to be burned again. I think that if there is a highly rigorous, repeated experiment that proves something. They would they would publish it if they would. 

It would change everybody’s minds. You know, if there’s compelling evidence, people are compelled to, you know, to buy it. 

And that’s happened to the early 1970s with the stuff on remote viewing. Everybody, they were. Well, there you go. There’s the evidence. But it was proven to be flawed. 

Right. There’s so much more, William, that you recount in the book. You know, the night you spent with the coroner, which is your experiences with precognition, what? The precognition machine, the stuff with the psychic spy, psychic murder detectives, lots more. So this is another way, I guess I’m plugging your book in our short conversation. We can’t go into all the really interesting things you did. But to finish up, I have just one more question. You had your fortune told many times as you were researching this book. You met with many psychics. Was there one experience that gave you pause? Were you taken aback even once, you know, kind of said, wow, well, there really seems to be something to that. I guess what I’m asking, are you more or less open minded now than when you started the process? 

To be honest, I’m less open minded. I went into the projects, you know, with a with a healthy skepticism, which was that I don’t need this kind of stuff. You know, I’ve read about the Bynum effect, but I haven’t really got down to the level of research that an academic would get to, you know, looking at all the papers and cross checking everything. You know, I did all of my research and I went to met lots and lots and lots of psychic, apart from anecdotal accounts that people have told me, you know, which does sound amazing. There’s no way of proving that. And my experience was that nothing came true. I can I’ve got experience and evidence for how occasionally a psychic may have helped somebody through the trauma of somebody dying just to move on. You know, to start living life again. That’s that’s seldom happens. But apart from that, I. I have no evidence. I found evidence that what they say they do, they do. 

So after doing all this research, after meeting all these psychics, you’re you’re more of a skeptic now than even you were when you started out. 

Yes. I do believe in one thing. I believe that the bad press that skeptics get is unnecessary. The idea that because you don’t believe in psychic powers, youre a cold, heartless person. I met so many people who didn’t believe so many skeptics. They were all warm hearted, nice people. And what they were interested in, they were interested in people, you know. They weren’t interested in flights of fancy. And I think that that’s a telling message. And it’s part my conclusion as well that, you know, my story of my mom who goes and helps an old lady to help refocus her life. Interesting. 

Didn’t use psychic powers. She just used kindness and goodwill to do that. I did more to change that woman’s future than any psychic ever did. 

Thank you very much for joining me on point of Inquiry, William Little. 

I enjoyed it. Thank you. 

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DJ Grothe

D.J. Grothe is on the Board of Directors for the Institute for Science and Human Values, and is a speaker on various topics that touch on the intersection of education, science and belief. He was once the president of the James Randi Educational Foundation and was former Director of Outreach Programs for the Center for Inquiry and associate editor of Free Inquiry magazine. He previously hosted the weekly radio show and podcast Point of Inquiry, exploring the implications of the scientific outlook with leading thinkers.