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Discussion Starter #1
I love props and special effects. But find "real" supernatural / paranormal stuff mostly implausible and unconvincing. Anyone else here find themselves in that camp? Loving the aesthetics of Halloween but not currently believe in ghosts, spooks, etc?

I started a thread in the General Halloween forum about non-fiction books/DVDs about Halloween "how to" stuff; and found myself writing up a statement of beliefs, etc. Follow-ups should go there I guess:

http://www.halloweenforum.com/literature-role-playing/118200-what-non-fiction-halloween-books-dvds-did-you-find-buy-today.html

Thinking I'm a minority (open minded skeptic) among minorities (home haunter) but thought I'd ask anyway. To me, my interest in props / effects and learning what Makes Things Tick dovetails nicely with my interest in (evidently) phony techniques like those used in Spiritualist Churches and Seance Rooms, by so-called "psychics", etc.

Incidentally, the Haunted Mansion's Madame Leota room is a great homage to Spiritualism. Think of the rising, glowing musicial instruments in that space. Reminds me of the "spirit cabinet" magic acts of the Davenport Brothers and the Fox Sisters, passed off as The Real Deal to a credulous public. Effects exposed and recreated by various magicians of the day like Houdini.

Again, love the aesthetics of Halloween. But find evidence of the supernatural / paranormal to be a bit flimsy. Guess it's like loving the holiday and aesthetics of Christmas but not simultaneously believing there's a real Santa Claus and elves at the North Pole. Please check the thread referenced above for more details / info. Would be interested in sharing favorite books / media with like-minded folks.

Finally, there now seem to be Skeptics side-meetings at Fantasy conventions like DragonCon in Atlanta (e.g. SkepTrack where they hold a live podcast of Skeptics Guide to the Universe; great podcast and one of the hosts, Bob Novella, is a Halloween fanatic who sets up a huge corn maze each Halloween in Connecticut). Is there anything like this at any Home Haunters Conventions? If not, should there be? How would one go about setting one up? I imagine there has got to be some cross-over somewhere between home haunters and people interested in mentalism, etc.
 
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"Again, love the aesthetics of Halloween. But find evidence of the supernatural / paranormal to be a bit flimsy. Guess it's like loving the holiday and aesthetics of Christmas but not simultaneously believing there's a real Santa Claus and elves at the North Pole. Please check the thread referenced above for more details / info. Would be interested in sharing favorite books / media with like-minded folks."

Wow. Never thought about it that way. Super interesting. I do believe in the Supernatural, but it is interesting to hear from someone who has a different take on Halloween.
 

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I love all things Halloween, but also don't really believe in any of the supernatural stuff.

I used to love reading about the spirtualist hoaxes too. I remember reading about the magician Harry Houdini used to go around to mediums and seances debunking them, but was in the hopes that he would find a real one as he wanted to believe in life after death. He even left a code word/phrase for his wife so she could identify his spirit after he died (through a true psychic or medium). She never did hear it, tho I believe she visited many in the hopes he would "come through" to her.

Fascinating reading about the elaborate effects the false mediums would cook up...

I went with a friend to a psychic once, and since I knew that they read "tells" and use things like your jewelry (birthstones, wearing a wedding band or having an obvious tanline/impression from a recently removed one...) and clothing to get info off of you... I removed all jewelry, dressed differently than normal and did my best to keep a poker face throughout just to see if they hit anything true. They didn't. I ended up discussing how to interpet tarot cards (I've been doing it a while at that point) and how to refinish wood floors. :D
 

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Discussion Starter #4
Thanks Hollow and Frankie's Girl. Every year at the Magic Castle in California, they still do an annual Houdini Seance each Halloween. For around 10 years or so, it was conducted by the author of the book I recommend in the initial post of this thread--Mark Edward, author of Psychic Blues. He's worked in both Spiritualist Churches, on 1-900 Psychic lines, and as a mentalist. Interesting book for anyone interested in the Cold / Hot Reading techniques like the ones you mention below.

A cold reading, like the one you mentioned, is where the, um, performance artist sizes a person up visually, takes in whatever a sitter self-discloses about themselves (and often "reveals" it back to the sitter later, after they'd forgotten they'd said anything about the issue/topic/fact), asks a lot of vague, open ended questions that sound specific (often leaving an "out", e.g. your mother didn't die or heart disease did she?--if the sitter answers in the affirmative, it's a "hit"--if negatively, the reader back peddle, "no because it had something to do with X" (some other generality). People often remember the "hits" and forget the "misses." A good cold reader often uses statistical probabilities and demographics to make educated guesses about the concern of one's visit--typically love, money, or heath. And also delivers Barnum Statements--that are general enough to apply to nearly anybody. Statements subsequently often rated as Highly Accurate by the sitter. Also known as the Forer Effect:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forer_effect

A warm or hot reading is "pre-show" where, for example, at faith healings, staff circulate among the audience and talk to people about their maladies. Or even have people fill out questionnaires about themselves. In the "old days", readers would evidently share files among themselves on wealthy clients. Today, I suppose a reader could google a client in advance, etc. A classic technique used by mentalists and Spiritualist Church performers is the One Ahead Method--which could be googled. Or you could read it in M. Lamar Keene's classic expose of Spiritualist Church tactics The Psychic Mafia.

A really great article on the mechanics of cold reading is from Ray Hyman. Fascinating stuff indeed:

"Cold Reading: How to Convince Strangers That You Know All About Them":

http://www.skepdic.com/Hyman_cold_reading.htm

I love all things Halloween, but also don't really believe in any of the supernatural stuff.

I used to love reading about the spirtualist hoaxes too. I remember reading about the magician Harry Houdini used to go around to mediums and seances debunking them, but was in the hopes that he would find a real one as he wanted to believe in life after death. He even left a code word/phrase for his wife so she could identify his spirit after he died (through a true psychic or medium). She never did hear it, tho I believe she visited many in the hopes he would "come through" to her.

Fascinating reading about the elaborate effects the false mediums would cook up...

I went with a friend to a psychic once, and since I knew that they read "tells" and use things like your jewelry (birthstones, wearing a wedding band or having an obvious tanline/impression from a recently removed one...) and clothing to get info off of you... I removed all jewelry, dressed differently than normal and did my best to keep a poker face throughout just to see if they hit anything true. They didn't. I ended up discussing how to interpet tarot cards (I've been doing it a while at that point) and how to refinish wood floors. :D
The various Spirtualist hoax methods were quite ingenious. There's a classic photo I love of Houdini showing him ringing a bell with his foot beneath a Seance table. Love reading about them as much as I love reading about how to construct props and other effects. Houdini himself wrote a few books exposing Spiritualist techniques. Like you say, he himself was genuinely interested in finding the true article--because of his attachment to his late mother. And he did indeed agree upon a code with his wife Beth. It may have been based on a Second Sight routine code--where a two person team, one blindfolded, while the other would go through the audience and hold up audience items to guess. The assistant would ask the blindfolded person to tell what the object was in a way transparent to the audience, asking in a slightly different way each time; and the words used, the cadence, intonation, etc, actually encoded colors, object type, etc. Ingenious. And absolutely mind-blowing to an audience. Mentalism is all about using the 5 senses to create an illusion of a sixth. I find it a marvelously fascinating type of performance art. Corinda's book 13 Steps to Mentalism is an old classic containing a lot of mentalist effects and how they are accomplished. Even a little bit on Cold Reading, back then called Q&A in the 50's.
 
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One of my favorite books when I was younger was Richard Peck's "The Ghost Who Belonged to Me." If you aren't familiar, it's about a young girl who has legitimate powers of 'future sight' and has visions that come true.

She actually ruins the act of a Hoax/Con man and his partner during her various adventures.

I have always wanted to visit and palm reader, or a spiritualist, or someone who claims they have powers to see your future. I do not know if anyone really has powers, but it would be super fun to do so- esp around Halloween.
 

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I would be in the same school of thought as you, Mikeerdas. For my husband and I, Halloween is more about art, expression and exaggeration. I don't believe in the supernatural. I don't believe in extraterrestrial sightings. I don't believe in ghosts. That said, I also don't believe they don't exist . (That's a double negative, which I find confusing..so) I mean to say, I do believe in their possibility, just not their probability. I believe that whole world of the supernatural is exploited....to make a buck, to gain notoriety, for whatever reasons people have. I care not. I also don't criticize too much, because I do recognize that my position is somewhat hypocritical. I'm ok with that. For me, I'm most attracted to folklore and history and superstitions connected to that time of year. That time of harvest. Most folklore is based on grains of truth. Truths that become exaggerated and bigger than their origin, but ingrained in people's life tales. Halloween gives us a time to blow those ideas up. Exaggerate and do it in an artistic and social way.
 

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I have to say when planning out props and scenes for Halloween I never think of the supernatural aspect of it. It is just an art of creating an overall feeling of wonder like when I was young on Halloween night. I love the reaction of the tots, the screams and the laughter. That being said I have seen things in my life that could not be rationalized not once but twice. It was life changing and made me realize that there is something else going on whether I believe so or not. But as far as Halloween I never have associated it with that, it's just one fun night of entertainment.
 

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Hi Hollow,

Sounds like an interesting book--one that encourages critical thinking. When I was a lad, I probably read just about every (supposedly) non-fiction book I could find in our local library about the paranormal. Read a few ghost stories and was transfixed by them. Like others have mentioned, things that activate one's sense of wonder. As an adult, although also like others, I'm not willing to say with 100% certainty certain things do not exist (indeed it's impossible, or difficult, to prove a negative), I now love reading about cons, hoaxes, the artistry of deception, and recent neuroscience / psychology of paranormal belief. To me, it's more fascinating than what's supposedly real (and most of the public believes in). Many people have many experiences that are tough to explain away. Although there are many explanations the general public doesn't know about. To name one:

* Being visited by a ghost in the night--feeling paralyzed in bed and seeing strange things. Typically known as Sleep Paralysis where the body is immobile (so you don't hurt yourself acting our your dreams physically) but the mind is awake. Can occur during hypnogogic or hypnopompic sleep (the states between falling asleep and dreaming and dreaming to becoming awake).

I've never been to a paid reading. But had a friend do a Tarot spread for me once. It was from him that I got the idea that the smarter and more creative the person, the more inventive he or she will be in making the cards fit his or her personal situation. Humans are pattern-seeking critters and often make great meaning out of random noise. We're also notoriously bad at calculating probabilities (and so ascribe lots of significance to events that, statistically speaking, would be bizarre if they did not occur from time to time). Like the probability of two people in a room of 20 or so people having the same birthday is actually quite high.

I'd be very cautious about ever visiting one of those roadside house psychics. Too many documented (e.g. in the news) stories of them creating dependency in their clients, and bilking them of their money. I'm sure there are plenty of genuine "shut eye" readers who aren't out to con people. Not sure how to tell who is who. So proceed with caution.

One of my favorite books when I was younger was Richard Peck's "The Ghost Who Belonged to Me." If you aren't familiar, it's about a young girl who has legitimate powers of 'future sight' and has visions that come true. She actually ruins the act of a Hoax/Con man and his partner during her various adventures. I have always wanted to visit and palm reader, or a spiritualist, or someone who claims they have powers to see your future. I do not know if anyone really has powers, but it would be super fun to do so- esp around Halloween.
AAAPRN:
I would be in the same school of thought as you, Mikeerdas. For my husband and I, Halloween is more about art, expression and exaggeration. I don't believe in the supernatural. I don't believe in extraterrestrial sightings. I don't believe in ghosts. That said, I also don't believe they don't exist . (That's a double negative, which I find confusing..so) I mean to say, I do believe in their possibility, just not their probability. I believe that whole world of the supernatural is exploited....to make a buck, to gain notoriety, for whatever reasons people have. I care not. I also don't criticize too much, because I do recognize that my position is somewhat hypocritical. I'm ok with that. For me, I'm most attracted to folklore and history and superstitions connected to that time of year. That time of harvest. Most folklore is based on grains of truth. Truths that become exaggerated and bigger than their origin, but ingrained in people's life tales. Halloween gives us a time to blow those ideas up. Exaggerate and do it in an artistic and social way.
I'm with you aaaprn. I can't prove a negative. And would never declare it's all bunk. I'd have to do an exhaustive search of all peoples' experiences everywhere, have died and come back from the grave, etc. Incidentally, I've read some very cool studies of inducing Out of Body Experiences in a psych lab environment. Has something to do with Mirror Neurons. These experiences are very real, and deeply moving, to people. But so far as I know, no one has ever conclusively passed a test showing that the experience was linked to the world outside their own consciousness, e.g. one test is for an OOBEr to report back a 5 digit number placed somewhere that only a "ghost" floating about could see. So far, no test subject has ever reported the number correctly. Is there a soul? Are ghosts real? Not sure I'll ever know.

It's a bit like faith and religious experience. Something's going on. Many people have many personally convincing experiences. But they're often described or experiencing in the context of conflicting truth claims. I think the truth of the matter is that our brains, in all cultures and times, have been wired to for "agenticity" and "patternicity" by evolution. Michael Shermer in The Believing Brain says we are more likely to See Things That Aren't There than not. For example: is that rustling in bushes a tiger that could eat us? Or just wind? Better to falsely believe it is wind and flee, to live another day. Humans insufficiently scared often didn't live long enough to reproduce. And so we are wired to see lots of things that probably aren't really there--just in case. That's one recent theory anyway. One I find that would explain a lot if true. Humans are very good at filtering experiences through beliefs and self-preservation.

Yeah, I think there is certainly exploitation. But also People Helping People make it through life, providing perhaps shakey answers to questions that may be unanswerable. I'm interested in the history and folklore like you--though I don't know all that much about it. Any good book suggestions? I'm more informed, relatively speaking, about the psychology and anthropology of belief. And I love the art and atmosphere and fun of Halloween.

ChuckB:
I have to say when planning out props and scenes for Halloween I never think of the supernatural aspect of it. It is just an art of creating an overall feeling of wonder like when I was young on Halloween night. I love the reaction of the tots, the screams and the laughter. That being said I have seen things in my life that could not be rationalized not once but twice. It was life changing and made me realize that there is something else going on whether I believe so or not. But as far as Halloween I never have associated it with that, it's just one fun night of entertainment.
Hear, hear. I am 100% with you on creating a feeling of wonder for trick or treaters. It's a great tradition. And a great way to Give Back for the fun I had as a trick or treater myself. It's such a thrill to hear or see a kid point, "wow, that's cooool!" Or have parents thank me for setting up my yard haunt. Especially since I live in an area mostly dominated by biblical literalist evangelical and fundamentalist Christians. People who really take the demons and spirits thing seriously. They are some of the most superstitious people I've ever encountered, to be honest. It's easy for a yard haunt to be a great success in an area where there's little competition. :) I can't compete at Christmas. That's when people here Go All Out. But with my 3 projectors, and possibly the acquisition of a DJ Snow Machine--and maybe a synchronized light/sound show--I will eventually hold my own. :) No one, so far, is doing Light-o-Rama type stuff. I'm not going to do something that costs thousands of bucks and many hundreds of dollars each season in additional utility bills. But even with my tiny Gemmy Light and Sound show, that's more than what's out there. I think most people just put up as many blow-ups and other stuff for Christmas without giving any real thought to properly lighting or creating scenes and atmospheres. It shows Spirit but often lacks Creativity. Generally speaking, sometimes Less is More (effective). And goodness knows it's a lot cheaper.

I know people have experiences they can't explain. And it sure isn't my intent to try to explain away each and every one. But I am interested in the anomalous experiences folks have that *can* be explained. What are the circumstances and mechanisms involved, etc. Interesting stuff. Always looking for good books that rationally explain particular instances for spooky phenomena. For example, for pendulums and ouija boards--just google "ideomotor response". May not explain everything. But probably accounts for a lot of it.

I like tempering my reading of skeptical / rationalist books with ones by authors like the late Robert Anton Wilson. He's great at steering a course between Dismiss All Things Paranormal Out of Hand (he really hated "anti-paranormal" groups like CSICOP / Center for Inquiry, etc--although I'd strongly disagree that all or most skeptics operate that way) and credulous, uncritical belief in the paranormal. I can't imagine many Official Skeptics read the works of Robert Anton Wilson (Prometheus Rising is very mind expanding for example). But they should take a look. Many of the concepts they'd likely agree with. That there's so much sensory data out there in the world, that the human brain by necessity filters most of it out. And what's left gets filtered by Belief Systems. I find Robert Anton Wilson's concept of a Reality Tunnel to have a lot of explanatory power. We all experience the world a bit differently. Part of that is cultural and historical. Part of it is personal to our own brains/minds.

I've really been wanting, incidentally, to add floating Tarot Cards or a Haunted Ouija Board to my haunt. But I'm thinking in this part of the country I might start getting nasty grams from Evangelical neighbors...
 

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I mostly enjoy the folklore and artistic expression that surrounds Halloween, but I'm the Fox Mulder of ToT- I want to believe in the ghouls, goblins, aliens, and apparitions.
 

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Hi Hollow,


I think the truth of the matter is that our brains, in all cultures and times, have been wired to for "agenticity" and "patternicity" by evolution. Michael Shermer in The Believing Brain says we are more likely to See Things That Aren't There than not.
I think it is exactly this that creates the "magic" of Halloween. Oftentimes, less is more. The "scare" is so much scarier, the "creep", so much creepier when it's in shadow and just suggested. There is no need to create every bit of the scene. Let each person's brain fill in what is most eerie for them. It becomes so much more personal.
 

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I think it is exactly this that creates the "magic" of Halloween. Oftentimes, less is more. The "scare" is so much scarier, the "creep", so much creepier when it's in shadow and just suggested. There is no need to create every bit of the scene. Let each person's brain fill in what is most eerie for them. It becomes so much more personal.
Very well said.
 

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mikeerdas I agree with creating an eviroment of wonder fpr tots, love the thanks I get at Halloween from parents and how they tell me they look forward each year to see what I have added. Hope I can keep it going for many years as I would hate to dissapoint. As we all know it takes a lot of time and effort to put on a great show for just one day a year but its all worth it in my opinion. One thing I am greatfull for is each year the crew that helps gets larger as I hook a few more each year. They get that feeling on halloween we all have come to love and need each year.
 

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I love everything Halloween and everything that goes with it....While I have alot of excitment for what I do, I have yet to experience anything in my 40 years on this earth that would suggest there are ghosts....I have many close family members and friends that have told me their personal stories but you know how it is....You have to see, hear, smell for yourself to believe it.....ZR
 

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Chuck, very glad to hear you've got an increasing crew to help each year and the positive feedback from parents

I love everything Halloween and everything that goes with it....While I have alot of excitment for what I do, I have yet to experience anything in my 40 years on this earth that would suggest there are ghosts....I have many close family members and friends that have told me their personal stories but you know how it is....You have to see, hear, smell for yourself to believe it.....ZR
ZR, I hear you there. There's a nice short book entitled The Skeptic's Guide to the Paranormal by Lynne Kelly that covers a lot of paranormal topics, detailing various rational explanations for many phenomena. Including a great section on the mechanics of supposedly haunted houses. Good stuff. Also some nice short sections on Spiritualism, psychics (cold/hot reading), Uri Geller, firewalking (takes zilcho belief; it's just basic physics of heat conductivity), ghost photography, etc. No deep coverage on any one topic. But a very nice introduction to alternate ways of thinking about the paranormal. It's something I'd recommend as a fun and quick summer read for someone curious about The Other Side of the Other Side so to speak. Always fun to read things that challenges one's thinking, whether one ends up agreeing or not. Broadens the mind. And personally, again, as someone with a Need to Know how special effects are performed, learning how some things passed off as supernatural are achieved by natural means--that just dovetails nicely with my Halloween Hobby. It's Fun To Find Out. :)

Some would rather enjoy the mystery of things and leave it be. But that kinda sorta doesn't seem to jibe with those who love props and effects, does it?
 

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wait..... theres no santa????????????????????????????
There's Santa in our hearts and that's good enough for me. But he may have fooled us all and has his base of operations at the South Pole near the McMurdo Research station in Antarctica. Or is a hyper-dimensional being. Those who know don't say. Those who say don't know. :)
 

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I gotta say, I haven't been a "believer" for quite a while now, though I still enjoy watching Ghost Hunters & those type of shows.

I remember being fascinated with Houdini & all those ghost books as a kid too. Even as a kid I'd see some of those pics & think "uh...no way, that's some dude in a sheet" or just not even seeing what is supposed to be in the pic until it's highlighted.

I think those Houdini books are the reason that to this day I really don't dig magicians in general because I knew early on that they were literally just smoke & mirrors & lies. The exception being Penn & Teller because they're hilarious & explain their tricks yet still perform a trick.

I have had my tarot cards read once at a renaissance festival & I honestly don't even remember what they said so it couldn't have been that life altering.

I know there's plenty of people that believe & some have had paranormal experiences, but until it happens to me I gotta remain a skeptic. And if some grieving person goes to a psychic & gets told that their loved one is OK & not to worry, then that's OK too & doesn't really harm anyone. You might be outta some dough but if you feel better afterward it might be worth it. It's those folks that scam folks outta their hard earned dough that tick me off. If anyone says "Oh I can't do that unless you deposit $1,000 in my bank account because dear, departed Uncle Joe said he wanted me to have it" then run like hell right to the cops.
 

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I gotta say, I haven't been a "believer" for quite a while now, though I still enjoy watching Ghost Hunters & those type of shows.

I remember being fascinated with Houdini & all those ghost books as a kid too. Even as a kid I'd see some of those pics & think "uh...no way, that's some dude in a sheet" or just not even seeing what is supposed to be in the pic until it's highlighted.

I think those Houdini books are the reason that to this day I really don't dig magicians in general because I knew early on that they were literally just smoke & mirrors & lies. The exception being Penn & Teller because they're hilarious & explain their tricks yet still perform a trick.

I have had my tarot cards read once at a renaissance festival & I honestly don't even remember what they said so it couldn't have been that life altering.

I know there's plenty of people that believe & some have had paranormal experiences, but until it happens to me I gotta remain a skeptic. And if some grieving person goes to a psychic & gets told that their loved one is OK & not to worry, then that's OK too & doesn't really harm anyone. You might be outta some dough but if you feel better afterward it might be worth it. It's those folks that scam folks outta their hard earned dough that tick me off. If anyone says "Oh I can't do that unless you deposit $1,000 in my bank account because dear, departed Uncle Joe said he wanted me to have it" then run like hell right to the cops.
Penn and Teller are hilarious. Would love to see them in Vegas some day.

Yeah, going to a psychic and being comforted, for a small amount of cake, is ok. Like you, I get hella pissed off with psychics who go too far. Who either do stuff like you've got a curse on you that will cost One Large to remove. And/or who create dependency in their clients re: loved ones who've died. The potential harm there is this: lack of closure. Death is a natural consequence of life. And people need to heal from that. Not keep the wound open.

I don't know if I'd believe something even if I saw it. Because humans, self included, seem hard-wired by evolution to see things that aren't there. We can all be fooled. Especially when we're feeling vulnerable for whatever reason. Always someone around to take advantage of that, unfortunately.
 

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google "amazing randi", or "james randi" for more info

i'm fully in the randi camp

amk
I've loved reading James Randi's books over the years so I'll second you there. Enlightening stuff: Flim-Flam, The Faith Healers, The Mask of Nostradamus. Randi wrote the introduction to Mark Edward's new book Psychic Blues.

Michael Shermer's another great author in that space. Found this neat PDF--looks like an excerpt from their Junior Skeptic magazine, about how to appear to be a convincing fortune teller:

Learn to be Psychic in 10 Easy Lessons
http://www.skeptic.com/downloads/10_Easy_Psychic_Lessons.pdf

I've also enjoyed Joe Nickell's various paranormal ghost investigation books. He doesn't take a debunking stance. But rather approaches each investigation without dismissing something out of hand. He asks, like any good investigator would, what does the evidence support? But I can see how after 100+ years of formal paranormal research, with very little to show for it, how some can get jaded about these topics and let prejudice (literally prejudging) get the better of them. That's where Robert Anton Wilson's writings are a good foil and countermeasure to dismissing all supernatural phenomena out of hand. I like his agnostic approach.

It would be fun to see incontestable evidence for the paranormal. But for now, I appreciate the aesthetics and theater of it all. And enjoy reading about Known Deliberate Mechanisms of Deception; or how people deceive themselves.
 
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