Alternative test for psychic ability

It’s quite admirable that two professional psychics recently volunteered to have their abilities tested by Merseyside Skeptics.

The test devised is interesting, it basically consists of each psychic having to do written ‘readings’ for five different ‘sitters’ who they can’t see or talk to. Each sitter then rates the five written readings out of ten for accuracy, and chooses the one they think is about them.

Only one sitter correctly identified her reading from one of the psychics, and gave it an accuracy rating of 8/10. So the test didn’t uncover any psychic ability overall.

A lot of the negative comments about the test focus on the fact that psychics do not normally ‘read’ for people they can’t see or talk to. This made me think of a potential alternative approach.

For each psychic, they get to see, say, 10 people. Five of them are instructed to treat it as a normal reading, give honest answers to the questions/observations, but saying only ‘yes’ or ‘no’. The other five are given detailed false ‘back stories’, don’t wear their own clothes (or dress everyone the same in nursing scrubs or something), and instructed to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on the basis of those stories. Call these ones the Liars.

There would now be two different things you could measure.

Firstly you could ask the sitters to assess the accuracy of the ‘reading’ as before – but in the case of the five Liars, they would assess the statements in respect of their real selves. So every correct assertion, even if they replied ‘no’ during the test would count towards the accuracy rating.

Of course it might also be interesting to see how accurate the psychics were against the fake back story too. This might be suggestive of how psychic powers ‘work’.

Secondly you could test whether the psychics can identify who the Liars are. This would be similar to the measurement of confidence in their readings taken in the Merseyside experiment. Clearly there is a risk that they might be reading body language which can give away lies, so for that reason it might be necessary to employ actors to play the Liars.

Reading of body language or other non-psychic intuition would hopefully be mitigated by the fact that sitters would only say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ – preventing a detailed interrogation. “Ah but where exactly is the bank you work in? Name all your co-workers, etc…”.

This approach would hopefully eliminate an element of cold reading. If psychic powers are real, and the individuals being tested really have them, then the accuracy of the information they receive shouldn’t be dependent on the feedback from the sitter.

If they could make accurate judgement about who was a Liar it would go some way to adding credibility to their claims about their abilities. After all, if someone tells me an orange is purple I don’t doubt my eyes. Shouldn’t psychic ability be the same?

Clearly the details of the experiment would need to be fleshed out. But I think it could mitigate the criticisms about lack of face to face contact, and introduce an interesting new variable.

Comments welcome.


Engines full of sawdust

There’s a problem when you start viewing everything as a communications issue. “It’s not that what we’re doing is terrible, it’s that we’re not communicating it well enough”.

This is why, from David Cameron’s perspective, Andrew Lansley got the sack. He was replaced with Jeremy Hunt, who has a journalistic background, because he will be better able to “sell” the NHS reforms to the public.

The Health Secretary (unfortunately)

Self-confidence is 90% of sales, and it’s also the easiest emotion to fake. It’s also self-perpetuating, the more your confidence is rewarded, the more confident you will become. The less you will listen to criticism, the less you are likely to be self-confident on the basis of actually being any good at what you do.

People rely on the media to hold politicians to account. The problem is that what qualifies you to be a journalist is, primarily, the ability to communicate. This does not always go hand in hand with knowledge or the ability to understand or make reasoned judgements about things – although many journalists are very capable of all these things.

When the format in which people are ‘held to account’ is – at most – a thirty minute (if that) TV interview, you also get issues around shallowness of questioning – the Jeremy Paxman approach of treating even perfectly reasonable answers as if they’re evasive, pushing for ‘Yes/No’ answers when such an answer is not appropriate. There’s also the fundamentally adversarial nature of this format, which is not so much about calm effective scrutiny, but making for good TV.

You don’t understand things properly by consuming information in media-sized chunks. You understand things by reading in depth over long periods of time, critically appraising your own views, and getting your teeth into details. Priming yourself to spot bullshit when you see it, and always testing what you hear, especially if it supports what you already believe…

Increasingly our governmental masters (masculine word chosen deliberately) are people whose most abundant personal quality is self-confidence, and whose skills are mostly around communicating. Snake oil salesmen in other words…

These are also the skills you find in journalists. Do we want to head towards a world run by people whose understanding of things is fundamentally shallow, who are in turn scrutinised by people whose understanding of things is fundamentally shallow?

This is before you get to the offensive assumption that the audience for this scrutiny is both disinterested and incapable of understanding complexity. It is not the place of the media to effectively censor large quantities of information because they think people are too stupid or ignorant to know it.

So what’s the solution? You are. You personally can take a deeper interest. That’s what democracy is, you’re the boss. But if you hire someone to fix your car for you, you have to make sure you’re equipped to see if they’ve done it well. Otherwise we all drive home with engines full of sawdust.

In praise of monoliths

A friend says the internet and poetry have meshed/blended/overlapped
Where do i fit?
I struggle with this ‘my password is password’ approach to art
With sharing
I struggle to unpick sharing from ego
But what other motivation is there for putting anything out there?
And what’s the harm in ego?

[extract from online conversation with said friend]

This week I read the worst book I’ve read for as long as I can remember.
A terrible terrible science fiction book by a Welsh author who was flogging it from a table in Waterstones…
I’d had a chat with him because I respected that we was putting himself out there….
Bought his book even though his description of it made it sound bad….
(I was in that politeness phase where you’ve talked to someone about their product for so long that you can’t not buy – farmers market syndrome)
And he signed it ‘Andy – enjoy the action’….
But I didn’t enjoy it, it was awful. Boring, directionless, horrible prose, 2D characters. Awful.
But do you know what, [friend]?
It exists.
It is finished.
It is out there in the world.
That terrible author has written and published six more novels than I have.
And that is what [your art page is]. A thing that exists and cannot unexist.
And that’s what my music is.
So we are happy and we are successful.
The End.

[end -also of extract]

Except it’s not
I still believe in monoliths
large immutable works intended for posterity
even though I’ve adjusted to the idea that my own work won’t last
will probably only ever mean anything to me

When I talk about it
When I explain it people seem to like it

Why is it so hard to admit I want it to mean something to anyone?
When did I become embarrassed and apologetic for wanting to make something fun and unique and inspiring?

Is social media really the antithesis of depth and meaning that I often kneejerkthink it is?
No obvs

It’s getting easier to catch myself thinking negative thoughts
I used to think people who tried to banish them were wrong
and I was right
but you do have to notice them and decide what you use them for

Perfectionism vs. pragmatism – both are useful

But I’m going off art now

I was going to describe this as an online poem, but it really isn’t
I don’t know what an online poem is
I only just heard of them today and they look fun
Maybe it’s another one of those tables that I keep feeling like I’m not invited to
Except those tables don’t exist any more
It’s like Yo Sushi – anyone can just rock up and grab whatever passes (as long as they can afford it)

[moment of guilt as my eye caught the box with all my unfinished blog post drafts – sorry Huw!]

That was a lie actually my eye didn’t catch it at all, it just worked better in poetry terms to say it did

A song is a beautiful lie

that’s an idlewild lyric

I used to just write all day

Now I’m obsessed with building monoliths. You should only build the monoliths that are fun to build, not worry about building the ones that will last

I write a twitter account about dubstep – except it’s about so much more than that – it’s about being young and naive and in love with music and wanting to understand it

that period when music is magical – before you understand EQ’ing and song structure and chord progressions
And now it’s tempting to think ‘oh i’ve killed music for myself by understanding it too well’
But I haven’t at all
What do children think when they see a magician?
They say “I want to be a magiciain”

Well guess what? I am a magician (musician)!
What the hell is this:

More music than most bands write in their whole career
My life

I’m a magician. I am the guy in waterstones. i’ve made my monolith. And when I die it’ll be just as gone as every other monolith I could fly to egypt and kick while I’m alive

Is this an internet poem?
Who the fuck knows
I enjoyed writing it


I’m happy. I really am happier than I’ve been for a long time. There are still bad days BUT THERE ALWAYS WILL BE. It’s obsessing over ‘ever after’ that detracts from the ‘and they all lived happily’.

So yeah. Thanks.

Q: How do you end an internet poem?

A: by posting it without proofreading it