Is Participating in Pseudoscience Just Harmless Fun?

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Is Participating in Pseudoscience Just Harmless Fun?

Post  NedStark on Fri Sep 25, 2009 11:04 am

A few weekends ago, my wife and I went to a Renaissance Festival. One of the first tents we stopped at was a palm/tarot reader. So we paid the reader $35 to read both of us (my wife LOVES this stuff, so I obliged her). Most of what she said was really vague. One thing that's funny is that she said my wife is very fertile right now, but she was told by a doctor she would need medical intervention in order to conceive. Basically it was stuff anybody could guess if they saw a young couple wearing rings on their left hand. What newly-wed couple doesn't have the situation where the wife wants kids and the husband doesn't right now?

Then she went on to the tarot. One thing that I found slightly "spooky" was when I pulled the devil card and flipped it over on the table. It was upside-down, so she told me I had just come out of a very stressful situation. I recently left a cult and lost my family, so that would definitely qualify as stressful. Granted, it didn't really convince me, because she didn't specify just HOW stressful the situation was supposed to be. People go in and out of stressful situations all the time, so her interpretation wasn't really as specific as I first felt. I also noticed that she would only focus on parts of the tarot cards for her reading and not the whole thing. I'm thinking she had a story already determined for us and just used the parts of the cards that would fit the best. Total cold reading all the way.

Now I don't really feel ripped off. Growing up a strict Christian I was never allowed to engage in such "spiritistic" and "Satanic" activities, so this was my first time. It was kind of fun. So honestly, I don't really see the harm in it if A) you see it for what it is going in, B) you have the money to burn, and C) you don't make important life decisions based on the reading. What do you think? Is it okay for a skeptic to consult a fortune teller if it's just harmless fun? Or does it support some larger, nefarious purpose?

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Re: Is Participating in Pseudoscience Just Harmless Fun?

Post  Jim on Fri Sep 25, 2009 11:40 am

the question is whether or not this kind of activity actually engenders something unhealthy. it seems, really, that you answered your own question by finding any part of it "spooky." it looks like people have a predisposition to believe in that kind of thing, and your reactions supports that, even though you had evidence that explicitly showed that the reader wasn't genuine (your wife's fertility). so, going in a skeptic and having explicit evidence that the reading was fraudulent didn't stop you from getting a spooky feeling about part of it. now consider the people who don't go in equipped with a strong skepticism like you did. now consider that the reader knows she's a fraud. now consider that this reader is making money giving fraudulent readings to people who are genuinely looking for guidance and are predisposed to believe that kind of thing. how much damage is done to them by this kind of activity? is the reader the kind of person you want to support by giving them your hard-earned cash so they can pay their rent and utilities and continue to take advantage of others?
you tell me.
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Re: Is Participating in Pseudoscience Just Harmless Fun?

Post  NedStark on Fri Sep 25, 2009 12:23 pm

Jim wrote:the question is whether or not this kind of activity actually engenders something unhealthy. it seems, really, that you answered your own question by finding any part of it "spooky." it looks like people have a predisposition to believe in that kind of thing, and your reactions supports that, even though you had evidence that explicitly showed that the reader wasn't genuine (your wife's fertility). so, going in a skeptic and having explicit evidence that the reading was fraudulent didn't stop you from getting a spooky feeling about part of it. now consider the people who don't go in equipped with a strong skepticism like you did. now consider that the reader knows she's a fraud. now consider that this reader is making money giving fraudulent readings to people who are genuinely looking for guidance and are predisposed to believe that kind of thing. how much damage is done to them by this kind of activity? is the reader the kind of person you want to support by giving them your hard-earned cash so they can pay their rent and utilities and continue to take advantage of others?
you tell me.

Good point. When you mention the people who are genuinely looking for guidance. Would they really seek out a fortune teller's booth at a Rennaissance Faire? I think that situation is different than someone who is actually operating a stand-alone business (i.e. Miss Cleo, Sylvia Browne). Personally I think seeing a fortune teller at a carnival or something doesn't really hurt anyone (aside from the few crazies who will actually believe in the clairvoyance of a carnival worker), but I definitely think supporting the "1-900" professionals who are out selling books and being wrong about missing children causes harm. I guess my question is do you think soliciting the carnival psychics is harmful like buying Silvia Browne books or paying $5 a minute to talk to Dionne Warwick's "friends"? I'd be interested in hearing different viewpoints.

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Re: Is Participating in Pseudoscience Just Harmless Fun?

Post  Jim on Fri Sep 25, 2009 1:41 pm

NedStark wrote:Good point. When you mention the people who are genuinely looking for guidance. Would they really seek out a fortune teller's booth at a Rennaissance Faire? I think that situation is different than someone who is actually operating a stand-alone business (i.e. Miss Cleo, Sylvia Browne). Personally I think seeing a fortune teller at a carnival or something doesn't really hurt anyone (aside from the few crazies who will actually believe in the clairvoyance of a carnival worker), but I definitely think supporting the "1-900" professionals who are out selling books and being wrong about missing children causes harm. I guess my question is do you think soliciting the carnival psychics is harmful like buying Silvia Browne books or paying $5 a minute to talk to Dionne Warwick's "friends"? I'd be interested in hearing different viewpoints.
yes, i think people take that stuff as genuine guidance. again, you came in armed with a skeptical viewpoint and received direct evidence of the reader's illegitimate status, yet you felt a pull to believe what she said. if you had not come in so armed and had not received such explicitly wrong information, how much stronger would that pull have been? i don't claim to get it, but people believe that stuff all the time. otherwise, there would be no way that many people would pay $35 just to have someone tell a silly story.
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Re: Is Participating in Pseudoscience Just Harmless Fun?

Post  NedStark on Fri Sep 25, 2009 2:30 pm

Okay, that makes sense. So what you're saying is these seemingly innocent "carnie" psychics can be sort of a "gateway drug" to the more nefarious fraudsters. A person who has never really thought about the supernatural goes to the carnival and gets their palm read. After a "spooky" reading they become more convinced it's real, so eventually they're paying the real propagators of ignorance obscene amounts of money.

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Re: Is Participating in Pseudoscience Just Harmless Fun?

Post  Jim on Fri Sep 25, 2009 4:58 pm

i don't even know that it has to be seen as a gateway drug. i'm saying that people might look upon the "fortune" they receive as something by which they can make decisions. in fact, i've known people who do just that. it's not rational, but there it is. again, look at your own reaction. it isn't just that they might start seeking out other readers, it's that the advice that particular reader gives them is likely to be seen as something to heed.
there might be a response to this that says that, as such a reaction is wholly irrational, it isn't the responsibility of most practitioners to concern themselves with the actions of some unwell minority. an analogy could be attempted between stuff like this and people who see tarzan movies and attempt to swing from high-voltage wires. but it seems to me that there is a big difference here. the point of those kinds of things isn't to fool the client into thinking that something that isn't true actually is. but that's exactly what the point of getting your fortune told is. what fun is it to pay someone the price of a good dinner so they can spend five minutes laying cards in front of you? it's not fun at all. it's only fun if there's a part of you that believes, or at least wants to believe, that there's something to it. it is upon that desire that these people capitalize. but the problem there is that people who want such things to be true run the strong possibility of using that "fortune" to help them determine what actions are appropriate for them to take. that's bad.
this isn't hypothetical. this is what happens. it's the same thing with people who read the astrology stuff. if it tells them that they should look out for nay-sayers on some day, people really do it. they see others as hostile to them. that affects their lives. that's a problem.
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Re: Is Participating in Pseudoscience Just Harmless Fun?

Post  Aught3 on Sat Sep 26, 2009 12:20 am

I don't think it matters if they're upfront about it being all tricks and show. But if you are paying a fraudster who is happy to rip-off gullible people with advice then I think you are doing harm and shouldn't be involving yourself for fun.
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Re: Is Participating in Pseudoscience Just Harmless Fun?

Post  jgrow2 on Sat Sep 26, 2009 12:32 am

Jim wrote:i don't even know that it has to be seen as a gateway drug. i'm saying that people might look upon the "fortune" they receive as something by which they can make decisions. in fact, i've known people who do just that. it's not rational, but there it is. again, look at your own reaction. it isn't just that they might start seeking out other readers, it's that the advice that particular reader gives them is likely to be seen as something to heed.
there might be a response to this that says that, as such a reaction is wholly irrational, it isn't the responsibility of most practitioners to concern themselves with the actions of some unwell minority. an analogy could be attempted between stuff like this and people who see tarzan movies and attempt to swing from high-voltage wires. but it seems to me that there is a big difference here. the point of those kinds of things isn't to fool the client into thinking that something that isn't true actually is. but that's exactly what the point of getting your fortune told is. what fun is it to pay someone the price of a good dinner so they can spend five minutes laying cards in front of you? it's not fun at all. it's only fun if there's a part of you that believes, or at least wants to believe, that there's something to it. it is upon that desire that these people capitalize. but the problem there is that people who want such things to be true run the strong possibility of using that "fortune" to help them determine what actions are appropriate for them to take. that's bad.
this isn't hypothetical. this is what happens. it's the same thing with people who read the astrology stuff. if it tells them that they should look out for nay-sayers on some day, people really do it. they see others as hostile to them. that affects their lives. that's a problem.

It's much the same thing that brings people to Benny Hinn, or the old-time tent revivals. And yes, it is a problem because the more credulous among us take such things seriously.

Full disclosure: Earlier tonight, I did engage the services of a Facebook app called "How sexy is your zodiac sign." I'm not proud, just bored at times. And curious. The shame is full, but it did lend credence to the opinion that I'm awful sexy, baby. Rrowr.
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Re: Is Participating in Pseudoscience Just Harmless Fun?

Post  Stegocephalian on Sat Sep 26, 2009 5:05 am

NedStark wrote:
Good point. When you mention the people who are genuinely looking for guidance. Would they really seek out a fortune teller's booth at a Rennaissance Faire?

They might not purposefully go to a fair or an event like that to look for "psychic guidance", but once they receive it, they might be convinced that it was genuine, and base real life decisions on what they were told.

There's a great article related to this that I first read years ago as it appeared on the JREF site. It is written by the actress Karli Coleman, who participated in a "psychic" experiment for the Penn and Teller show. She essentially learned the art of cold reading, and the little trickery "psychics" use to make themselves seem to have psychic ability, and then became, for a day, a "psychic" in a Los Vegas in "Cecar's Magical Empire", a major magic showcase. I mean really the tacky sort of show-psychic, with a wig and cleopatra make-up, the whole works. And she had people in tears, convinced of her magic powers.

The article can be found here: http://www.undeceivingourselves.com/S-psy1.htm
So yes, unfortunately even really tacky "psychics" at purely entertainment-oriented shows can end up convincing a part of their audience that something truly miraculous happened. Never underestimate human gullibility, and desire to believe in magic. Rolling Eyes
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Re: Is Participating in Pseudoscience Just Harmless Fun?

Post  timmeh on Sat Sep 26, 2009 7:27 am

I've posted this in the share-a-link thread, but deserves to go in here too, what's the harm, records the damage/death done by woo, pseudoscience, alternative healing etc.
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Re: Is Participating in Pseudoscience Just Harmless Fun?

Post  Neon Genesis on Sat Oct 03, 2009 12:00 pm

Frankly I wouldn't have participated in it solely on the basis that they're charging $35. $35 is too much money for something that's bogus and I'd rather go spend it on a movie or a book or something.

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Re: Is Participating in Pseudoscience Just Harmless Fun?

Post  jgrow2 on Sun Oct 04, 2009 3:31 pm

Neon Genesis wrote:Frankly I wouldn't have participated in it solely on the basis that they're charging $35. $35 is too much money for something that's bogus and I'd rather go spend it on a movie or a book or something.

Agreed. Even in my most, er, credulous moments, I would never have spent more than maybe five bucks on something like that, and even then I would have immediately turned away if there was a fried dough stand nearby. Money is better spent there.
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