The art of deception

Last year, posted an article by Massimo Polidoro from The Skeptical Inquirer on how so-called psychics deceive their audiences to give the appearance of supernatural or paranormal powers. He writes of what he learned from the Amazing Randi how many of these deceptions occur. I found the article so fascinating that I’ve read over it a couple of times, and held on to the bookmark with plans to post it. Finally, I’m putting this up here so others can learn how we are fooled, and how often we are willing fools for it.

The great fake psychics are great improvisationists. This means that a really good pseudo-psychic is able to produce phenomena under almost any circumstance. A quick mind and a good knowledge of the techniques and psychology of deception are all that is needed. Sometimes, only a quick mind is enough.

In one early test of telepathy, in 1882, pseudo-psychic G.A. Smith and his accomplice, Douglas Blackburn, were able to fool researchers of the Society for Psychical Research. In a later confession, Blackburn described how they had to think fast and frequently invent new ways of faking telepathy demonstrations.

Once, for example, Smith had been swathed in blankets to prevent him from signaling Blackburn. Smith had to guess the content of a drawing that Blackburn had secretly made on a cigarette paper. When Smith exclaimed, “I have it,” and projected his right hand from beneath the blanket, Blackburn was ready. He had transferred the cigarette paper to the tube of the brass projector on the pencil he was using, and when Smith asked for a pencil, he gave him his. Under the blanket, Smith had concealed a slate coated with luminous paint, which in the dense darkness gave sufficient light to show the figure on the cigarette paper. Thus he only needed to copy the drawing.

I was lucky enough to learn the art of improvising from one of the greatest “teachers” on the subject, the Amazing Randi. I had met him only a few hours before, nearly twenty years ago, and he was already teaching me how to conduct a perfect swindle!

And on from there. Polidoro writes how Randi taught him just hours after they had met one way to fake clairvoyance. The details are simple, and pulling the fakery off would require some sleight-of-hand skill, but the overall performance sounds grand.

[tags]The art of deception, The Amazing Randi and apparent clairvoyance[/tags]