I went to a highly regarded psychic reader awhile ago to have a reading. I recorded the session because I didn’t trust my memory and how it might distort what I was told in the moment. I was concerned that later my brain would think I heard things I didn’t hear and not hear things I actually did. The experience was thought-provoking on many levels. Here’s a summary of the things I was told in different ways during the session…
I have a great need for people to like and admire me. I have a tendency to be critical of myself. I have a great deal of unused capacity which I have not turned to my advantage. While I have some personality weaknesses, I am generally able to compensate for them. I’m mostly disciplined and self-controlled, while at the same time I tend to worry and frequently feel insecure. At times I have serious doubts about the wisdom of the decisions I make and the resulting actions I take. I prefer variety and change that is manageable, and dislike restrictions and limitations that make me feel hemmed in. I pride myself as an independent thinker and do not simply take people’s word for things. I mostly think it’s unwise to be too frank in revealing myself to others, while at times I can be extroverted, affable and sociable, depending upon the situation. Some of my great plans tend to be unrealistic. Financial and emotional security are major goals in my life.
Reading the Divine Mind
Almost all of these qualities fit me to a tee… at different times and under different levels of stress. And at different ages. They also fit almost every other person on planet earth at one time or another to varying degrees. One interesting notion is that when you mix into these general statements a refined capacity to read the 43 muscles of the face – a legitimate, science- based field of research originated by Paul Ekman and Wallace Friesen – it becomes very easy to seduce me into believing that you actually are able to read my mind and psychically divine true things about my past. And if you can divine things about my past, it becomes quite easy for me to believe you can divine things about my future. And my belief in your capacity is what’s known as the Forer Effect (or the Barnum Effect) in action.
The Barnum Effect was named in honor of Bertram Forer who, in 1948, gave a personality test to his college students. They were all essentially given the same results of the test which pretty much matched what I wrote about my own reading above. The students were then asked to rate the accuracy of their “personal, unique results” on a five-point scale. The accuracy ratings came back at 4.26 on average, thus validating P.T. Barnum’s assertion that: “There’s a sucker born every minute.” (If you’re ever offered a bet that Barnum originated that particular phrase, don’t take it. David Hannum, a colleague of Barnum’s actually originated it!).
Uniquely Homogenous Are We
One thing the Barnum Effect underscores is how similar to one another we actually are, while thinking ourselves to be extraordinarily unique. Bruce Hood, a former Harvard psychologist, writing in his book, The Self Illusion – How the Social Brain Creates Identity, has this to say about the Barnum Effect:
The Barnum Effect reveals that we all entertain illusions of a unique self, which turns out to be remarkably consistent and familiar between different people. Our uniqueness is closer to the average than we think. Also, if you look at the sort of generic statements in Forer’s description, most are all to do with how we think others perceive us, social anxieties, and concerns that we are more complicated than others realize. Again, this is more damning evidence that most of us are preoccupied with what others think and less independent than we imagine!
But Hood isn’t the only scientist concerned about reality and how our brains construct it. Check out this special edition of New Scientist that asks: What is reality?
Nonetheless, I know and have spent time with many readers of this sort, from astrologers to tarot readers to palm readers. Many of them I have found to be quite skilled, not in telling the future necessarily, but in using the medium they work in as a tool for accurately and non-judgmentally seeing and resonating with a client, for creating a climate of safety, and for being able to provide wise, dispassionate guidance. There’s great value in that, I think. Bankers and heads of state might do well to avail themselves.
Note: next month I’ve scheduled a reading with a supposedly blind Rumpologist. I can’t wait to find out what he has to tell me.