• Palm Reading: Science or Pseudoscience?

    This post is part of a series of guest posts on GPS by the undergraduate and graduate students in my Science vs. Pseudoscience course. As part of their work for the course, each student had to demonstrate mastery of the skill of “Educating the Public about Pseudoscience.” To that end, each student has to prepare two 1,000ish word posts on a particular pseudoscience topic, as well as run a booth on-campus to help reach people physically about the topic.


    Palm Reading: Science or Pseudoscience? by Nikki Beasler

    That sounds like a simple question to most of us, but you would be surprised at how many people in this world actually believe in these types of fortune telling endeavors. As most of you know, a pseudoscience is a body of knowledge held out to be scientific but it does not comply with the scientific method. Some people do not see the harm in these simple forms of pseudoscience and believe them to be purely entertainment. I myself had my palm read while on vacation this summer in New Orleans. I did it with a friend for the entertainment value, not because we truly believed the palm reader held the key to our future (and it may have had a little to do with the hand grenade I drank beforehand). We were surprised at how similar our readings were. The problem is that many people do not see the distinction between fantasy and reality and millions of dollars are spent every year on this type of “entertainment”.

    Palmistry is a form of divination that uses the lines in a person’s palms to get details about the individual’s life and personality. Palmistry is also known as chiromancy which comes from the Greek word “cheir” meaning hand. Many people believe that anything that can be traced back as many years as palmistry must be valid. It has after all, withstood the “test of time” as if that were proof in and of itself. The Chiromancy Palmistry blog website describes it this way:

    Chiromancy palmistry roots of palm reading can be historically traced back to ancient Greece and Aristotle. Palm reading was widely used throughout the empires and nations of that region, and the east. It was used in Egypt, Babylon, India, Tibet, China, Sumer, Persia and more. It is commonly believed that palm reading actually originated in India, and has its roots in astrology, I Ching, and fortune tellers. A Hindu sage, Valmiki, is thought to have written about palm reading several thousand years ago. From India, it is really believed to have spread throughout the area east and west by word of mouth and practicing palm readers where it eventually reached Aristotle and many others.

    With that much history, there must be some scientific evidence that it is actually based on valid principles that can be proven, right? The simple answer is no, not at all. The reason palmistry falls into the pseudoscience category is because it is cloaked in scientific jargon and actually referred to as a science in many books and on many websites.  People holding themselves out as “doctors” practice the art of palm reading. Dr. Sarah Larsen is a world renowned palm reader according to her website, but what exactly is she a doctor of? Below is a small excerpt from her website:

    Dr. Sarah Larsen is a 3rd Generation Palm Reader, Psychic Counselor, and Medical Intuitive. She is the founder of Organic Health Mastery. Her education as a healer began with her grandmother in rural Pakistan. She received a degree as Medical Doctor from Medical University of the Americas. Her approach to hand analysis, intuition and healing is described as merging ancient wisdom, science, and spirituality for optimal living and completion of your soul’s journey!

    SARAH LARSEN, M.D., Co-HOST of CRN Network’s Divine Love Talk with Dr. Parthenia Grant

    This is when these types of pseudoscience began to enter the “danger zone”. People read this and amy believe that she is a practicing or licensed physician, which may or may not be true. This lends extra credence to her other claims (“She’s a doctor, she relies on science!”) and people begin to believe that maybe this really works and they sign up to pay money for her services, which are not cheap. Her website says you can buy the “Awareness Package” for $2,497 which is a 10 week program (with a $5,432 value).

    This is a video of Dr. Larsen in action at one of her “Personal Development for Extraordinary People Workshops”. You can tell the way she speaks to the woman she is trying to reel her in for a bigger sale.

    You may be asking yourself “how do people get duped into shelling out money for this type of service?” The answer lies in our human make-up. It is human nature to want to know what is going to happen in the future so we can prepare ourselves for it. The problem is that many people turn what they learn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. They do things that ultimately cause the things that have been predicted to actually come true.

    Many books and websites will actually refer to the “science” of palmistry. They offer no scientific proof that palmistry works and yet they try to make it sound like a science. The book The Mystery Of Palmistry (A Guide To The Art And Science Of Palm Reading) actually calls palmistry a science in the title, even though at the same time referring to it as an art. The cover is so appealing to the eye, it will actually draw the reader in because it looks so alluring. Shown is the cover along with the preface from the book. You can see where this could draw people in to the trap of believing in this nonsense and paying money for it.

     Back of The Book

    An ancient art with many systems of interpretation, Palmistry is a subject that has enthralled mankind for ages. In this comprehensive and easy to read volume P Khurrana, bestselling author and renowned exponent of astrology, tarot, vaastu — provides to the reader a guide to the art and science of palm reading.

    Explore the mysteries of palmistry in this book. Understand the connections between your past, your present and your future. Learn not only how to interpret the lines on your own hands — and those of people around you — but also the ethics and methods of the practice of palmistry.

    A must-read for all those who seek a greater understanding of life and the world through this fascinating art.


    Palmistry; the art and science of self-discovery, has been a part of our lives for ages. As we change and evolve with age, so do the lines on our hands.

    Man has been studying the importance of these lines since the very existence of mankind. Even in ancient times, thumbprints were used for various purposes. Julius Caesar judged his men with the help of palmistry; By studying both hands—the non- dominant hand (past) and the dominant hand (present)—we can recognize the traceable link between our past behavioral patterns and our present personality, thoughts and experiences. With this understanding, we can shape our future in a constructive, fulfilling way, making positive choices regarding our work, our dealings with people around us and many other important aspects of life.

    The practice of chiromancy is found all over the world, with numerous cultural variations. Those who practice it are generally called palmists, palm readers, hand readers, hand analysts or chirologists.

    Chiromancy is generally regarded as a pseudoscience. The information outlined below is briefly representative of modern palmistry; there are many—often conflicting—interpretations of various lines and palm features across various ‘schools’ of palmistry.

    Palmistry is also the term in older literature for sleight of hand.

    The easiest way to verify it for oneself is by going to a palmist who knows nothing about you. If he is able to mention a few things that happened in the past and relate them to the present, then you will be far more receptive to what he says about the future. In the past, many distinguished philosophers wrote about and approved of this science, which led us to believe in its authenticity. But, at the same time, palmistry is an ancient art, and one that has many systems of interpretation. It is also an intuitive art that can be learned easily, by understanding a few basic things about the symbolism that is represented by the lines that run across the palm, the mounts (or fleshy parts) of the palm and the structure of fingers. In palmistry the hand as a whole is divided into three different sections. The fingers represent the mind and the higher self. The middle of the palm represents day-to-day life and the conscious mind. The lower half of the palm represents primal instincts, health and basic drives of the subconscious. Palmistry is all about proportion, symmetry and distortions of what would be considered a perfectly formed hand.

    Palmistry begins with the obvious and proceeds, by innumerable intricate steps of judgment and interpretation, to extreme details of the palm. Conclusions drawn from a palm reading can provide you with answers to questions you have regarding your life.

    The author refers to palmistry as an art, a science and a pseudoscience just in the preface alone! No wonder it is so confusing to a lot of people. One very official looking video I came across was Hand Analysis – Palmistry – Is it Real or Fake? It gives the impression that it may actually provide some kind of evidence as to the authenticity of palmistry, but in the end it is just a way to draw people in to the online palm reading website of Kat Anders where you can get your palm read right over the internet for only $50. The link to Ms. Anders’ website says she has a master’s in health education, which again leads credibility to palmistry since she is a practicing palm reader. People think that she must be for real because an educated person like that would not be in the business of ripping people off. Well the only advice I have for them is THINK AGAIN.


    My favorite video has to be the one below where Derren Brown takes us on a journey to show just how gullible people are to these types of hoaxes. Mr. Brown is a British illusionist, mentalist, trickster, hypnotist, painter, writer, and skeptic. He has become well known for his mind-reading act and though his performances may appear to be the result of some psychic abilities, he does not claim to have such abilities and frequently, as in this video, sets out to expose those who do make such claims as the hoaxes that they are.

    In his video, Derren Brown – Palm Readers are Fake!, he shows just how easy it is to make people think that you are making a personality reading just for them when really it could apply to anyone. People hear what they want to hear and believe what they want to believe when it comes to all forms of divination, including palm reading. It is important that we, as educated people, try to bring out the skeptic in everyone we know so they are not easily fooled. As the old saying goes, “A fool and his money are soon parted”, so do your best to keep your friends and their money together when it comes to the likes of palmistry.


    I think the title of the book The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Palmistry says it all. I guess they aren’t saying only idiots need a guide to palmistry, but it could be taken that way. In reality the fact that there even is a book on Palmistry in the Complete Idiot’s Guide series shows just how popular this particular pseudoscience has become.


    Category: HealthOutreachPseudoscienceTeaching


    Article by: Caleb Lack

    Caleb Lack is the author of "Great Plains Skeptic" on SIN, as well as a clinical psychologist, professor, and researcher. His website contains many more exciting details, visit it at www.caleblack.com