Tag Archive: psychic

(Submitted by guest contributor Ben Radford)

Though my skepticism didn’t really come until full bloom until I was in college, I was more or less skeptical of many things by high school, including psychics. I was a voracious reader as a kid, and though I hadn’t yet picked up my first skeptical publication I loved books about curiosities, trivia, and little-known facts (or, as I’d later realize, sometimes “facts”).

When I was a junior in high school I took an art class, partly because it was an easy A and partly because I wanted to try my hand at clay and modeling. Students didn’t have individual desks but instead were seated two to a side on stools around large square metal-covered worktables. There was one kid (I forget his name, but we always called him “Drac” because he was blond and had a vaguely vampiric visage) who sat at my table. We were casual acquaintances, and didn’t know much more about each other than our first names (apparently not even that).

However one day out of the blue, in the middle of class while cutting a piece of metal into the shape of a Picassoesque horse, I said to him, “Hey—I’ll bet I know your mom’s middle name.” He looked at me sideways and gave a quick laugh. “Yeah? What is it?” he challenged. Without missing a beat—and while staring him directly in the eyes—I said simply, “It’s Ann.”

His laugh stopped, his face grew slack, and the blood drained from his face. His eyes grew wide, and then narrowed. “How did you know that?” he demanded. I just gave a brief mysterious smile and went back to working on my horse. “How did you know that?” he asked again. I just ignored him.

I don’t know if he thought I was psychic, or I had investigated his family, or what, but the next week he moved to a different table, avoided me in the halls, and never spoke to me again.

Of course, I didn’t know his mother’s middle name; I had read that the most common women’s middle name was Ann. I played the odds, acted confident and authoritative about my knowledge, and passed myself off as knowing something I didn’t. That experience still serves me 25 years later as I observe psychics doing hot and cold readings, and informs my investigations into the psychology of psychic experiences. It made quite an impression on him, and I wonder if, to this day, he tells the story to others, offering it as his personal experience with real, unexplainable psychic powers.


Ben Radford

Ben Radford

Benjamin Radford is a scientific paranormal investigator, a research fellow at the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, deputy editor of the Skeptical Inquirer, and author or co-author of six books and over a thousand articles on skepticism, critical thinking, and science literacy. His newest book is The Martians Have Landed: A History of Media Panics and Hoaxes. Radford is also a columnist for Discovery News and LiveScience.com.

(Submitted by friend of the site, Ross Blocher, of the Oh No, Ross and Carrie! podcast)

I’d been invited to a friend’s kickball party, and before the game a bunch of us were sitting around in the shade catching up and talking about random topics. One such subject was that of secret codes and safe words between friends and family in the event of an emergency. My friend said, “If I were being held at gunpoint and had to call my boyfriend, I’ve got a secret safe word I can insert into the conversation to let him know I’m in trouble.”

I laughed and then mimicked a conversation on my thumb-and-pinky phone, “Hey Nick, I’ve got to go to the store first and pick up some… WATERMELON.”

There was an awkward silence as my friend looked at me quizzically and a little taken aback. Finally she said, “Wait, how did you know that? I didn’t tell you that. Watermelon was my safe word. Now I’ve got to come up with a new one.”

Now if only I had said I was psychic before that: I could have really cashed in.

Below are the extended notes provided by Barbara Drescher for use in Skepticality Episode 193. Take a look and leave your comments below.

I could not even begin to calculate the odds of this and I can’t explain my own reaction, either, but I will try. My first thought was, “That’s a guessable safe word.”

I think that when we try to think of passwords and safe words, we are trapped by the availability of words in our vocabulary. You want a word obscure enough that it wouldn’t normally be used in conversation, but one that can be worked into a conversation without too much trouble. “Watermelon” seems to me to be a good level of obscurity, but if the story omitted the safe word, then asked readers to predict what the word was, would I have guessed it? No way to tell, really.

Meeting Roots

(Submitted by reader Chris C)

My best coincidence experience was when I was sitting in a staff meeting (group supervision for a psychological clinic that I was working at) and all five of the people in the meeting had lived, at one time or another in their life, in Lawrence, Massachusetts — including myself.  This was a clinic in Irvine, California.  We had all known each other for some time, were all students of the school, had enrolled at different times in life, had moved to California at different times and for different reasons, and it just happened to surface while sitting around chatting.