1/04/2011. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts
pub: Macmillan. 340 page illustrated small enlarged paperback. Price: GBP 12.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-250-75298-6.
check out website: www.panmacmillan.com and www.richardwiseman.com
The sub-title for ‘Paranormality; is ‘Why We See What Isn’t There’ and as author Richard Wiseman points out he focuses on why people believe in the paranormal and how people can be deceived. Considering that Wiseman is also a magician as well as a psychologist, he sees both sides of the fence and if nothing else, after reading this book, you should be able to avoid body reading, illusions and con techniques like subtle mind control from those who wish to exploit them. If there’s anything left after that, then you can wave your hand in the air and point to the real paranormal.
The first chapter deals with fortune telling which is more reading the person than tarot cards. Wiseman points out how ‘fortune-tellers’ can talk in vague terms until they find the right hook and even if they go in the wrong direction can re-interpret. If you still want to see such people, the lesson I learnt is not to carry too obvious clues as to your status because then they’ll be struggling to read anything. One thing Wiseman doesn’t explore is why do some people need a perfect stranger to tell them what to do.
The chapter dealing with out-of-body experiences covers a lot of familiar ground even if it doesn’t really cover the problem of how can you see when you don’t have eyes in the immaterial world.
Mind-over-matter is a different kettle of fish and Wiseman explains how easy it is to be deceived as to how things are done over the decades. He even supplies a few things you can try yourself. The one with a grey mist fading away from a centre black dot and differences between two photos hammer home how our attention isn’t as astute as it should be. Another important thing Wiseman shows is how the dressing prepares for you to accept things. A magician on stage you expect to see magic that fools the eye but someone doing it in front of your eyes as a normal person less so. Keep an eye on anyone who takes your cutlery to the bathroom for a little preparatory bending and being a lateral thinker can help you not to be readily fooled.
The chapter dealing with spiritualists was most illuminating, especially with how the unconscious minds of many sitting around a table can have it doing things without any ghosts present including Ouija board stuff. Did you know ‘ouiji’ derives from the French for ‘Yes’? Interestingly, it was scientist Michael Faraday who did the most to work out what was happening and it not being a total fraud and more a translation of muscle twitches. Well, except for the talking to the dead bit. Wiseman explains how to set up your own experiments with this although it can take nearly an hour for anything to happen or presumably you all getting into a dream state to let your inner ID out.
The topic of mind control alone is a good enough reason to want to read this book. To learn that horses pay attention to other people and can do sums from watching body language must surely be a clue to how humans can do it even better. There’s a good test to show which people are susceptible to hypnotism but there are limits as to how far a subject will go against their normal behaviour, mostly because they place faith in the hypnotist not to put them in danger. What is more worrying and a subject I’ve covered in my SF Nomenclature chapter a few years ago is the technique used by religions, cult or otherwise, used to control their congregation to the point of killing themselves. Wiseman also points out what to do to avoid this happening to you. What is scary is how easy it is to fall for the first step.
The final chapter deals with the problems of prophesy and statistical probability and that if you have a big enough population someone will announce they’ve predicted something and why the odds are that someone will win the lottery. I guess the only way to really find real precogs is if the same person can keep coming up with the proven predictions but then, that would be a pipe-dream and Wiseman points out, dreams alone don’t really cut it but they can set you up for a good day.
There’s lots more in this book. If you think this is a standard debunking book then I think you will be surprised because what is really going on is far more fascinating, especially by those who will use it against you. Knowing this, you should be able to protect yourself from such people or at least think before being taken in. Wiseman occasionally goes tongue-in-cheek but this balances things out to see if you’re paying attention to what he’s writing. The fact that you also have some experiments to try out is going to make your parties a lot more interesting. Recommended reading.
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