Ah, a match made in Heaven. Here we have two ends of the spectrum: Sylvia Browne, the multi-media mogul who has established a psychic empire, and James Randi, professional skeptic who claims to offer a million + prize to anyone who can prove the existence of psi phenomena.
In truth, these two are quite similar: two sides of the same coin. They have both made careers for themselves in the field of the paranormal, they are both extremist in their views, and they both pretend to uphold and promulgate the Truth. What is so terribly frustrating is that we are often forced to choose sides: are you the mushy, Sylvia-loving true believer, or are you the hard-nosed exposer of all frauds? It seems that the media forces one to “take sides,” even though both sides represented here are false choices. I either have to conclude that Ms. Browne is a TOTAL fraud, and therefore an evil, conniving betrayer to those who trust in her, OR I have to believe that she is a guide and seer for the Other Side. The same for James Randi: I either contend that he is a hero for saving us from such New Age tomfoolery, or I condemn him for his close-minded, cynical and narrow viewpoints on what is real and what is possible.
The language used in pro and con Sylvia Browne sites is inflammatory, designed to whip up sentiment, not analysis. The truth is much more complex and subtle than a simple condemnation of all psychics. Whereas Randi will insist that all psychic phenomena is utter invention, Browne at least admits that she is not always right. Randi’s “test” of psychic phenomena is one that he must control, and he chooses the design and the people involved. He makes no allowance for the fact that something could be real, yet not repeatable on command or under laboratory conditions; and he certainly is not aware of the impressive research conducted by the Rhines at Duke University, which–under strict laboratory conditions–conclusively demonstrated over thousands of tests that ESP is a real effect.
Is it not possible that Browne has some psychic ability that she has exaggerated for profit over the years? She could be gifted with psi abilities, but they may not always work for her–which is terribly sad for the parents of a missing child who hears her tell them that he is dead, when he was actually alive and well (there is a well-known Anderson Cooper video that discusses this incident). This might be the real problem: even if public figures such as Browne DO have a certain level of psychic skill, should they run such a public risk of miscalculation? What does it mean, morally and ethically, to be WRONG about a future prediction? If you tell someone that she will have four children by the time she is 40, and she ends up with three, well . . . no harm done, really. But if you insist that a mother’s missing child is dead, and you are wrong, the consequences for that family ripple outward forever. The emotional damage is permanent.
Discussing all matters related to psychic phenomena or survival of consciousness is fraught with the potential for conflict and angry accusations. The entire area becomes far too emotional when there is no consensus as to what, exactly, we are talking about. That is why I have started to listen to the scientists, doctors, forensic pathologists, philosophers, sociologists and theologists who carefully and responsibly examine the theoretical possibilities. This is far too important an area to take lightly, or to abuse for one’s personal gain. The best paranormal investigators I know are highly ethical people, taking into consideration the historical value of the sites they visit, listening carefully to what people tell them about the “odd things” that happen in their house, and approaching the evaluation of data with care and caution. I am wary of anyone who has made a name for him/herself by making dubious claims and sticking to them at all costs.
Psychics may not know where they get their information, so they hypothesize; they may not know why they are right sometimes, and wrong other times–so they might try to cover their tracks. They may be as embarrassed by their “misses” as we are critical of them when they miss. What we are really upset about is the possibility that Sylvia Browne and others might be abusing the trust of their clients on a conscious level; that they are NOT embarrassed or upset over faulty predictions, that they do NOT examine their gift or analyze its meaning or attempt to monitor themselves so that their mistakes do not hurt others. The websites that blast Browne and lionize Randi are not really discussing the objective reality of psi effects. I don’t think they care about that. What they care about is the spectacle of the two combatants playing itself out on television, and the furor they can create simply by displaying their pictures and telling some awful stories.
I have decided to flee the spectacle and the entire issue of whether or not there are true psychics (I believe there are) or real channelers for the dead. If I debate such issues, it will always be a matter of opinion. Opinions are defended to the death without solid evidence that most people would accept. One psychic I visited was so dead-on accurate about the details of my life that I cannot imagine for a moment that her powers were not absolutely real; however, I would not drag her into Randi’s ‘experiment’ just to watch her fail. I don’t pretend to know how psi works, but I am attempting to figure it out. In the meantime, I will always try to keep an open mind and believe that anything is possible.
If Sylvia Browne or another psychic changed your life, then who is Randi or anyone else to deny that it worked, that communication with the dead is possible? My only point is this: if we can find the theory of reality that supports and explains such phenomena, then the Browne-Randi shows will vanish like so much annoying smoke. As amusing as fighting over the truth can be, if it is simply entertainment, the truth loses out to the spectacle of the show. I want to believe–but I want a good reason to believe.
Science is answers that must always be questioned.
Philosophy is questions that may never be answered.
Religion is answers that must never be questioned.
Politics is answers that lobbyists pay for.