Skeptic Answers Your Questions on Psychics

A: Indeed, I wrote a column about this very subject in Scientific American ("Psychic Drift") in which I bemoaned the fact that serious psychic researchers have now had well over a century to put ESP to the test, and out of tens of thousands of experiments run there are only a couple significant ones, and even these fall apart under close scrutiny. By now it should be obvious if there were really something to psychic power. There isn't, and it isn't likely that there will ever be with that failure rate.

Q: Why can't you let this go, What does it matter to you if he can realy talk/see the dead. As a person who has lost her parents and too many other family members to mention, HE GIVES US HOPE, AND SOME CLOSURE. I don't care realy if it is true.. ALL I care about is that he/they John Edward, James Van Praagh and Sylvia Browne all give us a hope that we will see our long lost loved ones again. Also how can them making people feel so good about such a huge lost in theier lives, be so wrong ??? Do you know of any ways to help the pain of a lost loved one??? — Pamela Nicholson

A: Yes, grief counselors. These are trained professionals who deal in loss, death and grief. They tell me that the reason the psychics are harmful is that pretending that one's lost loved one is not really gone keeps one in a state of denial, making it impossible to ever work through the grieving process.

Q: Dear Mr. Shermer, What do you belive happens to us when we die? Second, what is your religion? Why do you choose to be a skeptic? How long have you been a skeptic? When we die, do you believe we go into the ground and that's it? — Susan Bowen

A: Nothing happens when we die. We just quit living. You can't even experience death, because all experience requires a functioning brain. If you are dead, your brain is not functioning, by definition. I am not religious. My world view is scientific and rational. Not everyone goes into the ground upon death. Some go into the sea. A couple have even gone into space (the ashes of Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek, were allegedly launched in a tiny capsule). As for our "souls" (which is what I presume you mean), there is not a shred of evidence that anything survives the death of the physical body.

Q: I have a question for Mr. Shermer. It is a little off the subject of psychics talking to the dead but it involves one of America's greatest psychics. What is your opinion about the psychic abilities of the late Edgar Cayce? His psychic readings are well-documented and his sincerity and honesty seem above reproach. — Glen Culp

A: I wrote about Edgar Cayce and my experiences at the Association for Research and Enlightenment in Virginia in my book Why People Believe Weird Things. His psychic readings are indeed well-documented, and leather-bound and stored in a beautiful library. And I have never questioned the sincerity of the man. But that's not what is at issue. The question is, could he actually diagnose medical conditions beyond chance? No. Could he really return to previous lives he claims he lived in ancient Egypt and Atlantis? No.

Q: If you can communicate with the afterlife, is there a Heaven, a Hell, and a purgatory? Do you have communication with a superior being (God)? — Richard Gatto

A: No. No. No. And definitely no.

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