An American Prophet

Apparently, no statistics on the percentage of cases cured exist, and the reader must decide whether the "cures" recorded were due to Cayce's miraculous psychic insight or to a combination of the placebo effect, natural recoveries, patient selection, good common sense, dumb luck, cold reading techniques, and vague changes counted as successes.

Not surprisingly, excuses for the failure of readings abound in the book. Indeed, Cayce couldn't save his own son or various other members of his family.

Stock Market, Oil Wells

As he grew older, Cayce did not limit himself to medical readings. He consulted the Source extensively on behalf of credulous business partners interested in Texas oil wells, the stock market, horse races, and even Hollywood screenplays. All of his get-rich-quick schemes failed, and he retreated once again to medical readings and less falsifiable prophecies.

Still, he never met a pseudoscience he didn't like and was an ardent believer in astrology, reincarnation, perpetual motion machines, the fabled city of Atlantis, and prophetic dreams. Moreover, his beliefs, visions, and readings were bizarrely interconnected.

The reason, for example, for the technological advances of the present age is that many people living today are reincarnations of the technologically savvy denizens of Atlantis.

Kirkpatrick tells us that Cayce had the astonishing ability to lay his head on a book and thereby absorb its contents without formally reading it. As I slogged through this ungainly, preposterous, and absurdly detailed book, I found myself longing for the same facility.

The book does have one use, however. You can throw it at your TV when psychics start relaying silly messages from viewers' dead relatives.

Professor of mathematics at Temple University, John Allen Paulos is the author of several best-selling books, including Innumeracy and A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper. His Who’s Counting? column on ABCNEWS.com appears on the first day of every month.

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