The following occurred in August of this past summer, and due to other projects,Ã‚Â I’ve just now gotten around to writing about it. Draw your own conclusions, and haveÃ‚Â a great 2007!
“How does this guy sleep at night?” Glenn Beck shot out a rhetorical question concerning psychic John Edward, as my wife and I sat inÃ‚Â his radio studio. We were on the airÃ‚Â discussing our private “reading” by the famous medium who appears regularly on a program entitled “Cross Country” on Women’s Entertainment Network, the network from which, as luck would have it,Ã‚Â I happened to have won a free reading in a contest on the WE website.
While in New York we dropped in to visit Beck and his staff, as I do some writing for his magazine, Fusion. Glenn was interested in the story of our reading, so he asked if we’d like to discuss it on the air.
Winning the contest, which included a trip to New York, the “reading,” dinners, and other goodies, was a stroke of luck, as I’ve always wanted to be “read”Ã‚Â but have never been willing to pay for it.
I’ve always been a fan of magic and magicians. I’ve learned a few amateur magic tricks myself along the way, and have gotten a little better over the years at being able to tell how certain tricks are done. This even applies to psychic mediums.
I’ve read plenty about how Houdini would visit mediums and later expose how they did their “tricks,” but much of this was physical in nature, i.e. raising tables, “mysterious” sounds, etc. That’s the easy part. The hard part is appearing to be “dead on” with a psychic read while simply using a logical albeit quick process of elimination along with a general knowledge of human nature and the law of averages. Those of us who think the field of psychic mediums is an entirely phony endeavor call this a “cold reading.”
First, the skeptics. I’ve read a lot of material written by magician James Randi and many others about John Edward in particular (here’s a piece by RandiÃ‚Â debunking Edward’s appearance on Beck’s TV show).
Other common debunking theories are things like, “He must have the studio bugged somehow,” “you can learn almost anything about anybody on the Internet,” “there’s a questionnaire you fill out and that’s how they get a lot of that stuff” are some of the common claims. “Cold reading” is the other technique often described.
Before we left the house for the airport, I asked my wife what we’d need to hear to convince us that Edwards wasn’t just going through a cold reading. “What would convince us that he wasn’t just your average hokey psychic?” We agreed that a hand print that hangs on a French door leading into the living room would be a telling sign of something beyond a cold reading. The print belongs to our daughter Molly, who died of a rare disease in 1996 just before her 4th birthday.
The hand printÃ‚Â falls to the floor once in a while, and we often say something along the line of “Molly, cut that out!” It’s become kind of a joke in the house, since there are other things on the door, and they never fall. Most importantly, nobody else, outsideÃ‚Â my wife and me,Ã‚Â knows about this and I’ve never written about it.
We also talked about what would be less than compelling “psychic” information. Things you can discover on Google, for instance. “You’re a writer,” for example, would have been a dead giveaway.
We arrived at the office where Edwards does his private readings. It was a little out of the way small building in a semi-rural area near Huntington Station on Long Island. The interior reminded me of a small town dentists office without the 1992 Field and Stream magazine and an issue of “People” with Leif Garrett on the cover on a coffee table.
Almost as soon as we entered, a woman emerged and I simply gave her my name and she said “John will be with you in a few minutes.”
We sat down and waited.
The skeptic in me was a little disappointed. Strike one. We weren’t asked to fill out any forms, or asked any questions about anything whatsoever. We weren’t frisked to make sure we had any recording equipment, which is something I’ve read in skeptic books and websites. “On his TV show, they edit it down so there are more ‘hits,’ and they don’t want anybody recording it and later using it to prove how many times he missed” is another common claim. Strike two.
The door opened and a woman asked us into another area of the building. The room we entered looked like an un-lived in living room. White leather couches and chairs, a couple of desks, some pillows and a lamp. This was another welcome surprise. There was none of the stereotypical psychic pomp and circumstance. Nobody ever came through the room waving a canister of incense smoke around, there were no beads, no candles, no creepy after-life sounding music emanating from a stereo — nothing.
After a short time, a blue-jean, gray t-shirt clad Edward walked into the room. We introduced ourselves and sat down directly across from him. Just the three of us were in the room.
The reading began.
The first thing Edward said, after encouraging a healthy skepticism and for us to not try to lead him where we might want him to go, was, “I’m getting a dominant energy coming through… did you lose a son?”
In our best poker faces, one of us, I think it was me, replied, “No.” I was doing my best to give up no more information than was absolutely necessary. I was determined to approach the reading like a court deposition.
Edward persisted. “A daughter?”
The skeptic in me thought this was fishing, but still, I’m 40, and my wife looks younger than her 37 years, so to assume we’d lost a child would have been a big leap to take on the first try.
Edward said he interprets dominant energies as male, but that can be wrong if the female is a dominant personality. The skeptic in me was still wavering. Sure, our daughter had a very powerful and strong personality, but I was determined to remain completely neutral — the Sweden of psychic read-ees. We sat and waited for more.
This was followed by a few words about my grandmother, “a ‘D’ connection… a ‘D’ name” Edward said. My grandmother’s name was Donna. Edward said our daughter was bringing my grandmother through with her. At this point I was more than a little worried that Edwards would follow up with something along the line of, “your grandmother’s telling me to tell you to knock off that thing you do in the shower,” but thankfully that didn’t happen. Whew!
The “‘insert letter here’ connection” thing Edward does to bring forth a first name has always been less than compelling to me, as I could pick almost any initial and you might know somebody whose name begins with that, but we rolled with it.
Edward then looked at my wife and said, “Has your father passed?”
“No” my wife replied.
“Then who’s ‘Joe’?” Edward wanted to know.
“My brother’s name is Joe, and my father’s name is Joe, and his father’s name is Joe” she explained, “And my brother died.”
Edward continued speaking to my wife. “You and your brother were not close.” This time it was a statement, not a question, and my wife confirmed that indeed was the case.
“He’s telling me that you have another brother who you like more than him.” This was so accurate that it was as if my wife’s brother had jumped into Edward’s body and taken his mouth hostage.
Everybody knows a “Joe,” but in this context, there seemed to be a little more to it than a simple name association game. If he’d have just blurted out “do you know a ‘Joe’?” I’d have probably left to make it back to the city in time for happy hour.
We moved into many other areas, some of what I would consider big “hits,” and a few things that didn’t seem to make sense. At some point in the future, maybe I’ll go into them in greater detail.
All in all, Edward’s percentage was pretty good and resembled what happens on his television programs, which leads me to believe that those who have faith in Edward’s psychic ability aren’t drawn to that conclusion due to an overworked tape editor.
The close of the reading was the goose-bump inducer for us. The last thing Edward said was, “your daughter is taking credit for the picture or portrait that falls off the wall.”
So needless to say I spent the ensuing days searching for the electronic bug in my house.
Is it common for pictures of deceased loved ones to fall and for it to be blamed on said loved one? I wouldn’t doubt it. Would the “psychic” know this is a common occurrance? Absolutely. Do they say it in every reading? Not in the ones I’ve seen.Ã‚Â Take it for what it’s worth, butÃ‚Â itÃ‚Â did addÃ‚Â some spice to the reading.
All I can say about the reading of this skeptic and his wife is this: if John Edward is a totalÃ‚Â phony, he’s the best I’ve seen. He had just enough “hits” of things you couldn’t discover via Internet search or background check, and just enough “misses” to lead us to believe that a fraud who had done homework on us wouldn’t have gotten those things wrong. Or, is that part of the psychic’s intentional game?
Skeptics simply say this is playing the odds, and they could be right. My kids have a little electronic game called “20 Questions” where you pick an object, living or inanimate, and the game asks you 20 questions, never making it appear obvious it’s heading in the direction of your object of choice. Then it guesses. The game isÃ‚Â almost always correct, and the first reaction of users is often “how’d it do that?” Some psychics are like the 20 Questions game.
That said, I’d defy any skeptic/magicianÃ‚Â who says he can duplicate what can be done by any good cold-reader to be at least as convincing as Edward. If any would like to try, I’m game. Edward had a shot to convince me, and now it’s only fair to give a skeptic a chance.
Many of us hit our knees every night and ask God, Jesus, or the entity of our choosing, for favors, healing, help, and plenty of other things, but if somebody else says they can “talk to the dead,” we call them kooks and/or frauds. I never wanted to be that type of person, since the hypocrisy would be overwhelming.
I never wanted to approach the study of psychic mediums with the assumption that “talking to the dead” is impossible, since investigating a topic based on a preconceived notion isn’t bound to harvest sound and unbiased results, and that’sÃ‚Â what I think has happened whenever I listen to the “conclusions” of many skeptics.
As for John Edward, what I witnessed from this particular medium was in contradiction to reports I’ve read from many skeptics of “what happens” before, during and after a reading. I’m not over my skepticism of psychics, but as a result of our reading with John Edward, I’ve also developed a healthier skepticism of the skeptics — which is, all the way around, as it should be.
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