There's no magic with psychics

Misled: Worried? You're better off watching a magician than consulting someone with supernatural powers

Herald, Ireland/January 24, 2009

Keith Barry is the first to admit that what he does isn't for real.

He is not a magician. Yet, I'm sure you too have been baffled and bewildered by what he can appear to do, if you've seen him in action on stage or on TV.

He can 'read' your mind, drive a car blindfolded, knows what you were thinking last Tuesday. He can turn one substance into another, create something out of nothing. He can make you believe that the laws of physics are suspended when he's around, or that you've gone a little bonkers, maybe.

Yet, none of it is real. Keith is an illusionist, a brilliant one. This is because there is no such thing as magic, not outside of fairytale books, at least.

I have no idea how he does his tricks, and I don't want to -- I'd prefer to keep the wonderment and enjoy the spectacle. So would Keith, who recently won the Merlin Award, the Oscar equivalent of the magic world.

Magic, as we see it performed, is a skill, an art-form practised for years until it is impossible to detect the sleight of hand.

There's nothing supernatural about it and the laws of science are firmly intact when it is taking place. So much so that Keith has offered €10,000 to anyone who can prove otherwise. This should be easy.

There are so many people out there with 'special gifts' of psychic abilities they have no problem charging for, so one hopes they'll come forward in droves and do Keith out of his money.


So why would he be so rash? "I'm fed up with phonies trying to make a quick buck and profit from the recession by masquerading as psychics and fortune tellers," he said.

"I'm willing to give away €10,000 to anyone who proves to me, under my conditions, that they're psychic."

He's not the first illusionist to do so. Indeed, any psychics, tarot readers, fortune tellers or astrologists out there can do better.

James Randi, a US-based illusionist, offers $1m for the same feat.

Even given the current state of the dollar, that's a better return. However, the offer was first made in 1964 and to date, nobody has won it.

Lest you think the test circumstances are too severe, Randi claims that the 'psychic' themselves can set the test parameters.

All he asks is that it is independently observed, in laboratory conditions and shows any -- any evidence at all -- of "paranormal, supernatural, or occult powers or events".

Past claims have included psychics, mediums, extra-sensory perception, dowsing, astrology and faith healing. No joy.

Indeed, Randi has publicly called on celebrity psychics like James Van Praagh and John Edward, who have popular TV shows where people speak from the afterlife, to come forward. None have. Neither has spoon-bending Uri Geller.

You might think that it's all a bit of a laugh, and you'd be right -- it should be.

But for many people, paying someone they believe is in touch with their dead husband, or worse, child, and can pass on messages is both dangerous and unforgivable.

It's one thing to giggle about one twelfth of the population meeting a tall, dark handsome stranger today because their 'stars' say so, but quite another to gather hundreds of people into a hall at 50 quid a head and claim to be passing on messages from dead people.


The most insidious of all are expensive phone services which claim to have "trained psychics" (their words) on the other end of the line.

These can, for a vulnerable person at a low point in their life -- particularly during recessionary times, when such businesses see a massive increase in business -- seem like a lifeline, but many hundreds of euro can be run up in phone bills before finding out that instead, a free call to the Samaritans or a good friend would offer better solace.

Indeed, these phone lines, costing up to €2.40 a minute, now have warnings attached to them by law stating they are "for entertainment purposes only". That's a clue.

Whether it's separating tea leaves in a cup, jangling crystals, staring at hands or shuffling plastic cards with funny drawings on them, our search for answers is endless, and such daft methods of finding them can be addictive to naive or weak-minded people.

Those who are sad, bereft or worried would be better off curling up in front of the TV and watching a great magic show -- now that's real entertainment.

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