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The Psychology of the Psychic    by David Marks order for
Psychology of the Psychic
by David Marks
Order:  USA  Can
Prometheus, 2000 (1980)
Hardcover, Paperback

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* * *   Reviewed by David Pitt

This is the second edition of the classic exposé of so-called psychics and psychic phenomena. The book was originally published in 1980; Marks's original coauthor, Richard Kammann, passed away in 1984. Although the book has been updated, and substantially rewritten, in substance it has not changed much since its first appearance.

Marks opens with a short chapter explaining how the book's original authors, experimental psychologists by profession, wound up testing and investigating claims of paranormal ability. He closes the book with a discussion of the quirks of human behavior that permit psychics to pull the wool over our eyes: our inability to understand the nature of coincidence; our willingness to accept extraordinarily unlikely explanations for simple things, and to see what we expect to see; our natural tendency toward superstition and the belief in the supernatural.

The rest of the book is taken up with careful, precise examinations of some well-known psychics and phenomena. Marks discusses remote viewing (the supposed ability to see a particular location without actually visiting it, a skill that, under rigorous testing, has always proven to be mere trickery); the ridiculous notions of psychic staring (blindfolded people know when they're being stared at, another phenomenon that buckles under proper testing); and, get ready for this, psychic pets (this is too stupid to waste your time explaining).

The bulk of The Psychology of the Psychic is, quite properly, devoted to Uri Geller, the Israeli psychic who burst on to the scene three decades ago and who still, despite the repeated and categorical exposure of his tricks and deceits, claims to possess genuine psychic ability. This is the guy who used to make a living bending keys and spoons, fixing broken watches, guessing the subject of a drawing sealed inside an envelope, and other third-rate conjurers' parlor tricks. He was a worldwide superstar in the seventies, and a chunk of the eighties, until most people finally wised up.

Marks, like other debunkers of Geller's claims (and there have been many debunkers, including professional conjurers and reputable scientists), shows how anyone can duplicate his allegedly-psychic feats. Give someone a pad of paper and a long pencil; ask them, while you cover your eyes with your hands, to draw something on the pad, tear off the sheet of paper, and seal it in an envelope. While they're doing their drawing, concentrating on the paper, peek through your fingers and watch the top of the pencil, watch how it describes straight lines and curves; this is called pencil reading, and it's an old and well-known magician's trick. Now, after your friend has sealed his drawing in the envelope, take up your own pad, make a big show of divining what's in the envelope, and then reproduce what you just watched him draw on his pad. You probably won't get it exactly right, but it'll be close. That, with an assortment of cosmetic variations, is how Geller does it.

Here's another one: take a watch that's stopped working (but has all its parts); tell your friend to hold it tightly in his hand for several minutes, perhaps ask him to move his hand in slow circles. Gosh wow! The watch has started working again. As Marks learned from several jewellers, most watches stop because they're dusty, or because their oil has gummed up. They can be restarted, temporarily, simply by holding them or moving them around a bit: the heat from our hands will loosen up the oil, and the motion will dislodge the dust. (After a test, seven jewellers reported to Marks that they restarted 60 out of 106 watches in this manner, without ever cracking them open -- and they weren't even psychic.) It's as simple as that.

Over the years, Geller's entire repertoire -- every single paranormal thing he's ever claimed to do -- has been duplicated, repeatedly, by people who make no claim to having any psychic abilities whatsoever. In fact, no psychic phenomenon has ever held up under strict, foolproof testing, although in tests where the possibility of cheating exists the phenomena always seem to manifest themselves. The question we're left with, and it's the central question of Mark's book, is this: why, if every psychic phenomenon ever proposed has either been disproven in controlled tests or duplicated by non-psychics, do so many people persist in believing in the paranormal? This fascinating book goes a long way toward providing an answer.

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