ABC Primetime recently did an episode on psychics. From ten to twenty minutes in the episode, three ‘psychics’ take James Randi’s Million Dollar Challenge. Their responses when each of them — naturally — fail indicate that they are unable or unwilling to accept being wrong. We have three prime examples of how a proposition is testable, but its practitioners protect the hard core of the program by blaming an auxiliary hypotheses or the experimental setup. They’re willing to sacrifice anything in the protective belt to save the central meta-theoretical assumptions about their abilities to commune with the dead, read palms, or flip cards. As Randi says, “It’s called … what’s the term? ‘Stubborn!'”
Given recalcitrant data, one can easily place blame on the assumptions in the protective belt. It is only when the protective belt functions only for explaining away anomalies and does not generate new predictions that the scientific research program has become degenerative. While the theory is not refuted, for no theories can be refuted with any finality, the fact that the hard core has been protected come what may is enough to reject it as useless, potentially false, but overall as a system that does not explain anything anymore.
How, then, are we to take the psychic’s psychological makeup? They are superficially no more different than you or I, for we all make adjustments of the periphery rather than our self-image. Optimism would have been smothered in the cradle. Try living a life where any mistake would cause an existential crisis, a sense of terror at our inability to do anything right. We’re willing to think that we are good and just people, even though we remember that as a child we stole a candy bar. We lie to ourselves that we are honest, happy to think that each past lie was made under circumstances that required a little white lie or fib. It is a matter of degree, rather than kind.
We are all willing to hold on to our self-image in the face of reality, but just as the scientific community is, upon logical reconstruction and sociological function, designed to facilitate criticism of theories, not persons, above all other dogmas, the psychic community is designed to deflect any and all possible criticism. Possibly, this takes place after a link is made between the person and the central meta-theoretical assumption. After all, this is some special ‘ability’ that has been cultivated over many years. They’ve reached a point where a criticism of the central assumption is transformed into a criticism of their self-image. No one could let that stand without the strongest defense possible, including sacrificing everything-but the central meta-theoretical assumption to protect the self-image.
The third part of the program, though, is the most tragic. While the physics were either credulous idiots with the knack at cold reading or magicians that wanted to fleece people out of their money, this part focuses on psychics that claim to find the bodies of missing family members, known as ‘psychic detectives.’ It’s a heart-wrenching story of wasting time and energy on false leads and mental terrorism. Frankly, it’s disgusting. These ‘psychic detectives’ deserve a good verbal beat-down, and possibly a restraining order against the rest of humanity.