- Everyone knows there's no such thing as Magic - at least
no REAL Magic. According to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English
Language, Magic is: "The practice of using charms, spells, or rituals
to attempt to produce supernatural effects or control events in nature."
This certainly does not fit with the garden variety "magic" one
can find on any given night in a stale Vegas casino. Rather, this most
basic definition of Magic evokes images in the mind's eye of Gandalf casting
demons into fiery pits with a single strike of his mighty sceptre.
- I see a certain irony in the fact that some of the world's
most famous magicians are often skeptics and/or debunkers of the paranormal.
It would seem that some of these performers, having learned the secrets
of common stage magic, have come to believe that there are no unknowns,
no mysteries remaining in the natural world. Some of these people even
display a contempt for the intelligence of the average person, using terms
like "the unwashed public" to describe the common man. Their
thought process seems to go like this: If people can be duped into believing
that a rabbit really was pulled from a hat, then they are ready and willing
to believe anything - a flying saucer crashed in Roswell, a man-like beast
named Bigfoot roams the forests of the northwest, a psychic medium can
put them in touch with their departed loved ones.
- Indeed, contempt for the human condition (or at least
the condition of the pitiable "unwashed public") seems the very
crux of the debunker ideology. It is this contempt which leads them to
belittle eye witness accounts of "paranormal" phenomena as "anecdotal
testimony," and which causes them to reject with a sneer and a curse
the research of eminently qualified scholars like Dr. Gary Schwartz as
"biased" and "unreliable." It is also this contempt
which has driven the most noted skeptic/debunker of them all, the so-called
"Amazing Randi," to stake a million dollars of other peoples'
money on his assertion that no paranormal, supernatural, or occult phenomena
can be proven by responsible scientists.
- The James Randi Educational Foundation's "million
dollar psychic challenge," has, if nothing else, succeeded in garnering
Randi a great deal of publicity. He has appeared regularly on the Larry
King show opposite alleged psychics Sylvia Browne and Rosemary Altea. It
is Randi's assertion that Browne refuses to submit to a fair testing by
his organization. Since his most recent public sparring match with Browne,
Randi has had posted on his website a "Sylvia Countdown" clock,
where he tracks the number of days that have passed since the mutually
agreed upon deadline of Browne's testing.
- Many Randi critics have labeled the Challenge "biased"
and "unscientific." Randi often refers to paranormal proponents
as "frauds," and/or "self-deluded fools," and inspite
of Randi's stated basis, it is JREF which ultimately must approve all testing
protocols. Unfortunately, in many ways, the Challenge remains too much
of an unknown to come under any real scrutiny, as JREF asserts that numerous
applicants, after failing the mandatory "preliminary testing,"
have asked that their identities be kept secret. It is also JREF's assertion
that no applicant to date has ever passed the preliminary testing.
- We can argue over the competency and/or impartiality
of the JREF organization, but the issue of the Challenge's credibility
is affected far more by the words and behavior of Randi himself. Repeatedly,
Randi has shown himself to be not only contradictory and hypocritical but
eminently illogical in his defense of the Challenge's application process.
Bear in mind that Randi asserts there is no valid evidence to support any
paranormal, supernatural, or occult phenomena. This obviously includes
Sylvia Browne's claim that she can contact the dead, predict the future,
and read minds. However, on Randi's most recent appearance on the Larry
King show, King asked Randi: "Is one of the possibilities that Sylvia
is telling the truth?" Randi's response to this was: "Absolutely."
It would seem that Randi would have us believe that he has not yet made
up his mind about Browne's alleged "abilities," and only wants
to see her tested fairly. If this is Randi's attitude about Browne, then
why does he not apply the same logic to others who have attempted to apply
for the Challenge?
- In June of 1999 a German man named Rico Kolodzey attempted
to apply for the Challenge as a self-described "breatharian."
Kolodzey calims he can live on nothing but water and "prana"
- a supposed divine form of "life energy." This certainly would
qualify as a claim of the "paranormal," and on the surface, does
not seem any less plausible than Sylvia Browne's claim of psychic powers.
However, Randi immediately and categorically rejected Kolodzey's application.
The problem for Randi is the logic - or total lack thereof - he displayed
in defending this rejection. Randi's email to Kolodzey reads: (from http://www.alternativescience.com/randi_retreats.htm):
- Date: 6/18/99 12:03 PM
- Mr. Kolodzey:
- Don't treat us like children. We only respond to responsible
- Are you actually claiming that you have not consumed
any food products except water, since the end of 1998? If this is what
you are saying, did you think for one moment that we would believe it?
- If this is actually your claim, you're a liar and a fraud.
We are not interested in pursuing this further, nor will we exchange correspondence
with you on the matter.
- Signed, James Randi.
- (A hard-copy of this letter will be sent by post to you,
- James Randi Educational Foundation
- 201 S.E. 12th Street (Davie Blvd.)
- Fort Lauderdale, FL 33316-1815
- What exactly is Randi asserting when he writes: "We
only respond to responsible claims." Is Sylvia Browne's claim that
she can talk to the dead a "responsible" one? What about Uri
Geller's assertion that he can bend spoons with the power of his mind?
Would Randi have use believe that he views the "abilities" of
Browne and Geller as more "plausible" than Kolodzey's? Again,
we must remember, it is Randi's assertion that there is NO VALID EVIDENCE
of any paranormal or supernatural phenomena, so there really can be no
such thing as "degrees of plausibility" in this field. But even
more importantly, if Kolodzey IS a liar and a fraud (which he may very
well be), then one would think that JREF has all the more reason to accept
his application. Isn't that the whole point of the Randi Challenge - to
expose dangerous hucksters and/or "self-deluded frauds?"
- When Randi asserts CATEGORICALLY and A PRIORI that Mr.
Kolodzey is a LIAR and a FRAUD, is he not betraying the sentiment he voiced
on the Larry King show - that he hasn't made up his mind, and only wants
to find the truth?
- It is also worth noting that there may be evidence of
human beings surviving without food or even water for extraordinary lengths
of time. Recently, the Herald Sun of Australia reported that an Indian
man, claiming to have consumed no food or water for 68 years, was observed
for ten days by close-circuit cameras at a hospital in Ahmedabad. He
was believed to consume nothing, neither food nor drink, during this time,
yet suffered no detectable ill effects to his health. Neurologist Sudir
Shah stated: "He has evidence of the formation of urine, which was
reabsorbed on his bladder wall. The medical committee does not have any
scientific explanation.". (Link: http://www.heraldsun.news.com.au/common/story_
- Randi has publicly responded to this case, writing on
his website (www.randi.org): "Mr. Jani, who dresses in the female
costume of a devotee of the goddess Ambaji, a red sari-like garment, nose
ring, bangles and crimson flowers in his graying hair, offered an explanation,
yet to be tested by the doctors. 'I get the elixir of life from the hole
in my palate, which enables me to go without food and water,' he said.
Okay. That we can test. Or will we? Did those doctors think to look for
the hole in his palate? Funny, they didn't mention it, if they did so.
- "A number of persons have been asking me why I won't
test any more of these claimants who say that they don't eat or drink anything
for years on end. There are a few dozen of them out there at this time,
and new ones come up every month or so. See above. Such a claim is difficult
to test merely because of the time involved and the personnel necessary,
and the claimants moan that they can't afford the costs involved. I've
been out on a couple of these expeditions in the USA, and I get bored out
of my mind sitting in a car in a parking lot waiting for the claimant to
emerge from a Holiday Inn room, sneak down the stairs, and visit the local
burger joint for the needed nourishment. There's no end to it. And, the
claim is just so obviously silly and frivolous, and I'm a grown man - too
busy with serious claimants, to spend time on these nut-cases. Yes, I'm
aware that doctors - trained medical people - have observed a few of the
claimants, but I've yet to see any evidence that these learned observers
have the correct and necessary qualifications to detect sleight-of-hand.
Until that time, those episodes remain as examples of the naive watching
- Randi's assertions here are lazy, illogical, hypocritical,
laced with immature ad hominem, and patently false. For starters, the observation
of a "breatharian" in isolation, while perhaps time consuming,
would be LESS complicated, and not nearly so open to dispute, as the testing
of an alleged psychic. All one need do is strip the person naked, lock
him or her in a room, post guards outside every possible point of exit,
and let the cameras roll day after day. If he or she becomes ill or dies...well,
gosh, I guess that means he or she fails the challenge. Second, if such
an operation would be too "costly" for JREF, then one wonders
where they got the million dollars from. Third, if the ability to detect
sleight of hand is the only requisite qualification for testing "breatharians,"
then he and is magician pals should have no problem performing the test
themselves. Fourth, one wonders why Randi feels the need to insult Mr.
Jani, making fun of his religion and his choice of attire. Fifth, Randi
is again making the patently hypocritical assertion that he is "TOO
BUSY WITH SERIOUS CLAIMANTS, TO SPEND TIME ON THESE NUT-CASES." Can
we glean from this hateful, pinched comment that Sylvia Browne and Uri
Geller are NOT nut cases? That there may actually be some validity to their
extraordinary claims? Randi has really left no room for doubt that he views
ALL paranormal claimants as nut cases...so who ultimately is worthy enough
of his precious time to warrant testing?
- Ask yourself if these are the words or behavior of a
man who is interested in finding the truth. Is it not more likely that
Randi simply relies on the Challenge as a tool to garner publicity for
himself and land paid public speaking engagements? If he is a man of "science"
(and I've yet to hear how the ability to escape from a straight jacket
qualifies this person as a scientist), why does he not apply the same standards
and the same logic to all applicants of the Challenge? The problem here
again is HYPOCRISY. It would seem that Randi focuses exclusively on more
famous paranormal claimants like Browne or Geller because doing so is more
likely to get him an appearance on the Larry King show. If you're a common
person with an extraordinary claim, don't waste your time and energy applying
for the Challenge; Randi clearly is not interested.
- I must again remark on the irony of self-described magicians
trying so desperately to debunk paranomal phenomena. After all, Magic in
its purest form is an embracing of the Unknown, and these people run from
it every chance they get.