Flim-Flam!: Psychics, ESP, Unicorns, and Other Delusions

Flim-Flam!: Psychics, ESP, Unicorns, and Other Delusions
  • Paperback
  • 342
  • Flim-Flam!: Psychics, ESP, Unicorns, and Other Delusions
  • James Randi
  • English
  • 27 January 2018
  • 0879751983

About the Author: James Randi

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10 thoughts on “Flim-Flam!: Psychics, ESP, Unicorns, and Other Delusions

  1. Chris says:

    Now hold still while I read your aura Yes, my spirit guide is telling me something, that you are experiencing some kind of pain or discomfort in your back, or perhaps your shoulders And this is typical of someone born under your star sign, you know Of course you do your type is very insightful, even if you do sometimes let little things escape your notice from time to time Here I have a medicine that will help you, a special homeopathic formula that I mixed myself It s proof against all Now hold still while I read your aura Yes, my spirit guide is telling me something, that you are experiencing some kind of pain or discomfort in your back, or perhaps your shoulders And this is typical of someone born under your star sign, you know Of course you do your type is very insightful, even if you do sometimes let little things escape your notice from time to time Here I have a medicine that will help you, a special homeopathic formula that I mixed myself It s proof against all aches and pains Yes, I have a spoon somewhere around no, not that one, that one s bent I could tell you that I got the recipe from visiting aliens, but you would never believe me Perhaps it was Atlanteans.Ah, there is one other thing My spirit guide tells me that there is another spirit who would talk to you someone you miss very much I m getting the letter P, or maybe G Does that mean something to you Ah, good, good My abilities have increased a hundredfold since I started transcendental meditation, and I credit the Master with my improved skills Well, our time is almost up I have to go charge my dowsing rod with the crystals that were given to me by my young daughters They say that the fairies gave them to them, and who am I to say otherwise But I will say this before we part the numbers of your name, crossed against your biorhythms, tell me that you must not enter into any dealings of a financial nature this week.You can leave your check on the table by the door.There is one truth that I have learned in my days, and that there is no idea so ridiculous, so implausible, so poorly defined, that someone, somewhere won t fall for it Whether it s psychic surgeons, aura readers, tellers of the future or viewers of past lives, UFO hunters, witch doctors, table tippers, spoon benders, mind readers or water dowsers, if you can figure out some simple slight of hand, the odds are good that you can convince someone you have supernatural powers A few blurry photographs and some enthusiasm, and you can have aliens on our shores Some clever guesses and a keen knowledge of human nature, and you ll never have to work a day in your life If you re like me, it s enough to make you want to disavow humankind and just go live somewhere off in the woods Thankfully, James Randi is not like me.A longtime magician and skeptic, James Randi has been one of the driving forces of modern skepticism Since his 1972 debunking of spoon bender Uri Geller, he has been an authority on people who claim to have supernatural abilities He has traveled the world in search of these people, revealing the methods by which they knowingly or unknowingly deceive people who want so desperately to believe This book, written in 1982 and well in need of an updated and revised edition, documents many of Randi s investigations in painstaking and unrelenting detail.He tells us first of the hoax perpetrated by two young English girls, one which was good enough to capture not just a credulous nation of newspaper readers, but a man regarded as one of the greatest minds of his time Sir Arthur Conan Doyle In 1917, Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths released several photographs which showed them surrounded by gossamer winged fairies The public went wild for their story Experts were called in to examine the photographs, and they all pronounced them genuine The girls were interviewed, their cameras and equipment checked out, and no evidence of trickery could be found In any case, believers said, two young girls would have no incentive to lie to the entire nation like this, would they Well, they did Perhaps it wasn t their intention to deceive the world, but that s how it turned out As of Randi s writing, they hadn t admitted it outright, but a year after publication, they did What started as simple fun with a camera and some paper cut outs escalated into something uncontrollable by two young girls, and a legend was born.Elsie and Frances may have been innocents overtaken by events, but there are farpeople who are fully conscious of their deceptions A Holy Man who promises everything up to and including the ability to fly if you just follow his word and his special meditation technique Researchers so intent on discovering psychic powers that they disregard even the most basic of experimental controls People who manufacture fake artifacts to support their belief in ancient alien astronauts There are those who take money from the unwitting and those who don t, some who treat the ability they believe they have with humility and those who don t The weird, the arrogant and the dangerous Randi s seen em all And every time another one pops up, he knows what to look for.Belief is a weird thing Under careful examination, every claim that Randi has seen has fallen apart He has listened to them carefully and asked a very simple question that seems to elude so many others How else could this effect be achieved As a lifetime magician though he prefers the term conjurer , Randi is an expert at getting you to think you see something that really isn t there, and he brings this expertise to bear when he investigates claims of the paranormal What s , he has a very good grasp of experimental procedure and how to test for a specific effect, and he is ruthless in making sure they are adhered to.But and this is important Randi is fair If you come up to him and say, Randi, I can see auras which tell me who the all gay people are, he won t just laugh in your face and say that you re crazy He ll listen to your story, how your power works and how you use it, and then propose a simple test to see if it really exists The test is to be double blind, so when the target people come in and check the gay or straight box, that information is kept from both the aura reader and the person administering the test What s , the psychic has to agree in advance on the conditions of the test, signing a promise rarely kept to accept the results Tests are usually done multiple times, just to give the subject a chance When the results come in as negative as they always have thus far Randi doesn t gloat He doesn t laugh and say I told you so In fact, in one chapter he mentions that he feels bad sometimes, telling people who honestly believe they have a unique gift that, in fact, they don t.I suspect that Randi really wants supernatural powers to exist I think he wants to meet someone who can move objects with her mind, talk to the dead or find water just by concentrating hard Why else, then, would he have his Million Dollar Challenge What is described in Flim Flam as a 10,000 reward for proof of supernatural abilities has grown significantly Not because Randi is richer, but because he feels that his money is absolutely safe Yet I think he would be happy to be able to give it away one day.This book should be required reading for everyone who has encountered what they believe to be the paranormal It is detailed, it is harsh and it is unequivocal in its assertion that if you see someone doing something that logic demands cannot be done, chances are excellent that it s a trick rather than super powers Unfortunately, the True Believers will invariably be unaffected, and that is something else that Randi takes great pains to show No matter how often someone was shown to be a liar, a fake or a fraud, there were always supporters ready to make excuses The psychics themselves are also very good at inventing reasons why their powers cannot be tested the wrong kind of weather, interference from the cameras that are recording the tests, or just bad energy from the skeptics in the room All the logic and science in the world won t convince those who don t want to be convinced.As much fun as it is to read about The Amazing Randi rushing about the globe to put hoaxers in their places, it s also a little depressing It was written in 1982, on the heels of Randi s book The Truth About Uri Geller, which exposed the spoon bending psychic as a fraud, so you would think the one two punch of these books would be enough to put paid to ridiculous beliefs in ideas that were demonstrably false Well, you d be wrong Newspapers still run horoscopes every day, you can get a biorhythm app for your iPhone, psychics and mediums still rake in tons of cash, and there still innumerable people who put their faith, money and lives in the hands of psychic healers only to lose all three.But Randi is undaunted He started the James Randi Educational Foundation to support critical thinking and skepticism, he s still active in the skeptical community, and he s still accepting applications from people who want his million dollars He may have hoped that this book would be a nail in the coffin of psuedoscience and woo, but even though that didn t pan out, he never gave up One by one, case by case, the Amazing Randi has stared down the wild eyed stare of unreason, and he has never blinked.For that, I will always be grateful

  2. Zadignose says:

    Another reason to think humanity is doomed.Also, nothing changes.Also, I needed to read the debunking of TM just to remind me that, as much as I admire David Lynch as one of the great artists of our time, his faith in this wacky cult is misplaced which is why knowing the artist is almost always a bad idea.Of course, on the other side, I did read Catching the Big Fish Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity.One thing I was forced to wonder having grown up learning about biorhythms, myster Another reason to think humanity is doomed.Also, nothing changes.Also, I needed to read the debunking of TM just to remind me that, as much as I admire David Lynch as one of the great artists of our time, his faith in this wacky cult is misplaced which is why knowing the artist is almost always a bad idea.Of course, on the other side, I did read Catching the Big Fish Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity.One thing I was forced to wonder having grown up learning about biorhythms, mysteries like big foot and the Bermuda Triangle, having owned a Ouija board, and having read various books about occult topics, how come I was never taken in by any of it How come I never managed to fool myself or others into thinking it was anythingthan something goofy and imaginative I.e., why, upon discovering that there s no sense at the bottom of astrology or tarot, after figuring out that one cannot will oneself into flying, why didn t I just lie to myself the way so many hundreds of thousands of others have It s not as if I didn t grow up in a hippy age full of lunatics.Well, anyway, maybe I found other ways to go insane

  3. Marijan says:

    Although writing style is quite dry occasionally, the book does a great job in discrediting various fradulent and simply nonsensical an mystical practices.

  4. Melissa McShane says:

    This was probably aexciting read thirty years ago, when it was written, because so many of the parapsychological organizations or ideas Randi writes about debunking don t exist any Randi s frustration at the continuing gullibility of people who fall for psychic cons comes through a little too loudly at times, making some sections seemstrident than necessary I was particularly interested in his account of Arthur Conan Doyle s fairies, as well as a few of the stories of people This was probably aexciting read thirty years ago, when it was written, because so many of the parapsychological organizations or ideas Randi writes about debunking don t exist any Randi s frustration at the continuing gullibility of people who fall for psychic cons comes through a little too loudly at times, making some sections seemstrident than necessary I was particularly interested in his account of Arthur Conan Doyle s fairies, as well as a few of the stories of people who knowingly conned others into believing they had psychic powers, but there were a couple of chapters I skimmed But probably the most moving chapter was his discussion of religious cons, particularly the Jonestown massacre, that ends with Randi being furious at the misuse of religion to get gain or manipulate others Randi continues to investigate parapsychological phenomena to this day, and I would love to see an updated version of this book

  5. Clint says:

    This is a book written by James Randi, a famous magician and also a famous pre MythBusters exposer of ESP magic UFO etc frauds I really love James Randi, and I m glad he s still around and at 90 years old still seems as sharp and with it as ever But this book, well, mainly it s a little too dated The edition I have has a foreward from 2010 I think, and he himself notes that it s a little outdated, but still valid The thing is though, the things he s exposing in this book, Bermuda Triangle, C This is a book written by James Randi, a famous magician and also a famous pre MythBusters exposer of ESP magic UFO etc frauds I really love James Randi, and I m glad he s still around and at 90 years old still seems as sharp and with it as ever But this book, well, mainly it s a little too dated The edition I have has a foreward from 2010 I think, and he himself notes that it s a little outdated, but still valid The thing is though, the things he s exposing in this book, Bermuda Triangle, Chariot of the Gods, etc., are things that almost no one would take seriously today, unlike when I was a little kid and there was actually a copy of Chariot of the Gods in my school s library Which is nothing against Randi, it s just too contemporary with the world when it was written that it got a little left behind The other complaint I have is that it is too detailed for a popular audience, just a little He warns at the beginning of the book, before he lays into the famous English fairies hoax, that he will go overboard with the fairies to set the tone for the book, but he kind of goes overboard on most of the chapters, where I kept having to flip back and look at names and details he would bring up later This does show that Randi is a fucking keen observer of bullshit, and he s harder to trick than a professional scientist a lot of the time, but it s a little hard for a general audience to keep interested in a lot of the minutia I d still recommend this book for people who make a hobby of skepticism, but I think I ll just admire Randi from afar after this Very cool and useful guy

  6. Patrick says:

    If we found something paranormal, we wouldn t call it paranormalJDN 2456387 EDT 16 50.Since I won 2500 of his money The James Randi Educational Foundation scholarship , I felt I should probably read some of James Randi s books I happened upon Flim Flam , which is older than I am, and yet the nonsense it catalogues and refutes is pretty much the same stuff we re dealing with today Why, just this last Tuesday I had someone try to convince me that quantum mechanics allows precognition, citin If we found something paranormal, we wouldn t call it paranormalJDN 2456387 EDT 16 50.Since I won 2500 of his money The James Randi Educational Foundation scholarship , I felt I should probably read some of James Randi s books I happened upon Flim Flam , which is older than I am, and yet the nonsense it catalogues and refutes is pretty much the same stuff we re dealing with today Why, just this last Tuesday I had someone try to convince me that quantum mechanics allows precognition, citing Daryl Bem s 2010 precognition experiments, which really serve to indict research standards in social sciencethan anything else Flim Flam contains a number of examples basically indistinguishable from these claims Randi is a magician by trade, so he doesn t have any erudite academic qualifications This makes his writing breezy and easy to read it also makes himwilling than most to actually call people out as frauds and charlatans Dawkins does not suffer fools well Randi does not suffer them at all He has tested a great many paranormalists, and can thoroughly catalogue their frauds and failures Most of the book is exactly that Randi goes through a long list of paranormalists whose claims he has tested experimentally not surprisingly all of them fail, and some of them fail catastrophically The numerous frauds were to be expected but a large number of Randi s subjects seem to be true believers They really think they have mysterious paranormal powers, and are shocked and disappointed when they fail Randi s tests Somewhere between hilarious and pathetic are the excuses they all make whatever the result, they can always come up with a reason that doesn t involve abandoning belief in the phenomenon At some level, they know exactly how things will turn out, exactly as non paranormal science would predict and yet, they still believe Randi doesn t try to make any deep philosophical arguments against the paranormal, preferring instead a strictly empirical approach He rigorously tests every claim using the best scientific tools available Provide compelling scientific evidence of a paranormal event under appropriately controlled conditions, and Randi will shower you with apologizes, fame, and above all, money In 1982 his prize was 10,000 24,000 in today s dollars today it is 1 million No one has won it, and like Randi I strongly suspect no one ever will Fuzzy headed paranormalists will of course argue that the reason for this is that Randi doesn t play fair, or his negative energy ruins the process some even go as far to say that he is himself a psychic who suppresses other psychics for personal gain But from reading his work, I get the strong impression that Randi really does play fair, and really would be delighted to see evidence of paranormal events The reason I don t expect him to ever pay out is not that he would refuse, but that the phenomena simply do not exist to be found Randi also makes a point that I ve found to be true in my own life If you don t place a bet, people say you aren t putting your money where your mouth is and then if you do, they say you are showboating and being theatrical I had precisely this reaction when an acquaintance of mine made the preposterous claim that he could justify morality without making any assumptions at all I offered him his choice of 100 or a 10% share in the Science of Morality, and he naturally refused and complained about my theatrics When he finally did reveal his brilliant theory suffice to say it was underwhelming I think I experienced a little taste of Randi s life in that moment There are two reasons why I m not sure Flim Flam succeeds The first is that the sort of people who believe in the paranormal are unlikely to read it at all The second is that I think paranormal claims fail even before they have to be empirically investigated How can I be so sure that we will never find anything paranormal Randi would say he isn t completely sure, just 99.999% sure after all the negative results That s certainly a scientifically respectable position, and it s definitely the one I take on certain things, like unicorns, yetis, and faster than light travel But when it comes to claims of the paranormal, I think we may be able to go a bit further than that Still not absolutely certain, since nothing is but as close to certainty as we are ever going to get There is a fundamental logical reason why paranormal, and also magical, and also miraculous, phenomena cannot exist If they existed, we wouldn t call them that It s funny how paranormalists abuse quantum mechanics, because quantum mechanics really does say a lot of baffling, marvelous, mind bending things about the universe But the reason we don t call it magical or paranormal is that it s actually real It works It can be quantified and verified Indeed, quantum mechanics has been verified to a level of precision that is almost impossible to conceive The anomalous magnetic moment of the electron has been predicted to one part in a trillion This would be like measuring the width of the United States to within a human hair or the distance from Earth to Mars to the nearest inch Far from being the anything goes that most people seem to think it is, quantum mechanics is so incredibly precise that it can tell the difference between 1.42582 GHz and 1.42584 GHz The reason it seems so weird is that we are so weird we re these huge 10 28 nucleon monstrosities that operate in the bizarre world of large scale decoherence But suppose we do find something very different from what we currently predict Suppose we find a way to achieve faster than light travel, or discover telepathy, or even, wonder of wonders, verify that Bem was right about precognition all along Once that new discovery became verified, explained, and fitted into our scientific paradigm, people would stop calling it paranormal Yesterday s magic is tomorrow s technology This is really the problem with supernatural beliefs in general They couldn t possibly be true, for if they were, you wouldn t call them supernatural For most people, things stop seeming magical once they start making sense this is an incredibly dumb approach to the world, because it means that the better you can function thedisillusioned you feel, but it s also the way most people seem to work This may be the fundamental difference between scientists and the rest of humanity when scientists figure out how something works, it feelsfascinating to us,magical if you like that word Perhaps this mindset is trainable if it is, we must endeavor to train it in as many people as possible People must learn to take joy in the merely real, to see the magic in what is called mundane Most people, however, are exactly the opposite When something becomes explained or even explainable, it loses its sense of wonder for them And they tend to project this attitude onto scientists Your life must feel so meaningless You take all the wonder out of everything But of course, any wonder that knowledge can take away wasn t really there in the first place If it s not cool enough that we can communicate thoughts to each other s minds thousands of miles away because we do it using hands and eyes and Internet connections then how would it ever be cool enough Suppose we had telepathy that used quantum physics, or Slipspace, or even the spirits of the dead once we understood it, you d say that wasn t magical either If it s not wondrous enough that we can manipulate objects in space, even create whole new classes of objects that can then be sent off autonomously into the void, then what would be wondrous enough for you Suppose we had telekinesis or astral projection once it was explained in terms of energy conservation, you d find it boring again

  7. Leonard Pierce says:

    James Randi s first major study of pseudoscience and the paranormal is lively, passionate, and incredible well reasoned It made a huge impression on me when I first read it as a teenager, and it s held up surprisingly well over the years, largely because the methods of buncombe he condemns rarely change.

  8. Ari Eris says:

    I have yet to read a skeptic book that I didn t like, but Randi s is particularly loveable He s seen the same garbage a million times over and doesn t give a shit Yet he curses like a country vicar and I love it Flim flam Codswallop Poppycock Its delightful and charming, especially so because the man is right A skeptic oldie but goodie.

  9. Todd Martin says:

    In order to fully appreciate Flim Flamyou have to go back to 1982 when the book was first published Uri Geller was bending spoons on national television talk shows, In Search Of was on TV, and there was a national fascination with ESP, Big Foot, crop circles, the Loch Ness Monster, psychics, faith healers, astrology and a host of other nonsensical gobbledygook some of which still exists today The time was right for a healthy dose of skepticism and rationality and who better to kick off the In order to fully appreciate Flim Flamyou have to go back to 1982 when the book was first published Uri Geller was bending spoons on national television talk shows, In Search Of was on TV, and there was a national fascination with ESP, Big Foot, crop circles, the Loch Ness Monster, psychics, faith healers, astrology and a host of other nonsensical gobbledygook some of which still exists today The time was right for a healthy dose of skepticism and rationality and who better to kick off the conversation than a leading expert in the arts of trickery and deception noted magician, mentalist and escape artist James The Amazing Randi.Subjects tackled in the book include UFOs, the Bermuda Triangle, astrology, Arthur Conan Doyle and the Cottingley Fairies, transcendental meditation, so called alien artifacts aka Nazca Lines, Egyptian Pyramids, or the moai of Easter Island , parapsychology studies at the Standford Research Institute in the 70s and 80s, and others Although a deconstruction of astrology or the Bermuda Triangle may seem akin to shooting fish in a barrel, the exercise is of value since it instructs the reader on the principles of critical thinking, rationality and the many ways individuals can misinterpret evidence to produce an erroneous conclusion Once you ve mastered the techniques of evaluating the evidence for astrology it s a short jump to apply the same approach to topics such as whether vaccines cause autism, whether anthropocentric climate change is a hoax, whether high levels of gun ownership make us safe, whether trickle down economics is effective, and whether prayer works the evidence for each is decidedly no.Unlike a denialist that dismisses claims out of hand or cherry picks evidence to support their position i.e climate change denialists, evolution denialists, holocaust denialists, HIV denialists etc a true skeptic investigates the evidence impartially, determines whether simpler explanations for the phenomenon exist, and whether those who promote the claims have motivations to perpetrate a hoax In every case throughout all of history the preponderance of evidence points to explanations for these phenomenon that are decidedly non supernatural in origin In fact, Randi has put his money where his mouth is through the One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge in which the James Randi Educational Foundation JREF has agreed to pay one million dollars to anyone who can demonstrate a supernatural or paranormal ability under agreed upon scientific testing criteria Needless to say, no one has successfully completed the test, because the paranormal doesn t exist.Randi is blunt with his denunciation of woo woo , which is certainly appropriate when dealing with those who benefit from perpetrating dishonesty Though I do believe he could have been somewhatsensitive in the manner in which he addresses those who believe in such nonsense Sure they are gullible, credible and lazy for not bothering to critically examine the issues for themselves, but they are also victims of fraud and perhaps deserve some sympathy as such Randi has apologized for his tone, describing it as, killing the gnat with a sledgehammer Personally, I found the tone of the book appropriate While it is indeed overkill to use a sledgehammer to dispose of a tiny insect, when it comes to a bug that is particularly irksome, annoying and carries potentially dangerous diseases it is also very, very satisfying

  10. Ana Mardoll says:

    Flim Flam 0 87975 198 3Having been born in the 80 s and relatively insulated from the majority of the claims presented in the book, I can honestly say that James Randi s book is still useful today, if only as a guidebook to the past If those who forget history are doomed to repeat it, then similarly those who do not read Randi s book are doomed to fall prey to such schemes as fake fairies and make believe aliens who provide blueprints on rocks of open heart surgeryfor a small fee, of cours Flim Flam 0 87975 198 3Having been born in the 80 s and relatively insulated from the majority of the claims presented in the book, I can honestly say that James Randi s book is still useful today, if only as a guidebook to the past If those who forget history are doomed to repeat it, then similarly those who do not read Randi s book are doomed to fall prey to such schemes as fake fairies and make believe aliens who provide blueprints on rocks of open heart surgeryfor a small fee, of course This book is an incredible and fascinating catalog of the search for faeries, UFOs, spoon benders, card readers, and faith healers through the years, as well as several interesting applicants to the famous Randi Challenge James Randi has been criticized in the past for his somewhat hectoring authorial tone and his sometimes open disdain for the believers he deals with I am sympathetic to both points, as I certainly believe in the use of honey rather than vinegar, yet I sympathize also with Randi faced with the frustrating hurdles he must clear Consider all the Uri Geller believers who not only refuse to consider the evidence that James Randi presents, but who also persist in the belief that Randi, too, is the real thing because of his duplication of the tricks of the false psychics even in the face of his repeated insistence that he is not a psychic but just an entertainer How frustrating that would be Or consider the hundreds of people Randi has seen stop taking their medications on the say so of men he knows to be charlatans, only to watch these poor souls die weeks later, often ignoring the pleas of their loved ones and convinced that all they need isfaith How can Randi not be angry, frustrated, and yes hectoring toward the charlatans who steal and lie and kill, and even against those who facilitate them by saying that they don t really hurt anyone, so what is the problem These uncritical followers provide them the necessary media attention to performanddamage to the human race as a whole So if Randi is no saint or angel, it is equally true that a saint or angel is not what is required What is needed is a man wielding the sledgehammers of logic and stage magic, and Randi provides this, superbly This book is both fascinating and entertaining to read, and definitely worth checking out even at this much later date Ana Mardoll