If the alleged psychics could make contact with disembodied souls, then we’d have a vital piece in the puzzle about the possibility of life after death, the existence of souls, and God. But without exception, they all seem to be liars, frauds, dupes, or just seriously confused.
Many people have claimed to be able to communicate with the dead. If the dead person’s body is long gone in the cemetery, yet we are able to continue to talk to them, then that might constitute evidence for the autonomy of the soul. Again, the problem is that so many of these cases have been exposed. The reasonable person is in a similar position to the one that Hume said we are concerning miracles. Evidence showing the dependence of the mind on the brain is ubiquitous. If someone makes a paranormal claim that contradicts that evidence, then we must ask ourselves: Is it more likely that the person claiming to have had an out-of-body experience or contact with a non-physical soul is lying, deceived, mistaken, or that they are correct? Those who claim to be contacting the dead through séances or psychic means are often using magicians’ cold reading techniques to draw information from living relatives who want to make contact. In many cases, the psychic has even surreptitiously researched information to give back to the bereaved. On the popular television show, Crossing Over, John Edward typically interviews audience members before the cameras go on to find out who they want to contact and what they want to know. Then hours of vague questions, shotgun predictions, and stabs in the dark are filmed and edited down to give the appearance that Edward was able to give detailed and unprompted information about the sought after dead person. The television audience does not get to see the rest of the evidence that makes it clear that Edward is little more than a carnival showman.
Fraudulent psychics will also notice subtle body language cues, clothing, facial expressions, and other details about a person for guidance in directing their allegedly psychic inquiry. Given how often they are lying, mistaken, or misguided, anyone claiming to have contacted the world of non-physical souls must meet a substantial burden of proof to show that they are not employing trickery or making a mistake. To date, that burden of proof has not been adequately met. The Internet is awash with embarrassing video footage of the popular psychic Sylvia Browne flubbing one attempt after another to psychically solve crimes and divine information from the dead. In one tragic example, she tells some devastated and mourning parents whose daughter died of a disease that had nothing to do with her heart that she was murdered with a gunshot to the chest. Notice the way that both parents and Montel Williams struggle to find some possible interpretation to make Browne’s blind, vague, groping answers fit the case:
Mother: My daughter Michelle was 17 years old. She’ll be gone 5 years the 21st. Sylvia, I don’t know how she died. Please, if you can, how did she die?
Sylvia Browne: She was shot.
(Parents looks confused and skeptical.)
Montel Williams: Circumstances around her death?
Mother: She just collapsed in her room.
Sylvia: I don’t know, but something looks like it hit the chest.
(Mother shakes head.)
Mother: They found nothing on the autopsy.
Sylvia Browne: I don’t care, but it looks like something hit her in the chest.
Father: They did an autopsy, they did whatever they do. She was a healthy child. And she just fell out in her in room. Just fell like golf clubs fall over.
Sylvia Browne: I know, just went down. I don’t know but there was something that hit her in the chest. I’m telling you.
Mother: Could it be her heart, Sylvia?
Sylvia Browne: I could have been her heart. But you know, something sharp.
Montel Williams: Let me ask the question—did she play sports?
Montel Williams: Could she have been, in this last year alone, there have been two young men come home from baseball practice having been struck in the chest earlier and died, and there was no bruising.
Sylvia Browne: That’s right, yeah. Was she any place before this when she could have been hit?
Mother: (shaking head) Possibly, but I don’t think so.
Sylvia Browne: Because it seems like it was almost like a shot.
Father: Could it have been toxic shock syndrome?
Sylvia Browne: Yes, it could. She had really long lashes, you know when you look at her sideways. A very straight nose, and a full mouth. A beautiful girl.
By the time they are all done speculating about Browne’s fraudulent reading, they have 4 different hypotheses, none of which seem to fit with the facts: The daughter was shot. She was hit in the chest at sports practice. Something sharp hit her in the chest. Or she had toxic shock syndrome. Then, conveniently, Browne changes the subject to a safe discussion of how beautiful the daughter was.
Browne charges thousands of dollars for her “services.” James Randi has openly contested her as a fraud and repeatedly challenged her to take his $1,000,000 test for psychic or paranormal phenomena. She has refused.