In every town, there’s a street with a sign board with a huge hand. The hand beckons passersby, hoping to attract their attention. The hope of a response that provides direction draws people in. The desire to get certain information about an uncertain future is a powerful pull for some folks.

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My Faith Shielded Me

Going to university for my “freshman/sophmore” year in Wichita Falls, Texas, I remember a certain street that had a palmistry sign up in front of a decrepit building painted white, edged with decay. My roommate at the time, a Born Again fundamentalist Christian, would rave about psychics, recalling Scripture denouncing psychics and witches.

As a Catholic at 17 years of age, well-aware of exorcism lore, I wasn’t interested in what a psychic had to say. It wasn’t because I had engaged my critical thinking faculties to shield me, but rather, my unwillingness to open the door to evil spirits. I remember thinking, at that time, that evil has no hold on those who don’t believe in its power, it’s impotency in the face of the Spirit. At seventeen, I was well-indoctrinated. Brainwashed. Unfortunately, so was one of my friends, whom I met later down the road as an 18 year old.

A Church on Every Corner, A Psychic Network

A year later, while at home from college, I remember one of my fellow theatre ushers (free movies in a time before Netflix, wouldn’t you know, were great then) who found himself obsessed with psychics. He graduated from psychics to television pastors, asking me if I would ever send money to them to gain their benefits.

“No way, Mike, all they want is your money” I said. Just this past weekend, I had occasion to think of the conversation as I drove past four mega-churches on the highway. And, psychics and palm readers abound…everywhere.

“Are they connected?” I wondered. Does our penchant for spirituality prepare the mind for psychics, crystal vendors, and horoscope prognosticators?

Did You Know? The psychic services industry in the United States generates approximately $2.3 billion, employs over 85,000 people who make $1.5 billion in total wages a year.

Of course, I never did send my money to television pastors…for the same reason I’d never invest in a psychic or palmistry. These are both matters of fantasy and fiction. Not only that, but there was some strong scripture in Deuteronomy that I couldn’t ignore at that age. Today, I remain amazed at how well these fictions grip the mind.

We should all know better than boys swayed by a bit of artistry and pseudoscience and (fake) magic.


The problem, as you might imagine, is that psychics offer to reveal a fundamental truth about our future to our present self. The sources of insight often lie in the nether region of the unknown, the place of demons and witches, of spirits and things that go bump during a seance. None of these are backed by empirical evidence, and they may mislead people like my fellow theatre usher. While love is a mystery at 18 years of age, and whether it lies in ones future, there are other areas that may lead away from what has been learned over time.


Lacking a critical thinking process, reliance on psychics and pseudoscience results in problems well beyond who we are as individuals. They can impact our families, society, and leave everyone with a sense of, “Who can I trust? What can I trust?” I suspect that is what opens us all up to foolishness. Consider the logic of a believer when engaging with psychics. Psychics and the insights from a psychic are poisoned fruit, as well as forbidden. They are prognostications, that while true or subtle lies, lead to our ultimate downfall as believers. There becomes a whole other world of spirit, good and bad, vying for our attention and interests. All without a shred of evidence except belief.

Here are some ways to evaluate claims and assumptions, no matter who the source is, that you can use: FLOATER, CRITIC (also for information evaluation), and processes like those suggested by

The XYZ Made Me Do It

It’s so easy to blame someone else for our own actions, or lack of action. I’m reminded of the Kalamazoo Uber driver who saw a demon in his app, which compelled him to murder. While the consequences may be less dramatic, it’s easy to see the issues that arise when you believe something with origins outside empirical science are moving you. From personal consequences (e.g. spending money on psychics, fake drugs to not proven to do anything but sold via anecdote or someone you trust) to society (e.g. climate change), it can get pretty dire.


“Please, oh my God, what’s happening to me?” said my friend as he staggered into my house. My wife (newly married) came over to see what was happening. As my friend babbled an incoherent account of how he was being persecuted by evil spirits, I realized that his mind had finally snapped. His desire, like that of many others, was to find purpose in life, to be important, to find love. And, all those desires, those needs, had not been met.

Once he had calmed down, I checked with a trained mental health professional (the husband of one of my older friends from electronic bulletin board services (BBSs)), and he made some specific suggestions, which I followed. Unfortunately, my friend decided to not take advantage of those, and I ended up escorting him to my door. I never saw him again. Since I moved shortly afterwards, starting a new life with my wife, I don’t know what happened to him.

Now, looking back, I realize that if someone had shared with him early on a critical thinking toolkit, enhanced his scientific literacy, enabled him to distinguish between claims with empirical support, and those without, he would have been able to withstand the insecurities of growing up as a young person. To the degree I was a skeptical thinker, trained in the Catholic tradition at the time, I was able to avoid the roadblocks to happiness he sought out and wallowed in, miserable and despairing. But I had access to many texts…and some of my father’s practical nature sank in.

The older I get, the more I realize what a disservice we do to young people when we bathe them in the fakery, giving power to psychics by crediting the evil of the power from whence psychics obtain their insights. All of it done to aggrandize the power of the “good.” How my friend’s story ended, I don’t know. I can only hope that somehow, he found a way through the mystical maze of torture he found himself in.


By embracing a more scientifically informed point of view, he could have focused himself on gathering information, transforming it into knowledge, and then making decisions based on scientific consensus. While not perfect, it’s much better to be an empowered skeptic rather than a pseudoscientist peddling falsehood and lies, even when benevolent. And, when encountering a question for which there is no answer, accepting that this is an area one knows nothing about. Then, begins the process of formulating a hypothesis, gathering evidence, inviting others to test your findings, and so on.


Imagine what would happen if, in schools and churches, we prioritized skeptical thinking, demystifying the scientific process, encouraging scientific literacy. If our children learned media literacy, critical thinking, and built on that natural curiosity all humans enjoy when young.

  • How do I know this?
  • How do you know this?
  • What evidence is there?
  • Is the explanation that you have constructed about this evidence accurate?
  • What are some ways I can question what I hold true?"

Every organization needs to offer evidence-based reasoning approaches for their respective fields of study or endeavor. In this way, all of us are able to put aside our dependence on beliefs in fantastical creatures who seek to trick us with partial truths offered via a psychic or reading of palms, tea leaves, and/or entrails.


The response I wish I had had when a young man was to be better equipped to seek out reliable sources of information, helping others to engage more critically. At the time, I relied on my Catholic upbringing about the evil of psychic sources to dissuade myself and others, when possible, of seeking out palm readers and psychics.

Now, I see that if I had been better prepared, I could have relied on critical thinking, questioning the validity of these preternatural claims. I know that many still fight principalities and powers, engaging in a spiritual battle in their minds that has no basis in empirical evidence or science.

Today, I wonder what my life would have been like WITHOUT spiritualism. What would it have been like with the benefit of critical thinking and evidence-based reasoning? It’s then that I wonder, what would a nation of skeptical thinkers be able to accomplish?

A Parting Thought

I really enjoyed this page’s introduction:

Most of us are not what we could be. We are less. We have great capacity. But most of it is dormant; most is undeveloped. Improvement in thinking is like improvement in basketball, in ballet, or in playing the saxophone. It is unlikely to take place in the absence of a conscious commitment to learn.

As long as we take our thinking for granted, we don’t do the work required for improvement.

Development in thinking requires a gradual process requiring plateaus of learning and just plain hard work. It is not possible to become an excellent thinker simply because one wills it. Changing one’s habits of thought is a long-range project, happening over years, not weeks or months. The essential traits of a critical thinker require an extended period of development.

How, then, can we develop as critical thinkers? How can we help ourselves and our students to practice better thinking in everyday life? source: Critical Thinking in Everyday Life: 9 Strategies

I imagine that becoming a critical thinker IS hard work, and it should be taught in schools…not left up to circumstance, privilege, and self-discovery.