Thursday, May 4, 2006

The Amazing James Randi

Have you ever heard of the Amazing James Randi?

I love the guy.

I listen to a talk radio station out of Los Angeles, KABC, in the morning, and Doug McIntyre had Randi on this morning to talk about Randi's "Million Dollar Challenge."

Go here to learn more:

Randi is offering a million dollars to "anyone who can show, under proper observing conditions, evidence of any paranormal, supernatural, or occult power or event."

Can you read minds? Predict the future? Bend spoons with your hands? Randi's got a check waiting for you.

I've always known Randi to be kind of a cranky old guy, and for good reason. He exposes Uri Gellar's tricks, and faith-healers, and Jonathan Edward's "readings," and all those flim-flams (as he calls them) with an air of cynicism and healthy skepticism.

He had me laughing out loud this morning on the radio show. A lady calls up and says that "Of course the spiritual world is real, I just know it is." She was very hyper, very excited. Randi matches her tone and says "Well then PROVE IT!" It was classic.

Every once in a while my boss will head to a "channeler" who will "talk" to her long-dead grandparents and predict her future. Lately I've been keeping a list of the predictions to see if they come even close to true. So far, no deal. The medium predicted that by this month she would be pregnant with a boy. Now granted, he has all month. But I'm guessing he'll miss the mark completely.

I've never had the brain for spiritual matters - matters like God and angels and crystal healings and all that. I'm not saying it's not true, or even possible - just that no one has shown me any reason to believe in any of it. My brain just doesn't work that way.

Must be I'm missing that "God Spot" scientists found in the brain.

Anyway, Carl Sagan's "The Demon-Haunted World" really opened my eyes to the outrageous claims of people who are swindling Good Patriotic Americans (like you and me) out of hard-earned money just so they can feel good about their lot. It makes me angry, especially when their are people who really have faith in what they believe in, and know it with their heart, that there's something else out there. Meanwhile, Madame What's-her-name reads your fortune in coffee grinds. The whole thing rubs me raw.

So good for Randi for being out there, fighting for the little guy, and exposing these creeps.

As a kind of side note (the show reminded me of it):
During Adrian's orientation, I used to give "haunted tours" of the campus, showing the incoming first-years Downs Hall - with all it's legends and lore.

The trick was I would lead them all into the main theater, in total darkness, while I took a select few students down around the back of the stage, through the basement, and up through the back of the building. Then we would sneak back upstairs - behind the students in the theater - and burst through the doors screaming and scaring the docile freshmen.

It was a riot, let me tell you.

Anyway, I used to have to go to Downs early to unlock the building and get the theater all set up for the evening's entertainment. And let me say it scared the hell out of me.

Being in that old building - Adrian's only remaining building from its original campus in the mid-1800s - gave me the creeps. Shadows, sounds, windows - it was all I could do to get out of the buildling as fast as I could.

There was no logical reason for me to be scared. Nothing was going to "get me," and I wasn't really experiencing any phenomenon. It was just my brain playing tricks on me.

But what tricks my brain played. And I realized then the power of "ghost stories" and legends, how the set-up to any good haunting is just as important as the actual event.

If I could be so freightened of a creaky old building, I can't imagine the things people who actually believe in this stuff could come up with.

The mind, man. It's a wonderful thing.

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