Down in the States, it’s National Day of Reason. That’s a holiday held in protest of their National Day of Prayer so not something that’s been a big deal up here in Canada as yet.
Considering though how Harper and Co. have been doing great work in the service of irrationality — what with their muzzling and defunding of scientists and general hostility towards any intellectual pursuit beyond producing specious justifications for Conservative policies — maybe a Day of Reason is exactly the kind of thing we need in the Great White North.
But that’s not why I bring it up. Really, these “Days” marking “Things” don’t do much for me (International Cocktail Day being a notable exception). National Day of Reason though has given me a perfect excuse to post a video by physicist Sean Caroll.
You can also consider this is a response to psychic Chip Coffey who’s left a couple angry comments on the piece I wrote in advance of his show here on Sunday. You’ll note that in his comments he accuses me of being a shabby journalist and he also accuses the other source I had for that story of trying to sneak into a Coffey Talk show with a forged ticket. That’s about the extent of his response, so far.
What Coffey doesn’t do is address what I would consider the substance of the article: that being that psychic powers don’t exist — you can’t read a persons future, you can’t contact spirits in the afterlife — and anyone who claims the contrary is either mistaken or lying.
But of course, it would be rather difficult to dispute those points seeing as you’d have to produce convincing proof of something that doesn’t exist.
As evidence of the non-existence of paranormal stuff, I offer that Sean Carroll video I promised at the outset. It’s titled “Sean Carroll Refutes Supernatural Beliefs” and in it he shows how there is no room within science for the kind of phenomena Chip Coffey trades in.
He also does a pretty good number the afterlife. And it only takes 10 minutes. Isn’t science something?
Chip Coffey sure doesn’t like me. He isn’t a big fan of the Centre For Inquiry Regina either. Found this out when I showed up before his show at the Hotel Saskatchewan last night to take some pics of the CFI crew. They were handing out fliers with information about the methods psychics use in their shows, and I thought a blog post on their action might make a nice coda to our Chip Coffey coverage.
Didn’t realize I’d end up getting a chance to shake the hand of the man himself.
Just as I was preparing to head home and CFI Regina was leaving to have a post-action drink at Beer Bros, Coffey stormed out from the lobby to confront the people protesting his show.
Of course, they weren’t actually protesting. As they tried to explain to him, they were standing around on a public walkway, handing out pamphlets to audience members who were interested. And, they told me, they also went into the hotel and left a few fliers in the bathrooms.
Coffey wasn’t interested in making distinctions between people distributing information and people marching around with placards and shouting slogans as at one point he declared that “you skeptics” are just like the Westboro Baptist Church. A bit of a stretch, but hey, the guy was pretty pissed off.
As soon as Chris up at Planet S suggested I do a piece on psychic, Chip Coffey (complete Coffey interview here), I knew I wanted to talk to a professional magician who has some first-hand knowledge of how psychics work.
And I was lucky enough to get a hold of Mark Edward. He works as a mentalist and magician and also as a psychic entertainer — that’s someone who puts on readings and seances but doesn’t pretend that what he’s doing is in any way supernatural. He lets the audience know that it’s all tricks and craft.
He also works with the Center For Inquiry and recently published Psychic Blues: Confessions of a Conflicted Medium, a memoir of his time working the 900 lines as a psychic, learning the secrets of the industry.
Last year, Edward was ejected from a Chip Coffey show in Los Angeles for giving out cold reading tip sheets.
Tonight, renowned paranormal-television personality, Chip Coffey, will be at the Sask Hotel showing off his skills of a psychic.
I interviewed him for the most recent issue and as I mentioned in the resulting article, “Psychic Coffey“, I am not a believer in the spiritual mumbo-jumbo that Coffey is selling so it was maybe a tad on the shitty side for me talk to him without tipping him to my skepticism.
But I’m unrepentant.
I find that whole mediumship schtick of claiming to contact the dead friends or relatives of grieving people to be a pretty egregious misuse of a talent for cold reading.
But Coffey took things a step or seven further with his A&E show, Psychic Kids, in which he convinced teens and pre-teens that their normal feelings of weirdness and adolescent confusion are actually signs of psychic powers. That was a despicable sideshow of child exploitation. These were kids who needed a sit down with a trained psychologist, or, more likely, a hug and a hobby.¹
Instead they were encouraged to chase chimeras.
I did ask Coffey about the show and the criticism he’s received. And he defended himself in the way you might expect.