Sunday, January 17, 2010

Pick A Sign, Any Sign

I don’t now, nor have I ever, believed in psychics. Vague or obvious predictions don’t impress me.  In fact,  I’m rather hard to impress in general.  I have, however, had several friends who do believe in psychics, and some who consult psychics regularly. One of my friends poured a considerable amount of her money into psychic readings, and it started to get on my nerves. Typically, I have a policy of not directly interfering in my friend’s lives- but in my opinion this qualified as an exception. My friend assured me that this psychic was the “real deal” and she offered to set up an appointment, and I agreed only because I was absolutely certain that I could debunk this “real deal”. I let her refer me, but the caveat was that I wanted her to tell the psychic nothing about me and I wanted to make my own appointment. I heard that some psychics do background checks on clients to find out basic information in advance. So I lied about my name, and made the appointment under a friend’s name (with her permission of course). I didn’t trust my friend to not pass along vital information, so I fed her false information about when I would make my appointment and I didn’t mention that I would use a different name. So when I went, I was quite surprised when one of the first statements the psychic made was “you’re a Scorpio aren’t you?”
(I am). I was incredulous.
The friend, who’s name I had used, was a Leo not a Scorpio. I had selected her for that reason. So it was impossible for the psychic to have gotten that information from a background check. It was unlikely that the friend who had referred me was aware of my ruse, and hence unlikely that she could have been an informant. That only left the friend who had lent me her name- and it was doubtful that she would have assisted the psychic because she was as skeptical as I was.
I could not arrive at an explanation that sufficiently explained my experience. It was possible that it was a lucky guess, a damn lucky guess. The other possibility was that she  was psychic, but I’m not convinced of that for reason’s I will explain later.
I couldn’t leave it alone. In spite of the fact that this happened years ago, I was haunted by the fact that I was unable to solve this mystery. When the topic of Sylvia Browne came up, I decided that I wanted to conduct an experiment to see how likely it was that a “non-psychic” could correctly guess a random zodiac sign.
The methodology of the experiment was fairly straightforward. I would assemble several lists of 20 zodiac signs at random. To prevent any unknown variable from impacting the experiment, I wrote all 12 zodiac signs on slips of paper that were identical in size and material. Those slips of paper were placed inside a bag, the bag was shaken, and then I drew a slip of paper from the bag, recorded the result, and placed the slip back into the bag. This was repeated 20 times, in 4 separate sets.
I selected 20 people from my list of family and friends, and asked them to participate in the experiment by making a list of 20 zodiac signs.
18 of 20 individuals responded with a list. I then proceeded to compare their answers to my random lists of 20.
My hypothesis was that each person would most likely guess one correct sign out of twenty, but in reality, the number was slightly higher.  After comparing the experimental set of 20 against the random ones, the median number of total correct guesses were 4, but the average was slightly higher: 4.29. That means that out of 40 random signs, the average non-psychic person guessed correctly 10.73% of the times.
The number of correct guesses ranged from 0-10 . My sister guessed correctly most frequently, and averaged 2.5 correct guesses in each set.
However improbable,  a lucky guess is entirely possible- according to my mini-experiment it can occur 10.73% of the time.
However, if I was going to try to convince someone I had psychic powers, I would probably approach the task with a bit more of a method.  I would use census figures to sketch out a portrait of each demographic by examining census records. From the extrapolated data, I would make seemingly specific predictions based on my guess of the client’s approximate age. Theoretically, if the census reflected the information that more babies between 1980-1981 were born between October and November it would be fairly easy to guess that people approximately that age (do the math you lazy bastards) would  be statistically more likely to be a Libra or a Scorpio. This information is attainable at various website like this one :
I’d naturally be wrong sometimes- but never fear because a good talker can work around a simple stumbling block like inaccuracy. I would just say “Oh well I am definitely seeing Scorpio (Libra, ect) around you. Do you know someone who is that sign?” or how about this gem “I bet that Scorpio is in a strong house in your chart!”
Quite frankly, I do not know for certain that my chum’s psychic friend used this strategy. I do, however, know for certain that the psychic friend’s predictions for me were way off. She told me I’d change jobs, nothing remotely close to that happened in any reasonable span of time- and we can only assume that she was making predictions for the near future, since almost anyone could predict that an individual will change jobs at sometime in their lives. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the average person born in the later half of the baby boom held 10.8 jobs between the ages of 18 to 42.  Most of these jobs were held between the ages of 18 to 27.
She made vague predictions that “something” will be happening in my love life. Nothing new “happened” in my love life.
She also told me that I was worried about my income (I wasn’t particularly worried) and that I would “stable out” (I don’t even know what ‘stabling out is, and thus I can’t evaluate that statement). About the only specific information she gave me was my zodiac sign… and I already knew that.
The World’s Foremost Psychic herself, Sylvie Browne did not fair any better, but I will address that shortly in a separate post. But if you’re psychic maybe you can just read my mind… don’t forget that if dearies.


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