Did you know that if you can prove you have ESP, talk to the dead, read palms or can predict the future you can collect $1,000,000 US? No, I’m not kidding. The James Randi Educational Foundation (www.randi.org) has a standing $1 million Paranormal Challenge. James Randi is a sceptic who has ‘put his money where his mouth is’ and since 1964 has offered a cash prize to anyone able to prove they have paranormal abilities under controlled scientific conditions. To date, no one has been successful in claiming the money.
Why do I like this idea? It’s because there are lots of people making irrational and unreasonable claims and sometimes we may think for a minute, “hmmm, I wonder if that’s really possible?” Well, Mr. Randi has provided a compelling incentive for them to demonstrate these abilities under controlled circumstances and his challenge serves as a rational way to dispute these irrational claims. Freud stated “Illusions commend themselves to us because they save us pain and allow us to enjoy pleasure instead. We must therefore accept it without complaint when they sometimes collide with a bit of reality against which they are dashed to pieces.”
“Illusions commend themselves to us because they save us pain and allow us to enjoy pleasure instead”
Wouldn’t it be nice to have a way to rationally dispute unreasonable claims thrust at us from others or from the ‘old tapes’ playing in our heads – similar to James Randi’s use of the scientific method? Well, due to the nature of social sciences such as psychology – we are usually not able to be as rigorous as the physical sciences. However, we can practice thinking more rationally and objectively by using the principle of ‘reasonableness’. This simply means asking myself, “Am I being reasonable?” or, “What might 10 reasonable and objective people say?” This is the same principle used in the legal system – in which the court attempts to determine what a ‘reasonable person’ would do in a particular circumstance. According to Thomas Jefferson, “Reason and free inquiry are the only effectual agents against error.”
For example, a common issue presented by couples is that one partner works outside of the home and the other cares for their young children at home. However, the stay-at-home spouse feels responsible for continuing to care for the children after their partner returns home and might feel guilty asking their partner to assist with dinner, bathing or reading to the kids. However, if we employ the test of reasonableness – all things being equal – both partners have actually ‘worked’ an 8-hour day – even if one did not earn a wage. Consequently, it is reasonable to assume that the responsibilities ought to be shared in the evening without feeling guilty. By using reason to consciously dispute our irrational or habitual thinking patterns, we can progressively become more mindful and make more objective decisions. Reasonableness is arguably an important skill to develop because, as humorist Rita May Brown quips, “If the world were a logical place, men would ride side-saddle.”
So the next time a psychic at the fair wants to charge you $40 to tell your fortune, inform them that they can retire with $1 million dollars by simply proving their paranormal abilities.
Dr. Martin Phillips-Hing is a registered psychologist (#1361) with a private practice at Oakhill Counselling and Mediation Services in Abbotsford. His website is – www.psychologist1.com
[Article published in the Abbotsford Post – November 2006]