Psychics Unreliable, Future Uncertain

Kirk Straughen

(Investigator 173, 2017 March)


In every age and culture some people have claimed that foreknowledge of future events can be obtained through various methods of divination, which are independent of induction or deduction from known facts. Indeed, an entire encyclopaedia could be written on prophets, fortune-tellers, psychics and the methods they employ in their quest to penetrate the veil of futurity. However, as this is far beyond the scope of this article, I shall confine the investigation to a general examination of these claims.

Firstly, an examination of some assumptions that appear to underlie the belief that future events are accessible to us shall be undertaken. Secondly, a list of strategies many psychics employ to increase their chances of a successful prediction will be outlined. This shall then be followed by an examination of the predictions made by a number of psychics and, finally, the conclusions based on the available evidence shall be given.

Causality, Space-time and Mind

In order for the future to be known with certainty, it seems necessary that all prospective events must exist in the same sense that London, Rome and Paris exist. However, whereas these cities are separated from each other by space, past, present and future events are separated from each other by time. Moreover, the future, in order to be known, must cast shadows of itself into the past, thereby creating omens and portents by which it can be discerned.

The problem with this idea is that: Firstly, time and causality flow from the past to the future — past causes give rise to present events which, in turn, become the cause of future events. Given that this is so, future events can't exist until those causes set in motion all the agents that will eventually give rise to them. For example, ten years ago all those factors that eventually gave rise to this article did not exist and, in view of this fact, how could any person at that point in time know anything about something (this article) that didn't exist?

Secondly, to say that all events exist simultaneously, but are separated by time makes no sense for, in my opinion, time is not a thing-in-itself; rather, it arises from the order in which events occur and the way we perceive the flux of existence. It seems to me that if we believe time is a distinct entity, then we are probably committing the error of reification by making abstractions into substances.

Thirdly, even if future events pre-exist, how could they project some aspect of their existence into the past in the form of omens? In order to do so, each event must emit some form of radiation carrying an imprint of its nature. However, there is no evidence that this is even theoretically possible, let alone that it actually happens. Furthermore, how does this hypothetical radiation manifest itself as abstract signs (omens) that correspond to what will actually occur?

Alternatively, believers may claim it is the mind that penetrates the time-barrier and perceives future events, and can do so because it is a non-physical entity that transcends the limitations of the natural world.

The problem with this assumption is that mind is not an entity; rather, it is a process which arises from brain activity. Therefore, mind can no more transcend nature than any other biological function as all such processes owe their existence to organic structures whose attributes are circumscribed by their material nature.

Believers may also attempt to defend their ideas by reference to physics — specifically, the special and general theories of relativity that were formulated by Einstein, in which time and space are treated as mathematically equivalent and become a single four-dimensional entity called space-time; and in addition the works of the famous mathematician, Kurt Godel, who showed that time travel is possible within the context of Einstein's theory of general relativity.

However, a universe in which this could occur would need to be rather different from our own — the cosmos would have to be spinning uniformly, rather than expanding (as ours is). In this hypothetical universe one could, in principal, travel backwards in time by travelling through space in a large circle. Time travel
may also be possible if wormholes exist (a wormhole is a hypothetical tunnel in the fabric of space-time). However:

"The creation of a traversable wormhole requires the existence of a peculiar form of matter which acts as if it has negative mass. It may be, therefore, that while a wormhole is compatible with Einstein's theory of space-time, it is not compatible with the properties of matter." (The Icon Critical Dictionary of the New Cosmology, page 362)

It is probably fair to say that the question of time travel will remain unresolved until a theory of quantum gravity is fully developed. Be this as it may, it is clear that we do not live in Godel's universe, nor have wormholes been observed within the vicinity of Earth, and so this appears to rule out psychics gaining knowledge of future events by these means.

Finally, the whole idea of being able to know the future raises a number of paradoxes: If a person is advised that they will die in a traffic accident at a particular time and place, and they avoid that time and place, then this event will never occur. The paradox here is how an event that doesn't take place (the death of a person) can be foreseen when it doesn't take place.

Believers may claim that the future is not fixed — rather, it is a dimension of all possible worlds, with the most probable world being determined by actions in the present. This may be true, however, if this is so then I think it negates any claim to the certainty of any prediction, for how could we know which of this infinity of worlds will manifest itself in actuality? In addition, merely knowing the future may set up perturbations in the chain of causality and thereby render a clear view of the future impossible — the more one seeks to know about a future event the greater the perturbations and therefore the greater the uncertainty as to what will actually occur.

Secrets of the Trade

Proponents of the paranormal may claim that although the mechanisms of divination remain unknown, they nevertheless work, and cite various cases that appear to support their view.

Accordingly, I shall now investigate this claim. However, as it is beyond the scope of this article to examine every prediction that has been uttered by every psychic that has lived, I shall confine myself to an examination of a small number who have been considered exponents of the art.

Before I begin it may be helpful if I disclose some of the secrets of the psychic trade relating to predictions:

(1) Generally speaking, psychic predictions are couched in vague terms and generalities. This increases the likelihood that any future event can be fitted into the original prediction.

(2) There is an emphasis on predicting natural disasters, assassinations and social and political turmoil — events that are likely to occur in any given year. Indeed, upon close examination, many of these predictions appear to be extrapolations based on facts known at the time of the prediction, and if enough of these predictions are made, some may come true purely by coincidence.

(3) When making predictions relating to individuals, insider information is often used — for example, the Blue Book which is:

"A privately published, regularly updated directory of names and pertinent information about potential sitters, secretly subscribed to by spiritualist mediums... The data is submitted free or sold to the publishers by practicing mediums who obtain it from each other and from important and wealthy clients." (J. Randi: The Supernatural A - Z. The Truth and the Lies, Page 47)

(4) These apparent displays of psychic power are then given great publicity, while the numerous failures are ignored or rationalised; thus creating the illusion that the psychic is far more accurate than what he or she actually is.

I shall now proceed to examine the accuracy of some allegedly "world-famous" psychics whose predictions for the 1970s appear on pages 119-122 of ESP and the Clairvoyants, the blurb on the front cover of which reads "Jeane Dixon, Maurice Woodruff, Daniel Logan, and other world-famous clairvoyants make startling predictions!" I have chosen these particular prognostications because over 40 years have passed — ample time for them to have occurred. These predictions are quoted in italics, and are followed by my comments on them.

Jean Dixon's Predictions

There will be great wars in the near future involving our country. The war in Vietnam is small in comparison to what I see building up in other parts of the world.
Wrong. The Vietnam War was the only major military operation the US was involved in during the 1970s (remember, she said the near future).

As for world peace, I have had a recurring vision that it will come as a result of an alliance between England, France, Germany, the United States and Russia.

World peace did not eventuate in the 1970s and, considering the number of bloody conflicts in progress around the globe; I think it is fair to say that this goal is still a long way off. Another failed prediction.

Within the following decade the two-party system will vanish from the American scene.

Wrong again. The Democrats and the Republicans remain the two major political parties in the U.S.

Something literally earth shattering — a natural phenomenon — will happen to our planet in this century. I believe it will be divine intervention, perhaps a meteor, and it will involve the shifting of the waters on earth.

We are now in the 21st century and no sign of any global cataclysm, natural or otherwise has materialised. Another failed prediction.

It is claimed that Ms Dixon uses vibratory impressions and astrology to divine future events, however, as her score is zero out of four, it appears that this method is less than adequate.

Daniel Logan's Predictions

I foresee a depression in the seventies.

Wrong. There was a world recession (1974-76), however, no depression occurred during this decade.

• The USA will be involved in Southern Asia for many more years.
US support troops arrived in Vietnam in 1961. The Vietnam War ended in 1975. The US, however, had completed its withdrawal by 1973, handing responsibility for the war to the A.R.V.N. (the Army of the Republic of Vietnam). As with most psychic predictions this prognostication has considerable wriggle room; but as it appears to refer to the Vietnam War (of most concern to Americans at the time this prediction) it can be considered false.

There will never be another Kennedy in the White House. If Ted tries for the Presidency, he, too, will die.

There are two predictions in this statement: (1) Some members of the Kennedy family are still alive, so the possibility that one may run for the Presidency can't be ruled out. (2) Ted Kennedy ran unsuccessfully for the Presidency in 1980, and did not die as a result. The score is one unconfirmed and one wrong.

There will be a cancer cure on the market by 1975.

If only. The problem is that there are many different types of cancer, with different cancers caused by different factors. Each requires a specific treatment that may not be effective against other forms of the disease. Although treatments for the disease have improved, we are still a long way from a universal remedy such as the prediction implies.

Jackie Kennedy [Onassis] will be divorced by 1971. She will have three husbands and three children.

There are three predictions, all of which are wrong. Jackie Onassis died in 1994. Aristotle, whom she married in 1968, was her second and last husband (she was still married to him when he died in 1975}. She had 3 children — Patrick, born in 1963 was her last child and tragically died due to complications of being born premature.

The United States and Russia will become allied in 1970 to combat the great threat — China.

Another failed prediction.

A third world war is likely by the 1980s.

Fortunately, this event did not take place. Failure again.

Man will communicate with beings from other planets before the year 2000. Flying saucers (UFO's) are indeed a reality ... though no one on earth has yet had contact with a being from outer space.

Despite many years of research, there is neither proof that UFOs are extraterrestrial in nature, nor sound evidence that anyone has been in communication with alien beings. In the light of these facts and considering that we have passed beyond 2000 AD, this prediction has failed.

Major destructions of sections of the east coast (by inundation) and of the west coast by earthquakes within the next 25 to 30 years.

There are two predictions here: The usual disaster scenarios, along with the usual failure of the events to materialise.

A new movement of youth seeking higher values through spiritual means will begin. This will signal the start of the "New Age" predicted by psychics for hundreds of years.

This is an extrapolation based on the social trends of the 1960s. The claim that this has been "predicted by psychics for hundreds of years" has not been substantiated. I will award one point, even though this movement started well before Logan's prediction.

Mr Logan claims his ability to foresee future events comes from rapport with a higher power. However, of the fourteen predictions made, twelve were wrong, one unconfirmed and one right. A better line of communication is obviously required.

Maurice Woodruff's Predictions

There will be an earthquake on the west coast. This could be the start of the sea taking over some land.

No major earthquake occurred in the United States during the 1970s. Another failed prediction.

Power failures will occur in the United States, causing alarm. These will be thought accidental at first — but this will be proven wrong.

Failed again. There were no wide scale power failures in the US during the 1970s. This prophecy may be based on a blackout that occurred in the US during November 1965 that stretched from Ontario to Pennsylvania, and affected 1/6th of the nation's population. Indeed, one newspaper (International Herald Tribune) described it as  "the greatest electrical power failure in history."

The dollar bill will be redesigned.

A redesigned US two dollar Federal Reserve note was issued in 1976. However, as this was not the one-dollar bill, no points can be awarded.

Nixon will establish more amicable relations between America and France than exist at the moment.

Nixon was successful in establishing better relations with the Soviet Union and China. Unfortunately, I have been unable to either confirm or refute the prediction relating to France.

British Prime Minister Harold Wilson will go.

Wilson imposed a range of unpopular measures to solve Britain's chronic adverse payments balance. Consequently, there was a fair chance that his government would lose the general elections of June 1970 (which is what happened). Woodruff had at least a 50% chance of being correct. One point can be awarded.

Italy: A new "strong man" will appear on the scene. He will be idolized by the Itolions and hailed as a new Mussolini — but a benevolent one.

No dictator, benevolent or otherwise, emerged in Italy during the 1970s. Indeed, no Italian politician to date can be considered comparable to Mussolini. No points can be awarded.

China will put a satellite in orbit.

China launched its first satellite on the 24th April 1970 from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre. Is the accuracy of this prediction due to psychic powers? The answer is probably not. China's space program existed well before the 1970s, and would have been monitored by the West because of potential military applications.

From the data obtained, specialists would have been able to predict the most likely decade in which a successful launch would occur. The possibility that Mr. Woodruff based his prediction on such information cannot be ruled out. I will, however, award one point.

The Canadian dollar will become very important in world economy.

Wrong. During the 1970s the five main currencies of importance in the West were the American dollar, the German mark, the Japanese yen, the French franc and the British pound.

Nasser will be deposed.

Nasser died in office (1970). A more significant event in the Middle East during the 1970s was the outbreak of full-scale war between Israel and Egypt in October 1973. Another failed prediction.

Princess Grace will have no more children but she will make another film — a very good one.

There are three predictions contained within this statement:
(1) Considering that princess Grace of Monaco would have been 42 in 1970, the assumption that she would not have any more children is fairly sound and does not require psychic powers.
(2) Princess Grace made a number of screen appearances after her marriage and prior to 1970: The Wedding in Monaco (1956) and A Look at Monaco (1963). Considering it was known that Princess Grace maintained an interest in acting and filmmaking, there was always a good chance that she would continue to appear in films. (3) That the film she appeared in would be very good.

Those films she appeared in during the 1970s and after were:
The Children of Theatre Street (one of the five nominees for Best Documentary Films for 1977),
The Story of Princess Grace ... Once Upon a Time is Now (1977) and Rearranged (1980).
None of these films can accurately be described as "very good" —  The Children of Theatre Street did not win any awards, and Rearranged has been described as a "pretty, innocent banal affair" (S. Bradford: Princess Grace, page 211). Consequently, only two points can be awarded.

Mr Woodruff uses crystal balls and tarot cards to divine the future. However, of his twelve predictions seven were wrong, four correct and one unconfirmed. Even if the unconfirmed prediction is correct, his score would only be five correct predictions. Crystal balls and tarot cards do not appear to be a reliable method of forecasting future events.

Irene Hughe's Predictions

Major News of a cancer preventative widespread by June, 1970.

Unfortunately, this medical breakthrough failed to materialise.

Germany: Government will change drastically by 1971. In less than 25 years she will be on the march!

There are two predictions contained in this statement: (1) There were no dramatic changes to the German political system — Waiter Ulbricht, leader of the German Democratic Republic, retired in May 1971, and was succeeded by Herr Honecker. (2) More than 25 years have passed, and a militaristic German state has not appeared. No points can be awarded.

Tidal waves will hit our [US] western coastline. Earthquakes will hit there and in the east — New York.

There are three predictions contained in this statement, none of which eventuated. Failed again.

1970 will be a year of assassination of certain important men in Egypt and Cuba. In China, the death of an outstanding leader will occur.

Three more failed predictions. No important Egyptians were assassinated. As for Cuba: Castro died of natural causes in November 2016. China: Mao Tse-tung was the only outstanding leader, and he died in 1976, not 1970.

Lowered hemlines and high heels will return! The basic dress will come back also. Jewelled clothing and frills will continue until 1975.

There are five predictions contained in this statement, only three of which are correct: Classic skirts (cut just above the knee) and high heels made a comeback. However, considering the general shortness of skirts in the sixties, there was only one practical direction that hemlines could go — namely, down. Indeed, during 1967-68 hemlines were almost to the ground, perhaps giving a hint of what was to come.

A similar situation applied to women's shoes — low heels replaced high heels. These trends are often of a cyclical nature — what is out of fashion comes back into fashion: The stiletto heel of the 1950s was replaced by low heels, and then in the 1970s low heels were replaced by high ones. When these facts are considered, Ms Hughe's correct predictions are more likely the result of an educated guess rather than a display of psychic powers.
Methods of preventing brain tumours and amazing new discoveries concerning the workings of the brain will appear very soon.

There are two predictions contained in this statement. (1) Unfortunately, we still have not discovered a way of preventing brain tumours, so this prophecy can be considered false.
(2) Concerning new discoveries relating to the brain: As research in this field is an ongoing enterprise it is obvious that our knowledge of the brain will increase. Unfortunately the use of terms such as "amazing" and "soon" to describe these findings is somewhat subjective.

In my opinion, of the two predictions made, only one came true:
In 1974 it was discovered that peptides produced by the body could act on the brain's opiate receptors. A related discovery was also made in 1975. The accuracy of Ms. Hughe's prediction is more likely the result of an educated guess than a manifestation of psychic powers.

Within 25 years, a divorce will be available to any couple willing to go before a judge and state a desire for it. Marriage laws will be made more stringent in order to prevent poor marriages.

There are two predictions. (1) Most US states now offer a "no fault" divorce on grounds of simple incompatibility. The need for reform, however, was recognised at the time of this prediction — existing laws led divorcing couples and their lawyers to invent facts that would satisfy the legal requirements for divorce and any law that encourages collusion and perjury is in need of revision. (2) Laws relating to marriage, however, have not been made more stringent. The correct prediction is more likely the result of natural reasoning abilities based on known facts, rather than psychic powers. I will, however, award one point.

Ms Hughe claims to obtain her knowledge of future events through meditation-induced visions. However, as only five of her eighteen predictions were correct, this method does not appear reliable.

Clifford Royse's Predictions

Huntley and Brinkley will break up their long-standing news team.

Chester Robert Huntley and David McClure Brinkley were U.S. broadcast journalists who anchored NBC's nightly news program from 1956 to 1970. It is highly unlikely that the decision to end such a long-standing and successful partnership would have been made overnight, and it is possible information about the matter may have come to the attention of Mr Royse in advance of a public announcement. I will, however, award one point.

1975 - World War Ill! Russia and the US against China.

We can all be grateful that this prediction was wrong.

1980 — First black Vice-president of us. He will be the present mayor of Cleveland, Carl B. Stokes.

Jimmy Carter was President of the US from 1977-1981, Walter Mondale was the Vice-president and of European ancestry.

A single leader will emerge in Russia soon, ending the dual leadership that presently exists.

Khruschev was deposed in 1964, and Brezhnev became the new general secretary of the Communist Party, and remained so until his death in November 1982. The references on history I have consulted clearly refer to Brezhnev as the leader of the Soviet Union. No reference was made to any dual leadership. No points can be awarded.

Mr Royse's score is only one out of four. The deep trances he employs do not appear to be an effective method of forecasting future events.

Significant Events of the 1970s

In my opinion what is significant about the aforementioned psychics' predictions is not what they got right, but rather what they missed entirely.

Below is a list of some major events that should have caused significant perturbations in the Psychic Ether (to coin a term) and therefore should have been perceptible to these allegedly world famous prognosticators.

•    Four students at Kent State University in Ohio slain by National Guardsmen at demonstration protesting US incursion into Cambodia
•    Beatles group disbands
•    Apollo Moon Mission aborted due to onboard explosion

•    The first commercially available microprocessor, the 4004, is released by Intel
•    A military junta led by Major General Idi Amin seizes power in Uganda

•    Terrorist attack at Olympic games Munich
•    Bangladesh becomes independent from Pakistan

•    Spiro Agnew becomes the first U.S. vice president to resign in disgrace
•    The United States Supreme Court declares that abortion is a constitutional right in the landmark decision on the Roe v. Wade case

•    Halie Selassie, Emperor of Ethiopia, deposed
•    President Nixon resigns due to Watergate scandal
•    India becomes the sixth nuclear power when it successfully detonates a nuclear bomb

•    Civil War in Lebanon
•    Two Assassination Attempts Against U.S. President Gerald Ford (Sept 5 & Sept 22)
•    The Vietnam War ends

•    North and South Vietnam join to form the Socialist Republic of Vietnam
•    Tangshan earthquake kills over 240,000
•    The Democratic candidate, Jimmy Carter defeats Republican incumbent Gerald Ford to win the U.S. presidential race

•    Elvis found dead
•    Amnesty International wins the Nobel Peace Prize

•    Pope Paul VI dies and is replaced by Pope John Paul I who also dies this year and is replaced by Pope John Paul II
•    Jonestown Massacre

•    Ayatollah Khomeini returns as leader of Iran
•    Iran takes American hostages in Tehran
•    Margaret Thatcher first woman prime minister of Great Britain
•    Mother Teresa awarded the Nobel Peace Prize
•    Nuclear accident at Three Mile Island


There is no solid theoretical foundation or sound empirical evidence that support claims psychic powers exist and can give people access to knowledge of future events.

From an examination of the predictions made for the decade of the 1970s it is certain that many prognostications were clearly wrong. Moreover, many significant events during this decade were missed entirely. Furthermore, when psychics do make accurate predict-tions, the lack of a solid theoretical foundation for psychic powers suggests their success is due to the application of inductive and deductive reasoning rather than the use of paranormal abilities.

For example, natural disasters are unpredictable — no one can be sure exactly when and where they will strike, and so it is not surprising that the psychics were total failures in this area of prognostication. On the other hand, one psychic was accurate when it came to predicting election results (and considering there were only two possible outcomes the chances of success was fairly high), while others showed limited accuracy concerning the actions of famous people and the direction of fashion trends.

The most likely explanation for their success in these areas is that information was available at the time of the prediction that helped them formulate an educated guess as to the course of events. The situation can be summarised as follows:

The case for predicting future events through the use of psychic powers remains unproven, and even if psychic powers do exist the predictions engendered by them are of a too vague and unreliable nature to be of useful benefit.


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