When I was young, we had a fair at my elementary school. Some of the older students were hosting a psychic booth. I was young enough to think oh cool, I didn’t know so many people at our school were psychic.
I went to a palm reader, who took a very brief look at my palm and told me that I would grow up to be a professional baseball player.
As I was being hustled out of the way, conveniently squashing my many followup questions about my future, I remember feeling surprised. At the time, I intended to be a professional baseball player. How did they know?
Astrology, tarot, palm reading, numerology, psychics and all other forms of cold reading rely on the listener to connect a lot of dots. None of them are based on any kind of magic whatsoever.
But that doesn’t mean they’re useless. A placebo can be downright handy in the right circumstances. Sometimes the dots just need to be connected. Sometimes they need to be connected one more time. Sometimes they need to be connected by another person.
Secular versions of this exist. Oblique Strategies is a perennial favourite in some circles. I’ve also advised people who are having trouble making a decision to flip a coin. The coin doesn’t know more about your problem than you do, of course, but often you will find that right as you make the flip, you’re hoping for one result or the other. It’s like an assist for your brain.
I didn’t become a professional baseball player, but in fairness, that’s a long way to predict into the future. I’ve never made a call correctly that far out either. Just don’t be so quick to dismiss cold reading even if you don’t believe in magic. Reason will only take you so far, and your brain is capable of more than that.