Yeah I’m Skeptical, But I Also Wonder

Back in the early 2000s, I used to watch a syndicated television show called “Crossing Over” hosted by a man named John Edward. Edward’s claim was that he is a medium who can connect the people in this world to those who have passed.  On each episode of the show, he would stand center stage and purportedly connect a deceased with someone in the audience through a series of questions and answers using information that he claims was being provided by the deceased.

Such ability to communicate with the dead is an extraordinary skill, if it’s real.  It doesn’t take much research to learn, though, that what Edward engages in could very well be what’s referred to as cold or hot readings, the tactic of using prior knowledge and general guesses to solicit further information from people, thus giving the impression of a psychic reading.  And if cold or hot readings are what Edward does, then the format of a one-hour television show, which would allow him to edit out any back and forth in which his questions to the audience “missed,” would make the tactic easier to pull of.

For sure, there’s a lot to be skeptical about anyone claiming to be able to communicate with the dead.  For the most of us (or perhaps for all of us), there is only one certainty about death:  we all eventually end up there, and we have no idea when, what, where, why or how “there” is.  

There is also a reason to be skeptical about John Edward himself, a man who claims that he was a skeptic until the age of 15 when a psychic told him that he will become an internationally renowned medium, yet never seems to explain why psychics with the ability to predict the future have any connection to mediums who have the ability to connect with the dead.

But despite the persuasive arguments against John Edward, there are times that I wonder. I wonder because there are people in this world who have skills and abilities that are simply beyond the comprehension of our normal sensibilities.

Consider a report from CBS’ news program 60 Minutes from some years ago, which featured a skill known as “superior autobiographical memory,” the ability of people with rather ordinary lives who have the extraordinary ability to recall every day of their lives after a certain moment of their childhood.  They can recall things that are as personal as what they wore or had for lunch on a particular day, or as universal as whether the local football team won the game played on a particular evening and how.

I don’t doubt that the ability of these people, who are extremely rare, are legitimate, yet there is nothing from my personal experience that allows me to associate myself with the ability of these people.  I can barely remember what I had for dinner three weeks ago, much less what I had where on some random day three years ago.  And if I can believe in these people’s ability to recall personal memories from decades ago as if events occurred yesterday, then it doesn’t take too much leap of faith to believe that there is someone, among the billions of us, who has the ability to communicate with the deceased as if they are speaking to his ears.  After all, I can’t begin to understand either skill.

This isn’t to say that the scientifically proven existence of those with superior autobiographical memory somehow proves that scientifically unproven medium like John Edward is legitimate.  It doesn’t, and I for one will forever question whether John Edward can really do what he claims to do.

What I do think, though, is that it seems awfully presumptuous to assume that Edward is a fraud simply because most of us can’t communicate with the loved ones who have passed, and we don’t personally know anyone who can.  If I may borrow a line from John Edward himself, there is a difference between skepticism and cynicism.  Skepticism is fine because skeptics, even while questioning the validity of something they do not understand, leave room to stand corrected.  Cynicism, on the other hand, is malevolent.  Cynics have a pre-determined view of something they do not understand, and are determined, not to seek pursuit of what is, but to prove what isn’t.

I am not a John Edward apologist.  I am more inclined to believe those who can scientifically explain away what he does than believe what I see in the videos of him in action.  But the call is closer than I care to admit.  Perhaps that’s because I like to believe that there is something beyond life here in earth, and I hope that there is someone who can validate this belief. Leaving room open for the possibility that John Edward may actually be who he claims to be might make me a hopeless romanticist, not just a healthy skeptic. But I think I’m okay with that.


2 Responses to “Yeah I’m Skeptical, But I Also Wonder”

  1. 1 Matt Allain October 25, 2013 at 11:36 am

    I get where you’re coming from here, but the real problem with people like John Edwards and Sylvia Browne (another well known “psychic”), is that they provide so much false hope, preying on people’s grief to make their money.

    Sylvia Browne is perhaps one of the most well known, just because she goes in to “help” with missing persons investigations, telling families she can help find their loved ones (which she has, in fact, never been able to do).

    While of course I can’t prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that these abilities exist or don’t exist, I, like you, and inclined to believe the scientific explanations of fraud here. And that makes these practices at best a little shady, and at worst, malicious and incredibly unethical.

    • 2 joesas October 26, 2013 at 1:45 pm


      Hey, thanks for commenting! It’s been a while; hope all is well with you!

      I agree that it’s malicious, unethical and despicable–if the skills aren’t real because they are indeed providing “false” hope.

      I think Sylvia Browne is a fraud; I think John Edward may be a fraud. Neither is based on scientific evidence, and I suppose it’s just a matter of degree.

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