Recommend questions for a (skeptical) friend who's going to a well recommended medium Tuesday night

A friend of mine- like myself a gaytheist, is a college student in Atlanta. He has a sociology professor he thinks the world of, and said sociology prof is a skeptic. From my friend’s email (reposted with his permission and names omitted):

The best question I can think of is Groucho’s question to Madame Narobi, the “see’s all tells all medium to the stars” in his heyday: “What’s the capital of North Dakota?” (She was stumped.)

The only thing that could ‘prove’ a medium (or whatever term they go by- she in fact calls herself a psychomanteum- she’s semi world famous in Atlanta evidently- would of course be a personal “nobody else could know that” revelation, and while I do believe in ghosts I don’t necessarily attach any mysticism to them- more “time/space hiccups” or residual hauntings (and most of those I think have other explanations, thus other than North Dakota I can’t think of any questions to ask one.
Any suggestions? (Again, something respectful but skeptical.)

Well, theoretically the best thing that your friend could do is ask a question that someone else knows the answer to … like me giving him a question to ask, and you putting the answer in a sealed envelope that he opens only after the session to see if the answer is correct.

I suppose something like how did Aruvqan’s sister die [though using her real name, which I could PM to you along with the answer in case the medium reads the dope.]

Or he could ask a question about one of your more wacky relatives that he doesnt know the answer to.

However you guys decide to do it, if he really does not know the answer to the question he asks, he can’t give it away when she is guessing and trying to read him. And I really don’t believe that she isn’t doing some sort of cold reading and reaction interpretation. I have never watched any so called psychic that didn’t.

There is no question you can ask that will either illuminate the situation or pose any sort of difficulty for the psychic.

When you are dealing with a psychic or belief in psychics, you are dealing with an entirely closed system of thought, wherein any outcome is considered either evidence for the claim/belief or at least compatible with it. If you ask her a factual question and she guesses right, or partly right, this will be deemed evidence of her gift. If she gets it wrong, she has at least a dozen ways to wriggle out of it:

‘I never said my gifts work 100% reliably, all the time’
‘I’m just doing my best to interpret the impressions I get, and it’s not a perfect science’
‘If what I’m saying to you doesn’t seem right now, it will do later on’
‘On the psychic level, we sometimes have to interpret things in a symbolic or an emotional way, and not get too hung up on the literal meanings of words’
‘I sense that this will mean something to someone close to you, even if it doesn’t seem to make sense to you’
‘I think that you perhaps have a rather skeptical, closed-minded point of view, and my gifts don’t work for closed-minded people’
‘I don’t need proof, I know my gifts are real’
‘Maybe I wasn’t very successful here for you, but I have testimonials from hundreds of people from all walks of life going back over ten years… you’re not telling me they are all wrong or all gullible’

…and so on.

You cannot meaningfully either debate or evaluate psychic powers, any more than you can evaluate a hope or a wish. Psychic powers are as real as you want them to be, no more and no less. Some people want to believe in the delusion because it offers some sort of emotional or psychological crutch. Others don’t.

The only fact that needs to be stated, and clearly understood, is that just because something looks psychic, this doesn’t mean it actually is. I have given more ‘test conditions’ demonstrations of ‘psychic ability’ for the media than anyone else in the world (i.e. without pretending it’s actually real, and with the truth always tactfully revealed at the end). Among other things, I ‘talked to the dead’ working with a room of complete strangers, for ABC ‘Prime Time’, in front of an estimated ten million viewers.

When you know the right techniques, there is no point or question that a psychic cannot easily handle or evade.

Did you know i was coming today?

Tell them not to say anything. Not even hello. Don’t nod or shake their head. Total poker face.

Or have him wear a wedding band and ask about his dead wife.

Ask her what is down inside your sofa. The dead always know about stuff like that.

ianzin is literally one of the world’s foremost experts on this so there isn’t much use going any further than his post. For like the zillionth time, I am going to recommend his outstanding book on the subject. LINK

My guess is that ‘relaying information’ will actually turn out to be exactly the kind of fishing expeditions that are known as ‘cold reading’, despite any denials that she does it.

-“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain”, and all that.

Lie. About your middle name, dead relatives, hometown, whatever. BUt try to do as much of it as possible in a way that just has you smiling and nodding in awe as she ‘picks up’ on things.

If your friend knows the host, the host has already told the medium all she needs to know, probably. Why do cold reading when you can do hot?

Thank you, I’ve managed to miss it all the other times!

Thanks for the plug for my book, but here’s some free information on cold reading and here’s another good source.

Ask her if she plays the lottery.

If no, ask her why not.

If yes, ask her why she hasn’t replaced the hideous sofa.

Were I in that situation, I would ask her how my grandfather would always greet me. It’s something that nobody would ever be able to guess, but if Grampap actually did have a way to communicate with me from the Great Beyond, it’d be the first thing he’d say (since it was always the first thing he’d say to me).

“I’m thinking of a number between -23 and 1,008…”

Oh, that’s easy. She’s a medium, not a psychic; she can’t predict the future, only talk to spirits.

If she’s a psychic, she’d say something about how her gift can only help others/gets fuzzy when she tries to look to her own future/can’t narrow in on something so focused as specific numbers for a particular future date/whatever.


  • “Your other grandfather is talking to me.”
  • “OK, it must be your great-grandfather.”
  • “Someone else’s grandfather is talking to me and wants to be heard; I can only talk with those spirits who are willing to speak.”

I think ianzin has it right-you can do nothing. There will be the claim that the messages come from “Those Beyond”, which will absolve her of all responsibility if answers are wrong or nonexistent. There will be cold reading, and she will know enough to spot the people that will fall for it. There will be spotters looking for people that seem the least bit skeptical, or are holding tightly onto possibly sealed envelopes-those people don’t have a chance in heck of getting called on. The hostess will “Ooooh!” and “Aaaahhh!” at the appropriate times. if all else fails, the psychic will just pick out loyal followers in the audience to call on, the ones that see her at all her performances.
Chances are, you will never get a chance to talk to her.

I knew you’d point that out.

gasps :eek:

If the Professor a skeptic or not? Your post seems to say he is, then it says later he is “endorsing” her.