When Brian Edwards interviewed Uri Geller some years ago, Dr David Marks of Otago University used the printed transcript to demonstrate that Brian had been the victim of highly skilled “cold reading”, rather than the witness to remarkable extra-sensory powers as he appeared to believe at the time.
Brian has obviously learned the lesson. When Ms Rosemary Altea, the famous seer and spiritual healer, tried her techniques on a recent Top of the Morning show, he simply refused to be drawn and our world-famous connection to the spiritual world was left floundering.
Ms Altea claims to see dead relatives standing beside the living who then reveal remarkable truths and pass on meaningful communications. In this case, Dr Edwards’ father was standing by and telling her some remarkable truths about Brian’s current life so that she could pass them on — even though he would presumably know them already. (As it turns out, no one can be certain that Brian’s father is dead. One wonders how Ms Altea will explain her visions should he turn up alive and well.)
The revelations from the other world began with suggestions of “moving” or “relocating”. Given that most people in New Zealand move house once every four years this was a reasonable shot. When Brian said he hadn’t moved, the “moving” visions were replaced with messages regarding sloping land with some steps to a garden. Which is also a fair stab in the semi-dark, given that it is common knowledge that Brian lives in the country on a 13 acre lot — and in Auckland it would be near impossible to find 13 acres of flat land. When this also appeared to be a dead end Brian appeared to put her out of her misery by telling her that they were building a water garden at the bottom of a slope in their property. “Fish?” she “saw” — “No fish”, said Brian.
Maybe Brian’s father was moving from cell to cell — the connection seemed less than satisfactory.
Later in the interview Ms Altea claimed that she could always establish her veracity by giving people some information she could not possibly know without information from the other side — like the fact that the Edwards were building a water-garden. “No — I told you that” said Brian, closing the trap.
She moved on, while Brian continued to keep his lip quite firmly buttoned — except to set further traps. She rambled on about his father, passing on the normal platitudinous messages — such as the fact that he had receding hair — until Brian pointed out that he never knew his father and knew little about him except that he had spent six months in prison for bigamy. Brian wanted to know where his father had been for the last 57 years, but Ms Altea refused to discuss this, except to say that there was something unpleasant involved. (Death maybe?)
This session was not going too well. Finally Ms Altea explained, with a measure of exasperation “Of course I don’t have to prove anything. I know that what I experience is true, and I just tell people what I see.” Well, so do five year olds making up their own fantasies. But they don’t go on the Oprah show, write books, tour the world and make large sums of money. Maybe there is a case for different standards of evidence.
During her introduction to us all, Ms Altea had promised to conclude the interview with a final “pearl of wisdom” but, knowing that she had picked up so little, she suddenly prepared to leave. The cruel Brian reminded her that she had promised him some special and truly meaningful message from his long lost father. “He loves you!” came the stunning revelation as she escaped from the studio. Given that his father didn’t want him, and had pressured his mother to have him placed in an orphanage, this (as Brian put it to me, when I checked facts with him), seems to run against the evidence.
This interview revealed how cold-reading really works by demonstrating how dreadfully it fails if the subject simply refuses to respond with the normal enthusiastic response to any hint of a “hit”. At the end of the session, listeners must have been wondering how this “famous spiritualist” had become so famous, and how she had ever managed to get on to the Oprah Winfrey show. On the other hand it may have confirmed what many of us believe it takes to get on to the Opray Winfrey show…
One thing — we can be sure that this particular interview will never appear in Rosemary Altea’s CV.