by James Randi (left)
    When all else fails to convince the skeptic, promoters of the paranormal fall back on the Sleeping Prophet, Edgar Cayce, who is credited with having made accurate diagnoses and having prescribed cures for distant patients who sent him letters - and this despite having little or no information about them. Cayce is also famous for his "life readings" - descriptions of former and present lives of people derived from their names alone. He claimed it was all done while he slept, and that he never remembered a word of what he said while entranced. The Association for Research and Enlightenment is the result of all this, and its library of thirty thousand case histories is great material with which to regale the credulous. Moreover, the rationalizations that Cayce and his supporters used to explain his numerous and notable failures are prime examples of the art of evasion.
    Cayce was a gentle man who looked like a schoolteacher, with rimless glasses and a receding chin. When he died in 1945 he was already well on the road to psychic stardom, and thereafter his reputation took off in earnest. The current rebirth of interest in the irrational has brought forth more than a dozen books - and reprints of old ones - that tout his wonders. Bookstands are full of Cayce items, and at my lectures he is frequently cited by believers in the audience as one of the invincibles of the trade.
    Of course, Cayce is remembered for his apparent successes, not his failures. Disciples claim many thousands of verified instances in which this "master psychic" correctly diagnosed illnesses and prescribed cures. But did he? I recommend that my readers perform some research by carefully studying any of the many books on the Sleeping Prophet. It must be said of Cayce's followers that they are quite unashamed of the myriad half-truths, the evasive and garbled language, and the multiple "outs" that Cayce used in his readings. In some cases these crutches were clearly stated, without any attempt to disguise them. But such is the nature of the zealot that no matter how damning the evidence of the documents, faith marches on undaunted.
    Cayce was fond of expressions like "I feel that..." and "perhaps" - qualifying words used to avoid positive declarations. It is a common tool in the psychic trade. Many of the letters he received - in fact, most - contained specific details about the illness for which the readings were required, and there was nothing to stop Cayce from knowing the contents of the letters and presenting that information as if it were a divine revelation. To one who has been through dozens of similar diagnoses, as I have, the methods are obvious. It is merely a specialized version of the "generalization" technique of fortune-tellers.

page 188-189 FLIM-FLAM! Psychics,ESP,Unicorns and other Delusions by James Randi ("The Amazing Randi") Prometheus Books c. 1982


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