These elements chiefly concern facts (such as names and numbers) which mean something to the client, and events in the client's distant or recent past. Elements which deal with future events are dealt with separately (see 'Mainly about the future' later).
A Fuzzy Fact is an apparently factual statement which is formulated so that (a) it is quite likely to be accepted (b) it leaves plenty of scope to be developed into something more specific. Let us consider some common examples.
Here is a typical example that might form part of a tarot reading, assuming the reading is taking place somewhere in the United States:
"I can see a connection with Europe, possibly Britain, or it could be the warmer, Mediterranean part?".
This example obviously varies with the geographical context of the reading. In Britain, the line could be "...a connection with America" or "Australia, possibly New Zealand". The essential idea is to specify a large, distant part of the world with which the client may well have some sort of connection.
Note that the psychic has not said whether this link is professional, social, domestic or romantic. She has not specified any particular part of Europe, which is a vast place (likewise America, or Australia). She has not said if the connection is current or past or in the future.
However, if the client has any connection at all with the named part of the world, no matter how vague, she can be encouraged to supply the requisite details, for instance that her husband's family once lived there. The psychic then builds on this feedback to massage the initially vague statement into something more specific.
The example given above might be massaged like this:
"I can see a connection with Europe, possibly Britain, or it could be the warmer, Mediterranean part. Now why might this impression be coming through?"
"Could that include Scotland?"
"The link I'm getting seems to have that sort of a Celtic flavour to it, but I wasn't sure, I'm getting Edinburgh for some reason... "
"There is a link on my fathers side. His family comes from Scotland but it's not Edinburgh."
"Well, maybe that's just a place that he or his family visited once or twice... but I'm definitely getting a link with that part of the world, and connection by blood and by marriage is indicated, so that makes sense to you does it?"
Thus the psychic shapes the initial vagueness into something much more specific. This is not just useful during the reading itself. It also affects how the reading is remembered afterwards. A statement such as this:
"I can see a connection with Europe, possibly Britain, or it could be the warmer, Mediterranean part"
can become mis-remembered like this:
"I see a family connection, on your father's side, with Scotland, maybe Perthshire".
Obviously, the mis-remembered version is far more impressive than the actual statement the psychic originally made. I will have more to say about developing statements into miracles later on, in the section on Presentational Points.
The fact that clients often remember what was said inaccurately is well-known to sceptics. Non-believers are often challenged to "explain" how a particular psychic could have delivered some piece of devastatingly accurate information. Of course it is the tidied-up, specific version which is offered for analysis, not the Fuzzy Fact which was originally given.
This particular version of the Fuzzy Fact is often found in spiritualist readings. For example, if the medium is pretending to receive information about how someone passed into spirit (died), she might say something like this:
"...and I'm getting an indication of a problem around the chest area, it could be sort of here (gestures vaguely towards heart and lungs)."
This stands a very high chance of being correct. A great many people die of illnesses directly related to the heart and lungs.
However, the chances of a hit are even better than they may seem, given the rather loose way in which readings tend to be assessed. For example, if the person died because of kidney failure, the psychic could claim (legitimately) that this obviously affected circulation, which is related to the functioning of the heart. Hence the initial statement is interpreted to be at least as right as it is wrong.
This particular version of the Fuzzy Fact can also be massaged in other ways. If the client claims that this statement about the "chest area" is wrong, the psychic may develop the statement like this:
"Oh, that's strange because the chest area is the clear impression I'm getting. How did he pass, my dear?"
"It was a sudden car accident - he was killed instantly."
"Ah yes, I see now. What he's saying to me is that the accident triggered a heart attack just the split second before he passed over."
Once again, the psychic wins.
Many psychics give readings which incorporate a degree of health diagnosis, even if this is not their main focus. For example, a graphologist or a tarot reader might well say:
"Mmm, and I sense a bit of back trouble now and again?"
As is commonly known, the great majority of people have some experience of some sort of back problem at some point in their lives. Since this might involve the spine itself, the muscles, or the skin in that area, there is plenty of scope for a hit.
Yet another version of the Fuzzy Fact relates to facts and events. Here is an example that might form part of an astrological reading:
"Now, there's an indication here of a career in progress, or a transition. This could be you, or someone's career that affects you."
This bears the twin hallmarks of the Fuzzy Fact: it is quite likely to be right, and it leaves plenty of scope for refinement into something more specific. The psychic does not say what is meant by "progress" or "transition". It could be taken to mean getting a job, losing a job, promotion, demotion, relocation to a new office, a bonus, a pay rise, a change of responsibilities, getting a new client or a new account... all sorts of things. Even the possibility of any of these things will count as a hit - they do not actually need to have happened.
Given that the psychic says this could refer to either the client or someone she knows, it stands a very high chance of being counted as a hit, and of being remembered as much more specific than it really was.
Another common example which often features in the spiritualist repertoire is the "uniform". With reference to some late member of the family, the gifted medium might say:
"And I'm getting a link with a uniform of some kind. Now does this make sense to you?"
Many people have jobs which involve wearing a uniform, or wearing something which is effectively a uniform in the context of their work (such as the executive's smart suit, or the butcher's apron). If the deceased belongs to this category, it's a hit!
Moreover, many who do not wear a uniform themselves nonetheless work in places where others do, and this form the basis for a hit. The potential for success does not end there. Many people have served in the armed forces at some point, so this provides yet more scope for a potential miracle. If all else fails, the psychic can say she is tuning in to the deceased's school days (when they may have had to wear a uniform) or youthful years (when they may have been into sports, and wore "uniforms" or team colours).
I have dwelt at length on the Fuzzy Fact because it is a very common element, with applications to many different kinds of cold reading. It can be used to generate statements about relationships, family, career, names of people or places or events, sets of initials, numbers, trips, holidays and celebrations.
It is the widespread use of the Fuzzy Fact which has probably given rise to the notion that cold reading consists of vague statements (see 'Vagueness and generalisation'). It bears repeating that it is not just vagueness that makes this element work - it is the high likelihood of being right in some way, and the scope it offers for refinement into something more precise.
By its very nature, this element is mostly applicable to interactive readings. However, it can be used in printed or postal readings, in which case the client herself has to do all the work of finding a way to make the statement fit. Fortunately for the psychic industry, many clients are happy to oblige. 2. The Good Chance Guess
This element involves making a guess which stands a higher chance of being right than you might think. (It is distinct from the outright fluke, or Lucky Guess, which we will look at next).
To take a very common example, the psychic might say something like:
"And at the house where you live, is there a 2 in the number?"
This sounds like an outright guess, and in some ways it is. But the odds of the psychic being right are far higher than you might think. What's more, the majority of clients lack either the mathematical sophistication, or inclination, to work out the correct odds.
Let us investigate this a little more closely. Imagine a street with 100 houses, 50 on either side. How many houses have a 2 in their-number? The answer is on the next page, but make a mental guess before you look.
The correct answer is 19, very close to one fifth of all the houses in the street. So the psychic has almost a 1 in 5 chance of being right. (The probability increases for streets with more than 19 houses but significantly fewer than 100, which in practice applies to a high proportion of streets.)
Good though this is, there is plenty more honey in the pot. If the client rejects this initial offering, the psychic might try widening it just slightly, like this:
"Oh, that's strange... because I'm seeing this number 2. Perhaps it's the house next door...?"
If we go back to our imaginary street of 100 houses, 20 of them (not among the 19 counted so far) are adjacent to a house with a 2 in the number. Therefore the psychic would get a hit if the client lived at any one of 19 + 20 houses, which is 39 in all. The possibilities do not end there. If the "house next door" ploy has not worked, the psychic can always smoothly extrapolate like this:
"...or maybe it's the house you see opposite every morning."
This adds 8 more houses of those not counted so far. Which makes a grand total of 47 houses, or almost a 50% chance of getting a hit! (If it is still a miss, the psychic uses one of the escape routes we will see later in 'The Win-Win Game').
The blue car
Here is another very common instance of the Good Chance Guess:
"And for some reason I'm seeing a blue car outside your door."
This combines some pure guesswork with some intelligent thinking. The chances of getting a hit are much higher than may initially appear. If the client owns or drives a blue car, it is a hit. If she has ever done so, then it is a hit about her past. With just a little refinement, the psychic can get a hit if any of the client's close friends or neighbours have a blue car. Or, if the client has recently been visited by any trade or professional people in a blue car or van, that also counts as a hit. When you think about the possibilities, you can see the chances of a hit are quite high.
The other crafty part of this guess is the choice of colour. Cars come in many colours and shades, but blue is probably the most common of all. What is more, the term "blue" covers a greater possible range of shades and hues than any other possible choice - from the deep, dark shades of Royal Blue to light cyan and intermediate shades such as aquamarine and turquoise.
There are many other statements which work in the same way as these two examples. Technically, they are guesses which may be right or wrong, but in fact they stand a very good chance of being right. It is also worth pointing out that in most contexts, the clients will have little or no time to analyse the subtlety involved.
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The pathology of the poet says that the undevout astronomer is mad the pathology of the very plain man says that the genius is mad and between these extremes, which stand for ten thousand analogous excesses, the sovereign reason takes the part of a moderator and does what it can. I do not think that there is a pathology of the occult dedications, but about their extravagances no one can question, and it is not less difficult than thankless to act as a moderator regarding them.