Elements about the future

Psychics are well-known for their ability to peer into the future on behalf of their clients, and few psychic readings would be complete without at least a little glimpse into tomorrow and beyond. This is a very important aspect of cold reading, and one which is so easy it is laughable (except to believers).

I have already clarified the fact that this book is about cold reading, and not magic tricks. Let me stress this point one more time, since I have often come across confusion on the issue.

Magical predictions

There is an excellent and very stylish magician called John Lenehan. I remember seeing John when he was running a regular, weekly magic show at a theatre in north London. One of these shows took place a few days before the final of the Wimbledon Tennis Championship. John wrote a prediction (sight unseen of the audience) and sealed it inside a padded envelope. He then asked a spectator in the audience to sign the envelope several times (no stooges - it could have been anyone). Next, John took a Polaroid photo of the spectator standing there in the theatre, holding the sealed envelope, and stapled this photo across the flap of the envelope. Finally, John gave the envelope to the spectator to take home and keep safe for one week.

The next show took place one week later, after the Wimbledon finals had taken place. The same woman brought along the envelope that had been in her possession all week. It was still covered in her own signatures and it still bore her own photo, just to prove that it was the exact same sealed envelope (which it really was). Invited to join John on stage once more, she herself opened the envelope (with John standing well away) and took out the prediction. It was a 100% accurate prediction of the results of the Wimbledon final!

The above is a factually accurate description of what happened. It may sound incredible, and it is. I doubt John will mind me telling you that it was a trick (those of my readers involved in the dark deceptive arts will recognise the ingenious effect devised by Lee Earle). John is an amazingly accomplished performer, not to mention extremely funny, but even he cannot really see into the future and accurately predict sports results!

Handing out the headlines

This is just one example of the startling and ingenious prediction routines featured by many of today's magicians and mind readers. I have even performed a few of them myself over the years. I once posted a sealed prediction to Britain's most popular daytime TV show two days before I was due to appear on it (This Morning' with Richard Madeley and Judy Finnegan). The envelope was signed on air by the show's presenters, and then kept somewhere safe by the producer. Two days later, when I appeared on the show, presenter Richard Madeley first of all confirmed that the envelope had been locked away, and that I had not been allowed anywhere near it. He himself then opened the envelope live on air, without me even so much as touching it. It contained an exact prediction of that morning's newspaper headlines! Good fun - but again nothing more than a magic trick, the method being well-known to magicians who specialise in this kind of thing.

Some of these effects are so baffling that spectators sometimes conclude they must involve at least some genuine psychic ability. Without wishing to spoil the fun, let me give you a cast-iron assurance that these are tricks. Intriguing, ingenious, entertaining tricks, but tricks nonetheless. They involve no psychic powers whatsoever. How are they done? If your interest is casual, I do not want to spoil the fun by telling you. If your interest is sincere, take up magic as a hobby and eventually you will find out (but it could take a while).

Enough of magic tricks, and back to cold reading. Here are a number of ways in which the skilled cold reader can offer predictions of future events, within the context of a psychic reading.

1. Peter Pan Predictions

Peter Pan predictions are ones in which the psychic simply predicts whatever the client wants to hear. This may seem such a simplistic and transparent ruse as not to be worth mentioning. On the other hand, it is such a key aspect of the psychic seduction that it would be incongruous not to include it in this section. Indeed, some sources would say this is the single most important element of all.

Of course, Peter Pan predictions are found in many places besides psychic readings. Every sales message or advertisement promises the same thing: the purchaser's future will be better for having made the purchase than it would be otherwise. This is untrue at least as often as it is true, but we tend to carry on believing it regardless.

In the context of a psychic reading, Peter Pan predictions are usually reserved for whichever of the Principal Themes the client seems most interested in. Health worries? Not to worry, an eventual return to good health is indicated. Financial problems? They will all be sorted out in the long run. The new romance? Congratulations, it is going to be a spectacular success!

It is as simple as that. Whatever the client most desires to come true, the psychic makes sure she sees it happening. In this day and age, this kind of highly reassuring message is perhaps the only one people cannot readily obtain from the media or anywhere else. Many, it seems, are prepared to pay good money to hear it said in a way that at least sounds sincere, reassuring, and credible.

Of course, any statement about the future is perfectly safe from the psychic's point of view. At the time of the reading, the client cannot check the statement one way or the other. Afterwards, the predictions that come true will be remembered and cited as evidence of the psychic's awesome gift. The ones that do not will be forgotten.

2. Pollyanna Pearls

These are fairly bland predictions which follow a set formula. They focus on one area of the client's life, and say that things which may have been difficult lately will improve soon. They are named after Pollyanna, the irrepressibly optimistic heroine of Eleanor Porter's 1913 novel. A typical example might go like this:

"Financially, it's been a bit of a bumpy ride these past couple of years, but the next 18 month or so will be a lot easier".

Psychics can apply Pollyanna Pearls to most facets of life, and to almost any type of reading. Here are some other examples which illustrate possible themes and variations.

The tarot reader:

"The spread of the cards indicates that relationships have been a source of concern over the past 14 months, perhaps not in ways that even your close friends would fully understand. However, there are indications here that these concerns are due to fade, and the next 14 to 18 months offer much happier and smoother prospects."

The spiritualist:

"I have your late grandfather here with me now. He's telling

£ou not to worry so much about the house and about money. e knows you've had your worries in recent times, but he wants to let you know that financially there's a much better spell ahead, and that your plans are going to go well."

The astrologer:

"There have been elements of conflict in your chart over the past 6 to 18 months, which could have led to some career difficulties. However, Saturn has recently entered your chart, and this influence will lead to some very significant, and beneficial, changes that will see you on a much more fulfilled path before the end of the year."

The Pollyanna Pearl is a highly versatile element, and can hardly go wrong since it is non-verifiable (at the time of the reading). In any case, everyone likes to hear glad tidings. I have used this element often, and never encountered any resistance to its charms.

3. Certain Predictions

These are predictions which simply cannot fail. They are sure-fire, blue-chip, gold-plated predictions that can be offered with confidence. Here are a few simple examples:

"Someone new is going to come into your life."

"A minor illness or injury is indicated."

"You will experience problems with an investment, or with something you have bought."

Did you spot the trick involved? The psychic conveniently forgot to say when these things will happen. Since the psychic has not mentioned any time scale, it is impossible for her to be wrong. All of these things are bound to happen eventually - the client just has to wait around long enough. If they happen quite soon, the psychic takes the credit for her highly accurate 'instant' predictions. If they happen years and years later, the psychic takes the credit for having seen far, far into the future. If they never happen at all before the client passes away, she is by then in no position to ask for a refund.

I once saw an excellent documentary in which psychics were secretly filmed while they gave readings to clients. Some of these readings included predictions about the future. The production team went back to the same psychics six months later, and showed them that their predictions had not come true. Of course the psychics simply offered the assurance that "they will, in time". The production team patiently waited yet another six months, and then went back to show that the predictions had still not come to pass. And of course, they got exactly the same answer.

4. 50/50 Predictions

These are predictions about events which can only go one of two ways. Will the client have a boy or a girl? Will she pass her driving test or fail it? Will she get the job or not? Marry the current guy or not marry him? Will a stock be higher or lower one month hence? Will team X win the championship or not?

Psychics tend to latch on to these questions, and offer confident predictions as to the outcome. With the odds immutably fixed at 50/50, the more predictions the psychic makes, the more hits she is bound to get. If she makes a hundred such predictions in a year, by the end of the year she will have about 50 totally accurate predictions to her credit. As far as the psychic is concerned, the more the merrier. She can make it her business to ensure she retains documentation of all her attempts, so that the ones which come good can be supported with proof later. These come in handy for positive PR and sceptic-bashing.

What about the misses? It is unlikely anyone will bother to document the psychic's predictions, and then get the chance to confront her with the ones that fail to come true. In the unlikely event of a psychic being confronted in this way, she has several escape hatches. She may be able to claim she has been misquoted, or only selectively quoted. Alternatively, she may say that a particular report of her prediction was inaccurate, but the prediction itself was correct. However, the simplest and most disarming defence is just to smile sweetly, admit the error, and point out that it is hardly significant. Something like this will do:

"Yes, I do get one or two predictions wrong. It's a process of interpretation, and sometimes that interpretation can be very difficult. I have never claimed to be infallible have I? But I know I'm right far more often than not, so it does work".

Or, in slightly more defensive mood:

"Fine. I'm not asking anyone to believe anything. Yes, I make mistakes. But my clients know the value of the services I provide, and frankly they are the people that matter".

5. Likely Predictions

For these predictions, the psychic makes a guess about the future which stands a reasonable chance of being correct. Unlike the Certain Predictions, listed above, these do include a time scale. For example:

"Within the next month, you will receive an unexpected contact from someone you haven't heard from in quite a while."

"Within the next week or two, you will hear of a legal matter which could directly affect you."

Both these predictions are quite likely to come true, since they are perfectly mundane and happen all the time. Nonetheless, by the strange and self-serving rules of the psychic industry, such predictions are apparently the very stuff of wonder. Here is another:

"In the year ahead I foresee an accident involving you, or a member of your family, and broken or falling glass."

Again, this stands a fair chance of coming true, since it happens all the time. You should also bear in mind the tremendous latitude which is applied to psychic pronouncements. The "glass" mentioned above could be anything - a wineglass, a window, a mirror, a car headlight, a bottle, a pair of spectacles, a glass table, a fish tank, a skylight... whatever. It could even be something which merely resembles glass, such as the ice-covered surface of a pond.

6. Unlikely Predictions

Surprisingly enough, as well as the Likely Predictions mentioned above, the psychic may also find it worthwhile to deliberately make an Unlikely Prediction once in a while. If it fails, there is no harm done. On the other hand, if by some outrageous fluke it happens to come true, it affords ample opportunities for glowing PR, and strengthens the faith of the devoted. It also makes a very useful stick with which to beat sceptics. For all these reasons, the psychic may, just once in a while, offer a forecast which she knows is unlikely to come true:

"Four weeks from now, you will meet someone with exactly the same initials as yourself."

"You will see an old friend driving a car of silver colours, with a dog in the rear seat."

By their very nature, most Unlikely Predictions will fail. However, the one or two that are successful can be put forward as especially persuasive proof of the psychic's powers. After all, the more unlikely the event predicted, the more amazing the prediction is deemed to be.

If the psychic gives just one reading a day, and incorporates just one Unlikely Prediction per reading, she may well get one or two hits by the end of the year. This low number is more than compensated, in terms of PR value, by their content being so self-evidently unlikely and un-guessable. By such means are great reputations founded.

Incidentally, mathematically knowledgeable friends tell me there is something called the 'Poisson Distribution' which gives the expected number of occurrences of rare random events which have a large number of opportunities of happening. Car accidents for example: for most drivers it is very unlikely that they would have an accident on a specific journey, but given that they usually have a large number of journeys accidents tend to happen every now and again. The lottery is another example: millions of attempts, each with a minuscule probability of winning You could calculate the expected number of successful "unlikely predictions" in a year (if you wanted to).

7. Factual Predictions

These are simple, straightforward predictions about the medium-term future. For instance:

"You will be involved in a holiday, or a long journey, next March."

"In June, you will hear news of an unexpected celebration."

"Before the end of the year, I see you finding a valuable family memento which you thought you had lost for good."

There is little or no artifice involved in such predictions. The psychic simply takes a guess, which may or may not turn out right. Nonetheless, the predictions are likely to work in her favour.

The first reason is that clients remember the predictions that come true and forget the rest. Secondly, only the clients whose predictions came true tend to talk about them. It makes for highly intriguing conversation to tell your friends about a prediction that turned out to be right. Few people ever think it worth mentioning that they went to see a psychic, she made a prediction, and it did not come true.

Another factor in the psychic's favour is that clients are prone to invest readings with the benefit of hindsight. Suppose the psychic merely predicted "a long journey next March". Suppose, too, that the client unexpectedly gets sent on a business trip to Australia, flying out in February but returning just before March. The chances are that she will quote the psychic as having said "You will go on a business trip overseas in the early part of the year, February or March". The psychic's actual words were quite different, and off the mark. But who cares about that?

8. Self-fulfilling Predictions

Another neat trick is for the psychic to make predictions which possess the virtue of being self-fulfilling. These generally pertain to, or are based on, aspects of the client's mood and personality. For example:

"You will begin to adopt a more positive and friendly outlook. You will let go of many old grievances, and start afresh - being a good friend to yourself, and ready to be a good friend to others. You will soon have a larger social circle than at present."

This kind of prediction is likely to be self-fulfilling in many cases. If the client goes away convinced that she is about to become more popular, she may well feel very happy at the prospect. Since she is happier, she is more cheerful and more sociable. Since she is more sociable, she makes friends more easily. Bingo! Another successful psychic peek through the curtain of time.

There are any number of possible variations: gaining new confidence, making a fresh start, turning over a new leaf, resolving a relationship issue, feeling more settled, becoming less anxious, tackling a problem with renewed determination... and so on. In each case, just believing the psychic's words may be enough for the prediction to be self-fulfilling.

9. Vague Predictions

I have already stated my doubts about the 'vagueness' theory of cold reading (see 'Five popular misconceptions'). However, it is true that for any psychic in the prediction business, vagueness has much to recommend it. Many psychic predictions practically elevate vagueness to an art form. I refer to such typical gems as:

"Ajourney is indicated."

"I see a new source of fulfilment in your life."

"Your life will enter a new phase of progress."

"A surprising aspect to the month of June will have significant implications which only become clear much later in the year."

Astrological readings, in particular, lend themselves to this markedly fatuous kind of prediction. This may be because its followers are, by definition, capable of perceiving significance where none exists.

10. Unverifiable Predictions

Another ruse employed by psychics is to make predictions which the client can never verify either way. Here is an example:

"Someone you know will secretly harbour some grudge or ill-will against you. They will plan to put obstacles in your way, but you will overcome their plans without even realising it."

Take a moment to study the careful wording used here. You will see that the client cannot possibly know if it ever comes true or not. Here is another:

"At the place where you work, there will be some behind-the-scenes dealings which do not involve you, but which will be to your advantage in the long term."

The psychic who makes Unverifiable Predictions can never be wrong. And a psychic who is never wrong is a happy psychic.

11. One-way Verifiable Predictions

One-way Verifiable Predictions are perhaps the single neatest form of prediction in cold reading. These predictions can be verified, but only if they come true. If they do not come true, this failure can never be proved. Here is an example:

"A friend will be inclined to telephone you with news that has an effect on your career, but may decide at the last minute not to do so."

Let us look at the possibilities. If some friend or other does call as described, purely by coincidence, then the prediction is a hit. If they do not, this can be attributed to the fact that they decided not to, which the psychic mentioned as a possibility. Here is another example which works in exactly the same way:

"Someone you have had a professional connection with in the past may decide to get in touch with news of an interesting career opportunity. However, they may realise they can't really offer you what you're worth, and decide against it.'

As before, the psychic can only be proved right, but can never be proved wrong. To anyone in the psychic trade, One-way Verifiable Predictions are a thing of beauty, and the ability to churn them out more or less at will is a skill worth cultivating.

Special section: Public Predictions

The techniques listed so far pertain chiefly to predictions made in the context of a private reading. However, many psychics like to try their hand at the occasional public pronouncement. It is therefore worth mentioning some of the methods used by psychics to build a reputation for high-profile media-friendly public prophecy. I do not regard these as part of cold reading as such, but they are included here for completeness.

Psychics sometimes get asked about public events, such as the outcome of a sports contest or a political election. The psychic has two choices. She can go with the current betting, or deliberately go against it. If she takes the first option, she stands a high chance of being right, which will delight her fans but impress few others. If she takes the second option, she stands less chance of being right, but will appear all the more impressive if events happen to go her way ('Psychic X beats the tipsters!'). Most psychics prefer to play safe and go with the flow. But either option has its advantages, and neither poses any danger to the psychic's reputation. If she gets a prediction wrong, so what? In most cases, no-one cares, no-one remembers.

In extremely rare cases, some unusually assiduous investigator may take the trouble to document a psychic's incorrect prediction, to get all the facts correct, and to confront the psychic with this failure. If the normal escape routes are sealed off in this way, then the psychic can simply serve up a good-natured homily on human striving and imperfection:

"Well I never said I'm infallible, and of course you're quite right, I do make mistakes from time to time. We're all on a path of learning, and I'm still learning my craft even after all these years. I can't be right about everything - yes, sometimes I stumble, I fail. But I'm just trying to do the best I can with the gift I've been given, and on the whole I think my track record is pretty good".

Golden disasters

Some psychics get involved in the disaster business, and care to predict earthquakes, airplane crashes, assassinations and similar tragic news. The rule here is for the psychic to predict vague, predict often, and document everything. Then she can scream from the rooftops if she happens to get one right (which has to happen eventually, persistence being the virtue that it is).

In a rather more sordid vein, some psychics realise that these kinds of disasters may happen infrequently, but they nonetheless obey the laws of probability. There are not many major air disasters, but they must happen every once in a while. The longer it has been since the last major air crash made headlines, the more likely it is that one will occur soon. Psychics may therefore find it useful, if unsavoury, to keep up with the news and try to ascertain which type of bad news has not happened for a while, and therefore seems overdue. This can form the basis for some predictions which are regrettably accurate, and great for business. If you doubt that this works, try it for yourself over the next six months. (See Appendix note 7 for more on this subject.)

Different place, different prediction

Another time-honoured method is to make conflicting predictions in different places. In magazine A, the psychic predicts the red team will win. In magazine B, she predicts the blue team will win. After the event, guess which cutting gets pasted into the scrapbook and added to future press releases? It is very unlikely that anyone is going to dig up the truth about these conflicting guesses. And even if they do, the psychic can always claim she changed her mind, or the 'vibrations' she works from changed after she made the first prediction. There is always an excuse!

Having briefly discussed public predictions, I can now proudly unveil the concluding element of this section. It is without doubt the most effective, most powerful prediction technique I have ever come across: the 'Neverwas'.

12. The Neverwas Prediction

This is not a cold-reading technique as such, and it is only relevant to press interviews and similar public situations. However, it is so stunningly simple and beautiful that I simply had to include it.

Assume that the psychic is going to be interviewed by a journalist. Before the interview, the psychic simply makes up a nice story about some amazing prediction she made a while ago, and which came true. The fact that she never really made any such prediction, and that the entire story is simply an invented fabrication designed to sound good in an interview, is irrelevant.

All that matters is that it is a good story with a nice punchy feel to it. If it involves a twist ending, all the better. For example, the story might involve a prediction which came spectacularly true but in a way which no-one (not even the psychic!) could have foreseen.

The interview takes place, and the psychic mentions this anecdotal gem involving an amazing prediction. Let us see what might happen once the interview is over.

The journalist who writes up the interview may bother to precede the prediction story with a disclaimer, such as "Psychic X claims that five years ago...". This makes it clear that the prediction is merely a claim, not a fact that has been checked and verified. However, this is by no means certain. Not all journalists would regard such a disclaimer as either necessary or desirable. In which case, the prediction story may get written up as if it were documented fact. Once the story is part of the news archives, it can and will be recycled ad nauseam, polishing the psychic's glittering reputation for years to come.

Second scenario. Suppose the conscientious journalist does include the disclaimer. The psychic is still in with a chance. Before the interview gets printed, the disclaimer could get left out for any number of reasons, such as an over-worked sub-editor hastily trimming the interview to fit the page. The disclaimer gets 'trimmed' out, and the made-up prediction story once again gets printed as if it were fact.

Third scenario. Suppose the story duly appears in print, with the disclaimer intact. Some time later, another journalist may be preparing a piece about the same psychic. This second journalist checks out the news archives, sees the prediction story and decides it makes 'good copy'. The story gets rehashed in a slightly 'tidied up' form, without the dull disclaimer. Yet again the story ends up enshrined as fact in the press archives, and can be trotted out for PR purposes whenever the psychic (or her fans) so desire.

In all these different ways, the Neverwas prediction can become set in stone as a piece of factual news archive. It may go on to appear in magazine articles or books for decades afterwards. A documentary film-maker may even decide to arrange a 'reconstruction' of the whole story, perhaps failing to acknowledge to the viewing millions the distinction between 'reconstruction' and 'construction'.

Far be it from me to suggest whether a Neverwas has ever happened in real life. It is mentioned here only as a possibility.

Progress Review

This concludes the fourth and final group of elements concerning predictions. It also concludes the section concerning the Elements of the reading. Now it is time to see what happens when things go slightly wrong for the psychic.

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