Speaker takes aim at fake mystics and urges Calgarians to think critically

On Sept. 24, 83-year-old sceptic James Randi came to Calgary to give his lecture on the importance of critical thinking in today’s society.

Born in Toronto, the former magician known as “The Amazing Randi,” took to his cause of scepticism after noticing other magicians were misleading the public by representing themselves as having divine powers.

“Academics drive me crazy” says Randi at the lecture at U of C “Saying that the people are stupid, it’s not true, it’s just that they’re not informed,” 
Photo by :Gordo Williamson

“Because they’re doing harm to people everyday, they’re cheating people, taking their money. So they cheat them financially and cause them emotional distress,” Randi points out.

“James Randi is one of the most foremost skeptics in the world today. His scepticism in the pseudo science and mysticism is invaluable to the people in this organization,” said Nate Phelps, president of the Calgary Chapter of Centre for Inquiry, who sponsored the event.

The non-profit organization is made of atheists, agnostics and anyone else who is dedicated to critical thinking and scepticism.

“There are lots of people being led astray into believing medicine or religious systems that are not based on any evidence that would be acceptable in the scientific community,” says Phelps, when asked why they sponsored the event.

Randy Kasha, (left) and Kyle Key, are both magicians from Red Deer.  “If you’re an escape artist, or if you’re a mentalist, you’ve heard of him early on,” says Keys.

Photo by Gordo Williamson

During his Calgary lecture, Randi took aim at homeopathy, news coverage, and various consumer products, as well as entertaining the crowd with tricks of his own. He performed using ESP cards and explained how a mentalist uses tricks to sway the mind — such as the dancing matchbox trick,where Randi makes the matchbox rise and fall upon his hand, as if it was dancing by itself.

He wanted to make clear to the crowd was that even their most basic assumptions cannot always be trusted.  

Randi’s career as a sceptic has spanned over 20 years.  He’s debunked Uri Geller, an Israeli psychic, and embarrassed a famous TV evangelist Peter Popoff on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, exposing both Geller and Popoff as frauds.

Randi created The James Randi Foundation, an organization that aims to educate the public against the dangers of falling for paranormal scams.

For the last 11 years, Randi’s organization has offered up a prize of $1 million to anyone who can prove they are capable of performing authentic paranormal activity.

“Now I can’t prove there’s no such thing as psychic powers but by offering a million dollar prize to anyone who could do it. I think I simply indicated that no one would come forward and prove themselves,” said Randi of the prize.

Despite the hundreds who have applied, no one has been able to win the prize to date, according to Randi.

“Anyone who refuses to win a million dollar prize for 20 minutes work is ether touched somehow in the head, or they’re not very good judges of financial success,” he proclaimed.

As of late, the prize has been raised to $1.4 million to help raise the stakes.  

The rules of the challenge are disclosed on Randi’s website.  An independent panel is made up of magicians and scientists to ensure the psychic is performing a paranormal activity rather than a trick.

“I don’t read through crystals” says Donna. “They’re for vibrations.”

Photo by: Gordo Williamson

Meet Donna

Calgarian Donna Kiss is a medium, meaning she communicates with the dead on the behalf of her clients, and has been doing this for the last 20 years she said.

“Yeah there are charlatans, sure they are, but Randi takes it a step too far. He doesn’t really give them a chance to prove it,” suggest Kiss.

“A skeptic is a skeptic,” she continued. “I could manifest something in front of him and he could say there’s some kind of trick to it.”

She went on to say that even she has her limitations — she can’t describe everything about the lost relative of the family, nor can she summon every spirit that is requested.

She notes it’s up to the spirits free will whether they want to show up or not.

“I understand a lot, but I don’t get everything. I’m talking to a different dimension.  I’m talking to people who aren’t in body anymore,” Kiss says, explaining that she may get a rough image of what the person may look like, but couldn’t comment on specifics, like eye colour.

“We’re not just bodies with a spirit, we are spirits who’s using a body,” says Donna, who also serves as a member of Calgary’s First Spiritual Church. Photo by:Gordo Williamson

Kiss doesn’t know anybody who has taken Randi’s million-dollar challenge.

But she alluded the tests are a set up to fail and that Randi isn’t really interested in finding a psychic who can prove their abilities.

“Because to most of us, Randi is just making a living being a skeptic. If he ever found anybody who won the million dollars, he would have nothing left,” she concluded. 

gwilliamson@cjournal.ca