Although Sylvia Browne has now gone to meet her Maker — or more likely
the other bloke — her spirit lives on in the all too temporal form of the myriad "psychics" who plague the UK, the US and the world with their pernicious garbage.
Fraud and self-deception aside, there are genuine phenomena that can be and frequently are confused with otherworldly happenings, and there are people who are hard at work investigating them rationally.
This morning, the BBC featured the work of research magician Stuart Nolan who has developed a device called ideobird. He is currently based at Watershed in Bristol
where he is magician in residence.
Ideobird demonstrates the ideomotor effect, something that has been known from ancient times, although the explanations our ancestors had for it do not fool scientists today. Most of the time.
The ideomotor effect can be used to read people's minds, something we can all do to a greater or lesser degree. If you are a woman and see a man staring intensely at a particular part of your anatomy, you will of course realise he is a fashion designer who takes a particular interest in ladies' blouses. Yeah, right. Here is Stuart Nolan giving a talk
in which he explains why your horoscope is likely to be accurate.
And here is magician and psychic debunker James Randi explaining
how the ideomotor effect comes into play for dowsers. Unlike the Sylvia Brownes of this world, most dowsers appear to be completely sincere, as is the guy to whom Randi alludes here, but just because they are sincere doesn't mean they are right.