by Edwin D. Reilly, Jr.
for the Sunday
would like to see the case of missing 12-year old Jaliek Rainwalker
much as anyone other than his grandparents, but coverage in the local
borders on giving credence to the occult. Channel 13, for example—my
first choice for local TV news—reported in early January, without a
skepticism, that a “psychic” had been called in to assist police.
The Times Union did a little
better; the lede of its January 18 story read “Three psychics joined
for 12-year-old Jaliek Rainwalker last week, but information they
officials about the missing boy failed to best anything offered by
Back on November
13, the Glens Falls Post-Star reported that Cambridge-Greenwich Police
George Bell defended use of a particular psychic, saying that she had
police in the Schenectady
area in the past. "We checked with the Rotterdam PD, and she has
credibility with them," Bell
unlikely that Rotterdam’s
detectives are more credulous than those of other police departments.
It is my
opinion that police often give in to the fervent pleas of victim’s
bring in an alleged psychic because they do not want to be accused of
trying their utmost to solve cases. But there are no true psychics; the
power such people claim is scientifically impossible. There may be rare
where a “psychic” guesses accurately, but that’s all it can
The same is true
for a whole host
of other alleged “paranormal” phenomena—extra sensory perception
(clairvoyance), telekinesis (such as
the phony “spoon bending” of Uri Geller), telepathy, astrology, fortune
telling, dowsing, ghosts, and various other delusions such as L. Ron
“dianetics.” The two best known debunkers of such things are the
Hamilton Zwinge, a.k.a. James Randi, and the American mathematician
Billed as “The Amazing Randi,”
Randi is a stage magician and
skeptic best known as a challenger of paranormal claims and
for a long list of the monetary awards offered in countries
all over the world for anyone who can demonstrate psychic powers under
controlled conditions. No one has ever collected a penny from any of
I have deeply admired Martin
Gardner since he began writing the Mathematical Games columns for
American magazine in 1956, and continued to do so until 1981. He has
books and counting (he’s only 93 and just getting warmed up), and he
many an article to the bi-monthly Skeptical Inquirer magazine.
Despite the best efforts of these
people and others, a disappointing 25 percent of Americans claim to
one or another of many forms of paranormal phenomena for which there is
scintilla of credible scientific evidence.
When I was
twelve, I became
aware that my father was intrigued by the stage and radio (and later
television) personality Kuda Bux (1906-1981), “the man with the x-ray
Bux was an Indian fakir whose most famous trick was to cover his eyes
dough, blindfold himself, swath his entire head in strips of cloth, and
be able to “see.” While blindfolded, he would read the dates on coins
held in a
spectators hand, read the fine print of a magazine, thread a needle,
words he had supposedly never seen written. To see him in action, just
“Kuda Bux” into the search box of YouTube.com.
can’t help but wonder whether, in 1938, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster
Superman with x-ray vision based on knowing about Kuda Bux. But it is
inconceivable that a real person could have eyes that can generate
energy generation of that kind cannot occur in a space as small as an
Kuda Bux did not claim that he really had such vision, or that he could
electromagnetic radiation from out beyond his blindfold. He said that
“see” through extreme concentration, the “sixth sense” of the psychic,
But, rest his soul, he was a lovable fakir, but only if you spell that
The art of prophecy
Anyone can make
predictions, and for anyone who makes a lot of them, some small
come true, especially if they are stated imprecisely. But the
are always based on careful analysis of a present situation and
into the probable future, not by “foreseeing” that future through
paranormal power. The most precise such prediction of this kind that I
is that of maverick Air Force General William
Lendrum "Billy" Mitchell (1879 –1936). In 1924, Mitchell was
sent to to Hawaii and Asia
by his superiors to get him off their backs. He came back with a
report that predicted a future war with Japan
that would start with an attack on Pearl Harbor.
He did not live to see his prophecy come true 17 years later, nor would
wanted it to, but after the attack came, the first planes to strike
back at Japan were
North American B-25 “Mitchell” bombers, the only American military
type that has ever been named for a specific person.
the Reilly family chronicles, the only incidents that border on
prophecy, two of them over little more than one year, involve our
Michael. The first, when he was nine, occurred as we attended the
Fair in Montreal.
As we were boarding the monorail, Michael hesitated at the door and
what if the doors close on us as we are halfway inside.”
course they won’t,” I answered, “the engineer has his eye on mirrors
that will make sure that won’t happen. But it did, and we were lucky to
to tell of it.
the next year, when Michael was ten, we headed off to vacation on Cape Cod. Late on a Saturday,
as we neared our
destination—a rental home in Dennis—Michael says “Dad, what if there is
a family in our house.” I answered, “Now Michael, I have the lease
in my pocket, signed by the owner. Never fear.”
it happened! The house was occupied by a large family from Long Island that included a baby and a
grandmother. They had rented the
house from an agent who, clearly, had not kept in touch with the owner.
much consternation, we agreed that, for the night at least, the family
sleep downstairs and we would take upstairs, expecting to settle things
calling the owner in the morning. Our lease had precedence, so the
a bigger and better place on the waterfront for the other family, and a
later we happened to meet on the street and embraced as if we were
friends who hadn’t seen one another in years.
do not count these incidents as prophetic, but rather attribute them to
natural apprehension of children. They are born with an innate sense of
Murphy’s Law, “If anything can go wrong it will,” an inclination of
evolutionary survival value to our species. What they should believe is
Reilly’s Law: “If anything can go wrong, it will, but not necessarily
sometimes it does!
D. Reilly, Jr. lives in Niskayuna and is a regular contributor to the Sunday
Gazette opinion page.