"A Penny for Your Thoughts"


In 1966, a year after the Rhine Research Center [more commonly known as the Institute for Parapsychology] decamped from the East Duke campus [and curriculum] to a semi-spooky-looking house across Buchanan Street in town, I paid a visit and had my psi [telepathy, clairvoyance and psychokinesis] tested. Guess how I did? [Feeble parapsychological joke.] Tell you later.

Incidentally, the first citation for the penny-for-your-thoughts idiom was in Sir Thomas More’s book, Four Last Things. [He, who naively believed that “you can’t go to jail for what you’re thinking”; yet he not only went to the Tower, but lost his head, for what Henry VIII thought More was thinking.]

Mind reading is not the exclusive domain of professional psychics, ya know [or do ya know?]. Except for the truly solipsistic [and/or autistic], all of us behave as if we had “the second sight.” We blithely attribute thoughts and motives to others, quite often accurately, on the basis of subtle [or even subliminal] cues. That’s why when a 20th Century psi subject had to pick which card the examiner was holding [square, star, circle, cross, or squiggle], the two people had to be in separate rooms. [Now, it’s ever-so-much-more high-tech, don’t ya know.] My own low-tech “research” suggests that the ability to “receive” such “messages” diminishes with age. To while away long car trips with my kids and their various friends, I made up a game called “Gypsy,” using an ordinary deck of cards, thoroughly shuffled. Each girl in turn had to guess whether the next card would be red or black; and if she was right, she collected the card. The one with the most cards at the end of the game was the “Gypsy.” It was always the youngest kid in the car. “Ooh!” the others would predict, “You’re going to clean up at the Windsor Casino!” This was back in Detroit, in the early ’90s.

Speaking of which, back in the day, on the crosstown drive from our house to our horse’s house, we would pass Madame Rosa’s Psychic Parlor, with a neon sign saying “Call [a telephone number] for an appointment.” My already skeptical older daughter would quibble, “Why would you have to call? Wouldn’t she just know when you were coming in?”

For most of us, success at mind-reading is a sometime thing. But, as casino operators know, nothing is more compelling than Intermittent Reinforcement. One wonders how often the punter’s Beginner’s Luck at a game of chance is contrived by the “house.” One even might wonder how many of my fellow subjects were found to have “significantly high psi,” as I was. Bet you already guessed that, eh?

Almost 40 years of trying to “guess what’s on the mind” of my clients has convinced me that I do not have “significantly high psi” [anymore, one might say]. What I do have is a Miss-Marple-like tendency to pick up on subtle [even subliminal] cues, from which I try to “get a clue” as to “what the deal is.” In my line of work, the chilling motto is “You don’t know what you don’t know.” Talk about fear of the unknown…you don’t know the half of it.

Next time, telepathic communication with animals.

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Filed under attribution theory, murky research

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