You have heard the Russians are going to mind-read all our national secrets with a team of seers in Vladivostok or somewhere, and the question is whether we should fight back with our own committee of psychics.
To hear some people talk -- the ones that buy a shower curtain only on the day the astrology column recommends for financial dealings -- we should have a good kennel of extrasensory perception folk to zero in on Moscow. And why not? It would keep them off the streets and do no harm, as long as we know it's all balderdash, as so many government operations are.
I once knew a spectacular Persian lady who laid her wedding plans in strict accordance with advice from an astrologer, but she said it was just one of those things brides do over there, like putting a dime in the shoe. Still, it seemed to me the astrologer was inconvenient and made a real difference, because in her case all the tentative plans had to be changed.
And just this week at a morning coffee break a woman of excellent sense told me she had lost an Accounts Receivable file from her office and had been utter-utter about it until she thought of some wonderful psychic in San Francisco. She phoned him and he said look in the bottom drawer right at the back.
Well, she said, that was nonsense, since she had not only gone through all the files with care but had torn up the whole building searching for days. But you know what? There the missing file was, right where the psychic said.
You can't say baloney; it's the same as saying you're a nut, a fabricator of facts, and gullible as well. But I did point out the psychic knew her from the past and doubtless had a good idea where she would stick a file. Besides, I went on, anybody can be a seer, and to demonstrate this I turned to another woman who had just filled her cup and was coming over to be agreeable:
"What ever happened," I asked her, "to that fellow in Italy, the one with bright yellow hair and brown eyes, that you thought the world of?"
"How in the world did you know about him? Did I tell you?" she replied, casting an eye about like a fox hearing the hounds crossing the stream after all.
"Why would you have told me?" I said. "Of course you didn't. It's just that anybody who ever knew any woman knows she once knew a guy with bright hair years ago." (And he gets more wonderful in retrospect and he was neat and thoughtful and didn't read the paper at breakfast, and once on a ski slope he etc. etc. etc.)
The question is not whether all this psychic stuff is baloney, for it unarguably is, but why people love to believe it, and I can guess why that is, too.
Here's an example:
When we cut for deal in a card game I announce the card I am going to draw from the deck. Four of diamonds, say. When it's the nine of clubs nobody notices, but when (once in 52 times, roughly) the card I draw is the one I have announced, we are all rather pleased and feel deeply in touch with the cosmos.
But once it was different. I announced the queen of spades, and as my finger touched the card to pull it out, I knew it was the queen of spades, and if it had been any other card I would have been astounded.
Why was that? Well, one explanation is I am a psychic. Another is that God wanted me to be right for a change. But the most likely explanation is this:
The queen of spades is sometimes called the "death card," so if you know that, you are likely to feel a little differently about it from the four of diamonds. And as you touch it you may have a strong feeling about it, and since everybody is concerned about his own death and thinks what a calamity that would be for the whole world and civilization as we know it, it's not surprising you should have an emotional charge, as you would if you touched a device that sets off atom bombs.
Another thing happens, too. When I say I was "certain" when I touched it that the card would be the queen of spades as predicted, how do you measure that "certainty"? A human, looking back, is easily able to think he was "certain" when in fact he was only moderately hopeful. But suppose my feeling of certainty was as strong as I say it was.
Even so, that means nothing. Some people, including me, are always having vivid hunches, which are usually wrong and they forget it. But when a strong hunch proves right, they cannot get over it.
The trouble here is that the feeling may be sincere, yet have nothing to do with the seemingly miraculous event. To say psychic events are nonsense does not mean the feelings themselves are imaginary.
If I see my entire experience with the queen of spades as an ordinary event explained without recourse to the occult, I may even feel a bit deprived. Something that was magical and wonderful has turned into something understandable.
So what is really curious is why I was disappointed to see the reasonable and ordinary explanation for all that occurred. Why should I have been disappointed that nothing amazing happened? Did I really want something magical to intervene?
Well, in a word, yes.
A lot of sensible people are like that. We know magic is baloney, but down in the primitive brain somewhere we still believe in magic, and are still quite sure (never mind the paltry "evidence") we have occult powers, or at least that somebody does. We still believe, at depths undisturbed by reason, that our words or our feelings can change physics or geology or anything else. And when our rational mind examines and informs us there is no magic, we are disappointed or even resentful or even defiant. The dark brain thinks rational proof is a killjoy.
These amazing certainties we may have from time to time about psychic events are not usually so certain we would bet much cash on them. A scientist (if a betting man) would not hesitate to wager a fortune on his prediction that an apple dropped from the roof would fall. A psychic does not hold that kind of certainty, preferring (when sincere) a cloud of fuzz.
All seers and psychics have one thing going for them that no reasonable man does, and that is an audience predisposed to believe him. You discover the wonders of penicillin and you have to scrap like a tiger to convince people. You proclaim (as I now shall) that President Reagan will startle the world with an announcement this Aug. 17 and half the town will say gee, wonder what it is this time.