Ray Hyman - Career


In his teenage years and while attending Boston University as a young man, he worked as a magician and mentalist, impressing the head of his department (among others) with his palmistry. Hyman at one point believed that 'reading' the lines on a person's palm could provide insights into their nature, but later discovered that the person's reaction to the reading had little to do with the actual lines on the palm. This fascination with why this happened led him to switch from a journalist degree to psychology.

JREF president D.J. Grothe asked Hyman "How does a young psychology student get into this parapsychology racket ... why you?" Hyman replied that it began when he was hired as a magician at age 7 (as the "Merry Mystic"). This led him to read all about Harry Houdini and his work with spiritualists. By the age of 16 he started investigating spiritualist meetings. Thinking back to age 7, "I can't ever remember not being a skeptic".

Magicians who perform mentalism debate among themselves about using a disclaimer. The disclaimer is supposed to inform the audience that what they are witnessing is entertainment, and is not based on actual paranormal powers. In an interview with mentalist Mark Edward, Edward asked Hyman if he had ever used a disclaimer during the six years when he performed professionally as a mentalist. Hyman told him he did not remember explicitly using a disclaimer. He remembered always beginning the performance by stating that he did not claim any special powers. He was an entertainer and he hoped they would enjoy the show. After he became a psychologist, he realized that this was an example of the “invited inference.” By openly stating that he made no claims about the nature of his ability, Hyman had given his audience no reason to challenge him. Indeed, he had invited the onlookers to make their own inferences about the source of the apparent feats of mind reading. Most of them concluded he was truly psychic.

He obtained a doctorate in psychology from Johns Hopkins University in 1953, and then taught at Harvard for five years. He also became an expert in statistical methods. In 2007 Hyman received an honorary doctorate from the Simon Fraser University for his "intellect and discipline who inspire others to follow in his footsteps... (and) for his courageous advocacy of unfettered skeptical inquiry". In 1982, Hyman held the "Spook Chair" for one year at Stanford University during a sabbatical from the University of Oregon. What the Stanford University psychologists informally call the “Spook” chair is officially known as The Thomas Welton Stanford Chair for Psychical Research. Thomas Welton was the brother of Stanford’s founder, Leland Stanford.

Along with other notable skeptics like James Randi, Martin Gardner, Marcello Truzzi and Paul Kurtz, he was a founding member of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP) (which is now known as the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI)), which publishes the Skeptical Inquirer.

Aside from his scholarly publications and consultation with the U.S. Department of Defense in scrutinizing psychic research, one of his most popular articles is thirteen points to help you "amaze your friends with your new found psychic powers!", a guide to cold reading. According to Jim Alcock, “His article on cold reading, so Paul Kurtz informs me, has generated more requests for reprints than any other article in the history of the Skeptical Inquirer”. The guide exploits what fascinated him in his academic research in cognitive psychology, that much deception is self-deception. He has investigated dowsing in the United States and wrote a book on the subject. He is one of the foremost skeptical experts on the ganzfeld experiment. According to Bob Carroll, psychologist Ray Hyman is considered to be the foremost expert on subjective validation and cold reading.

Dr. Hyman's prestidigitational skills (which he calls "manipulating perception") have earned him the cover of The Linking Ring twice, June 1952 and October 1986 this magazine of the International Brotherhood of Magicians of which he has been a member for over 35 years.

Hyman retired in 1998 but continues to give talks and investigate paranormal claims. In July 2009 he appeared at The Amaz!ng Meeting 7 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Also in 2011, TAM 9 From Outer Space and TAM 2012. He is working on two books: How Smart People Go Wrong: Cognition and Human Error and Parapsychology’s Achilles’ Heel: Consistent Inconsistency.

On October 9, 2010, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry announced Hyman (and others) as a part of their policy-making Executive Council, he will also serve on Skeptical Inquirer's magazine board.

Read more about this topic:  Ray Hyman

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