The New Age

               of Spoon Bending

by Dr. K. Hacker , Ph.D.
by Dr. Kenneth Hacker, Ph.D.  

My thesis here is that we are now in the middle of a new age of spoon-bending that is a continuation of older ages of spoon-bending.  Unfortunately, we seem to be making very little progress in recognizing the fictions and hoaxes that are popular and effective at wasting our time and money.  

Spoon-bending to me is more than a literal term for cutlery manipulation. It is a metaphor for any act of deceiving the public with sleight-of-hand, trickery, deceit, puffery, etc.  

I will attempt to draw attention here to what I see as the most important areas of deceit today.  These include claims about subliminal persuasion, political spoon-bending, pseudo-science, and various forms of alleged healing.  I would like to draw attention to the fact that my intention here is simply to help people become more critical consumers of messages and not to attack or criticize any particular individuals and their activities.  

Some spoon-bending is outightly fraudulent while ofther forms are part of naive beliefs in the rhetoric of self-proclaimed experts.  Some spoon-benders are what scientists call "quacks" or "pseudo-scientists."  The quacks may have titles, yet still be as phony as the snake-oil salesmen of the 1800s.  

The P. T. Barnum Effect 

Astrologers, palm readers, and spiritualists practice a method of fooling people which is easy to see through once you know how they use it.  The Barnum Effect occurs as one these people begins to tell you general statements such as "you will meet someone interesting this week," or "You have a relative die that was close to you, right?"  The effect is to say something so general that nearly anyone will agree with the statement and think that it is accurate decription of their personal circumstances. [1] 

Sorry, Men are Not From Mars and Women Are Not From Venus!  

What do you get when you take common sense about differences between men and women and how they sometimes talk, overinflate those differences, and add a pinch of pseudo-science and psychobabble?   Yes, you get absurdity which makes millions of dollars on the ignorance and lonliness of people.  

Subliminal Persuasion and Liminal Nonsense 

Subliminal message: Send Dr. Hacker $500.00 right now for no reason whatsoever.  Subliminal messages said to be hidden.  Did you see anything?  Why are you writing a check right now?   

The truth about subliminal persausion is quite simple.  Experiments have shown that there are instances of subliminal perception, but no valid experiments has shown than subliminal messages create changes in human behavior.  

If you buy a subliminal audio cassette or video tape, you wasting your money 

I have had people tell me that they could  "reprogram" my thoughts with some key words.  This kind of nonsense is common today as people confuse pop talk about the mind and brain with scientific knowledge of the brain.  The people who told me about reprogramming my thoughts never were able to do so.  Worse yet, they never came close to convicing me that he knew what he was talking about.  Oh, I guess I have to admit they did have some influence on my thoughts.  I was persuaded of how ignorant they were.  One of these people is a highly successful professor in Californnia.  It turns out that her persuasive skills are more traditional than the gibbberish about "neuro" methods suggests. So much for "reprogramming!" 

So much data now exists to refute the notion of subliminal persuasion that psychologists find it more interesting to explore why people still believe in a concept that has been falsified repeatedly and consistently.  

This gets to a question that affects all spoon-bending cons.  Why do we choose to believe in illusions when we have been told and shown that they are illusions?  

Toe-Tappers Who Talk With Spirit

Clever Hans was one of the most famous toe-tappers.  But Hans was only a horse and he was simply tring to please his master. Poor Hans never tried to mislead anyone. 

Human toe-tappers, however, are rhetorical rapists. 




Keith E. Stanovich, How to Think Straight About Psychology. Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman & Company.   1989.