You will remember, dear Acowlytes, that about two months back we discussed the risible claims of Technical Remote Viewing University and their ‘magic’ pen which has the power to see into the future.

Magic Box

You will also remember that at that time I put an object in a box in my bedroom and challenged anyone (magic pen optional) to tell me using ‘remote viewing’ what was in it. Well, today is the day I reveal the contents of the box. Here is a picture of the box. It has a sliding lid and a cylindrical interior. ‘Remote viewing’ should easily have picked up this unusual detail. The box has been sitting, untouched, on the chest of drawers in my bedroom since I set the challenge. I have not moved it, opened it, or changed the object which I placed in it on the day of the challenge.

A Pirate Duck

And this is what was inside. It is a small plastic duck in pirate drag. It is in fact, one of those little trinkets you stick on the end of a pencil. It was given to me by Nurse Myra some while back. Now this seems to me to be something that a ‘remote viewer’ would have no trouble ‘getting’. There are so many unique things about it that I’d at least have expected the words ‘pirate’, ‘little’, ‘plastic’ to be key features of a description.

Imagine my discombobulation, then, when one of the very first comments to be left on the original post was a ‘prediction’ by faithful Acowlyte and regular reader, King Willy. The King commented:

‘I reckon there’s a pirate in that box, a little plastic figure.’

‘Holy Cow,’ I hear you exclaim! ‘King Willy really does have one of the TRVU magic pens, and they really do work! He got it spot on! C’mon Reverend, even your cynical old butt has got to admit that King Willy couldn’t have stumbled upon that description by pure chance!’

Well, as amused and surprised as I was, I realised immediately I could not have asked for a better illustration of how ‘psychics’ ply their trade. On the face of it, this sounds like a truly astonishing achievement – an unassailable example of King Willy’s clairvoyant powers. He was definitely unable to physically look in the box – we live many hundreds of kilometers away from each other. He also had no other way of knowing exactly what was in the box (he could have asked Violet Towne to look in the box, for instance, but he didn’t – Violet Towne had not looked in the box when King Willy posted his comment*). I didn’t drop any hints at all in the post, and I did not tell anyone what was in the box. No-one saw me put the pirate duck in the box. And yet The King described exactly what was in the box!

So how the hell did King Willy accomplish this astonishing feat?

Well, as it happens, herein lies the whole mechanism for the success of the ‘psychic’ industry. Now, although I know that King Willy will want to lay claim to the fact that he is indeed psychic, or that his psychic pen was running hot that day (King Willy is a rather silly fellow and likes to say things like that), his powers are not what they might at first seem.

On a purely technical level, there are a few things that a shyster could have done to come some way towards appearing to know what I’d hidden away from you all. First of all, the description ‘little’ is something of a no-brainer. The thing I’d chosen had to be small enough to fit in a box on a chest of drawers in my bedroom. Even if the box had been a shoe-box, most anybody could have persuasively argued that the object in it was ‘little’. Compared to an elephant, say, sure, it would have been.

But King Willy is no shyster, and that’s not what he was doing. So, even given that ‘little’ was an educated guess, what about ‘plastic’ and especially ‘pirate’? And the combination ‘little plastic pirate’? That’s a bit too much of a stretch isn’t it Reverend? Surely King Willy can’t have inferred all those things? Well, no, I agree, he couldn’t have deduced those things from the context of what I told you. In fact, I’m pretty sure that the King was guessing that what I put in the box was this:

A Little Plastic Pirate

And that’s because King Willy and Pil gave me this ‘little plastic pirate’ as a present for my birthday in 2006! Indeed, it has featured previously on The Cow as an item that lives in Mysterious Corner.

And it’s a pretty good guess. It’s likely to have been something I might have put in the box. It’s small, and interesting, and under normal circumstances something that would have been close at hand.† Which points to another key ‘psychic’ maxim: ‘Know your victim’. King Willy knows (along with most of my friends, including all you Cow readers), that I’m partial to things piratical. So a guess in the realm of one of my personal interests was also a reasonable prospect. In fact, I made a classic experimenter error by choosing the ‘pirate’ duck – it gives away something of my personality. To be more scientifically correct, what I should have done was ask a third party to find a number of objects for me and wrap them all up so I couldn’t see what they were. I should have then chosen one at random and placed it in the box. That way, even I wouldn’t have known what was in there.

The more astute of you will also realise that throughout this post I’ve been leading you by the nose when it comes to selling King Willy’s accuracy – a little while back I said ‘And yet The King described exactly what was in the box!’

This is a classic piece of psychological manipulation. King Willy, at no time described ‘exactly what was in the box’, although, had you been consulting a psychic, this is the very impression you would have been encouraged to adopt. King Willy explicitly missed some key features of the thing in the box – aspects I would have thought a lot more significant in a broader sense than ‘pirate’ or ‘little plastic figure’. ‘Black’, for instance, springs immediately to mind, but most obviously ‘duck’. Perhaps not so evident in the photo, but definitely important, is the large ‘hole’ in the bottom of the duck which makes it so clearly a pencil decoration.

So an accurate and acceptable description of what was in the box would surely be (very simply): ‘a pencil ornament that looks like a small black duck wearing a pirate outfit’ (in fact, I’d have to say that if King Willy had used even the two words ‘pirate’ and ‘duck’ in confluence it would have been enough to have given me pause, but then, given the circumstances, I’d have been more suspicious of nefarious dealings). If remote viewing were at all possible, then plainly it is only useful if it gives you significant details, rather than a few scattered facts that could be construed in any number of ways.

Strangely (or perhaps not), there were almost no other attempts to scry the box’s secret. Atlas tried the ol’ dependable ‘air’ (an expert ‘psychic’ ploy – go for something vague that can’t be disproved), Cissy Strutt opted for ‘human tooth’ (which I told you all was wrong, and in any case, she was using inside knowledge of me and Mysterious Corner as well – she just guessed badly) and Pil hinted that she knew exactly what it was, but, as all physicists know, although she was equally right and wrong until the box was opened, she was proved most definitely wrong on that event.‡

Unsurprisingly, no-one from TRVU showed up to take a stab – a task that should surely be trivial for remote viewing ‘experts’ who can look into the mind of Osama Bin Laden.

Maybe someone tried but they got distracted by the little pirate duck waggling around on the end of their pen?


*In fact, she never looked in the box until I opened it. Of course, scientifically-speaking the possibility that she could have would completely negate the results of a genuine experiment. It is conceivable that King Willy & Violet Towne conspired, and VT sneakily opened the box when I wasn’t looking.

†As it happens, Mysterious Corner is still packed away in my storage, so the little pirate was very unlikely to be the thing in the box.

‡And Glitch wouldn’t fit in there anyway.