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IAmZamzam
09-25-2010, 01:43 AM
One of my favorites among the many articles I’ve written over the years is my Amazon.com review of Prophecy: What the Future Holds for You, by Sylvia Browne with Lindsay Harrison. However, there are a few addendums, corrections, and musings I have always wanted to juxtapose with it, so I have decided to offer a fully annotated version, both to clarify things that may not have come across exactly like I intended, and to expand on the review itself. I think that anyone who has been, or might ever be, taken in by Sylvia Browne or other such snake oil salesmen should read this. The rest of us might get a kick out of it too, God willing. Ten out of thirteen people at Amazon marked it helpful. Just remember: the review itself is still unaltered, mistakes and all. Well, enough blather. Here we go.


CONFUTING THE COZENING
by Yahya Sulaiman

Opening note: I do not know who Lindsay Harrison is or how much she contributed to the writing of this book. For the sake of convenience, I will assume that Sylvia Browne is the author of every passage I will discuss. [1]

One dead giveaway that a psychic is bogus is if his or her prophecies are pervasively and relentlessly optimistic, since while this isn't very likely in terms of the real future of such a large and complex world as ours, any more than pervasive and relentless pessimism is, on the other hand it is exactly the kind of vision of the future which fraudulent psychics will offer. [2] A large part of their job is to tell people what they want to hear. So it is with this book: on the rare occasion that Sylvia Browne predicts something negative, there's always a reassurance that the bad thing is going to be temporary and in the end everything will work itself out to a spectacular extent. [3]

I find it hard to tell whether Browne is a bogus psychic due to deliberate deception or mere delusion, or a strange mixture of both. [4] After all, on page 224 of the first edition paperback (the printing from which I will be giving all of my page number references in this review) she says, "The last thing I need in this world is one more voice in my head that isn't mine." Not a good thing to be saying for someone who repeatedly expresses concern, as Sylvia does in this book, that people will think she's psychotic. On page 237 she points out how schizophrenia is a condition where "the person might see visions and hear voices that he or she will never believe are imaginary...." You'd think she'd offer some justification of herself here, but the connection doesn't seem to occur to her.

I would have to write a book of my own in order to point out everything wrong with this one, and I see no need to waste that much time. I won't even bother with issues like her misunderstanding of some things about Islam. At least they're tolerant misunderstandings of my religion rather than the kind of prejudiced misunderstandings that are much more common. [5] Instead, for brevity's sake I will discuss only my favorite flaws from the book.

I have to admit, though, that some of what Sylvia says is a little too truly incomprehensible for me to criticize it easily. For example, on page 77 she says, "The Other Side isn't `out there somewhere,' it's right here among us, a mere three feet above our own ground level. It's another dimension, operating at a much higher vibrational [sic] [6] frequency than ours here on earth, and duplicating the earth's topography almost identically." I don't know where to begin with that sentence. How about with the illogicality of the afterlife having a location that can be measured spatially in this life? I also find it kind of hard to picture there being a Romanesque building with a "scanning machine" there [7], as Sylvia avers on page 78, or how souls worthy of salvation in Sylvia's Gnostic Christian worldview would be the sort who would gather to worship a bunch of "Akashic records" [8], as she avers on page 80.

My favorite part of the book is where Sylvia discusses the issue of how she reconciles her Christianity with the Bible, which warns of false prophets and says, "Do not turn to mediums" (Leviticus 19:31), and, "Harken [typo is from Sylvia's book] not to your prophets, nor to your diviners" (Jeremiah 27:9). Here she inadvertently pretty much admits that she is a false prophet. You see, she had just spent thirty-five pages giving anecdotal evidence about fulfilled prophecies by numerous famous people (including, of all folks, Winston Churchill and H.G. Wells) without citing a single source or even telling you where you can look to verify her stories—she just wants you to take her word for it that George Washington foresaw the American Civil War and et cetera. [9] Now, on page 72, four pages after that section of the book, she says, "The only way a false prophet can take hold is in a vacuum where no other information but the prophet's is allowed inside." (She follows this up with, "Many false prophets will also find countless ways to separate you from your money at every possible opportunity.")

In fact, this presenting-information-in-a-vacuum philosophy is her attitude throughout the entire book writ large. For example, on page 87 she says, "Tiresome skeptics say, `Prove it.' I've finally started replying, `You prove we're wrong. We're busy.'" [10] Or take Sylvia's claim on pages 96-97 that she's "been tested a bazillion times by a whole list of psychologists, scientists, paranormal researchers, psychiatrists, hypnotherapists and MD's". (Let's forget for a moment that an MD is a kind of educational achievement, not a kind of person.) She continues: "According to the tests...my accuracy rate is somewhere between 87 and 90 percent if I'm recalling correctly." Now if this list is real then why does she mention it but never give it to us, when doing so would only increase her credibility—not to mention making an otherwise pointless passage into a meaningful allusion? [11]

Of course Sylvia never returns to those passages from Leviticus and Jeremiah telling us not to consult mediums at all; [12] apparently she hopes you will have forgotten about them by the time she's finished with the stuff about the other biblical reference she offers regarding false prophets. Keep that in mind when you consider how in the first chapter Sylvia the self-professed Christian cites the supposed Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament to support the idea of prophecy being important in Christianity, and then on page 72 she says, "False prophets tend to make up their own rules for their behavior at their own narcissistic whim, having nothing to do with God's rules whatsoever, but then cite a message from God as their excuse when the need arises, as if God bends his own rules sometimes for their personal convenience." I imagine that most Christians reading all this rich irony will probably laugh out loud. [13]

Yet another of her own criterions for detecting a false prophet backfires on her, one she offers on pages 73-74: "Any prophet who believes he or she is exempt for [sic] the laws of God and society and somehow in a position of divine immunity from consequence is a false prophet." There's probably something to that, but this declaration is coming from the same woman who, during one reading on Larry King's show, broke the law by giving professional advice on psychological medicine (specifically, Tegritol) even though she doesn't have an MD and a PhD in psychology. [14] As Sylvia says on page 209 of this book, "If there's no medical degree and license among those credentials, run. I don't care how much money you're supposedly saving by nothing bothering with that pesky `doctor' detail." It also bears notice that on page 195 she says, "You'll never hear me recommend any `medication' that can't be bought over the counter at your nearest health food store...I wouldn't follow an idiotic suggestion like that myself, so why on earth would I ask you to?" Tegritol, of course, cannot be bought over the counter at any health food store.

Now you might be wondering about the prophecies which make up the thick of the book. Like I said, I won't bother discussing everything, but here are a few favorites:

* On page 117 Sylvia says that "we may see a large new land mass emerging among the Hawaiian islands" because of Japanese tsunamis around 2026. She adds, "I'm sure you'd like something more absolute, but that's as definite as I can get on that subject for now." All I want here is something more definite than the word "may". After all, I may end up winning the lottery someday, but saying so doesn't really communicate anything, now does it? [15]

* On pages 126-127 Sylvia says that aliens live among us disguised as humans, still hanging around even though they already learned everything they need to know about us thousands of years ago—maybe because they like the pizza here, I don't know—and around 2018 they will, without any clearly stated motive, come "out of the closet" (Sylvia's phrase) after spending thousands of years incognito.

* On page 159 she says that around 2020 no child will be able to graduate from sixth grade without being able to read and write. How many of them manage that now? [16]

* On page 170 she says that in the bathrooms of the future, "when you've finished your shower, you'll simply stay right where you are and be flash-dried by some combination of heat, lights and thermal energy. Including your hair. In ten seconds or less." I think I'll stick with towels. And is it just me or are heat and thermal energy the same thing, and also the only possible way for lights to dry something? How can heat be combined with heat and heat? [17]

* On page 174 she says that sunglasses will someday "double as digital recorders, cameras and transmitters, as well as personal stereo systems, kind of the boombox or Walkman in designer sunglass form". (On the previous page Sylvia assures us: "If some of [the prophecies here] sound suspiciously inspired by James Bond movies, let me assure you, any resemblance is completely coincidental.") It's a little strange for someone who's predicting the future of music technology to be so behind on current music technology [18], but never mind that: the thing is, some people had already been putting micro-cameras on sunglasses by the time this book came out. [19]

* Sylvia claims on page 185 that "databases of iris images as part of our overall identification profile will...make it even more difficult for criminals to find a place to hide". Who agrees with me that she's probably seen Minority Report?

* On page 190 she says, "To give law enforcement one more added edge, by 2015 their custom-designed high-speed vehicles will be atomically powered and capable of becoming airborne enough to fly several feet above other traffic." Who agrees with me that she's probably seen the Back to the Future movies? [20]

* On pages 199-200 she says that cancer will be cured because scientists will feed the cancer cells addictive drugs which will cause them to eat each other up rather than the healthy cells (???). [21] Oh, and you have to read this sentence from page 203, it's just so classic: "And if we think the medical community is too riddled with fakes and charlatans now, just wait till those fountain-of-youth injections and surgeries hit the market."

* On page 208 she says that childbirth in the future will consist of women being suspended by "strong, padded, comfortable straps" and the baby will drop down "into waiting soft, sterile pillows in the hands of the doctor and nurse in attendance". Since Sylvia is herself a mother, I don't understand why she wouldn't know that, considering how fragile a head and how weak a neck a newborn has, it's dangerous to drop one on his or her head even onto soft pillows. [22]

Occasionally Sylvia will interject common sense into the midst of her bogus prophecies. For example, I strongly approve of her statement on pages 103-104 that "if you're determined to be frightened about some kind of pervasive threat to the future of life on our planet, don't waste another moment looking up, braced to duck from a killer asteroid. Instead, look around, or in the mirror, because we human beings are the most ruthless, relentless threat—and the greatest hope—earth has ever known." If she would simply have written the whole book along those lines then it may very well have been worthwhile, but as it is, Prophecy: What the Future Holds for You is a waste of time even for a New Age book. [23]


[1] I still don’t know who she is, and I haven’t bothered to find out. What I can tell you is that, related to the writing of Prophecy or not, there has been much talk of ghostwriting and plagiarism in Browne’s books. For instance, this page shows you how uncannily similar a passage from Browne’s Secrets & Mysteries of the World is to a passage from a preexisting article in The Skeptical Enquirer.

[2] Most kinds of false prophets, anyway. The ones found among religious fanatics (especially the ones preaching the purported time of the apocalypse) are of course more likely to be known by their negativity and pessimism.

[3] That is by no means a unique feature of this book. Most every time I’ve seen Sylvia on TV, she has been the same way.

[4] After reading and considering the material at Stop Sylvia I am now less confused. She is a manipulator and a liar, plain and simple. She has never believed in herself. It is indicative enough all by itself that she has never given the same excuse twice as to why she refuses to allow her “abilities” to be tested by the James Randi Educational Foundation for the prize of over a million dollars.

[5] I do not remember exactly which misunderstandings there were that I was referring to, this review being something like four years old. Sylvia (or Lindsay, or whoever) appears to be no more or less accurate and knowledgeable about Islam than the average non-Muslim joe, and the passage on Islamic prophecy, if memory serves, looked just as much like the mere product of a quick Google search or two as anything else in that segment of the book.

[6] According to my word processor’s spell check “vibrational” is not a word, and yet I find now as I look it up at dictionary.com that there is indeed such a word. This situation was yet another example of Microsoft Word having the vocabulary of a remedial fourth-grader. My apologies for trusting it, and for confusing anyone who may have read the “[sic]” I put in there thinking that I was accusing the word of being misspelled when it clearly isn’t.

[7] The blatant, stand-out mix of the iconically ancient with the plainly futuristic is a hallmark of trite fiction, and does not lend an air of credibility.

[8] Frankly, as I think I made clear, I don’t have the faintest idea what “Akashic records” even are. But they certainly don’t sound like they mean God, now do they? Let me look it up, my curiosity is piqued...okay, this is what Wikipedia says:

“The akashic records...is a term used in theosophy (and Anthroposophy) to describe a compendium of mystical knowledge encoded in a non-physical plane of existence. These records are described as containing all knowledge of human experience and the history of the cosmos. They are metaphorically described as a library; other analogues commonly found in discourse on the subject include a ‘universal supercomputer’ and the ‘Mind of God’. People who describe the records assert that they are constantly updated automatically and that they can be accessed through astral projection or when someone is placed under deep hypnosis...It is promulgated in the Samkhya philosophy that the Akashic records are automatically recorded in the atoms of akasha (‘air’ or ‘aether’), one of the five types of atoms visualized as existing in the atomic theory of Ancient India. The term akashic records is frequently used in New Age discourse.”

Seems that Sylvia took the “Mind of God” part a bit too literally, doesn’t it?

[9] The George Washington prophecy is an old urban legend Browne is regurgitating. Probably she found that on Google too. You can read the “prophecy” along with Snopes’s debunking of it at this link.

[10] Why do I get the sneaking suspicion she hasn’t “finally started” saying that but has, in fact, been saying it all along? Though even saying it once is appallingly insipid. If you’re going to be a fraud, you may as well make the effort to come up with better and more original cop-outs than, “Nope, you prove the negative even though I’m the one making a claim about myself.”

[11] You can read more about Browne’s ill-supported, if not unsupported, 87%-90% accuracy rate here and on other articles at Stop Sylvia.

[12] One wonders why she included them in the first place. It’s like she didn’t even notice what they were saying. Obviously she, once again, just used a search engine (or concordance) searching for certain keywords and didn’t even bother to read what came up carefully enough to see that they were saying to the reader not to trust her!

[13] To be perfectly frank, I do not find it altogether unfunny myself.

[14] Or at least she would need the M.D. I am not a hundred percent certain, in retrospect, if what she did counts as breaking that law, but I do know that Browne has been convicted before of both grand theft and investment fraud.

[15] This is an extremely common tactic amongst phony prognosticators: being sure to include a “may” or an “if” or a “could be”, etc. The way I see it, if a prophecy is definite enough so as to make any difference whether it’s genuine or not, it’s definite enough not to be wishy-washy about—especially for someone with a 90% accuracy rate.

[16] I suppose it is possible that the wording is extremely poor and misleading and the intended meaning is “able to read and write competently and intelligently”, instead of just “able to read and write, period”, something that you’d think no one could ever make it even halfway to sixth grade without being able to do. I suppose we’ll just have to wait until 2020, but the constant decline in American education does not favor Browne’s prediction so far, and we are now halfway between the time of the book’s writing and the time being prophesied. And Browne’s track record for her past prophecies has been anything but stellar. (Here is just one year’s worth of examples.).

[17] Technically speaking, thermal energy is not the same thing as heat, but within this context it still amounts to the same: though I am no science expert, it seems to me that the heat produced by thermal energy is the only way anything could ever be dried by thermal energy, just as the heat naturally produced by light is the only way anything could ever be dried by light. Sylvia’s redundancy betrays her ignorance and improvisation.

[18] Perhaps I should have made more of a point of this.

[19] Pardon me, I meant to say by the time the book was written, not merely by the time it was released. I had seen something about micro-cameras actually being installed in a pair of sunglasses on TV a long while before the time of this book’s writing, unless there was an interminable delay between writing and publishing, which given Sylvia’s prolific record is hard to believe.

[20] Or virtually any other such sci-fi film ever made, for that matter. The “flying cars” concept may seem cool (to some) in a fictional vein but it could never actually work in reality. And I’m not talking about the technology (I know very little of technology): I’m talking about the combination of utter lack of necessity or usefulness with drastically increased hazardousness involved. Modern police do not have any need to fly over traffic, and I don’t think future police will either. And certainly there’s no sign of it coming up within five years.

[21] Does it sound to anyone else like she got this idea from a George Carlin stand-up? I can’t seem to locate a Youtube clip of it but you can find it on the album “Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics”.

[22] As far as I have ever been able to tell, there is no means possible of comfortably suspending an entire human being by straps or wires in mid-air. The mother is going to be in enough discomfort to begin with without having to feel like a skydiver who’s been caught in a tree. Really, I once again have to ask, what is the point? Does Sylvia think there’s something flawed about simply getting the baby out by hand? That it’s preferable to let newborns fall any distance?

[23] That Sylvia is capable of writing such wisdom yet instead chooses to write such drivel just makes the drivel a thousand times more aggravating. Then again, she probably just plagiarized the wise bit from a Google search like everything else.
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IAmZamzam
12-02-2010, 03:31 PM
Given other recent threads, I'd say it's time to give this one a bump.
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جوري
12-02-2010, 04:02 PM
Question is really, why do people seek 'psychics and mediums' to tell them things? --Why would anyone want to hand their vulnerabilities and fate to some other person and be a slave especially emotionally to such individuals..
That is a more important question for me personally.. it seems like an addiction, in high school I knew such a girl who would regularly frequent this 'psychic' to tell her about the silliest of things.. even her career path she wanted to learn from this guy rather than pave for herself.. she was always so nervous and jittery.. never actually at peace after hearing what he had to say and never satiated from her visits hence her weekly trips..
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PouringRain
12-02-2010, 06:40 PM
I have never been into psychics, fortune tellings, mediums, etc. I wanted to preface my post by stating that, because under normal circumstances I do not watch, read, nor listen to things involving these occult frauds. One day, there was absolutely nothing on tv, and I usually put something on while folding laundry, and the only thing on was a show with Sylvia Browne. Like Yahya Sulaiman posted above, she pretty much calls herself a fraud without actually using those words. If someone paid attention to what she was saying, they'd realize that even she has no faith in herself nor her predictions. LOL But there was one thing I found completely hilarious on the show I was watching. A young goth-girl stood up in the audience to ask Sylvia a question and the girl asked sylvia who she was in her past life. Sylvia looked at the girl with a straight face and told the girl that the girl had been a Jewish Rabbi in her past life. The expression on the girl's face and reaction was priceless. :giggling:
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جوري
12-02-2010, 07:02 PM
I had to google Sylvia Browne---I am not familiar with her-- but I am of that guy that claims to channel the dead.. ''crossing over with john edwards'' another hoot!
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Tyrion
12-02-2010, 11:32 PM
Originally Posted by τhε ṿαlε'ṡ lïlÿ
that guy that claims to channel the dead.. ''crossing over with john edwards'' another hoot!
Bah, he's such a douche. :p Seriously, the way he talks... Like he's so sure he's right about everything... Sooo annoying.
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