(*Before you're tempted to make too much of that post title, just remember what blog your're reading!)
My cyber friend and fellow blogger Zoe brought to my attention Theresa Caputo, better known as the Long Island Medium, in a recent comments discussion of one of my premonitions posts. I had never heard of Caputo before (I don't have cable television and don't care for reality shows a bit and that is what the Long Island Medium, which just started it's third season, is). So I've spent the past couple of days Googling to try to find out a little about her and her show.
I guess a person's fondness for Ms. Caputo and what she claims to be able to do is going to be directly proportional to their belief in a post-mortem human existence. Those who do so believe might find the subject of mediumship interesting so long as their religious worldview does not view such a thing as evil or Satanic (my childhood fundamentalist Christianity did view it that way). The hardcore skeptics and physicalists will have no sympathy at all with the idea and will have little reservation in calling the Long Island Medium a fraud.
For example, one of the first items I found on Caputo was from the James Randi Educational Foundation website and was written by Dr. Karen Stollznow, with the title Long Island Medium: A Tall Story. Ah, I could guess what was coming.
Let me say, I do appreciate Randi and his efforts to promote critical thinking. It's just that sometimes I feel that crowd lacks objectivity. It usually isn't enough to just attempt to debunk the claims skeptics find incredible; there must, it seems, always be an effort to insult the intelligence of those who (at least think they) hear the sound of a different drummer. The hardcore skeptic's worldview is quite rigid, and whatever concessions they make that science is not ready to announce a Theory Of Everything, they are quite certain science knows enough to rule certain things impossible without further examination.
Stollznow's article is clearly preaching to the choir. Nothing wrong with that. It is on a skeptic website. But those whose minds may be even slightly more open will probably not appreciate the general tone she takes.
She describes Caputo as
"...yet another psychic medium who claims to be able to talk to the dead, and while she has artificial talons like Sylvia Browne, her blond helmet hair, jewelry and tan are all fake too."
So the take away is that skeptics don't color their hair or sport fake fingernails, jewelry, or tans, but instead "keep it real," correct? I doubt it. It is just a snide little remark that adds absolutely nothing to the discussion of mediumship in general.
In describing the way Caputo works Stollznow writes:
Of course, these are just cold readings of stereotypical subjects; usually older ladies who are asked, “Did your mother/father pass?” Obviously, she/he had, so Caputo proceeds to share a stock message, such as she “loves you”, he has “found peace” or he is telling you it’s time to “move on”.
Now let me say that I have no problem at all - in fact, I generally tend to agree with skeptics - with the suggestion that popular psychics and mediums make heavy use of the psychological technique known as cold reading.
The problem I do have here is the way it is assumed that cold reading is in fact the method Caputo employs. In other words, a suggestion is being presented as an established fact. And I can only wonder what a "stereotypical" older lady is. In this day of longer lifespans, is it all that sure a bet that a sixty-something-year-oldster has a deceased parent?
It is all well good to state one's opinion on any issue. But when that opinion is really an assumption being fobbed off as a proof, it can only garner an Amen! from the choir members. The rest of us might ask, "how can you be so sure?"
Stollznow continues that "Caputo is best known for her exaggerated displays of emotion. There is rarely a scene where she isn’t in tears or claiming empathetic abilities...." Which again, is an opinion that is subject to debate. Only if it is conceded that Caputo is acting fraudulently might it be appropriate to call her emotional displays "exaggerated." If what she does is real, the emotions might see appropriate to many of us.
Dr. Stollznow closes her article with the suggestion that Caputo's show "is a great show for doing RiffTrax to; for skeptics to hone their skeptical skills, catch fallacies, and detect cold and hot reading tricks and techniques." Perhaps that is so. I'm merely suggesting that Dr. Stollznow seems to be assuming that which she feels is true.
My objections to Dr. Stollznow's article should not be seen as an indication that I am a believer in either Theresa Caputo or mediumship. The truth is that I have no positive belief in an afterlife. And trying to be as open-minded as reasonable, and granting for the sake of argument that Caputo is not a money-grubbing fraud (though I'm not arguing she isn't), there could be other explanations for what she says is happening to her (receiving all these visitations and impressions) .
Many Christians believe the alleged spirit world is full of demonic deception. They might entertain the idea that Caputo is communicating with evil-spirits bent on deceiving the still-living. Or let's go out on a limb and concede the existence of psychic powers. In that case, Caputo might be receiving information from still-embodied minds instead of disembodied minds.
My standing is somewhere between the true believers and the hardcore skeptics. In tomorrow's post I will give a little of my own thinking (opinionating, really) concerning Caputo. That will just be my own two cent's worth, and I hope I can do it in a kindly and fair manner. Whether a believer, skeptic, or someone who is skeptical but open-minded as I am, I hope you will visit this subject with me again tomorrow.