Pages Navigation Menu

Parapsychology articles and news

Why mediums can’t tell names

Michael Tymn writes an interesting blog. Most his articles deal with the subject of life after death, mediumship, etc. His latest post on the blog deals with the question of why do mediums struggle with names during a reading. Frankly, I thought of this myself. It seems that mediums can know very good some complicated details of your life, yet can’t properly name you relatives. Sometimes they’ll just offer the first letter or two. He explores several cases, incuding an answer channelled trough a medium:

Etta (the spirit) also explained to her brother that it was much easier to send ideas to Feda (spirit guide of the trans medium) than it was to send words. She said that she could not get her husband’s name, Whitfield, through Feda. “Is it not strange that I cannot say my husband’s name?” she communicated. “I can feel it, but cannot say it; that is, I cannot get it spoken. I get it on the surface, so to speak, but cannot get it into the medium’s mind.” At a sitting four months later, Etta again attempted to get her husband’s name through, but only succeeded in getting Feda to say to say, “Wh-, Whi-, Wht-.”

Etta further told her brother that the more she tried to think on the name, the more difficult it was to get it through the medium’s brain, adding that she could not control the medium’s power of expression. “One may get a word into her mind and yet be unable to make her express it,” she explained. “Because it is in the mind it does not follow that her brain will take it. Unless the ideas in the mind are tapped on to the actual brain one cannot express them.”

This also reminds me what medium Marcel Cairo told that it looks to him that the spirits use medium’s mind to communicate, using his worldview. And that’s it’s not a clear text, rather ideas. Interesting read.





  1. I am a medium and wanted to chime in on this topic. I sometimes get names quickly and easily when I’m reading for someone and sometimes I don’t. When spirits present themselves to me sometimes I only see them and they pantomime their manner of death. Sometimes I only hear them and cannot see how they are presenting. Sometimes I can see and hear them and still I do not get their name. What I get is a feeling of their relationship with the person I’m reading for. Like a father or grandfather, or an aunt or mother, etc. I am always thrilled if they just tell me their name, but I have to let them present their information to me the best way they can.

    I’ve been made to understand, by my guides, that coming through to a medium is difficult for some spirits and easier for others. In many cases, communicating their energy to a human being is very difficult and they simply do the best they can. I’ve had information come through in the form of smells too, or a feeling of pain in a certain part of my body. Just as humans communicate in different modalities, so do spirits.

    I don’t have all the answers, but I continue to be interested in the many different ways in which the spirits come through to me. If I expected it to be a certain way I probably would cut off many of the communications that could have come through if I had only been open to receiving them as they were sent.

    It is an interesting question though…

  2. Mediums rarely struggle with names. When they do, it is because there is some dramatic interest to be gained from the struggle.

    As with anything specific, mediums nail names when they have a source for names. Otherwise they pitch letters as hits, then they typically fish for more information. With tough subjects they gloss over the issue.

    “metgat” is just gullible. Of course “popular television medium John Edward” hits more often than chance predicts on his own show. Is editing now a paranormal phenomenon?


    • You know this Bryan how? How many hours of how many different mediumistic sessions have you listened to? What is the source of your confidence that your selection of mediums was representative?

      Surely you aren’t basing it on a few high-profile mediums like John Edwards, are you? It would be completely irrational to make the extremely unlikely assumption that high profile, stagey mediums like John Edwards is representative, much less to even consider making such a general statement on the basis of just a few mediums however representative. And of course, to make such a statement because some “authority” says so would require you to state the authority and the basis of his or her expertise.

      I’ve only had experience with perhaps 20 or so mediums (excluding high profile mediums such as John Edwards as almost certainly atypical without getting into the issue of whether or not they are “legitimate”), either through personal experience, recordings or transcripts, a few hundred hours in all — and no real systematic study (such as linguistic analysis) — so I wouldn’t be qualified to make such a sweeping statement. I would say though, that in my limited experience, names *are* hard, as are numbers or other specific words. Most “psychics” (by whatever name they choose to use for themselves) really do not conform very well to the speech patterns found in books about fake cold reading techniques.

      • I did not keep notes, but it’s many, many, hours. I admit it’s few direct listening sessions; I have difficulty getting access to actual “mediumistic sessions”. They run away, even when I offer fair and significant rewards for success. Often they have nonsensical excuses, and sometimes even say some offer of mine is bogus. One guy even claimed to have the kind of expertise to say my specific offer was bogus.

        That guy was you, Topher. Remember when you wrote about me ‘you make a terrific offer “I’ll offer up to $5000 in prize money as long as I don’t actually have to risk more than $20 of it”‘. Turned out that your quote of me was false, and you simply did not know what you what you were talking about. No kidding, here it is:

        Am I concluding that psychics generally avoid struggling for names, just because the many I’ve known avoid such struggle, even as they fail to acquire specifics when put the test? Yes, I am. If anyone has any real evidence to prove otherwise, please do tell.

        Is that extrapolation questionable? Sure. Just because every single psychic one can check either runs away or fails doesn’t necessarily imply that no psychics are real. Still, I stand by my reporting. Let’s not mistake lack of an exhaustive proof for lack of a clue.

        I’m still up for a real test. What psychic phenomenon can you actually demo?

        Topher wrote:
        “Surely you aren’t basing it on a few high-profile mediums like John Edwards, are you?”

        Of course not. I mentioned John Edwards just because I bothered to click that link and read the actual article. Did that title: “Why John Edward Struggles with Names” clue you in to anything?


        • Odd that our experiences are so different.

          And it was that I didn’t know what *you* were talking about. It sounded to me like you were talking about a single prize but you were allowing for a variable payout. Certainly I should have given you the benefit of the doubt and figured out something that you might have meant that made sense of what you were saying, but that is hardly being completely clueless.

          The fact that you seem to have trouble getting mediums (or psychics or whatever term they choose to use for themselves) to work with you may say something about both the attitude that you bring to the enterprise and eventually the places you got your material from. That might explain why we have such different views.

        • No Topher; I made a legitimate offer of a significant (though far from JREF-Scale) prize, and I made the payout terms precise. If you had the expertise that you claimed you had, you would have known. Since you seem to disagree, let’s go over the specifics. Here’s what I offered:

          “I’ll generate the targets, and provide cryptographic commitments so I cannot change them. (SHA-1 is now on shaky ground; I’ll provide it, but also SHA-256 and SHA-512.)

          “You, meaning the pro-psi side, run the test, collect responses from subjects, and cryptographically commit to some statistic of record. It can be any stat you choose, so long as we can objectively compute a p-value against the target. We commit to how we will mechanically score the result, then we each reveal our data.

          “I’ll offer a prize for a positive result, but I have to impose three more rules on the money: First, you have to hit at least statistical significance, meaning I pay nothing if the test of record does not hit at least a 5% chance. Second, I pay at most $5,000; an amount chosen because I can afford it. Third, my statistically expected payout given chance results has to be at most one dollar.”

          Somehow, you incorrectly inferred the payout terms to mean I was risking at most $20.

          This was all after you claimed expertise: “I should give my qualifications — I’m a computer scientist who has been involved with parapsychology for somewhere around 35 years. My specific area of expertise is statistical analysis of psi experiments and statistical computing.”

          If you did not know what I was talking about, it was only because you pretended an expertise you do not have. How things “sounded to you” in your own head is a mystery to me. There’s nothing the vague or ambiguous about the actual payout terms I offered.

          The offer is not entirely committed. What the pro-psi side proposes to demo is open, and there is a possibility that we might fail to agree on the legitimacy of a statistic. That issue never came up. The only objection to the fairness of my offer was your claim that I did not “actually have to risk more than $20,” and that was just you not knowing what you were talking about.


        • OK. Here is what happened. You made a specific claim without any attempt to justify it. A claim that is thoroughly wrong in my experience. It *is* however a claim consistent with what one might get if you only look at high profile psychics and at the more obvious huxters — the kind of people that the Skeptical community loves to look at because they are so easy to attack (for their showmanship even if you cannot actually demonstrate that the flaws you are claiming occurred).

          I therefore *acted like a skeptic* and challenged your unsupported and, to me, highly questionable claim. But, it seems, in your view “skepticism” is only to be applied against people on your bad guy list. Nobody is supposed to apply critical thinking or be skeptical about *your* statements — when you say something, I guess that it is to be taken as unquestionable, ground truth.

          So how did you react? You gave a vague answer that responded to some of my points. Then you launched into an ad hominem against me. Right or wrong (and it is wrong) my statistical abilities have nothing to do with my challenging you on your knowledge of what most, much less what is true of absolutely every medium acts like (and, yes, your statement was a universal generalization — you started with a qualified generalization, but then “filled in” the exceptions you initially allowed).

          As for the basis of the attack — you made an offer. I assumed — incorrectly, I admit — that this offer was like most of these: a winner take all prize. On the basis of that assumption I made a perfectly valid statistical computation (very elementary, of course, high school math at the most, so it wasn’t very hard, of course, to be competent), and showed a contradiction. Again I acted like a *skeptic* and challenged you. In this case you gave a complete answer and demonstrated the difference in our assumptions. I accepted your explanation. If this had been a discussion over coffee in any lab in the world, it would have been considered a perfectly normal occurrence, and that would have been the end of it.

          To you though, it appears to be a huge big deal, so months later you still are bringing it up. Is it again that someone dared to act skeptical towards you? Or is it just so very, very important to you to grasp at any straw to prove that anyone who disagrees with you is not only wrong but stupid and incompetent? Or perhaps you really believe that a mistaken assumption about the unstated conditions behind something you said reflects, somehow, overall competence in statistical computation.

          In any case — why is it relevant here?

        • I wasn’t reporting a survey; I was explaining how mediums’ acts work. On specifics, they hit or they fish or they move on. They’ve nothing to gain by struggling when they do not have access to the information. On the other hand, affecting a struggle then arriving at the right answer is good showmanship.

          I did not choose the particular medium named here, but obviously he wasn’t chosen for being an obvious huxter. We’re talking about the top, most sucessful psychics. There is no such thing as a sample of real psychic mediums; many here probably disagree with that, but no one has the demo to prove it wrong. I keep asking.


        • That is not even close to what you said, Bryan. What you said is that all mediums — not just high profile “stage” mediums who are performing an act — but all mediums, including Mrs Cromhurtz down the street who likes to get together with her friends to try to contact “the other side,” and Mary Lou Schlitz who seems to produce great results when its her turn to use the Ouija Board with her high school buddies — never struggle with names unless they are doing it for dramatic effect. No significant exceptions.

          There are certainly people who describe themselves as mediums who use that technique, among others. I’ve got a number of “how to” books in my library that teach this and other techniques to “psychic entertainers” (some of whom don’t tell people that they are “just entertainers” and some of whom do). And it is easy to find these people on TV. Some honestly believe that they have paranormal or supernatural abilities but feel the need to supplement them however they can in order to “stay in business”. Other mediums do some of this unconsciously. But most mediums, in my experience — whether or not they are sincere — really don’t use these techniques much or at all.

          Part of the Skeptic view of the world is that it is a simple place with “Good Guys” (themselves), “Bad Guys” (such as mediums) and “Victims” (almost all the rest of the world). Oh yes, and a few “Dupes” who would be counted as Victims but they have been tricked by the Bad Guys into serving their evil ways. Simple explanations are assumed to be universal — what is true in one situation is true in almost all situations (this saves so much hard work: no need to actually examine the facts). The world is much more complicated than that, Bryan — and unless you stick in the word “some” your statement is still false.

        • Topher fantasized:
          “That is not even close to what you said, Bryan.”

          It is what I had said. You keep fabricating stuff and degrading the discussions into those fascinating you-said-this–no-I-said-that arguments.

          “What you said is that all mediums — not just high profile ”

          No Topher; “all mediums” is just you making stuff up, yet again.

          “unless you stick in the word “some” your statement is still false.”

          How come Jacob can title this article “Why mediums can’t tell names”, but when I comment in the same terms, you fabricate that I claimed “all”? If you are unclear about the mediums at issue, perhaps reading the articles would be a good idea.

          Topher on skeptics:
          “Simple explanations are assumed to be universal…”

          Assumed? I keep asking for a demo of a counterexample. I offered money, as do other skeptics. (To be clear to our slower readers: that’s some other skeptics, not all.)

        • I didn’t think that I needed to explain the English language to you. When Jacob used the title: “Why Mediums Can’t Tell Names” this was a general statement, strengthened by the conventions of titles and headlines. It means “Why, typically can’t Mediums tell names.” There is implicature here and might even be interpretted as “When Mediums have trouble telling names what is the explanation.”

          You started out with some wriggle room: “Mediums rarely struggle with names.” That “rarely”, though it provides a hedge against universality prevents any further implicit hedges, just as if you had said “never” or “always”. You aren’t talking about “typical” we are talking about the class
          of “Mediums” as a whole. Any exceptions are not implicit, because they are covered explicitly.

          The sentence is ambiguous as to whether the rare exceptions are concentrated in a few Mediums or whether they are spread over the general population. But either way it is a statement that cases where a Medium struggles with a name in the set of all Mediumistic statements are rare.

          But then you carefully closed off the wriggle room left in the first sentence: “When they do, it is because there is some dramatic interest to be gained from the struggle.” Now the two sentences form a single logical statement that is quite universal and unqualified. Of course, any natural language statement has some abduction (the property that allows us to say “Birds fly” and mean “Typically birds fly” without listing all the exceptions like penguins, stuffed birds, emus, birds with broken wings, etc.) so despite the surface universality you could legitimately claim rare exceptions like deceased Mediums and fictitious Mediums. But your statement was too direct, particularly given the context, to allow many broad categories.

          What you said amounts to “In every case either a) a Medium will not struggle for a name or b) that Medium struggles for the name for dramatic effect” (of course, abduction again, we can except Mediums not acting in the role of Mediums — e.g., those just trying to remember the name of an actor who appeared in a movie they saw the previous year).

          OK, I’ve beaten into the ground characteristics of English understood intuitively by your average anglophone seven year old. Describing the obvious in English is a full time occupation for professional linguists. That I had to go through this exercise in stating the obvious is simply a consequence of you denying the obvious: you said something universal, you were wrong, now you are trying to deny it. There is no fantasy involved — at least on my part — at all.

        • “Topher on skeptics:
          ‘Simple explanations are assumed to be universal…’

          Assumed? I keep asking for a demo of a counterexample. I offered money, as do other skeptics. (To be clear to our slower readers: that’s some other skeptics, not all.)”

          Perfect example of the black and white, one size fits all thinking I was referring to.

          Simple fact is, not even all fake Mediums (ignoring the issue of whether or not that is equivalent to the set of all Mediums) use the specific techniques you seem to think are the only available techniques. Having a name in advance unknown to the sitter is rare. Using letters instead of names is far too obvious unless you are in a strongly belief conducive setting — and even then its a detail too likely to be remembered and seen through later in a more rational setting. Leaving out names completely is reasonable but makes for much less impact when claiming direct communication.

          A far more common technique among fakes in a one-on-one or few-on-one setting is to — well — *struggle for a name* and watch for subtle sensory feedback during the struggle. Fits with people’s expectation (a magician generally strives for infallibility and ease, but a mentalist — whether or not they are pretending to be real — goes for some realistic fallibility and making it look like what they are doing is hard. Even in magic there is a principle in designing a trick called the “Too Perfect Principle” — which says if it looks too easy and impossible than it will look too fake), is an excellent cover for fishing, and probably won’t be remembered as specific to any individual “hit” when considering the session later.

        • The “mediums” at issue were perfectly clear; you’d have know that had you followed the articles.

          “What you said amounts to “In every case either a) a Medium will not struggle for a name or b) that Medium struggles for the name for dramatic effect”

          I don’t believe there actually are any mediums, so I guess I’d agree with the “in ever case…” since there are no such cases. But no, that wasn’t what I saying. By mediums, I simply meant the so-called mediums that the articles had called mediums. You claimed that I said all mediums, but you were not telling the truth.

          “A far more common technique among fakes in a one-on-one or few-on-one setting is to — well — struggle for a name and watch for subtle sensory feedback during the struggle.”

          Are you saying that they are actually struggling, and not doing the kind of dramatic act I described?

        • Just reread the article — you are imposing your beliefs on what it was saying. Yes, it used John Edward as a leading (and title) example but the author was clearly trying to say something about mediumship in general. When he said “mediums” he clearly didn’t mean “showy TV mediums who conform to Bryan Olson’s ideas of how mediums act”. Even if he had meant to be restrictive your statement would not have implicitly been about a narrow class of mediums unless the article had *explicitly* restricted the use of the word to a specialized meaning or you had done so. Again, why do I need to explain the mechanics of natural language discourse as understood intuitively by every child without brain dysfunction?

          You were performing an improper generalization. Not a big deal — why don’t you just admit your error and move on, rather than compounding it?

          And yes, I do mean that they are really struggling — they are expending great effort to come up with a word that they do not know in advance (have you ever tried this — its not easy). In terms of “struggle” this is not appreciably different from someone struggling to understand conversation in a noisy environment or to remember a name mostly forgotten — or, presumably, trying to understand a name whispered by spirits. And yes, the dramatic effect is not the purpose of the struggle — at best it is a useful biproduct.

        • Topher suggested:
          “Just reread the article — you are imposing your beliefs on what it was saying.”

          No, I was challenging the very premise that the struggle described in the article is real.

          Are not you the one who implied John Edward is an obvious huxter? I tend to agree, but the article was about why the spiritual channels that provide mediums such as Edward their answers do not easily convey names. Did you miss that?

          “When he said ‘mediums’ he clearly didn’t mean ‘showy TV mediums who conform to Bryan Olson’s ideas of how mediums act'”

          I took him to mean mediums such as the article describes; the article titled: “Why John Edward struggles with names”.

          “You were performing an improper generalization. Not a big deal”

          Well it’s obviously a bit deal to you, Topher. O.K.: I regret and retract any implication that no people exist who believe they are psychic mediums and perceive themselves to be stuggling to acquire names. Nor did I mean to suggest that the fakes and frauds never encounter situations that they find challenging.

          The point I was trying to convey was that the article was naive in its analysis of why the mediums it considers fail in many or most cases to provide names. Not only was it naive in its explanations, but also in its direction of considering mediums grappling with spiritual difficulties, rather than performers doing an act.

          On what I consider the single most important point, I agree with Topher. The so-called “mediums” that so duped the authors of the article here strike me as obvious huxeters.


        • Darn!

          I messed up, even though I was aware of the confusion. I wrote: “I mentioned John Edwards just because…” No, wrong! Until that post, I had not “mentioned John Edwards” at all. I knew better than to copy the name from another post, but I got careless.


          John Edwards is a U.S. senator, now running for president.

          John Edward is a scumbag doing his popular and despicable psychic shtick on cable T.V

          In this thread, the reference I made to “John Edwards” was accidental and erroneous. I meant John Edward, as named in the blog entry that motivated this thread.


        • You’re right. I introduced that error. Sorry.

    • I would agree with Topher. Moreover, I agree that editing distorts the statistics, but if you have attended one of Edward’s live sessions you will quickly realize that he is still performing far above chance. Also, he occasionally gets very unusual names — names that would probably not be in the top 100, maybe not the top 500, and well beyond guessing. However, Bryan has his mind made up and there is no changing it. I suspect he is simply not ready for it yet. Understanding comes with spiritual evolution.

      • Bryan-the-skeptic seems pretty darn set in his opinion about psychic phenomena; that’s for sure. “No changing it”? Well, I’d ask you not to be too quick on that.

        People have suggested that no matter what the evidence for a paranormal phenomenon, I would reject it. I take that point seriously, and I’ve spent some time considering it, and, well, if I am like that, would I know?

        I’m all about a real test. Would I accept the results if they proved my skeptical viewpoint wrong? I’d like to think I’m so fair, but really I cannot tell. No one takes me up on the test.

        What paranormal phenomenon can you actually demo here?


  3. Strange, yes. Rare, no. Do recall when the family was maturing, you recognize the kid, know all about the kid, know the kid belongs to your family, but “what is the kids name ? ” ( LOL ) Even had at times said” what ever your name is, stop yelling at your sister “. Yup, these were /are my kids.Some data is just easier to read, than others. I can’t explain it, it does happen, but those energies, aren’t wearing name tags. Interesting read, like it.

    The Psychics Blog – ttp://

    The Healers Blog –

    Razors Edge –