What can we learn about human behaviour from a profession that typically delivers broad, vague, and fluffy observations? Given that the industry of providing these observations is worth over £40m a year in the UK, the answer may well lie in the question. And so on a Friday evening I went to see a fortune-teller, all in the name of understanding our bewildering intrigue into the art of clairvoyantism.
The ‘session’ began with a little chit-chat in which I was careful to ask more questions than I answered: so he wouldn’t have anything personal to refer back to in my reading. 20 cards were then presented to me, from which I was asked to choose two and then a further single card from another deck. The cards selected were: ‘The Tower’; ‘The Hanged Man’; and ‘The Warrior’ which, in summary, signified: A strong sense of Independence; A powerful force of destiny; and a tenacious spirit.
Casting my skepticism aside – I could thoroughly relate to everything he was saying. A friend sitting beside me even piped-up, “Oh my God, that’s so you!”. But why was it ‘so me’?
I believe it comes down to a fairly basic human trait: our ability to attribute our own current or past situations and their associated emotions with another’s. In other words, our unique capacity for empathy is the reason why we can so easily make sense of random ‘fortunes’. By finding something, however small, about them that isn’t random.
So, if the clairvoyant was to repeat the same ‘fortune’ to everyone – each person would in fact, hear something totally different. And importantly, it would be relatable and ‘true’ for everyone not because of what he has said, but because of our ability to attribute each card’s significance to aspects of our own lives.
You may well be wondering, “of what use is this insight to me?” After all, you’re (probably) not in the psychic industry. But, there are undeniable parallels with mass communications. Ultimately, we’re talking to a broad audience yet we want each individual to feel like we’re talking to just them. So maybe there’s more to learn from fortune-tellers than our inner-skeptic would let us believe.