Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

If looks could kill

New from the Why Didn't I Think Of That First department, we have a guy who performs psychic healing just by looking at people.

Here I thought you had to at least do something to affect a woo-woo cure -- swing some crystals around, say a chant or two, give your patient a homeopathic pill that doesn't contain any medicine -- at least something

Enter the Croat healer known only as "Braco."  Braco, now touring the United States, gets paid big bucks to sit on a stage for a half hour and stare at the audience.  He doesn't say a word -- just stares, then gets up and leaves, and goes backstage to collect his paycheck.  His gaze is said to have "healing powers."  "People aren't even sure what they're feeling," devotee Sahaja Coventry told a reporter at Braco's latest appearance, at the Renaissance Hotel in Cleveland.  "But it is a sweetness, it is a loving energy and some people get physical healing, some just feel a sense of peace."

If I had to sit there for a half hour in a dimly-lit room in total silence for a half-hour, I bet I'd feel a sense of peace, too -- I'd probably fall asleep.  But of course, that's not what Coventry et al. are talking about.  Neither do they think they're being hypnotized, which is another possibility.  They really think that Braco is doing something with his eyes, somehow affecting "energy levels" in the room.  Braco, of course, does everything he can to beef up this claim; children and pregnant women are not allowed to attend, because the "energies could be too strong," and he does not let his face be broadcast on television for more than seven-second clips, presumably to prevent some sort of electronically-transmitted overdose of Braco Stare.

My objections, of course, are the usual ones.  First, show me the mechanism.  If you think this guy's gaze can cure your chronic headaches, show me how that could work in such a way that it eliminates the possibility of auto-suggestion.  Another of his followers who attended the session at Cleveland hinted at the problem when she said, "You have to have an open mind and an open heart, more or less to get this feeling."  Why on earth should this be so?  If the guy is doing something real, how could my attitude make any difference?  You'd think it'd be even more impressive if Braco cured someone who thought he was a fraud.

Second, of course, there's the fact that the whole thing flies in the face of how vision actually works; because when you see, it's not because something's going out from your eyes, it's because something's going into your eyes (namely, light reflected from the object you're looking at).  Vision is receptive, not productive.  The ancients didn't get this, and we see this in some relic expressions like to "throw a glance" at someone, and in holdover beliefs such as the "evil eye."  Certainly, the eyes and face can communicate information; a lot of work has been done on the ease with which the human brain can pick up on subtle "microexpressions," and how that effects social interaction.  But that's not what Braco's followers think is happening, here -- they really think that some "force" is leaving his body through his eyes, and traveling to you, and changing your mental and/or physical condition.  To which I say: I seriously doubt it.

In any case, if you'd like to see him (or, actually, to have him see you), you can check out his tour schedule at  Be warned, however -- on his website there's a giant photograph of him, and it will look out of the monitor at you in a highly scary fashion.  I suggest putting on eye protection before clicking the link, and whatever you do, don't leave it staring at you for more than seven seconds!  Don't say I didn't warn you.

Honestly, though, like I said initially, I kind of wish I'd thought of it first.  It seems an easier way to make a living than to do what I do, which is to stand in front of bunches of high school students talking all day long.  If I could make a living just by staring at people from a stage for a half-hour every few nights, I'd could ditch all the lesson plans and paper grading and so on, and have a great deal more free time than I currently have.  But Braco seems to have cornered the Psychic Stare market, so I'll have to come up with a different angle.  Hey, I know!  Maybe you could just send me a check for a hundred dollars, and I'll stare lovingly at your signature for five minutes.  It will communicate healing energy through the psychic link established through your signature.  You'll feel better immediately.  Trust me.

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