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4.3 out of 5 stars133
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on 3 May 2015
Fascinating insight into how easily the human mind can be tricked. Read this and you will understand all there is to know about the "supernatural".
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on 3 April 2011
The one-star reviews I have read for this book are in many ways correct but rather overly negative. I suspect many are written by those who object to having their beliefs (and possibly hopes) subject to such thorough exposition.

Much of Wiseman's work in these areas has been covered by his other books but here it is gathered together in a coherent order to present a strong and convincing case against the paranormal. The interactivity of the book is thoroughly engaging, presenting ways to trick your friends and exploit the known tricks of the trade employed by "psychics" and "mediums" while at the same time offering a great number of logical and practical explanations for many of the phenomena encountered by those who claim to have experienced the paranormal.

The work's flaw is, as other reviewers have pointed out, Wiseman's dogmatic denial of any paranormality. His arguments and explanations (incidentally, all of which I agree with, being a sceptic through and through) are made less convincing by his apparent immovability. Some scenarios presented require him to summon a host of explanations posited throughout the book which must have coincided simultaneously to create the phenomenon. I don't doubt that this is the case, but his theories would be stronger if he were to accept at any point that the coincidence may seem far-fetched and that it is impossible to know for certain, given the uniqueness of the event. The key to good science is that everything should be able to be tested by experiment, consistently and infinitely, as he so rightly emphasises throughout, but appears to lose hold of in places where all that is left to say is "probably it was this and this and this".

Nonetheless, it is thoroughly enjoyable - which is its main purpose. It is a high-selling, well-publicised paperback aimed at the public, not a journal paper aimed at academics (although he gives plenty of citations for those - both sides of the argument - in his bibliography and if you are so inclined you can go and read them for yourself). The book's imbalance may be its greatest flaw, and perhaps Wiseman too frequently combines criticism of conmen and charlatans with accusations of simple (or rather, highly complex) gullibility on the part of others, but, read critically, it achieves what it sets out to do extremely well: entertain and enlighten.
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on 28 October 2015
I'm ashamed to admit that I very rarely read any books, but this one was fascinating! The explanations about why we so readily believe in the paranormal are interesting enough, but it was the chapters about the people who take advantage of these beliefs (eg. fortune tellers and psychics) and their systems of exploitation that intrigued me the most, and they didn't disappoint.

If you're the least bit interested in such things I'd highly recommend this book.
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on 15 March 2011
Knowing Richard Wiseman and his work I expected to find Paranormality a lively read and in that respect it doesn't disappoint. The jokes are frequent and funny, and it's free from the sarcasm that can make sceptic critiques so heavy-going. He doesn't seem to find paranormal belief morally reprehensible - at least, not much. He just thinks it's mistaken and delights in revealing the tricks.

The book blends serious psychology - conveyed with a light touch and enlivened with "how-to" panels that show readers how they too can pretend to be psychic or have an out-of-body experience - with comical episodes drawn from the literature of psychic research, of which there is a rich supply. It will confirm sceptics in their view that the paranormal is just a bit of nonsense, not at all true, but "fun to talk about at parties", as he says.

That's the problem. Other investigating scientists with credentials at least as good as Wiseman's think there is good evidence for genuine paranormal phenomena. There's not a whisper of that here: amid all the silly stories you would never know that any serious work has been done in this field. It's been magically disappeared.

For instance the book begins by presenting Wiseman's encounter with Jaytee, the telepathic dog, as debunking a media claim, yet without once mentioning Rupert Sheldrake's far more extensive work nor the complexities involved in this research. Under pressure, Wiseman seems to have conceded that his meagre data actually confirms Sheldrake's and that they merely differ over the interpretation, but that is not at all how it appears from his account. Sheldrake isn't allowed a look in.

Nor is there any mention of the very considerable remote viewing and ganzfeld telepathy experiments. Wiseman has been involved in this work as a critic, and as I understand it has run out of objections to the point where he now agrees remote viewing and ganzfeld have been proved, at least by the standards of other sciences - he just considers that to be insufficient. There's an discussion to be had about that, to be sure, but it's a long way from the "all-in-the-mind" thesis adopted here.

A good read, yes, but it would be a pity if it readers let it shape their thinking without having a look at the other side of the story.
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on 30 July 2015
I loved this book! I'm so interested in the paranormal and psychology, so this book was the perfect thing for me. I like the range of humorous stories and scientific experiments. This combination against a rather long book worked well and not once did I become bored! I would recommend this to everyone... honestly the greatest read!
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 16 August 2014
The subtitle here is ‘Why we believe the impossible’ or ‘Why we see what isn’t there’ (depending on your edition) emphasising that this a book not so much on parapsychology – the study of paranormal capabilities of the mind – but what you might call metaparapsychology – the study of why human beings incorrectly think that they have paranormal capabilities of the mind.

This is a very entertaining, lightly written book that takes a storytelling approach to introducing some of the strange and wonderful claims that people have made for supernatural mental abilities, only to pull them apart.

We begin with that most dubious of paranormal topics, psychics, with a UK psychic roundly failing in controlled tests and another psychic admitting exactly how he used cold reading tricks to fool his clients. Many books have debunked cold reading, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen before such a clear list of the six key techniques with a demonstration of how they were used in a specific reading. It’s superb.

Next under the microscope are out of body experiences (and for some reason the spurious idea of a body losing weight on death), which prove rather dull, and then moving things with the mind. There is interesting material on a specific case, though I found the ‘five psychological principles’ that make people believe this kind of act a touch heavy handed after we’d already been through the six for cold reading, especially as by the time we get to the fifth there is not one, but two asides in the middle of explaining it.

Next up is the table shifting/rapping/Ouija board style of spirit medium. There’s some nice historical introduction with the Fox sisters (who made ‘raps’ by clicking their toes) and some practical guidance on the do-it-yourself use of involuntary movement effects to jiggle tables or spell out Ouija messages (with perhaps a bit of cheating thrown in). We then move swiftly on to some entertaining ghost hunting tales (and thoughts on why we imagine ghosts exist), mind control and future gazing. All very readable, entertaining and often enlightening.

Although as a whole I liked the book, there was something about it that put me off a little (otherwise it might have made 5 stars). It was a touch gimmicky – I’m not sure, for instance, I particularly liked the used of QR codes to direct the reader to find out more online. In principle this should be a good thing, but these 3D barcodes were so large and obtrusive that they ruined the look of the page every time they were introduced.

The gimmickry also extends to some extent to the way the book is written, with chapters jumping around their subject and introducing little ‘tests’ that are supposed to show the reader the effect being discussed. (I’m pleased to say I avoided choosing the shape combination most people come up with when asked to think of one geometric shape inside another*.)

However, that’s just a personal thing – I think many people would like this kind of messing about in format, so it shouldn’t count against what I think is a really interesting book on a topic that isn’t really called metaparapsychology, but ought to be. If psychics, ESP and the world of the paranormal interest you, this book is an essential balance to your library – and if you are a sceptic, it will give you plenty of chances to raise an eyebrow and have a chuckle at the gullibility of the rest of the world.

* The usual choice is apparently a circle in a triangle or a triangle in a circle. I went for a triangle in a square.
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on 3 April 2011
'Why We See What Isn't There' covers subjects from Fortune Telling to Talking With The Dead.Professor Richard Wiseman's writing is easy to read, and thankfully for those of us out there who do not have a Psychology degree, it makes this book even more enjoyable. The way that the book is broken down, allows the reader to take in the information, and then in some parts of the book you can take part in your own experiments. The fact that this is an 'interactive' book sets it apart from other educational material. It allows you to really understand the research that has been undertaken, and each experiment is backed up, so if we are wanting to read more at the end of the book, the reader has been given enough information to happily go off and carry on with their own readings.

If you are interested in the paranormal, and all things spooky and want to really know the science behind it, then this book is for you. And even if you're not, there are some cool tricks shown at the back of the book that you can practise and show off your spooky powers to your friends.
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on 21 July 2012
This book attempts to explain why people believe in "the paranormal" (psychic dogs, premonitions, ghosts, etc. - all the things people claim to do/see/hear/experience without evidence, explanation or reproducibility under controlled experimental conditions) and also exposes a number of frauds. In addition, it comes with tips and party tricks in case you want to convince your friends that you have psychic powers. It is very well written and hard to put down.

Have a look at some of the one-star reviews of this book. These are mostly by "true believers" who are admonishing scientists to "have an open mind", which in their case means a closed mind (i.e., to suspend disbelief and not demand any evidence or reproducibility in the lab). The Randi Challenge has yet to see anyone walk away with the one-million dollar prize!
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on 30 June 2013
Although parts were very interesting, Dr Wiseman leaves a lot of unanswered questions sometimes in mid air. I know he is a sceptic of the paranormal so to prove his case he sites a few examples which are easy to debunk - quite rightly. But the paranormal is a vast subject and he ignores the work of many writers and researchers by not touching on a lot of the associated subjects. If he had engaged in serious and fair critcism of the work of many it would have interestd ne a lot more. I felt like writing to him myself but guess I will never get round to it. I would have to read the book again and take plenty of notes to justify my criticism.

D McLay
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on 19 October 2015
Brilliant book debunking superstitions and explaining why we are so open to believe in things that are not there. The QR codes to further videos and info are a stroke of genius. Really enjoyed this book.
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