Psychics and fortune tellers have been the subjects of legend, belief and scorn throughout human history. From the oracles of ancient Greece to the mediums of nineteenth century England to the astrologers of the 1960s United States, many people have claimed to have supernatural powers.
Although there may be some overlap in the abilities that psychics and fortune tellers claim, there are distinctions between them. They typically use different techniques, promise different services and differ greatly in the extent to which they have been scientifically studied.
First, let’s look at the techniques used by the two types of practitioners. Fortune tellers use an external object of some kind that they study or read. Wikipedia has an extensive list of all the tools of fortune telling, but they include things like crystal balls and tarot cards. The fortune teller will gaze into the crystal ball or stare at your palm or cast your astrological chart.
Psychics, on the other hand, use only their minds. They claim the power of connecting across distances with other people, places or things. Psychic powers may be classified into different categories such as clairvoyance, telepathy and psychokinesis.
Fortune tellers believe that they can predict your future. They usually use this power to address a particular question that you have and offer you the knowledge you need to make a wise decision. They may tell you if an engagement will result in a successful marriage or if a job will work out well. It is a cliche for fortune tellers in movies to predict a person’s death, but in the real world they are rarely that dramatic.
Psychics do not generally predict the future but make connections in the here and now. Some claim to be able to contact the spirits of the dead or to communicate with living people without speaking. Some even claim to be able to engage in remote viewing, which is the ability to see a distant place as if you were there. Psychic ability is often credited for odd, unexplained occurrences like when a parent hears a child call for help across a great distance.
The scientific community has studied psychic phenomena extensively, and there are organizations that are dedicated to demonstrating its existence. These efforts have not, however, been successful. There is little or no credible evidence for the reality of psychic abilities, and the FTC has even investigated the popular TV psychic “Miss Cleo” for fraudulent practices.
Fortune telling has not been put to the test of science, and there does not seem to be any interest within the scientific community in doing so.
Despite no accepted scientific evidence that psychics and fortune tellers really do have special powers, many people believe that they do, seek their services and feel they have gained insight and comfort.