Why do parlor tricks convince even very intelligent people that they have witnessed a paranormal event rather than a bit of magic? Because even many intelligent people are too foolish to realize that they are not so intelligent as to be beyond being fooled.
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In my experience, very intelligent people are often extremely easy to manipulate in this fashion because their egos are so tied up in their intellect that they cannot admit that there is something they do not know or understand. They will quickly latch onto any seemingly plausible explanation rather than stand there and say I don’t know.
Less intelligent people, by contrast, have less ego involvement. They are quite used to encountering things they do not understand and people don’t expect them to know things. We they see something they don’t understand, they simply say so.
It’s an old chestnut but no less worthy for that:
From Cardinal Newman’s Idea of a University, in his “Discourse 5. Knowledge Its Own End”.
I haven’t read much of Newman, but you can’t live with a Victorian for 35 years without picking up something and its a useful topic for freshman rhetoric. Of course, if my students look too blank, I usually begin the explication with Dierks Bentley’s “I know what I was feelin’, But what was I thinkin’?” At their age, it is probably the impetuous and physical that wars with the reasoned; when we get older, as Newman notes, our will is as often prideful, wanting to appear knowing as much as knowing.
One of the best ways of fooling people is to appeal to their sense of identity. Hence, if someone as intelligent and gifted as you can’t figure it out then it’s obviously genuine paranormal.
This works in other areas, too. A few years ago a scammer made millions by sending out emails to people telling them a billionaire had decided to give them new cars at half price. This was to reward them for being outstanding committed Christians. Millions flowed into his account from folks who agreed they were oustanding Christians.
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