Why are people willing to pay insane amounts of money to get their fortune told? Growing up in a culture where fortune-tellers are revered and often times considered sacred, I never paid much attention to them because it was such a big part of my life. To me, fortune- tellers were just another scheme or easy way to make a quick buck. From Ms. Cleo to the gypsies at the county fairs, they were just another form of entertainment for the bored. I mean, how true can any of it be? How can someone possibly see into the life of another and know what will happen? In a world where we rely so heavily on scientific explanations, everything that happens to us should naturally have a “playbook” explanation.
One time, I was talking to my neighbor over a cup of coffee and the topic of fate and fortune-tellers came up. An extremely spiritual woman, she claims to have been able to converse with the third dimension, or spiritual beings/ghosts. As she told me all this, all I could think in my head is, “ Wow, crazy much?” Despite my thoughts, I just listened, nodded, and smiled, taking in what I thought was insane. She then told me her encounter with a fortune-teller. Apparently the fortune-teller had told her the exact date of when she would meet her husband, and the features of this man she would eventually marry but divorce. She said to me, “ Everything that woman told me would happen, happened. Doesn’t that make you believe?” Frankly, I wanted to believe but was skeptical. On my way home that day, I started re-analyzing my thoughts on fortune-tellers and fate in general.
If a fortune -teller told me that in the next year, for example: I will meet a tall, dark and handsome man with deep blue eyes and a gorgeous smile and I will also get my dream job as a publicist. Say this is true, so how much of it is my own doing? Even though a year from now is a long time and lots of things can change during it, the thought of me meeting someone or getting a job will always be in the back of my mind. When I do find my “knight in shining armor” and “ dream job”, how much of the result is contributed by the fortune-teller? How much is my own doing? In his book Blink, Malcolm Gladwell goes in-depth about thin slicing.
“ We thin-slice whenever we meet a new person or have to make sense of something quickly or encounter a novel situation. We thin-slice because we have to, and we come to rely on that ability because there are lots of hidden fists out there, lots of situations where careful attention to the details of a very thin slice, even for no more than a second or two, can tell us an awful lot.”[i]
According to him, I could be thin-slicing my way into next year. Armed with the knowledge of who I am supposed to meet, I immediately thin-slice out the people that do not fit the profile. When I see a male with blond hair who is of medium height, subconsciously, my brain will immediately say “ No.” While looking for a job, I will immediately look for ones that are media related instead of applying to work at a retail store. By doing all of this, I’m subjecting myself to snap judgments.
“ Snap judgments are, first of all, enormously quick: they rely on the thinnest slices of experience. But they are also unconscious.”[ii]
My brain is immediately thinking:
After a while of snappy judgments, I will eventually meet the one. So if this is really the case, then what the fortune- teller said is true, making me believe in the art of fortune-telling. However, if following what Malcolm Gladwell states in his book, the situation would be a self-fulfilling prophecy. What if the fortune-teller had told me the man I would be destined to be with was short and blond? I would automatically be looking for those characteristics instead of tall, dark, and handsome. Did my neighbor self-fulfill her own destiny by listening intently to the fortune-teller? Like the test devised by psychologist, John Bargh, what the fortune-teller tells us is a “test” which when we walk out of that room, we subconsciously behave differently; our adaptive unconsciousness is thinking about a specific image that is supposed to happen in the next year. So how true is fortune-telling? Do people really get what they are paying so much for? Perhaps there really is such thing as the spiritual world in which the fortune-tellers channel their insights and in turn give us common people answers we keep searching for. However, one has to think how much of it is actually our adaptive unconsciousness thin-slicing the words of the fortune-teller.
[i] “ Blink”, Gladwell, Malcolm. Hatchettbookgroup. Pg.43
[ii] Gladwell, Malcolm pg. 51