"Such nonmainstream areas of inquiry as astrology, fortune-telling, and psychic and
paranormal pursuits play a vital role in society by satisfying human needs that are not
addressed by mainstream science."
This statement actually consists of two claims: (1) that non-mainstream areas of inquiry are
vital in satisfying human needs, and (2) that these areas are therefore vital to society. I
concede that astrology, fortune-telling, and psychic and paranormal pursuits respond to certain
basic human needs. However, in my view the potential harm they can inflict on their
participants and on society far outweighs their psychological benefits.
Admittedly, these non-mainstream areas of inquiry address certain human needs, which
mainstream science and other areas of intellectual inquiry inherently cannot. One such need
involves our common experience as humans that we freely make our own choices and
decisions in life and therefore carry some responsibility for their consequences. Faced with
infinite choices, we experience uncertainty, insecurity, and confusion; and we feel remorse,
regret, and guilt when in retrospect our choices turn out be poor ones. Understandably, to
prevent these bad feelings many people try to shift the burden of making difficult choices and
decisions to some nebulous authority outside themselves--by rely-ing on the stars or on a
stack of tarot cards for guidance.
Two other such needs have to do with our awareness that we are mortal. This awareness
brings a certain measure of pain that most people try to relieve by searching for evidence of an
afterlife. Absent empirical proof that life extends beyond the grave, many people attempt to
contact or otherwise connect with the so-called "other side" through paranormal and psychic
pursuits. Another natural response to the prospect of being separated from our loved ones by
death is to search for a deeper connection with others here on Earth and elsewhere, in the
present as well as the past. This response manifests itself in people's enduring fascination with
the paranormal search for extraterrestrial life, with so- called "past life" regression and
"channeling," and the like.
While the sorts of pursuits which the speaker lists might be "vital" insofar as they help some
people feel better about themselves and about their choices and circumstances, query
whether these pursuits are otherwise useful to any individual or society. In the first place,
because these pursuits are not rooted in reason, they are favorite pastimes of charlatans and