Fortune-telling

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For prophecy in the context of revealed religions see Prophet.

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Gipsies_Fortune_telling_Fac_simile_of_a_Woodcut_in_the_Cosmographie_Universelle_of_Munster_in_folio_Basle_1552.png
Gypsies fortune-telling. Facsimile of a woodcut in the "Cosmographie Universelle" of Munster: in folio, Basle, 1552.

Fortune-telling is the practice of predicting the future, usually of an individual, through seemingly mystical or supernatural means and often for commercial gain. It often conflates with the religious practice known as divination.

Common methods used of fortune telling include astrology, tarot card reading (cartomancy), crystallomancy (reading of a crystal sphere), and cheiromancy (reading of the palms, or palmistry). The latter three have traditional associations in the popular mind with the Roma and Sinti people (often called "gypsies"). Various forms of fortune-telling appear throughout the world. Typical topics that fortune-tellers make predictions on include future romantic, financial, and childbearing prospects.

In contemporary Western culture, it appears that women consult fortune-tellers more than men: some indication of this comes from the profusion of advertisements for commercial fortune-telling services in magazines aimed at women, whilst such advertisements appear virtually unknown in magazines aimed specifically at men. Telephone consultations with psychics (charged to the caller's telephone account at very high rates) grew in popularity through the 1990s.

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Fortune_teller_taiwan.jpg
Street fortune teller consults with client in Taichung, Taiwan

Virtually all scientists regard fortune-telling as pseudoscience. They believe that several factors explain its popularity and anecdotal accuracy:

  1. Predictions almost always use vague terms and do not lend themselves to falsification.
  2. Confirmation bias predisposes people to look for cases where predictions can be interpreted as accurate more than they look to find inaccurate ones.
  3. Consumers of fortune-telling services may also fail to realise that statements made about them might reflect reality, but would equally apply to most other people (for instance, the statement "you fought with your parents sometimes as a teenager" applies to a large majority of people). This is the Forer effect.
  4. Fortune-tellers usually exhibit skills at reading people and telling them what they wish to hear (the technique of "cold reading").
  5. A person who performs a divination for himself or herself may be using his or her reactions to the arbitrary stimuli (such as tarot cards) as a way of mentally organizing his or her own thoughts or intentions.

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