We encounter many interesting people in the course of our daily dealings with the JREF $1,000,000 Challenge applicants. Many folks are sincere and believe they truly have a paranormal or supernatural ability that they can demonstrate to us. Of these, some are simply mistaken. Dowsing, the most common claim, can easily fool average people into believing in the paranormal, and though we can completely explain what's happening, they find it hard to let go of that "special" feeling.
But then there are people like "Herc."
Herc, as he calls himself in the Swift comments hasn't to the best of my knowledge actually applied for the challenge, but he's been writing to us for quite a while, absolutely convinced that he has supernatural powers. Lately, he's been posting links for his website, which I will hesistantly link to here.
To Herc, anyone who looks at his "evidence" and doesn't see clear direct proof for his ability to "channel prophecy" is either lying or delusional. Here's an example of his power:
Last week I posted that I did a psychic channel and the T/X star of Terminator 3 Kristanna Lukan was a suitable mate for me! The next day the local paper's leading story was DON'T MISS THE BOAT ANNA. (I'm in Australia)
Both times I stated in public I was psychic I got *answers* from the world to support me.
What do you think? Impressed? Confused? To be clear, he's claiming that the word "Anna" appearing in the paper is indicative that his "channeling" was correct, as it's part of Kristanna's name. As is hopefully obvious to most of you, I see nothing on that page except the vaguest connections between words. Yet to Herc, this is proof positive that he's the real thing. He has also claimed to be God, Adam, and believes the movie The Truman Show is real – you guessed it, he's Truman.
I don't bring Herc to your attention for ridicule. I bring him up because he represents a real problem for the challenge. In my lay opinion, it's likely that he's suffering from a mental illness, and I urged him to see a psychiatrist. But for the integrity of the challenge, should we test someone like this?
Nevermind the difficulty in coming to agreement on a protocol, or the likliehood that he'll never be able to fill out the application form. Should the challenge be open to all, even people like Herc? If it's not, how and where do we draw the line?
It's not such an easy question to answer.
It's our job to take challenge claims seriously, no matter how silly they may seem to us at the time. If someone claims they can turn into a chicken, we have to carry on and give them a chance to prove it. If that sounds ridiculous, consider the claims of psychics and tell me what the difference is. I'll answer for you – the answer is that many people believe in psychics. But as there is no evidence for either claim, they're equally silly.
The only way the challenge works is if we're willing to test silly claims, because in the end, nearly all of them are.
However, If we allow people like Herc, we may be feeding into his delusion, and possibly making him worse. (I'm aware that this article is also doing that, but I decided to bring this to public attention this once – there are MANY applicants like Herc.) As I'm sure he'll read this article, we may get evidence of that fear.
We do have a clause that allows us to terminate a challenge application if we believe carrying out the test will harm either the applicant or someone else (this was employed once when a firewalker was willing to walk across glowing hot steel plates) and we could simply invoke that in these cases. We would draw criticism from some for "weaseling out" of a challenge because we were scared, or whatever, but it may be the right thing to do. Perhaps we should ask them to provide documentation from a mental health professional stating that their health can withstand taking the challenge.
I wish there was a way for the JREF to have a psychologist on staff to help us not only evaluate these folks but to try to get them the help they so desperately need. If our job is to educate the public about issues surrounding the paranormal and superatural (and it is), it follows that we try to help those whose perception is skewed by faulty brain activity. After all, the end result is someone more closely aligned with reality, at least we hope so. Needless to say, we don't have the resources to do anything like this.
So we will carry on, treating each case individually. I assure you that we are not interested in ridiculing people who are genuinely ill. But we must maintain the integrity of the challenge, and cases like this make that difficult. Your comments are welcomed.