Hello, I am James 'The Amazing' Randi.

Professional magician. I'm 86 years of age. And I started magic at an early age, 12 years old. And I've regretted it ever since that I didn't start earlier.

I'm the subject of a film entitled AN HONEST LIAR, and it's starting this Friday March 6 in Los Angeles and New York City, and expanding to about 60 or so cities throughout the country from there.

I'm here at reddit New York to take your questions.

Proof: http://imgur.com/TxGy0dF

Edit: Goodbye friends, and thank you for participating in this discussion. If you're in New York, please come see me this weekend, as I will be at the Sunshine Cinemas on Houston for select appearances, and if you're in Los Angeles and go to the NuArt theater you can also meet one of the co-directors of my film.

Comments: 536 • Responses: 30  • Date: 

msxenix265 karma

Mr. Randi, you were one of the first people who, through lots of media, taught me proper skepticism and rational thought. Thank you for that.

My question for you is, What is your favorite form of woo to debate that so many people seems to believe?

TheAmazingRandi387 karma

I am most concerned, by far, with the so-called "faith healers" who - by surreptitious means - manage to convince people that they can bring about healing through intervention with heaven.

They use the same tricks that the mentalists and the magicians do, but they give them a religious patina that makes them appear to the faithful as much more genuine than they are.

I find this reprehensible, as well as dangerous, and bordering on the criminal. I really wish that there was more litigation that could be brought against these people, but politicians are notoriously shy when it comes to opposing anything that invokes (or even suggests) religious belief.

joelschlosberg133 karma

Do you have any stories from the time you were in the Bill Nye the Science Guy episode about pseudoscience?

TheAmazingRandi236 karma

Bill Nye (along with Neil DeGrasse Tyson) are 2 of the most eloquent supporters of not only science, but the skeptical point of view as applied to everyday living. I am very much in admiration of both of them, and very grateful for their contributions to rationality.

yourparentsliedtoyou124 karma

What are your thoughts on David Blaine?

TheAmazingRandi360 karma

I know David Blaine from early connections with him.

And we discussed some of his stunts, at length, but when I began advising him not to put his life in such danger, as he did from time to time, he announced to me that his agent had told him to no longer communicate with me.

And I haven't heard from him in years.

mmckenzers112 karma

Who are your favourite magicians currently working?

TheAmazingRandi270 karma

This is a question I don't answer because it would require me to differentiate. HOWEVER, it was my privilege many years ago to introduce Penn Jillette and Teller. Some of their programs have even mentioned "without James Randi, there wouldn't be a Penn & Teller." Penn & Teller have always been very good friends of mine, and their success in Las Vegas is no surprise to me at all. They have always maintained a very sensible, critical attitude about supernatural and paranormal claims, and their recent show "Bullshit" was excellent proof of that.

Professional magicians are known to be very cooperative with one another, because they want their original ideas in the conjuring trade to be perpetuated, and saved, for use in subsequent generations. This has been a bit of a tradition in the trade, and I have supported that tradition very strongly by making sure that anything I originate or contribute to is shared with my brothers & sisters in the trade. Speaking of "sisters," I am also pleased to see that all over the world, more women are becoming interested in working with magicians - not as "box-jumpers," or assistants, but as performing artists in their own right.

Another thing that has pleased me a great deal is to see that the far East has contributed hugely to the population of professional magicians. There was a time when most professional magicians who appeared to be Asian or Oriental were actually just wearing fancy costumes and makeup. That has all changed. We have major artists, many of whom have never even been seen in the USA, but have added hugely to the art.

suaveitguy105 karma

How fun was it to team up with Johnny Carson? Who was the most satisfying person to expose? Were there any you felt conflicted about? (e.g. because they were so outclassed?)

TheAmazingRandi192 karma

Oh, I got to know Johnny Carson rather well over the years.

And he certainly shared my enthusiasm for rationality, and appropriate consideration of so-called "psychic" and "paranormal" claims.

I appeared 29 times on Carson's show, over the years. And one of the most rewarding parts was to be able to sit with him in his Corvette following the taping, and watch him do really incredible sleight-of-hand maneuvers that he had learned from the cream of the conjuring trade, who had appeared as guests on his show.

They were very happy to be asked to show him a twist or two, on the latest sleight-of-hand.

As for handling the so-called "psychics and faith healers," the Peter Popoff (done with the help of Johnny Carson) segment was very satisfying. And very productive. In that we managed to wean several thousand people away from the Popoff camp, but then I and Johnny discovered that Popoff had really changed the name of his ministry, and continued right on swindling the public.

As a matter of fact, after his retirement from active TV, Johnny would call me about every 2 weeks and announce (with some surprise) that Popoff was still working the same racket, and my response was always "This is an unsinkable rubber duck, and people just never learn, or don't want to learn."

There was one character who performed a rather silly stunt, causing a page of a telephone director to turn over when he gestured at it. His name was Hydrick, and I blew him away with Bob Barker on "That's My Line." However, I believe that if I had known Hydrick's complete story, I might've hesitated to expose him in that fashion. He was an abused child, and had come in conflict with the law.

cyberkrist101 karma

What kind of legal team does JREF require? You mentioned once in an interview that Uri Geller pretty much makes his living suing you.

TheAmazingRandi153 karma

Oh, I have very expensive lawyers for that purpose! It always costs me money when legal activities are brought against me. Fortunately, I find that the courts automatically dismiss Mr. Geller's charges, and that brings it to a close.

tragic-waste-of-skin88 karma

Hi Mr Randi, how are you? Are you keeping well?

How close would you say somebody has come to winning that million dollar prize?

Tell us about some great attempts.

TheAmazingRandi223 karma

I wish there were exciting confrontations to tell you about concerning those who've applied for the million-dollar prize, but they have not been as numerous as one might expect, nor has the quality of them been quite up to par.

I think that in most cases, those who did apply for the prize probably believed in their own powers.

But they didn't really know how to test their abilities, ignoring when they were wrong or missed the mark, and somehow making excuses for those days.

Designing a test of such powers is not such a straightforward affair as most people would suppose. Many different factors have to be brought into account, and have to be very carefully observed.

When they do apply for the million-dollar prize, I can assure you that my heart doesn't leap in anguish because someone is going to walk away with the money, simply because I've been through so many of these over the years and I understand that people can be self-deluded (very easily).

I always find it a great pity to have to tell them that they've failed the test.

You see, everything is above board and open for them to see, step-by-step, and they can see themselves "going down the drain" as the procedure wears on.

Now, plenty of them (if not most of them) are sincere in their statements. They believe that they actually do have such powers, and thus they are very surprised when they fail the test.

We provide a clause in the terms that after failing a test, they can apply for a re-testing after 12 months has expired. In all the years that offer has been out there, all those who have applied have failed, yet not ONE of them has ever re-applied.

You may read into that what you wish.

coffeeisblack87 karma

I remember seeing you on Bullshit! and your desk was always stacked high with books. What are a few of your favorite books?

TheAmazingRandi174 karma

Certainly one of my favorite authors of all time was Isaac Asimov. I have a large collection of his simply wonderful books. But if you are curious about living authors, I have to put Richard Dawkins at the top of that list. I've known Professor Dawkins for many years now, and we've exchanged many ideas, I would say, and I very much admire his erudition and his ability to communicate.

shaggymg81 karma

You only "came out" publicly a relatively short time ago. Have you ever been in a situation where it would have been dangerous for you to be out? Do you think being out does or should impact how you confront hate speech now?

TheAmazingRandi136 karma

Oh, well, as a youth - coming out would have been very dangerous, if not fatal, for me.

The world is not only more tolerant now, but I think rather smarter.

And I believe so, yes, certainly. In fact, that's the only way that a reasonable attitude can be encouraged and put in place.

LeoNickle76 karma

If you could have any paranormal ability what would it be?

TheAmazingRandi288 karma

raises eyebrow

I would like to be able to convince very credulous people that they need to return to school, and learn the basics of rational thinking.

HeyMySock68 karma

What lead you down the path of debunking psychics and charlatans instead of just continuing on as a magician? Also, looking forward to seeing you and your movie on Saturday in NYC!!

TheAmazingRandi134 karma

When you see harm being done to people, to the environment, to the progress of knowledge, and decide to ignore it and just walk away - when you are capable of giving form to arguments and solutions on such matters - I find it literally despicable.

Would you decline to save a bird drowning in a sewer? I doubt it.

How then could you possibly refuse to offer some solution, some compassion, some assistance to those who have chosen not to open their eyes wide enough to see the facts of the wonderful world around us.

And thank you for coming on Saturday.

adros4766 karma

What is the strangest application for the million dollar challenge that was actually considered for testing?

TheAmazingRandi154 karma

There was an applicant who applied who claimed that they could "make people feel their power" behind a partition, and that he would know whether or not they felt it - so we arranged a test where, by random means, to give him the signal, and he put out the power, and there was a partition where he didn't know if there was a person or not on the other side (randomly). And we just asked him for his perception of the thing - was there a person there, and did they feel the power? And it was all over the place.

suaveitguy64 karma

I have heard a lot lately of research showing that challenging people's beliefs only strengthens their resolve. You must have noticed this awhile back? How would you suggest winning someone over, considering that?

TheAmazingRandi116 karma

You're absolutely right, unfortunately. But if I can introduce a few caveats into my response, and (depending on the actual contents) point out a few major faults in their reasoning process, I hope that I get across to them. And somewhat improve their view of the world.

Swampfoot56 karma

Thanks for all your tireless and no doubt aggravating work - your appearances on TV in the 70's and early 80's changed my life for the better.

One thing I always wondered, did you personally know Mister Wizard, AKA Don Herbert?

TheAmazingRandi93 karma

No, I never had the pleasure of meeting Don Herbert, though I admired his work of course.

Your thanks as expressed in your letter I have heard many times over the years, and I cannot tell you how grateful I am for such expressions.

When someone takes my hand, and says "Mister Randi, you made a great change in my life," I recognize that there is no way of buying such an expression of gratitude.

I am always humbled by it, and made more determined than ever to continue "preaching" my message to the public.

HeyMySock53 karma

If you and Buzz Aldrin teamed up as Skeptical Superhero's, issuing left hooks to the faces of charlatans and moon landing conspiracy theorists all across the land, who would be the first to win your wrath? Buzz got Bart Sibrel already so it's your turn.

TheAmazingRandi122 karma

Well, I'm not a "punching-out" kind of guy, but I admit that I gave a very faint cheer to Buzz when I heard of this event.

There comes a time when you simply lose patience with the yahoos.

Punching out someone? That's not my style.

NOISY_SUN46 karma

Has anyone ever threatened you for your work?

TheAmazingRandi164 karma

Oh yes, but the letters usually are poorly spelled, with very bad grammar, and scribbled in failing ball pen on endless sheets of foolscap paper, from extreme margin to extreme margin, on both sides, and in-between the lines. Some mail off their letter after adding some added threats and insults on the back of the envelope itself!

This is the kind of thing that I believe I can safely ignore.

At least, I hope so.

suaveitguy45 karma

What do you think of hypnosis? I learned in university psych that the science shows in tests, there is no difference between people who are hypnotized and people planted and asked to pretend to be hypnotized. Has it been debunked?

TheAmazingRandi91 karma

I wouldn't say that it's been "debunked," but my definition of hypnosis (since I did a "hyp" act for some period of time as a younger man) is that the hypnotized and the subject are in agreement to do a bit of play-acting. And having fun with the audience. This is not to say that there cannot be very positive value to a course of "suggestion" administered by a competent psychologist, because some folks apparently need a chance to act out their fantasies and give body to them, thus finding relief of their condition.

soulsample38 karma

What do you think about the argument that people who possess real powers have no intentions of showing them / don't care about money because they are above that?

TheAmazingRandi153 karma

How do you spell "bullshit"?

thekeeper22838 karma

Why do you and Shermer so strongly promote atheism? I understand the work you do exposing faith - healers etc, but why oppose belief in God?

TheAmazingRandi201 karma

Because there is no evidence whatsoever of the existence of a deity. Stories? Yes. Hope? Yes. Dependence? Yes.

None of that leads to actual evidence. Except for the argument that "all of this could not have come about by accident." But it did just that.

Matter, left to itself, for billions upon billions of years, will eventually begin to be organized into simple compounds or mechanical systems simply because of the amount of time and the uncountable number of combinations that are possible.

This seems to imply (in the minds of many) that there has to be a "organizer." Or "maker."

I do not see that as necessary, because of the number of possible permutations and combinations, over billions of years, that would have to arise.

The evolution of these simpler forms into more complex ones is inevitable.

Mind you, seeing a so-perfectly-formed flower, for example, I find remarkable, but not impossible, and inevitable.

TheDuskDragon33 karma

If you could have dinner with any person (dead or alive), who would it be and why?

TheAmazingRandi89 karma

Depends on the restaurant, and the menu.

Oh, I think I would go with Isaac Asimov! Because I've got stuff stored up in my head I would like to ask him.

suaveitguy30 karma

Who are the greatest magicians you ever saw? What made them great?

TheAmazingRandi61 karma

Again, I should not make statements in answer to such questions, because I run the constant risk of omitting people who should be included and omitting others who have no place in the discussion. Some of them, like Harry Blackstone, were very inspirational to me as a youth, and helped me to pursue my chosen profession, and in fact, I must say that I have never met a true professional performer in the magic fraternity or in the entertainment business in general who has failed to give me encouragement. I have received especially valuable help from specialists - both in science and in entertainment - who add to my sense of self-worth.

Apelien29 karma

Are Bankers the world's greatest magicians ?

TheAmazingRandi82 karma


Knowing nothing about the banking industry, I do not know, though my suspicions are that there are some strings and staples and a few hidden threads in everybody's profession - and bankers are not exempt.

Elbwana29 karma

What do you think of movies where magic plays a large part in the story? For example The Prestige, or more recently Now You See Me. Do they miss important aspects of real magicians?

TheAmazingRandi54 karma

The answer simply is: yes.

thefoolofemmaus26 karma

Your take down of Project Alpha is the stuff of legend. Are there any current research projects you would like to give similar treatment to?

What is your personal favorite method to expose cold reading?

TheAmazingRandi35 karma

If I look hard enough, I think I can find one. But it all depends on my current schedule.

To show that they can't do it, hahaha!

mmckenzers22 karma

How do you feel about the rise in popularity in magic shows on TV such as wizard wars and fool us?

TheAmazingRandi49 karma

Some of the most recent additions (names not included here) are rather short of the mark, in my opinion. I would like to see more professional magicians involved in the design and organization of such programs.

ajlposh22 karma

Who are some of your celebrity friends?

TheAmazingRandi43 karma


How much time do we have?

Uh... I have been very, very grateful for the fact that I list prominent people in science, the entertainment industry, the literary crowd, and the art world as my friends, in particular my partner Deyvi Pena (known in the art world as Jose Alvarez). He has opened up for me a somewhat different and wider view of my world, as I believe most artists try to do. Watching him create his work, day-by-day, has led me to a fuller understanding of how ideas are put into graphic form.

I thank him for that, daily.

Frajer21 karma

What's your favorite magic trick?

TheAmazingRandi53 karma

This is the same question as "what is your favorite color."

I don't know that I have a favorite magic trick. It will probably be the next one that some bubbling amateur shows me, and I will be enthusiastic about it - both to encourage the magician, and to promote their interest in the art.

suaveitguy18 karma

What was the atmosphere like in the 40s/50s for a magician? Were you scrambling to book shows wherever would have you, or was their a circuit you could plug into? What were your lean years like? How long did they last?

TheAmazingRandi38 karma

First of all, I have been rather fortunate in being able to "book" myself in to various venues around the world, and my ten books - the eleventh is awaiting publication - were all independently written and prepared, and sold to the publishing business with a fair amount of success.

It was all through letters and phone calls - it was a world before computers! So we had to function somehow. Show business - including the lecture business - has not changed all that much, except that getting exposure in the media is somewhat different now, not necessarily easier but certainly more far-reaching. I found that all of my appearances on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson would give me a renewed of requests for my talents, all of which was very welcome. In fact, newspaper exposure became much less valuable, and television appearances became paramount. Appearing on someone's program was a free advertisement, just so long as the appearance was positive and influenced people. I was fortunate in that respect.

In my opinion, nothing is as powerful as an upfront live appearance rather than a taped and thus rather sterile recorded performance.

I think that most entertainers would agree with me on that.

ryubyss17 karma

how would you prove to 18th century version of JREF that meteorites can crash to Earth and win the equivalent of $1,000,000? or "mesmerism"? or mirror neurons?

more to the point, why didn't you take on Kent Hovind and prove that evolution exists and win $250,000?

(the meteorite analogy I took from the works of Robert Anton Wilson.)

TheAmazingRandi65 karma

I don't think I could prove it back in the 18th Century. Because the knowledge was not available. The proof that meteors did fall randomly from the sky. One possible approach would be have been to show that the material from the fallen meteors did not agree with the materials of the earth. The materials found in meteorites are very different than those found in mines.


I would have to have him make a statement as to what he considers to be "proof" of that fact. Because the argument can always be "That doesn't convince ME" and he would walk away victorious. And that's what they usually do, too!

So I'd like to know what he would consider to be adequate proof.

Jarnorth15 karma

Have you met any "witches" or "wiccans" whilst investigating supposed claims of supernatural prowess? I must admit from what I've read, Atheists do not tend to mention them and I was also wondering your views on supernatural magic spells and curses?

TheAmazingRandi44 karma

Show me a witch or a wiccan. If it's just a case of a belief structure, I'm sure they're all over the place. But I would need some evidence that they have abilities or... powers that others don't. That's it!