The Mind Body Wallet experience

Once again the Mind Body Spirit Festival came to the Melbourne Exhibition Centre this long weekend (11 – 14 June 2010).

If you’re a local to Melbourne and that last sentence didn’t make much sense, please let me re-phrase: Mind Body Wallet at Jeff’s Shed. That better?

The sights and sounds are quite extraordinary: crystals, Tantric healing, herbs, cults, self-improvement courses, psychic readings, sometimes many of these mixed together on the one stand.  It’s the most extraordinary concentration of commercial woo you’ll ever find in Melbourne in one easily accessible place.

The salespeople are friendly; a bit too friendly at times.  Normally someone trying to hand me a pamphlet near the local railway station or shopping strip will have me digging my hands deeper into my pockets to avoid taking it; however it’s unavoidable at MB$, and you’re more or less obliged to take something if you want to speak to people. I came home with a bag full of folded paper.

Once you find something of interest at a stand, the effect can be a bit like having an egg beater shoved in your ear, letting them fly with a rapid spin of the handle, thus turning your brain to mush.

The logical fallacies, urban legends and blatant BS are spouted at such a rate that your rational thinking becomes overwhelmed with woo-goo. I find it a little easier to wander around in a small group of two or three.  When one Skeptic is engaged in conversation with a woo salesperson, someone else can stand back a little and think rationally about what’s being said.

Is it really 2010, or have I missed something?  Why are so many people attracted to this stuff? Surely this should have gone out of fashion in the 1970s. Just a small dose of critical thinking is enough to show the ideas put forward at MB$ are pernicious nonsense.

As an example:
If psychics can do what they claim to be able to do, why are lotteries such a safe bet for most governments wishing to generate extra revenue?

If any of the alternative health treatments on offer actually worked by the methods claimed, why aren’t the proponents in receipt of a Nobel Prize or two?

Almost everything at MB$, if it passed simple objective testing, would win James Randi’s million dollars.

It was really disappointing to see the Salvation Army at MB$.  I’ve always regarded Salvos as one of the better and more ethical of the Christian factions: their dedication to charity work is exemplary.  The Salvo ministers were offering “prophetic prayers” from their stand to passers-by.  One of our group tried it and described it as “pathetic”.  A stand at MB$ can cost about $3,500 for the weekend.

If anyone from the Salvos is reading this, please contact us to assure us you got the stand for free or at a greatly reduced price.  That does appear to be a very large sum of money from what most people regard as a worthy charitable organisation, going to the organisers of MB$.

Not that the Salvos were the only religion present: the Scientologists and Islam were also there.

Pricing details: The exact price depends on floor space and position: the smaller stands look to be about 9m square, and at $395 per square metre, that works out to $3,555 for one stand for the weekend.

The well-known techniques of cold reading were exploited everywhere at MB$:  psychic readings were done on mass, at $45 for half an hour. The queue to get in looked to be about 20 people long for most of the time.

You'd need to be psychic to find a good psychic

A gentleman in a suit did the usual cold reading/speaking to the dead act in front of a large crowd. He was entertaining only because he was awful.  I got the impression that the magic of selective television editing is what makes these people look good.

Who once owned a cat with four legs?

Even the old-fashioned nonsense of iridology has been transformed by cold reading.  Once upon a time, iridology relied on divining health problems by looking at the features of the iris.  Silly as this was, it’s no more.  You now have your iris read in much the same way as you have a psychic reading: you sit down with the iridologist for your reading, and they work out your health problems and personality using the usual cold reading methods; the iris photograph is almost irrelevant.

Trying to put the “reading” part of modern iridology into perspective, I put the following suggestion to a salesperson on one of the iridology stands.  “If you had ten people sit down and answer personality questions, then you were shown only the photographs of the irises of those people, do you think you could match up the personality answers with the eyes without doing the reading?”

“Yes” was the reply.  Well full marks to them for actually agreeing, at least in theory, with an objective test.  It’s so hard to get anything like this from anyone else at MB$.  The stand was “Rayid Iris” stand G12.   If anyone at “Rayid Iris” is reading this, James Randi’s million dollars is there for the taking, or you could donate it to charity.  The Australian Skeptics also have a similar large cash prize on offer.  Please get in contact with us to start the process for collecting the prize.

It was disappointing to see ear candles being sold at MB$.  Research shows these items to be both ineffective and dangerous.

Ear candles are banned in Canada.  Where are the Australian health authorities?

The aura camera was quite a surprise.  It’s the first time I’ve ever seen one at MB$.

MB$ version of the aura camera

The process was: first you have your photo taken by the “aura camera”, then you sit down with an intuitive person for a reading – for a price, of course.

What surprised me was that the aura camera at MB$ looks almost identical to the fake aura camera we often show.  I don’t know how the aura camera at MB$ works, I’ve checked the vendor web site, the details are scant.  I’d love to see its insides and do some testing.  Can we, please?  Our fake camera works by adding coloured light internally.  Here is a diagram.

click to make bigger

Our fake aura camera in encased in a white box, with a mount for a tripod and a window at the front such that reflections of the coloured lights are combined with the image of the subject.  The aura camera at MB$ is in a white box, with a tripod mount and has a window at the front.  To Aura Photographics Australia, I would say, SNAP!

Vic Skeptics aura camera on display at Scienceworks (2009)

The non-objective, arm-press test used in the sale of the “Quantum Pendant”, continues unabated. I’ve heard our friends in the NSW branch complaining about these people and their methods.

Terry and the arm test

Victorian Skeptics President Terry Kelly volunteered to be a subject, and said it was the same stunt described by Richard Saunders in his You-Tube video.

It’s possible the people using this “kinesiology” testing (the arm-press test) are self-deluded about this; however one of our group actually demonstrated how easy it is to subtlety push someone off-balance, the demonstration being done with one of the salespeople on the stand as the subject of the arm test. They just shrugged it off.

Regardless, the pendants continue to sell for $169 at the MB$. We were told this is a discount price: they normally sell for $259.

Checking the claims for this pendant on the distributor’s website, I find the listed “health benefits” disturbing reading: it says “Helps to fight cancer cells”, without any supporting evidence.  A similar claim is made for the “quantum water” product.  There is a disclaimer further down the page in their web advertising. I think it’s disgraceful to make such claims in the first place.

Infuriating claim

While Terry was busy being quite literally pushed off-balance by the quantum pendant people, I got chatting to a passer-by who was obviously also skeptical of what he was seeing before him.  He seemed very keen on the Skeptics.  It looks like we might have an extra person coming along to our next meeting.

There were an awful lot of groups selling personal development courses:  Pranic Power (stand D25), Happy Science (stand G20) and One Life (stand E57) were amongst many.  As a Skeptic, I don’t normally deal in anecdotal evidence; however one repeatedly hears stories of people who have gone through personal development courses saying they are no better off, and somewhat poorer financially.  Are the groups at MB$ any different? Does anyone know?

Pranic rock waving

It’s not all awful woo at MB$.  The fudge is excellent, the clothing is attractive, the music being played on the main stage is not bad – it depends on your taste, of course.  I’d recommend that anyone go along, just for the experience.

A friend and I got into conversation with a saleslady on a stand selling crystal healing products – and they were indeed very pretty rocks.  I always find it somewhat disturbing how ignorant the salespeople are of the natural processes at work and the chemistry involved.  Many of these colourful rocks are formed by very slow processes over millions of years in rare and unusual circumstances.  People dig them up, polish them and trade them as mystical health cures; it just doesn’t seem right somehow.

I asked the question: “How are you able to establish which type of crystal works for which health ailment?”  The salesperson says it’s worked out by “metaphysical scientists” … well that had me stumped for a bit.  The saleslady then passed a large book to my friend (he was closer and had been asking most of the questions).  Within a few moments my friend located a disclaimer statement: in the front of the book  it said (paraphrasing): “The information gathered here was done by intuitive methods; it was not done scientifically”.  I could tell the saleslady hadn’t anticipated our finding this statement so rapidly; her body language indicated she was annoyed, and my friend and I beat an exit.  It’s moments like that that make it all worthwhile. I’m such a low-life scoundrel of a Skeptic (big grin).


PS. This post was produced with the help of Terry, Joseph, Rosemary and Ken, many thanks.  More photos and please leave your comments below.

Gaurdian angel painting

Aura readings

4 Responses to The Mind Body Wallet experience

  1. Ben Withers says:

    great article.

    i went to this on friday, it was the first of these i’d been to. i expected to see the various ways of selling a half hour session of cold reading, and the crystals, the rest wasn’t unexpected, but i was walking around all day wondering why people believe this, and trying to figure out if those doing the selling actually believed it themselves, or if they knew exactly what they were doing. i think the applied kinesiology stand were definately the latter of those two.

    the handful of people selling expensive water would be handy for for their free samples, i hope they’re back next year.

    i also enjoyed the idea that the most expensive products to make, the veggie chips, the fudge, and the pretzels, were also the cheapest to buy .9and the only things that actually are what they say they are).

  2. Ken Greatorex says:

    Ear Candling products seem to have been successfully removed from Australian pharmacies because of Therapeutic Goods Administration(TGA)findings in response to a raft of complaints. Does this make it illegal to sell them in Australia at all; or just in pharmacies?

    Our relevant authorities (TGA, ACCC) should at least be making enquiries about harmful products on public sale, whatever the venue. This includes the insidious harm of valueless Cancer “cures” etc, the use of which purveyors encourage in place of orthodox treatment.

  3. Terry says:

    Have you looked into this Jim Cassa Melbourne psychic? I haven’t seen an expose done on him yet. He seems a bit of a character who has saturated the web about his many psychic talents. I wonder if he would be prepared to be scientifically tested for his psi ability?

  4. Jay90 says:

    Its funny that you picture the “guardian angel” painters…having attended the MBSF on a number of occasions we have witnessed these lovely “artists” painting the same images over and over again, we had no idea that all the angels would looke so similar just with different colours/ clothing.
    it’s the old proverb proved once again that a fool & his money are easily parted…

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