James Randi made his first mark in entertainment as a magician. He went on to make his legacy as an investigator and debunker of pseudoscience. If you had to sum him up, you couldn’t do much better than the title of his documentary, “An Honest Liar.” Randi so loved the art and science of creating a show, that he fought ruthlessly against those who claimed to be using actual magic for profit. His work made him a forefather of the modern skeptical movement.
Here is how he defined science and magic:
Science is best defined as a careful, disciplined, logical search for knowledge about any and all aspects of the universe, obtained by examination of the best available evidence and always subject to correction and improvement upon discovery of better evidence. What’s left is magic. And it doesn’t work.
Randi taught us that’s it’s ok to perform. It’s ok to ask a million questions. It’s ok to pick things apart and probe them from all angles. It’s ok because it’s in pursuit of understanding. Since not everyone will want to go to those depths, we can use our informational advantage to educate and make people smile. It’s ok to be an honest liar in this sense. A lot of life looks like magic until someone shows us how it can be broken down. It’s not just magicians either – any job can relate.
What’s not ok is to swindle people on an assumption that falls apart upon proper scrutiny. Randi was the ultimate truth seeker. He knew you could use knowledge to take advantage of people, so he made it his business to not just entertain, but also teach critical skepticism. He showed us how the seers saw and the healers healed, exposing the tricks and psychology behind each.
He put it best,
Magicians are the most honest people in the world: They tell you they’re going to fool you, and then they do it.
James Randi left the world a better place than how he found it. May he rest in peace and may his teachings live on.
If you’re not familiar, type his name into YouTube and watch him do his thing, watch the documentary about his life, read an obituary, or check out this podcast interview The Skeptics Guide To The Universe just reposted. Randi was a remarkable human being.