A Disproof of Rationalism?
Several weeks ago, I came across a website for someone diagnosing and curing "ayin hara" via lead-pouring (Bleigießen). Now, as regular readers know, I don't believe that these things have any validity. I carefully researched the topic of ayin hara, and wrote a study of the topic, and I think that ayin hara is nothing more than an outdated belief (and it should be noted that Rambam did not accept its existence, at least not according to its classical definition).
Furthermore, the idea that pouring lead could cure or even diagnose an "ayin hara" was preposterous. Bleigießen, otherwise known as molybdomancy, is a medieval superstition with no value (and in fact the potential for considerable harm, via lead poisoning). It is clear that such soothsayers, with Rebbetzin Aidel Miller being the most famous, are not "reading" people's problem at all; instead, it is a combination of subconscious cold-reading by the practitioner (whereby they give vague guesses and are able to hone in according to the answers received) along with the Barnum effect working its magic upon the patient (whereby people are inclined to give a favorable interpretation to such diagnoses).
But this website particularly took my interest. The person advertising this service, Rabbi Daniel Hool of London, was someone who I vaguely knew from yeshivah a quarter-century ago. I remembered him as an extremely intelligent and straight person, and I was (and still am) certain that he is not deliberately deceiving anyone. So I reached out to him, sent him my study of the topic, and recommended that he switch to using tin, so as to avoid lead poisoning.
We got into a discussion. Rabbi Hool said that he can't use tin, because it doesn't have the correct metaphysical properties. He then made a staggering claim of an efficiency rate of around 80% in diagnosing problems using lead-pouring.
So I decided to conduct a little experiment, to prove to him that he had no such power. I would have him work his magic for someone that I name. I would only give him the person's Hebrew name, and there would thus be no possibility of his engaging in cold-reading. And it would be someone with a very specific problem, so that there is no way to succumb to the Barnum effect.
Rabbi Hool agreed, and furthermore said that I only need to pay if he is correct. The only condition that he made, which is one for every case he takes on, is that I had to take upon myself a small and realistic acceptance to do some kind of improvement in my Avodas Hashem. Fine!
So I gave him the Hebrew name of someone that I know well. There was absolutely no way for him to know the person's real identity. And I didn't tell him anything at all about her. She was suffering from a problem with her right shoulder and arm, with the cause not yet diagnosed, as well as an extremely sore throat and an anxiety issue. I looked forward to showing Rabbi Hool that his imagined powers were not real.
Within a few hours, I received a response from him. Here it is, exactly as I received it from him:
Ok, so she had plenty of ayin horah and I dealt with it the best of my ability.... The lead tells me she has an issue with her head around about nose height.- that could be internal or external. She also seems to be suffering from headaches maybe towards the back of her head on the right.... There was also signs of either problem with right shoulder area or she is having stress from a close family member at the moment....
That was NOT the result that I expected!
How did he get the right shoulder correct?! (And anxiety could be described as in issue in her head.) Was that just an extremely lucky guess? (I told him that he wrong about the headaches, so he went to check the lead again, and said that he thinks it's actually a sore throat!)
I was extremely unnerved by this, so I ran the test with him a second time. This time, his hits were significantly less accurate than with the first patient. But he still correctly named one of the issues.
Since then, I've been engaged in a lengthy back-and-forth with him. When I pointed out how he missed several things, he countered that not every problem with a person is necessarily caused by ayin horah, and that if the ayin horah shows on a body part and there is no physical issue with that body part, then the ayin horah is still there but it is affecting another non-physical area of their life.
My counter-claim is that he is thereby setting it up such that he can never be disproved. And it's so easy for the Barnum effect to work here - most adults, especially the kind that feel they have an ayin hara, are suffering from lower back pain and various other ailments. Furthermore, seeing as he predicts five or six things with every patient, out of a potential list of around twenty body parts at the most, he is statistically going to hit the mark enough times for the Barnum effect to work its magic.
To this, Rabbi Hool responds that his hits are frequent and specific enough to discount the Barnum effect. He has been sending me accounts of many of the procedures that he does. Here is one recent example:
So this lady comes to me a few minutes ago and tells me she has terrible problems with her sinuses before the procedure. I do her procedure and tell her: ''It's much worse on your right side than the left- correct?'' She says "absolutely!'' I then tell her she has a "problem with her left arm"- She says ''absolutely!'' I then tell her she has internal problem/indigestion chest left side -she says ''Absolutely!'' I then tell her she has lower back pain right side she says ''Absolutely!''. This- after telling me nothing other than she has a 'problem with her sinuses.' So you still think "statistically" anyone can do this???
Well, I'm still skeptical. And I think that there's a lot of flexibility being employed in confirming successes here, along with patients who are very eager to validate the procedure. But on the other hand, I'm also still a little unnerved by the shoulder thing!
On the whole, I'm inclined to implement the two-headed rhino principle. Which is more likely - that he has the ability to diagnose and heal physical ailments via the pattern of cooling lead (with all the ramifications that this has for our entire understanding of existence), or that I am somehow not grasping the cold-reading/Barnum effect in action? I think it's the latter.
Rabbi Hool has documented many of the cases that he does, on his website. I invite people to read the list (bearing in mind that he is an honest person, although still obviously biased to interpret situations favorably, as are his patients). You can also try his services, via email (he accepts payment via Paypal). If you do so, please first make a list of exactly what you suffer from, leaving nothing out!
(To obtain my monograph on the topic, see the post "The Surprising History of Ayin Hara")