The first time I heard the expression, “shut eye,” was from Orson Welles in an interview with Dick Cavett. Like most of Cavett’s legendary interviews, it’s great and Welles is a brilliant storyteller. I’ve pinpointed the relevant moment in a YouTube clip here: https://youtu.be/IjPsnfysrp8?t=1m37s and I suggest you give it a look if you’ve never seen it.
I start off with this because I not only believe the writers of the recent Hulu series were inspired by it, but also because it showcases, in brief, the main psychological problem most of us have with going to psychics and magicians in this day and age. We want to believe but, at the same time, our common sense tells us that none of it is real.
So we wind up with a kind of cognitive dissonance, our creative / imaginative selves saying it sure feels real and our critical / socially conditioned selves saying if I can’t see it, hold it in my hand, or measure it, it’s fake. Scientific materialism extends this sense of “fraudulence” to include things like dreams, the imagination, ideas, feelings, and the meaning of art—all of it considered unreal by consensus culture or, at least, far less real than the turkey sandwich I just ate for lunch.
And if you doubt any of this, imagine someone has a daughter. Who would that person probably want the girl to someday marry—a mechanical engineer or the lead singer in a band? Why? What if it came down to a musician or a psychic medium? Why now? If you say “earning potential,” I suggest you look deeper. If you say “respectability,” you’re getting closer. If you say, “well, an engineer will have a more stable life than the lead singer in some band,” you’re almost there. If you say, “an engineer does something that matters,” you’re red hot. It’s only a small step from “what matters” to “what’s true.” Engineer = produces measurable things or services / matters / true. Musician = produces less measurable things / matters far less / less true. Psychic = does not produce measurable things or services / doesn’t matter / false.
Essentially, it’s Plato vs. Aristotle. Plato says that truth exists and, if we open our eyes to it, we will then be able to distinguish what’s real from what’s false—what’s outside the cave vs. what’s just a shadow projected onto the wall. Aristotle responds that since we’ve been given sight (and other physical senses), we should start the waking-up process with what we can see (perceive) and go from there.
So back to Orson Welles talking about cold reading and pretending to be a fortune teller. He tells Dick Cavett that when a medium or a card reader starts to get very experienced, he just knows things about the people coming in because he has seen it all before. He seems able to read minds, but he’s actually just making very accurate educated guesses, given that the same sorts of people come to him over and over.
A fake psychic becomes a “shut eye” when he thinks his educated guesses mean he has “true” psychic powers. Welles is using Plato’s argument: there’s the truth (you’re not actually psychic; you’re just making accurate educated guesses based on experience with people) and the false world of untrue shadows projected on the wall of the cave (you’re a psychic because you have powers). This might be the basis of our current fetish for scientific materialism (scientism): science says that there is the truth (what we can physically measure) and untruth (what we can’t measure).
But then Aristotle walks on stage and asks, isn’t it important to examine what we’re actually seeing and feeling? In other words, if Orson Welles is merely pretending to be a psychic but tells us something in a tarot reading that changes our lives, shouldn’t that mean something? Shouldn’t we examine that “on its face”? If we agree with Aristotle, then maybe whether the psychic medium is a “shut eye” or not is less important than how we feel as a result of the reading. Maybe our truth, what’s important and meaningful to us, starts in what we individually, subjectively perceive and how we feel.
One of my personal heroes, Ramsey Dukes, talks about the Plato-Aristotle divide at length in several of his YouTube videos. I share this very brief clip, entitled “You think you are not clairvoyant?” because it’s short and makes his point; though, I recommend all of his books and videos. He’s truly a master magician and a very wise man.
Here he asks the question, could it be real if I imagined it? He seems to think it could if, by “real,” we mean “having meaning.” In this, Dukes is a proponent of Aristotle, not Plato. And so, incidentally, am I.
So what about Hulu’s Shut Eye? One of the reasons I like this series is that it starts out in Platonic waters: fraudulent mediums are liars and conmen taking the money of gullible people for the Gypsy mafia. At best, they’re like stage magicians. At worst, they’re emotional manipulators and thieves.
There is absolutely no doubt that people like this exist in the world. And the show, like the Welles interview, is entertaining. But as spiritual and magical people, we may be offended by the assumption that, as the psychiatrist in the show puts it, this is all “bullshit”—which is ironic, considering that she believes in quantum states, god, saints, prophets, and the possibility that an individual could have knowledge and conversation with the world from within the context of “zero-point energy.” In my opinion, we will only be offended if we’re still controlled by the Platonic true-untrue dichotomy. This is what we can learn from Shut Eye—how to keep Plato from overtaking Aristotle in our minds and vice-versa.
We can say, along with most scientists, Orson Welles, Darren Brown, Obersturmbannführer Dawkins, and Plato that we can know about the physical world through measuring it and experimenting based on those measurements. As a result of this, when it comes to material things, we can determine what is objectively true and what is objectively false.
But we can also say, along with Ramsey Dukes, Madame Zelda, the psychic medium down the street who gives tarot readings for $100 a pop, and Aristotle that what you feel and what it means to you is what is subjectively true. And there is a lot of value in that. Sometimes there is way more value in the subjective experience than in scientific objective data. Think about your favorite song or painting or movie. It’s not your favorite because you know the variance of the decibels, the chemical composition of the paint, or the way the scenes were blocked in the script.
You should watch Shut Eye if you have Hulu, especially if you’re a magically minded person, and think deeply about the message of the show. Ask yourself what you believe, what you care about, and what matters to you. It’s an important thing to do, especially if you feel yourself to be a spiritual person.