Logic says that crystal gazers really aren’t all they’re cracked up to be

I was pleased to read in the paper the other day that the San Francisco Zoo had recaptured its two runaway monkeys simply by putting out a bunch of bananas in a trap.

For six weeks the mother monkey and her infant had been roaming the city, eluding capture, foraging in parks and backyards, and evidently subsisting happily on what they could find.

When they first went over the wall, so to speak, zoo director Saul Kitchener went after them with a net, like a keeper in a comic movie. The monkeys easily gave him the slip.

Then they hired a primatologist--I suppose that’s an expert in primates, which monkeys (and human beings) are--but she wasn’t any more successful.

It was Kitchener who finally decided to try bananas.

This charming urban adventure, so much more fun than chasing felons, reached its high point of silliness when Louise Renne, a San Francisco supervisor, invited the town psychics to locate the missing monkeys by psychic power.


Several psychics, of which San Francisco, like Los Angeles, has a plethora, called in tips, including one who advised the supervisor that the monkeys were at that moment eating ravioli in a neighborhood bar.

Kitchener’s idea of setting a trap with bananas reminds me of the classic story of the truck that got stuck in an underpass, resisting every effort to free it by its driver, the police, and emergency crews. Finally a little boy came along and asked them why they didn’t just let the air out of the tires.

Fugitive monkeys are like fugitive people. They are very likely to go back to their favorite haunts, or their usual employment, or to seek out their favorite diversions.

Detective fiction novelist Ed McBain writes in “Eight Black Horses,” his newest, “If a person is an armed robber and he moves to another state, chances are he’ll continue the pursuit of his chosen career. He will not, for example, suddenly become a used-car salesman or a television producer, however similar to felony violators those two professionals might be. He will, instead, buy himself a gun that isn’t hot--which is easy to come by in any city in the United States--find himself a mom-and-pop grocery store, and stick it up one fine night. . . .”

Ergo, armed robbers look for mom-and-pop grocery stores; monkeys look for bananas. That isn’t an exact parallel, but it gives you the idea.

Meanwhile, Robert Paneco of San Diego writes to reproach me for my disbelief in noting “that San Francisco has enough problems without trusting its affairs to a supervisor who believes in psychics.”

He says: “There’s a great difference between healthy skepticism and willful ignorance, and I fear your exaggerated, stereotyped attack on psychic phenomena suggests a heavy personal investment in denial.

“Sure, there’s a lot we don’t know about how it all works, but all you need to have is one psychic tell you the complete name of your best friend in fourth grade or explain the reason for the move you made from Cincinnati to Utah in 1975, to know that there is more than is dreamed of in your philosophy, Horatio, and that there is indeed something important going on here. . . .”

If a psychic could tell me the name of my best friend in fourth grade it would indeed surprise me, since I don’t happen to remember the name of my best friend in fourth grade myself.

If I am ignorant it is not willful, since I am eager to hear of paranormal demonstrations that are beyond doubt. To prove that we can send psychic messages to one another would be an exciting scientific discovery, even though I would regard any such ability with misgivings. It would mean the end of amiable human intercourse.

Perhaps I do tend to reinforce my doubts by reading The Skeptical Inquirer, the journal of the CSICOP (Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, Box 229, Central Park Station, Buffalo, N.Y. 14215).

The journal publishes reports of scientific studies made of such paranormal phenomena as telepathy, psychokinesis, and precognition--the ability to foretell the future.

No demonstrations of such faculties have ever been reproduced under scientific conditions, and the standing $10,000 offer made by magician James Randi for any person who can demonstrate one of them remains unclaimed.

As for psychics, if they could foresee the future, why would they waste their time making predictions for supermarket newspapers and counseling movie stars?

They could get rich investing in the stock market or betting on the horses. They might even find a place in the government, telling us what the Russians are thinking. Of course I wouldn’t be too surprised to find out that the present Administration does have a psychic or two on its team.

I don’t have $10,000 to risk on the possibility that there isn’t more out there than is dreamed of in our philosophy. But I’ll bet Paneco a Big Mac and a Coke that if any psychic can foresee the future it is only a result of common sense, a grasp of the probabilities, or luck.

In the absence of psychic phenomena, we will have to go on living our normal lives. The government will have to guess what the Russians are going to do, on the basis of our intelligence, and we will all have to go on wondering what our husbands and wives and our employers really think of us.

And they will have to go on wondering what we think of them.

Thank God.