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Here is a claim made by former Harvard professor and later spiritual teacher and author Ram Dass (born Richard Alpert) in a YouTube video and in an article on his web-site

Ram Dass visited a Hindu guru Neem Karoli Baba in India. Dass's mother had died six months earlier after her enlarged spleen was removed. The day before meeting Baba, Dass went outside under night sky and thought of his mother.

The next day Dass meets Baba, who told him:

Then he closed his eyes for a second and he said, "you were out under the stars thinking of your mother last night".

Then he leaned forward really close to me and in English, which was bizarre, because he never spoke English later, he said, “Spleen,” and I fell apart.

The video presents a translator as an eye witness of the event. American yogi Bhagavan Das also appears in the video, claiming to have made Ram Dass visit Neem Karoli Baba, but is unclear whether he was present during the event.

Did Neem Karoli Baba read the thoughts of Ram Dass?

  • This Ramdaas story bothers me till day youtube.com/watch?v=pjGmn-iR08k. Neither can I accept it as a skeptic nor can I reject due to credibility of Richard Alpert an ex Harvard professor in the incident. – PAS Jul 29 at 17:48
  • Being a professor at a university doesn't automatically make you infallible, or give the ability to detect intentional deception. Along with that, Ram Dass seems rather friendly towards all the hocus pocus, making him more likely to fall for deception in that direction. – JRE Jul 30 at 6:15
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    This is by no means an answer, and I am not sure how one can verify or debunk an anecdote, but this is entirely possible with a bit of warm and cold reading. It would strike me impossible that nobody close to Ram Dass knew about his mother, it only took one person to tell the yogi (warm) and the only thing he had to do was to guess that his mother was still on his mind (cold). Notice how he didn't add a specific period in his statement, it wasn't "you were thinking of your mother just now/last night". If he thought of her a couple of days earlier it would still count as a "hit". – Jordy Jul 30 at 6:16
  • @Jordy, Ramdas says "Then he said you were out under the stars thinking of your mother last night" see this part again if you wish youtu.be/pjGmn-iR08k?t=396 – PAS Jul 30 at 12:47
  • @Jordy, sorry someone messed up the question. I fixed it up. – PAS Jul 30 at 12:55
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The most we can say is that this looks like classic "cold reading".

  • The fact that Dass's mother had died was presumably a matter of public record. It is quite possible that Baba knew this, and also knew how she had died. A cold reader would make a point of finding out such things.

  • The account on the website says that he had to go outside to use the toilet. Presumably Baba knew that his visitors would be staying at a hotel with an outside toilet, so its a logical inference that Dass would have gone outside during the night.

  • Put the two things together, and "you were outside thinking of your mother" is a reasonable guess.

In addition, we don't get to see a representative sample of Baba's performance; a story like this is memorable because he got it right. If he had got it wrong we would not know about it. This is an example of survivor bias.

Of course, none of this proves that Baba is merely a cold reader rather than a psychic, but it also shows why you shouldn't accept such stories at face value.

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    At 3:37 Alpert says "In going to India, I was looking for somebody who could read the maps of my consciousness." So he was primed for a 'result' and Baba may have known that visiting westerners can have expectations, and that people travelling in the mountains, away from light pollution, would be amazed at the sight of the Milky Way. If he had been told about Alpert's mother, that could account for him saying "spleen" in English, perhaps a word he did not know, and it was not actually "bizarre, because he never spoke English later," at all. – Weather Vane Jul 30 at 14:22
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    There are many more stories... but this one was the important one. I glad, I put the question here! – PAS Jul 30 at 15:09
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    Pedantry: Your first point is Hot Reading, which is a variant of Cold Reading. – Oddthinking Jul 31 at 7:07
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    Also, a big point that helps cold readers is that the human memory is very malleable. It's a well documented effect that people who visit cold readers exaggerate the accuracy of the reading. So "I see a close family member whose name starts with M" can easily be remembered as "Your brother Michael is here". Very plausible that something similar happened here. – Jordy Jul 31 at 7:51

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