When I was 14 my uncle read my palm. He told me that I would live a long life, but with a lot of misery. I would have many partners before I found one to settle down with, if I ever managed to keep a relationship going at all. I would have two children. I wouldn’t find a career until I was in my 30s, and it would be in a field of “creative fantasy.” I would have some terrible injury or sickness at some point that would affect the lower half of my body, but I shouldn’t worry about it because I couldn’t avoid it and I would eventually recover. My heart is stronger than my head.
Fortunes and personality traits have been read in people's physical attributes since pre-history. Phrenology was based on the 18th century idea that the brain was composed of a set of 27 organs and that each organ was associated with a mental ability or personality trait. Franz Joseph Gall, a German neuroanatomist, believed that the growth and development of these organs could be felt in the lumps and bulges of the skull. He mapped the characteristics of what he believed to be, for example, a criminal skull. Scientists had mostly discredited phrenology by the 1840s, but in the meantime, countless people had been judged according to the shape of their heads.
Thinking back on the reading I find it obscene. I don’t believe in palm reading anymore, but at the time I believed in it completely. As a result I didn’t take my first long-term relationship seriously, “knowing” it would end and there would be a few more to get through before I found the right person. I could flip-flop through my 20s with no direction, because I wouldn’t work out what I wanted to do till I was 30 anyway. I didn’t know if I wanted kids, but it looked like I was having them. I found it difficult not to worry about the terrible thing that was going to happen to my lower body.
Palm-reading is not all that different to phrenology. The appearance of my palm became a self-fulfilling prophecy. I felt trapped by my own hands, which told me about a future I didn’t want, but felt I had no choice in. Pseudoscience can seem harmless, but it can under some circumstances dictate the lives of those who truly believe it.