The Rainbow Ruse

Featured image is “The Fortune Teller,” by Simon Vouet.

The “rainbow ruse” is a cold reading technique in which the reader first assigns the subject a personality trait, and then assigns its opposite. For example, one might say, “You can be a spontaneous person, but in your private life you tend to stick to a routine that works.” Or, “You see yourself as an open-minded person, but you tend to dispense with bad arguments quickly.”

Crude examples of the rainbow ruse are easy to spot as nonsense, but the more skilled a person is in cold reading, the better that person can craft tailor-made rainbow ruse statements to gain the subject’s confidence and leave him or her with the impression of having been deeply and profoundly understood.

The matter is even further complicated by the fact that, when it comes to personality traits, everyone exemplifies pretty much every trait under the right set of circumstances. We all enjoy some sort of routine, and we all enjoy some level of spontaneity; we all value open-mindedness of some sort, and we can all be close-minded about certain other matters. If we don’t realize we’re being cold-read, rainbow ruse statements won’t likely raise any alarms for us since there is always a sense in which every rainbow ruse statement is true. Cold readers know this and use rainbow ruses specifically for this reason; after all, if the statements weren’t true “in a certain sense,” the technique wouldn’t work.

Understanding and resisting cold reading techniques is a valuable life skill in its own right, but if you’ve read much of my blogging output, you’ve probably already realized why rainbow ruses are of specific interest to me. I spend a fair amount of time blogging about paradoxes and psychological defense mechanisms.

Paradoxes are defined (per Wikipedia) as follows: “A paradox is a statement that contradicts itself and yet might be true (or wrong at the same time).”

Meanwhile, The Last Psychiatrist has this to say about defense mechanisms:

All psychological defenses have a common structure: that two legitimate but contradictory beliefs are held simultaneously, one consciously, one unconsciously, alternating variously.  That way all possibilities are covered.  Change is neutralized.

What do paradoxes, defense mechanisms, and rainbow ruse statements all have in common? They all involve assigning a subject both a description and the opposite of its description.

If somebody duped you with a rainbow ruse, you’d feel pretty ashamed. Not only did you get duped, but you were duped in a way that preyed on your tendency to look for good qualities in yourself. Paradoxes are much easier on the ego because they are typically presented as games of logic. Defense mechanisms exist for the sole purpose of defending the ego, so to the extent that we are even aware that we have them, we actually quite like them.

Still, at the end of the day, whether by knowledge or by faith, we admit to ourselves that paradoxes are nonsense, defense mechanisms are evidence of underlying psychological problems, and rainbow ruse statements are nothing more than confidence games.

If we’re ever going to make any real progress synthesizing the information in our individual lives and processing it in a way that leaves us happy and unconflicted, we’ll want to purge paradoxes, rainbow ruse statements, and defense mechanisms from our thinking, and especially from our philosophy.


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