As a principled mentalist whose only intention is to deceive,
here is my take on this...
What Is Mentalism?
My definition of mentalism has two parts:
- Magic is appearing to do the impossible. Mentalism is actually doing the improbable. Magic inspires the howl, "How did you do that?" Mentalism inspires the question, "How did you know that?" A magician offers a dazzling show for your eyes. A mentalist is your tour guide of the imagination.
- Mentalism consists of knowing. Magic in doing. The response a magician receives is, "How did you do that?" The mentalist, "How did you know that?"
When deciding whether a performance is "magic" or "mentalism," a simple question you can ask yourself is, "Could this happen by chance?" In other words, is this something that should happen only 1 in a 1000 times--but he's doing it again and again. Or is this something that should never happen according to the known laws of physics?
Lets take an example of the most common card trick known to man: the magician divines a lost playing card. Everyone thinks of this as a magic trick. Really, it's a mentalism feat. No magic happens. How do we know the difference? Ask yourself, if he were blindfolded, and reached forward to pluck a card from the spread of 52 cards, would he likely grab my card given a hundred attempts? The answer is a resounding Yes. Odds are he would, given a hundred attempts, find your one card out of 52. What makes it astounding isn't that the mentalist correctly guessed the card once, but that he does so repeatedly, whenever called to do so.
What, then, is a magic trick? Here is a good example: The Linking Rings. Several solid steel rings seem to melt through one another. Over and over again. That's not just an unlikely coincidence. That's altogether impossible.
Whereas magic can be very surprising, even shocking; mentalism's advantage is that it leaves people thinking long after the event. No matter how astonishing the magic trick, a person can tell themselves several things to get them to stop thinking of it. It must have been sleight of hand, I know it was just an illusion, Maybe I was distracted and missed something.
People are slower to dismiss the mind-farming machinations of a master mentalist. Consider the following video of a very simple demonstration from the year 2000 (yes, that's me):
When I was 12 years old, in the library I read a book by the Amazing Kreskin on how to condition your mind so that you can approximate what Kreskin does on stage. Even with the limited awareness of a 12 year old, I felt disappointed in Kreskin's methods.
But what Kreskin lacked in his lame methods he made up for in his showmanship and ability to inspire people. Mentalism's greatest aspiration is arousing in people the infinite possibilities of the focused human mind, will, and consciousness; possibilities that have fascinated people for thousands of years and which science continues to explore.
A person can pass as a magician without having much of a personality so long as his tricks don't suck. Mentalism is the reverse. A mentalist must be likeable, charismatic, polite, charming, and courteous for his performance to entertain. Having cultivated these traits, the mentalist can leave his audience with an positive experience that will echo for the rest of their lives.
There are other ways of approaching the subject, but the simplest approach is to present mentalisrn from the above view. Mentalism conveyed as "just beyond current human understanding" is thus designed to amaze audiences by provoking a sense of wonder within them. Even most of those who are skeptical secretly desire the experience of witnessing something uncanny.
These are the experiences that leave one feeling ready, alive, and real. Or simply empowered. Through my work as a mentalist, I believe it is possible to deliver experiences which cause your audiences to feel this. But for this to happen, everything has to line up just right.
Mentalism must be psychologicaIIy convincing. So the ride the mentalist must take his audience on should ultimately represent the feeling that one might get when experiencing some kind of strange mind power or frenetic, inspired moment.
Remember...It's Not All Mindreading
When people go see a mentalism event, they often refer to the performer as a "mind reader." In the performance field of mentalism, there are effects that are mind reading, and other effects that have that "brainy" flavor but are not, strictly speaking, mind reading. Many effects that look like mind reading on the surface in fact are based on influence (the performer influences or forces the participant to think of XYZ, then the mentalist pretends to read the participant's mind).
Let's take a closer look...
To be clear, I do not claim any psychic abilities--there are enough people who do that for me.
I use the psychological cues that audience members naturally leak and a bit of verbal kung fu to accomplish what seems like mind reading. In short, I'm using only my five senses: the sixth is an illusion.
Having two participants coincidentally (or inevitably?) somehow think of the same word is interesting mentalism. But that is engineer coincidences, not mind reading. The effect as perceived by the audience was a unique coincidence.
Consider the familiar mentalistic demonstration of rapid calculation.
Clearly impressive in your event, but not mind reading.
There are prediction effects. These, too, are clearly impressive, but not mind reading. To achieve a stellar prediction, the performer does not need the ability to read minds. He only needs to know the future. Predictions are undoubtedly the most outlandish premise to present.
There are also telekinetic (also called "psychokinetic") demonstrations, where the mentalist bends metal objects such as coins or spoons, apparently without force. I and other strict mentalists like Derren Brown and Patrick Jane disavow such vulgar demonstrations. They are closely associated with underhandedness, serve only to twist the thread suspending disbelief, and can border on outright vandalism.
I am not the best mentalist (or even in the top three), but I intend to show you how a mentalist reads minds. Before I share it with you, we need get some definitions out of the way...
It’s important to understand the difference between method and effect. Most people don't bother to think about it.
The term "effect" is often confused with “method.” Either can be seductive and either can be uninteresting. I'll go into a bit more depth in another post.
The reason it’s worth mentioning here is that, though the effect might be “coincidence,” or “prediction,” the method is often mind reading with something else tossed in (not necessarily authentic mind reading, or authentic anything, but once you can read a mind, you can present that in a variety of ways, effect-wise).
Want to know a secret? A clean prediction is the most arresting, memorable, and certainly impossible achievement available to the mentalist. Ironically, it is also the easiest to achieve (in my opinion). Surely it is more impossible to know the future than to know a stranger’s thoughts, yes?
Despite this, I personally strive to achieve the effect of mind reading, because this is--though more possible and believable than foresight--more challenging, practically speaking.
Some of the best effects are so spellbinding that the gasps give way to dumb, open-mouth expressions. It can be moving and personal. One is like a transient cologne that smells wonderful for a short while but fades an hour later; the other is like a slow-burn oil whose aroma lingers even after several bubble baths.
It's possible to achieve both, and it's possible to fail at both.
...in under a minute.
You Can't Read My Mind...I'm Unpredictable
Honestly, I knew you we're thinking that.
Still not convinced?
Either way, the logical objection to all mentalism effects is,
If you can really read minds,
if you know the future, why are you using this fantastic ability
to entertain us humans? Why not win the lottery or do something useful?
For the following reasons:
- The reliability of some methods tends to diminish as the personal stakes increase.
- The theoretical measurement obtained from mind reading in real time by a weak rotation of pi divided by two precludes doing most things useful.
(It's not that difficult to get your head around).
- The deal I made with these evil spirits on my shoulder
prohibits playing the lottery or any such distasteful abuse of my power.
We've all done it.
It's Not Simple Telepathy
Just as a magician uses one or a dozen mechanical techniques at his disposal either to force you to "choose" a playing card, or discover a card you freely selected, so the mentalist may be using one or a dozen cognitive artifices to read your thoughts.
At this point you probably realize that a mentalist does not read a mind like a book.
Sometimes it's that straightforward, but often, even usually, he needs a more reliable method. The larger the audience, the more reliable the method must be. Why would a mentalist performing a stage show night after night depend on a statistical 85% or 90% tendency? Every show must be performed as if it's his last.
The higher the stakes, same thing.
Reading a thought is more like reading a single, blurry word from a book while wearing sunglasses--or even seeing an image that's related to a word in a book, a book that's hanging in a cloud.
What Does An Ashtray Have to Do with A Bridal Gown, And What Does A Bridal Gown Have in Common with A Portobello Mushroom?
Ask that question of a dozen mentalists and you'll get a dozen different answers.
Before addressing that question, let's finish this blog post.
The Physical Nature of Thoughts
You wouldn't try to read a page from a book if you couldn't even open the book to the table of contents.
Like books, thoughts are physical. A word is a formation of letters, and a thought is a form of ideas. Like a face, every thought has necessary features in a necessary harmony. The variety of human faces is infinite, and each unique. Subtle alterations in the mouth, nose, eyes, can effect an expression of joy or grief. But even the two most different faces you can think of are more similar to each other than they are to a hand. The same can be said of thoughts.
It has been said that thoughts are not linear, and that they do not happen one at a time. On close examination this is not true. Thoughts may seem chaotic, irrational, and non-linear, but they seems that way only when you don't understand why the thoughts popped into your head. Unless someone practice deliberate concentration, almost all thoughts you think throughout your day are uninvited. You did not invite them and, to be sure, some are unwelcome. One thought that seems "random" actually bubbled up into your brain because of a previous related thought. The knowledge of the relation of your first thought to the next thought is often, even usually, elusive; but it is there if you think about it.
Mentalists are best served by developing a set of precise skills for shaping thoughts into articulate communication. The ways that the mentalist will use these skills are as unique to the particular mentalist and the particular participant, as are the vast number of individual impulses and conscious choices that a mentalist makes in the course of building a performance. Because the skills are still separable from one another, they allow the mentalist to vary them to meet any demand on stage.
When reading thoughts or shifting someone's thoughts, mileage varies according to the participant's focus and memory, and according to the mentalist's skill level.
The vast majority of people can focus their attention on one thought for mere seconds.
When they finally do concentrate, even that image is partially wiggly. This is why an experiment in mentalism can often appear labored and sputtery in contrast to a magic trick.
Everything Is Mind Reading
Sounds stupid, right? Think about it like this...
Aside from the telekinesis effects, the prediction and strange coincidence effects are often just a creative wedding between mind reading and influence, or a corporate union between mind reading and mechanical chicanery--in disguise.
For instance, on the surface, what appears to be an uncanny coincidence of two participants thinking of the same number may, under the surface, be discernment plus influence.
It's pretty obvious when you think about it.
When instructed to think of a number, two people never think of the same number simultaneously. One invariably thinks of a number before the other does. The mentalist has only to discern the number of the first participant then subtly force the next participant to think of the same number. Elementary!
But there's one small catch...
Reliable mind reading must be always achieved in one of two ways
(or sometimes, a combination of both).
The Two Method-Classes of Mentalism
Mind reading cannot happen outside these classes:
The mentalist forces or influences the participant to think of XYZ thought from an apparently infinite universe of options, and the challenge for him is to achieve the illusion of a free decision.
This is like a magician or illusionist levitating--the challenge is not in figuring out how to float unsuspended, the challenge is to figure out how to hide the magnet, or render the cables invisible, or prove there are no wires or forklifts, etc.
- The mentalist permits a genuinely free choice from a truly infinite universe of options—such as imaginations of the past or memories of the future—and then, somehow via a variety of principles and techniques, discovers the free thought.
You have two choices: Force your participant to think of the thought you will pretend to discern (the real trick here is creating the illusion of a free choice), or stand perfectly still as your participant thinks of a genuinely freely thought of thought (the real trick here is discerning the thought in any number of ways).
Stay with me, this gets better...
A combination of the above is, to my mind, the cleverest approach, which is to invisibly restrict the participant to decide on a thought from an apparently infinite--but really limited--constellation of options; then, either subtly force the outcome or (somehow) discover the choice.
There are too many techniques to get into here and I've already written more than most will read, so I won't bore you with the nuts and bolts.
The above are your two definite and exhaustive classes of methods.
Now, what about some secret techniques
you can go out and use today?
Since this is my first blog post,
it wouldn't be fair to the future readers to include such secrets.
Moreover, it wouldn't be fair to all the hard-working fraudulent mediums out there who are using some of the techniques on the vulnerable for personal gain.
Why am I doing this?
This is my first blog post and out of many thousands, you are among the select group of my first readers. Congratulations.
Naming this blog "epiblog" is oxymoronic, but it's not.
I can see that some of you are now in the future, and you are among my last readers.
Be honest. Is discovering this first post the single greatest honor you have ever received?
You have read this far (and you are still reading).
I apologize for making this post so long,
but I didn't have time to make it any shorter.