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David de Leon
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In another thread here at The Café (one of several on the guess-which-hand-has-the-coin effect) Alain Bellon makes an interesting aside on intentional failures in mentalism. A widely propagated idea is that occasional failures enhance the believability of a performer. The reasoning seems to be that if you occasionally get things wrong, then what you do can’t be a trick (for why would you purposefully get a trick wrong?). Mr. Bellon slyly asks us to consider other mental abilities, such as mental arithmetic, and whether we expect the expert adder to make occasional mistakes when adding two simple numbers.

In answer to Mr. Bellon, I would say that we would be surprised if the professional and expert mental mathematician made mistakes on simple sums, but less so if he was adding seven digit numbers together in his head. We would not be surprised at mistakes during a hard task because we know how much he would have to keep in his head and how difficult this would be. We know this, of course, because we have done addition ourselves.

Furthermore, in the case of a very complex addition a mistake might convince us that the adder wasn’t surreptitiously using a computer to do the adding for him. The implications for mentalism are obvious, but instructive:

• Some mistakes can help rule out (or, at least, make less compelling) competing explanations of the phenomena being exhibited.

• Mistakes should make some sort of sense, that is, they should be explainable in terms of the ability being demonstrated.

So some, but not all, mistakes help rule out trickery, and I think they do so more effectively if they make sense. They make sense if:

• There is a good reason for the mistake. A good reason might be, as we saw, that the task is hard. You then need to know why it is hard. What is hard depends on how it is that you supposedly do what you do (what the process is that underlies the feats you perform).

• The nature of the mistake is of a kind that is explainable in terms of the performer’s ability. If, for instance, mind reading is like seeing, then the mistakes should be visual in nature. You might mistake a three for a five, but are less likely to mistake a three for a four, even though these are numerically closer (of course, if your powers work in a way that is nothing like vision, then mistaking a three for a four might be the more likely mistake for you to make).

• Alternative explanations for the mistake are ruled out. A couple of alternatives to rule out are: that you simply messed the trick up, or that the mistake is there for dramatic reasons.

You can rule out the you-messed-up explanation of the mistake if it makes sense (in terms of when it happens, why it happens, and how it happens) and if you are convincing in everything else that you do. As for ruling out the it-was-done-for dramatic-reason explanation you might avoid those kinds of mistakes altogether, or offer some very good reasons for them. Let me end with an example to make it clearer what I mean.

A not uncommon dramatic structure is to read several people together (say ten people, each thinking of a different card), but to have trouble with just one person, but to get that person at the very end. This is perhaps good drama, but it is also very obvious to the audience that your difficulties are feigned. To make it more believable you could provide some reasons for why a person is causing you trouble, and then good reasons for why you finally succeed.

Why is one person causing you trouble? To get beyond the ”you are a tough one sir,” which is not a real explanation, we could pick a person to have difficulties with that we have had difficulty with earlier (this is still not a proper explanation, but provides a reason for why a particular person is proving difficult to read). It could also help if there is something you could point to, some property of the person (perhaps they are wearing a copper bracelet, or suffering from jet lag. What counts as a good reason depends on how it is that your powers work) that would explain your difficulties.

[An aside: wouldn’t it be nice if you have trouble with just one individual and at the end you identify the cause of the trouble, and the identification is a revelation in itself (”You must be a Taurus, I always have trouble with that sign”)? Having removed the obstacle, you then succeed in your reading.]

When you finally succeed, why? What is the explanation for your delayed success? The trouble could lie with the performer: perhaps you need a rest, need to do a focusing exercise, or change the procedure in some way. Or the problem could be with the subject: perhaps you need to soften them up psychologically in some way to make them more transparent (you might have them to recite the alphabet backwards). Or there may be something in the situation: you are too far away from the person, you need to be touching, people in the audience need do some mental exercise. Some kind of explanation is needed for why you finally succeed.
shrink
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David: I think the best way to create the illusion realistically is to just pretend what you're doing is for real. And get into character. I don't think the audience needs any explanations or to analyze what you're doing.

I know when I do other work, such as creative work, I get blocks and periods where I flow and I will leave one piece and come back to it, etc. Sometimes I really struggle.

Think of mind reading as the same kind of creative process and relate it to other parts of your life where you have experienced this. Then you have something to draw from which will make it more convincing.

Part of the reason it will appear convincing is because the audience will be able to relate to the process of doing something creative. In other words, they can imagine being in your place. Smile
David de Leon
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Shrink, I very much like your suggestion of modelling mentalism on creativity: that the processes might look similar (if I am understanding you correctly). Very nice. And I agree with you that character is crucial.

I don’t think that failures (and how to get them right) are the key to believability, I was simply exploring what failures would need to be like if they are to add believability. Why bother? Because it is so often said that occasional mistakes somehow make a performer seem more like the real thing. So often that it has become a truism, and truisms are always worth re-examining.

Oh, another point I might need to make. I don’t think that the audience should be given outright ”explanations” or an ”analysis” of what is happening. But I do think that some forethought on the performer's part can contribute to making what he does make more sense.
Alan Munro
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Another thing that can make the mistakes more beliveable is a "silent script". I've found that it works well in controlling body language that can give me away.
Jim Reynolds
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Quote:
On 2003-03-13 19:02, shrink wrote:
David: I think the best way to create the illusion realistically is to just pretend what you're doing is for real. And get into character. I don't think the audience needs any explanations or to analys what your doing.

I know when I do other work such as creative work I get blocks and periods where I flow and I will leave one piece and come back to it etc. sometimes I really struggle...

Think of mind reading as the same kind of creative process and relate it to other parts of your life where you have experienced this. Then you have something to draw from which will make it more convincing.

Part of the reason it will appear convincing is because the audience will be able to relate tothe process of doing something creative. In other words they can imagine being in your place.


Why 'pretend' what you are doing is real? Why not really make an attempt to read someone's thoughts? You'll be more convincing since you are not really 'acting', and you just may surprise yourself with your accuracy.

You can always go back to your true method.

JR
Brady
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Hi David,

This is a good question, so here are my 2 cents.

A lot of what we do in mentalism feeds into, or maybe off of, an already existing mythology that is commonly accepted by most people about what real psychic abilities would look like. Within this set of beliefs is that "real" psychics are not always on target. Often times, even the best psychics are close, but they occasionally miss he target. The thing is that their "close" is soooo much closer than the "normal" person's guess, that this in itself is considered a hit.

Second, someone who is so powerful that he never misses is scary to the average person, if they believe he is real. By never missing you give people a reason to want to believe what they see is not real.

So by never missing, you go outside of the mythology and you scare people into hoping you are what you are--a fake.

As for the explanation for missing, I suggest you set that up in your introductory remarks. I use this wording, "Friends, we are now going to begin a short series of tests, exercises and experiments in the realm of psychic phenomena. I ask you to remember that this is not an exact science. So, if we succeed in an experiment, let me know we are on the same page with your applause. If one of our tests fail, well, we are all friends here, we can move on."

Beyond the statement, "this is not an exact science," nothing more needs to be said. IMHO

Regards,

Brady
shrink
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Quote:
Why 'pretend' what you are doing is real? Why not really make an attempt to read someone's thoughts? You'll be more convincing since you are not really 'acting', and you just may surprise yourself with your accuracy.

You can always go back to your true method.

JR


When you "pretend," you go into a kind of trance that allows information to flow from your unconscious. Method actors do this all the time. It's called "trance identification."

Much like children who have imaginary friends and can play for hours with a cardboard box.

Some actors actually have a problem coming out of this trance and stay in character longer than they would like.

Who knows, perhaps in this trance you may read minds for real. Smile
landmark
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I could be wrong here, but I think what Jim is getting at when he asks us to try actually mind reading is this:

By actually attempting to mind read, you are forced to deal with the issue of what mind reading might actually consist of. Really try it with a friend. Really. Use every resource you can. You must believe that it is possible to succeed. Really try. Now, what actions, what communication adjustments happened? What did you have to DO, internally and externally to get your friend's thought, or to send a thought to him? Now try it again, only try to be more successful. What adjustments are you making? What's happening to your breathing, your body temperature, your musculature? What are you noticing about your friend? The impressions you're receiving from your friend (don't worry about whether they're correct or not!) are reaching you in what manner? You're trying to be a more successful mind reader. Notice how you are continually adjusting your actions to whatever you notice about your friend. Write down everything that you did and felt. The objective you tried to achieve was to be a more successful mind reader. THAT"S what you must do with every audience member whose mind you attempt to read.

Let's take this as a given: mind reading, whatever it is, is an act of communication. And communication, to be believable on stage, can never be faked. An actor must REALLY talk and REALLY listen to his partner on stage to be believable. The trapeze artist really has to catch his partner every time. The mind reader really has to figure out how he's going to read the thoughts of THIS particular spectator at this THIS particular time.

I hope I've explained this in an understandable manner. It's not always easy, using the written word, to talk about the verbal and non-verbal communication that goes on between two people who are in each other's presences. I hope maybe some readers have gotten some idea as to where I'm going with this.

Thanks,
Jack Shalom
shrink
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Jack:

Mind reading is one of the patterns of Ericksonian hypnosis and is used widely NLP interventions. Also the inverse meta model or precision model to find out what "Actually" is in their mind by asking precise questions.

Pretending to do something can some times lead to being able to do something. Coming from the frame of pretend bypasses the critical faculty and allows you to get access to deeper resources. By "pretending" you may actually get better results than if you were "Trying for real".
bevbevvybev
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[quote]On 2003-03-14 14:52, shrink wrote:
Quote:
can play for hours with a cardboard box


Me then, and now Smile
landmark
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Shrink,

I think we may be saying the same or similar things, although I'm not familiar with the hypnosis terminology. My training, being from the theatre, tends to use that model of expression. Stanislavsky talked about the magic "If." Suppose the actor is sitting in front of a prop campfire. He would have to be psychotic to really believe that it was real; his imagination would rebel at being forced to believe something was true when it wasn't. The critical faculty would then interfere with his creation. However, by asking what he would really do IF the fire were real, it allows his imagination the freedom to answer that question truthfully. So let me re-word what I'm getting at: IF mind reading were possible, what would you be doing? Then that's what you need to be doing on stage.

But maybe you're saying more than that here, and I don't want to make false agreement . . .

Respectfully,
Jack
El_Lamo
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I am very new to this, but if you would allow me to add some thoughts... (Some of you may already know them - smiles)

1) I agree that people already have a base line about what the ability is and its limitations. Many people believe.

2) I agree that if you are too powerful, there is more desire to "bust you." People start too disbelieve.

So the quandary is how to do your entertainment for people who want to believe but don't want to be overwhelmed.

I would like to suggest a pulse theory. I have never read this, but I am sure it exists.

Instead of information coming in steady streams. Consider it flowing in pulses. Many people understand pulses - head aches, migraines, etc. The informations pulses towards you. It is filled (heavy) and you are attempting to filter it, to make sense of it, before you get pulsed again. The actual receiving of information interferes with your sorting work. (Picture someome working at the bottom of a conveyor belt with random stuff of different sizes coming at random times. It is an effort. Something that you work at, but it is tiring and takes its toll.

The other suggestion I would like to make is comparing it to bandwidth. When digital information is sent and received it depends on the bandwidth. A great deal of information can be sent but it depends on the size of the receiver. If the receiver is small then less bandwidth is used. The receiver may be huge, but if the sender (transmitter) is small then it starts small and stays small.

If we consider our senses (whatever number you choose - smiles) as the bandwidth, then some of us have larger and small receivers and transmitters.

Now as senders and recivers, unfortunately we do not have the same bandwidth (blame genetic code - smiles), so we make mistakes when dealing with data.

Maybe as we evolve... we will build the proper infrastructure so that the communication is better, but for now, we are limited to transmissions that are at times less than perfect.

Cheers - El Lamo
Life is a system of circumstance presented coincidently in an illusory way.
sjdavison
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Derren Brown and Richard Osterlind (and I'm sure others) have talked about this, as well as 'taking shots'. I agree that a deliberate near miss can make the rest of an act all the more powerful, but why not throw in the element of chance? Have a simple guess during an effect, and if you hit, then you have an absoulutely clean miracle, and if not, then it is the same as a deliberate miss anyway.
Just a thought,
Simon, 21, UK
Simon, 32, UK



www.sidavisonmagic.com
bevbevvybev
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My pencil reading for one ahead is about 75% accurate. If I do 5 numbers, I'll get 3 dead on and two I'll either get a 6 & 9 mixed up, or a zero and a 6 mixed up.

The fact that you are nearly all correct really gets the specs brain ticking over. If it were perfect it would just be a trick and the spec wouldn't think. But the closeness...
drosenbe0813
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I don't know about you guys, but my wife hates the idea that I am 'wrong' sometimes. She says it just looks like I failed...even when the failure is part of the presentation (a la anagrams.) Has anyone actually asked an unbiased audience member what they think when you 'fail' occasionally?
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