With the recent upsurge in the popularity of mentalism, a discussion of this branch of magic is most certainly in order. Mental-ism represents a remarkable type of magic that has an appeal all its own. We, as humans, instinctively assume what goes on in our heads, our innermost thoughts, is totally private and almost sacred. When that barrier is breached and someone seems to enter into that innermost region, the mystery created is of a different one entirely. Unlike a physical occurrence which affects objects we can touch or might even own, mentalism goes further, entering into the deepest regions of our mind and touches our thoughts, our decisions and even our future. This has a remarkable effect on the human psyche and is not to be taken lightly.
Most mentalists start as magicians who decide to move into this field for one reason or another. Some believe it will bring greater monetary gain while others view it as a more grown-up type of magic. Whatever the reason, it is not uncommon for such a newcomer to be struck by how much the audience is willing to believe in his "psychic" abilities. This has the effect of scaring some magicians away while others realize the potential power of this art. As long as the magician understands that his duty is to supply a good and wholesome entertainment, he is generally on safe ground. It is when a performer succumbs to the effects of this instant adulation and turns his attention towards promoting his supposed powers, instead of his art, that problems begin to arise. By promoting his powers, he is, in actuality, promoting himself. This ego-driven attitude is very destructive. Unfortunately, many of the newer mentalism instructional books and videos teach an approach which fosters this misguided attitude.
The predominant advice given in such materials is to explain what supposed ability you are using to accomplish your effects. In times past you were instructed to discuss telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition and the like. These days many pretend they are using NLP, body language and similar ideas.
The truth is the same methodology is at work and a lie is a lie no matter where on the scale of believability it abides. This author sees no reason to explain how the effect is apparently accomplished. To do so is to imply a power one does not have. It destroys the mystery. It also reduces the richness of the effect and causes a challenge attitude to be adopted by the audience.
Here is a practical example: You have just performed a book test where you compellingly claimed to be reading the spectator's mind with telepathy. After the conclusion, the spectator is very likely to say, "Well, if you really can read my mind, what am I thinking now?" There is no need to create a situation such as this. Besides limiting the perception of what the audience is likely to imagine is the cause of your mystery, you also, in so doing, take away from the wonder element and entertainment value. The episode becomes more of a scientific workshop than a pleasurable and artistic event. But the greater danger is if one is successful! Falsehood can only foster more falsehood. Taken to extremes it can lead to a scenario reminiscent of William Gresham's Nightmare Alley. What should always be kept in mind is this: Any endeavor which seeks to build up the artist's abilities rather than the artistic event will eventually lead to failure.
It really is all nonsense. ESP is not a recognized science. Work has been done over the years to test individuals for telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, telekinesis, etc., but no real conclusions have been reached. The study is still considered a pseudo-science and you would be hard pressed to find much scientific agreement on even definitions let alone explanations. And yet, you will find men-talists who not only accept certain definitions of the above terms, but then actually restrict their own performances by the very limitations and boundaries they have created with these false definitions.
Let us treat all magic, regardless of what type, as an art and abide by artistic principles.
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