Mentalism is a performing art in which its practitioners, known as mentalists, appear to demonstrate highly developed mental or intuitive abilities. Performances may appear to include hypnosis, telepathy, clairvoyance, divination, precognition, psychokinesis, mediumship, mind control, memory feats and rapid mathematics.
Mentalists are sometimes categorised as psychic entertainers, although that category also contains non-mentalist performers such as psychic readers and bizarrists.
Much of what modern mentalists perform in their acts can be traced back directly to ‘tests’ of supernatural power that were carried out by mediums, spiritualists and psychics in the 19th century. However, the history of mentalism goes back even further. Accounts of seers and oracles can be found in works by the ancient Greeks and in the Old Testament of the Bible.
Among magicians, the mentalism performance generally cited as one of the earliest on record was by diplomat and pioneering sleight-of-hand magician Girolamo Scotto in 1572. The performance of mentalism may utilize these principles along with sleights, feints, misdirection and other skills of street or stage magic.
Styles of presentation can vary greatly. Traditional performers such as Dunninger and Annemann attributed their results to supernatural or psychic skills.
Some contemporary performers, including Banachek and Derren Brown, attribute their results to natural skills, such as the ability to read body language or to manipulate the subject subliminally through psychological suggestion.
Others, including Chan Canasta and David Berglas would make no specific claims but leave it up to the audience to decide.
Contemporary mentalists often take their shows onto the streets and perform tricks to a live, unsuspecting audience. They do this by approaching random members of the public and ask to demonstrate their supernatural powers.
Performers such as Derren Brown who often adopt this method of performance tell their audience before the trick starts that everything they see is an illusion and that they are not really ‘having their mind read’.
This has been the cause of a lot of controversy in the sphere of magic as some mentalists want their audience to believe that this type of magic is ‘real’ whilst others think that it is morally wrong to lie to a spectator.
MENTALIST OR MAGICIAN
Mentalists generally do not mix ‘standard’ magic tricks with their mental feats. Doing so associates mentalism too closely with the theatrical trickery employed by stage magicians. Many mentalists claim not to be magicians at all, arguing that it is a different art form altogether.
The argument is that mentalism invokes belief and when presented properly, is offered as being ‘real’ be it a claim of psychic ability, or proof that supports other claims such as a photographic memory, being a ‘human calculator’, the power of suggestion, NLP, etc. Mentalism plays on the senses and a spectator’s perception of tricks.
Magicians ask the audience to suspend their belief and allow their imagination to play with the various tricks they present. They admit that they are tricksters and entertainers, and know the audience understands it’s an illusion and the magician cannot really achieve the impossible feats shown, such as sawing a person in half and putting them back together without injury.
However, many magicians mix mentally-themed performance with magic illusions. For example, a mind-reading stunt might also involve the magical transposition of two different objects. Such hybrid feats of magic are often called mental magic by performers.
Mentalism techniques have, on occasion, been allegedly used outside the entertainment industry to influence the actions of prominent people for personal and/or political gain.
Telepathy is the purported transmission of information from one person to another without using any of our known sensory channels or physical interaction.
There is no scientific evidence that telepathy is a real phenomenon. Many studies seeking to detect, understand, and utilize telepathy have been carried out, but no replicable results from well-controlled experiments exist.
Telepathy is a common theme in modern fiction and science fiction, with many extraterrestrials, superheroes and supervillains having telepathic ability.
ORIGINS OF THE CONCEPT
According to historians such as Roger Luckhurst and Janet Oppenheim the origin of the concept of telepathy in the Western civilization can be tracked to the late 19th century with the formation of the Society for Psychical Research.
As the physical sciences made significant advances, scientific concepts were applied to mental phenomena (e.g., animal magnetism), with the hope that this would help understand paranormal phenomena.
In the late 19th century the magician Washington Irving Bishop would perform ‘thought reading’ demonstrations. Bishop claimed no supernatural powers and ascribed his powers to muscular sensitivity. Bishop was investigated by a group of scientists including the editor of the British Medical Journal and the psychologist Francis Galton.
Bishop performed several feats successfully such as correctly identifying a selected spot on a table and locating a hidden object. During the experiment Bishop required physical contact with a subject who knew the correct answer. He would hold the hand or wrist of the helper. The scientists concluded that Bishop was not a genuine telepath but using a highly trained skill to detect ideomotor movements.
Another famous thought reader was the magician Stuart Cumberland. He was famous for performing blindfolded feats such as identifying a hidden object in a room that a person had picked out or asking someone to imagine a murder scene and then attempt to read the subject’s thoughts and identify the victim and re-enact the crime.
Cumberland claimed to possess no genuine psychic ability and his thought reading performances could only be demonstrated by holding the hand of his subject to read their muscular movements. He came into dispute with psychical researchers associated with the Society for Psychical Research who were searching for genuine cases of telepathy.
In the late 19th century the Creery Sisters were tested by the Society for Psychical Research and believed to have genuine psychic ability. However, during a later experiment they were caught utilizing signal codes and they confessed to fraud.
For nearly thirty years the telepathic experiments conducted by Mr. G. A. Smith and myself have been accepted and cited as the basic evidence of the truth of thought transference.
The whole of those alleged experiments were bogus, and originated in the honest desire of two youths to show how easily men of scientific mind and training could be deceived when seeking for evidence in support of a theory they were wishful to establish.
Arthur Conan Doyle and W. T. Stead were duped into believing Julius and Agnes Zancig had genuine psychic powers. Both Doyle and Stead wrote the Zancigs performed telepathy. In 1924 Julius and Agnes Zancig confessed that their mind reading act was a trick and published the secret code and all the details of the trick.
Within the field of parapsychology, telepathy is considered to be a form of extrasensory perception (ESP) or anomalous cognition in which information is transferred through Psi. It is often categorized similarly to precognition and clairvoyance. Experiments have been used to test for telepathic abilities. Among the most well known are the use of Zener cards and the Ganzfeld experiment.
Zener cards are marked with five distinctive symbols. When using them, one individual is designated the “sender” and another the “receiver”. The sender selects a random card and visualize the symbol on it, while the receiver attempts to determine that symbol using Psi.
Statistically, the receiver has a 20% chance of randomly guessing the correct symbol, so to demonstrate telepathy, they must repeatedly score a success rate that is significantly higher than 20%. If not conducted properly, this method can be vulnerable to sensory leakage and card counting.
Unable to find any high-scoring subjects, due to the methodological problems, parapsychologists no longer utilize card-guessing studies.
The psychologist James Alcock has written the dream telepathy experiments at Maimonides have failed to provide evidence for telepathy and “lack of replication is rampant”.
An experimenter was with the agent when the target envelope was opened. Hansel also wrote there had been poor controls in the experiment as the main experimenter could communicate with the subject.
An attempt to replicate the experiments that used picture targets was carried out by Edward Belvedere and David Foulkes. The finding was that neither the subject nor the judges matched the targets with dreams above chance level.
When using the Ganzfeld experiment to test for telepathy, one individual is designated the receiver and is placed inside a controlled environment where they are deprived of sensory input, and another is designated the sender and is placed in a separate location. The receiver is then required to receive information from the sender. The nature of the information may vary between experiments.
The ganzfeld experiment studies that were examined by Ray Hyman and Charles Honorton had methodological problems that were well documented. Honorton reported only 36% of the studies used duplicate target sets of pictures to avoid handling cues.Hyman discovered flaws in all of the 42 ganzfeld experiments and to access each experiment, he devised a set of 12 categories of flaws.
Six of these concerned statistical defects, the other six covered procedural flaws such as inadequate documentation, randomization and security as well as possibilities of sensory leakage. Over half of the studies failed to safeguard against sensory leakage and all of the studies contained at least one of the 12 flaws.
Twin telepathy is a belief that has been described as a myth in psychological literature. Psychologists Stephen Hupp and Jeremy Jewell have noted that all experiments on the subject have failed to provide any scientific evidence for telepathy between twins.
A 1993 study by Susan Blackmore investigated the claims of twin telepathy. The results from the experiment were negative, no evidence of telepathy was observed.
A variety of tests have been performed to demonstrate telepathy, but there is no scientific evidence that the power exists.
The physicist John Taylor has written the experiments that have been claimed by parapsychologists to support evidence for the existence of telepathy are based on the use of shaky statistical analysis and poor design, and attempts to duplicate such experiments by the scientific community have failed.
Psychologist Stuart Sutherland wrote that cases of telepathy can be explained by people underestimating the probability of coincidences.
Outside of parapsychology, telepathy is generally explained as the result of fraud, self-delusion and/or self-deception and not as a paranormal power. Psychological research has also revealed other explanations such as confirmation bias, expectancy bias, sensory leakage, subjective validation and wishful thinking. Virtually all of the instances of more popular psychic phenomena, such as mediumship, can be attributed to non-paranormal techniques such as cold reading.
Magicians have demonstrated techniques and results similar to those of popular psychics, without paranormal means. They have identified, described, and developed psychological techniques of cold reading and hot reading.