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Mentalists: how do they do it?

They read your mind, count, as fast as a calculator, move objects … As you might expect: there is something.

Mentalist: a person who uses mental acuity, hypnosis and/or suggestion. This is the definition given by the credits of the TV series of the same name. There is no doubt that the lively Patrick Jane and her ability to manipulate suspects have done much to arouse public curiosity. While traditional magic struggled to renew itself, except to put in the spectacular means of a David Copperfield, mentalism filled the rooms. No less than thirty artists are currently performing throughout France. Discipline is not new. Jean-Eugène Robert-Houdin, the famous illusionist of the 19th century, staged telepathy experiences. If their job is to pretend that they have a gift, the mentalists work on their staging, repeat the text of their show and use fireworks. Pascal Le Guern and Tibor the Mentalist have agreed to reveal some of them to us.

A keen sense of observation

“This is what we call cold reading. It is a question of analyzing the gestures, the clothing, the voice, to extract information from it which will allow us to be one step ahead of the spectator “, explains Pascal Le Guern, co-author, with Tibor the Mentalist, Secrets des mentalists (ed. Mazarine). Identify a lefty, whether we are dealing with an outgoing or shy, distinguish susceptible individuals discourse: as many observations that will allow the mentalist to establish trust.

An ultra-developed memory to impress the public

Most telepathy experiments are done in duo: a “diviner”, blindfolded, must discover the object designated by his accomplice. How is it? The accomplices share a secret language which allows the mentalist to approach sentence after sentence of the truth. “What object do I have in my left hand”, rather than “in the right hand”, or “do you see the object” instead of “how do you see the object”. So many formulations that provide information. Which means memorizing hundreds of coded sentences. Another experiment consists of making ten spectators pronounce ten different words, recording and restoring them in any order. The secret? Associate beforehand the rank of the appearance of a word, for example, “one”, with an image to be displayed, for example, “dog”. And memorize 1 = dog, 2 = god, etc. If the first word to remember is “hammer”, create the image of a dog holding a hammer in its mouth. The more absurd the association, the easier it is to memorize it.

Predisposition for numbers

Additions, subtractions: mentalists offer the public a multitude of operations which have the characteristic of having an always identical result. Their talent is to make us believe that they are performing the operations at full speed or that they have predicted the result (as presented on the right). The first round consists of writing a secret number (34) on a sheet and then presenting a grid of 16 digits. Whatever figures the spectator chooses, the result of the operation is always 34. In turn 3, the operation makes it possible to arrive at a multiple of 9. So the symbol is always the same.

A taste for handling

“For the experiments to work, you have to put people in condition, speak for example at a rapid pace to force them to focus on what they are told,” says Tibor the Mentalist. “With his attention mobilized, we use certain cognitive flaws in the brain, which tend to go to the essentials and miss certain details. To get the proof, go to exercise 2, as simple as it is disconcerting because it works almost every time!

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