Friday, October 04, 2002


Psychics are wonderful at coming up with offbeat demonstrations of the paranormal. Not just the methods but also the effects. Consider Achille D’Angelo’s Invisible Hand as described in Milbourne Christopher’s ESP, Seers and Psychics (and later reworked by mentalist Steve Shaw), the concept of spirit raps as set out by the Fox Sisters or even Uri Geller’s bending spoon. There is something special about the way these effects connect with the audience. They go far beyond the fare offered up by many mentalists who believe that a demonstration of paranormal phenomena should involve something resembling a Mental Epic slate or the choice of a playing card.

Here is brand new pseudopsychic effect that is totally impromptu and derives its power from the public’s expectations of what is possible.

After some spiel about the current concerns over mobile phones you ask someone to stand up, switch on their mobile and hold it to their ear. Tell them to stretch out their other arm horizontally. Now, without warning, you press on the outstretched arm and, naturally, you push it down easily until it is by their side.

“Now,” you say, “switch the cell phone off. Hold it to your ear again. Stretch out the other arm. Watch what happens why I try to press down this time.” You do as you promise, except this time you are unable to press the arm down. It appears that somehow the activated cell phone was affecting the subject’s strength. Have them switch the cell phone back on and, amazingly, you can now push their arm down with ease. You have apparently just demonstrated the very real dangers of cell phone technology. Scary.

In fact, all you’ve done is exploited the psychological workings of a pseudo science called kinesiology. The first time you press on the subject’s arm, he isn’t expecting anything. The second time, he is ready and resists more fully. Also, you don’t push down quite so hard though do make a play of pressing down even harder than before. Additionally, your patter is leading the subject in a certain direction. Mentally, he is putting the macabre jigsaw together. He is convincing himself that the activated mobile phone somehow caused his arm to fall. Now that the phone is switched off, he believes he will be able to resist your efforts. And so, he does.

The trick isn’t mine, I found it on James Randi’s website, in the Sept 6th Commentary where reader Michael Roes recounts his visit to an Anthony Robbins seminar. It was there that a guy gave this unusual demonstration in order to sell a device (a bizarre pendant) that could protect the wearer from electro magnetic pollutants. Sure!

It is a great piece of business and deserves to be known by a wider audience. I mentioned the effect to mentalist Marc Paul who has tried it out with great success. He also tells me that Bruce Bernstein published an interesting kinesiology routine in Bascom Jones Magick magazine. It sounds very strong and if subjects react to the kinesiology protocol well it is worth dreaming up other uses for this psychological phenomenon.

You can embellish the phone routine in various ways. Have the subject hold the phone or not hold the phone. Have the phone with batteries or without or even hold the phone or a banana.

The only problem is an ethical one. How do you use such a convincing demonstration without exploiting the subject and leading them to believe that cell phones are dangerous or that there is anything in the concept of kinesiology? One way is to simply tell the truth and explain that the demonstration was purely psychological in nature. Reveal the method, the audience should find that just as entertaining as the effect, and enhance your own reputation as a master of psychological persuasion, a role that is enjoying renewed interest with the public.