Arts & Entertainment, Home & Lifestyle

Mentalist or Crook?

Penn & Teller

Lesson time 7:00 min

Mentalism is a genre of magic that exists across a spectrum of morality. Learn how Penn & Teller use mentalism to perform a “mind-reading” trick for entertainment purposes only.

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Topics include: Mentalist or Crook?


- We're going to talk about a kind of magic that we hate. We do versions of it. We do it very carefully. It's a kind of magic that can be used immorally and is mostly used immorally. It's a way to get information. It's called mentalism. It's a way to get information that someone else is thinking. Now, one way to use this immorally is to claim to have ESP or psychic powers. That's immoral, because we have no evidence those exist, so it distorts reality for people. And that's very, very bad. But there's a worse way to use it, and that's it's used to exploit grief. Say that I've never met Teller, ever, but I've gone to him, because I'm full of grief. And he tells me he has to get in touch with my dead mother. Now, I know this is so distasteful, but people really do it. And he gives me a piece of paper with a circle on it and tells me there's no way he could possibly know me. He's never met me. He doesn't know me. But, maybe he can get in touch with my mother if I write down her name within this circle, the circle of love, the circle of life, any sort of jive you want to make up. He's got his back turned, and I write down my mom's name. Now, I'm going to say that my mom's name is Mary. It's not Mary, but I'm not going to exploit my dead mother, even for you. So, I write down Mary. Now, he hasn't seen that piece of paper. He has no idea. Then he tells me to fold it up like this. There's no way he could know what's on that piece of paper, and then I give it to him. Now, remember, in this situation, it's not just a stupid little magic trick. He has said he's going to figure out my dead mother's name. So, he takes this, and he rips it up. Now, watch. He knows where the circle is. He knows how it's folded, so all he's got to do is just hold back the center piece of information right there. That's where Mary's written. He holds that in his hand sneakily, and then puts this here, and proves to the world that he couldn't possibly ever get that information, because he's going to burn the pieces of paper. Now, this would be all done very, very solemn and very like a religious ritual, and all burning it, and the smoke going up to my dead mother, and all this jive. But, the fact of the matter is he's caught the name. He's got it in his hands. Then he turns his back, does whatever concentration he wants, and sees that the name of my mom is Mary. And then he uses that information to steal money from me, to destroy the memory of my mother, and to pretend to console me. Now, if you're going to do a trick like this, if you're going to do mentalism, be moral about it. And here's how you'd be moral. One-- you cannot tell people that there is ESP when we have no evidence for that so far. Two-- you can't exploit grief. And don't lie to yourself and say, well, I'm comforting them. I'm making them feel better. That is not-- that is not a way out. It's wrong. And, also, you can't use double speak. Now, this is what a lot of mentalists do. The...

About the Instructor

With more than 40 years performing together, Penn & Teller have sold out shows around the world, earned a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, and created the longest-running headline act in Las Vegas. Now the legendary magicians are taking you behind the curtain. Learn fundamental magic tricks and the psychological tools that create amazement, at home or on stage. Expand your perception of the possible.

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