Meet John Edwards. He’s a douchebag.
I was saving touching on “talking to the dead” for another day, but I think today’s a good time to discuss the great divide in ethics and mentalism. In all honesty, it’s a very touchy subject, because a lot of great mentalist believe that you either never address the question, or you milk it for what it’s worth, simply because the classic adage is: “Nobody likes a fake mentalist.”
To the knowledgeable performer who sees a mentalist, there is nothing amazing about the feats a mentalist can do. A magician can duplicate most of the results a mentalist can pull off with sleight of hand, misdirection, and a host of other methods, and worse, a mentalist, if he relies on educated guesswork, always has a small chance of getting things wrong.
In the end, it’s not really a big issue how a mentalist can achieve what he achieves. To me, a mentalist is simply an entertainer, and if the crowd is entertained, what does it matter how he did his stuff? To me, the problem arises the minute they use their abilities as a mentalist the way John Edwards does above.
As a performer, you make an implicit contract with your audience. You are putting on an act. You are performing. You may be lying to them, but that’s implied to be a part of the deal. This is an implicit contract, and everyone is aware of that.
The minute you decide to claim that you can talk to the dead though, you’re just asking for trouble. It’s just in poor taste to go out there and try to give other people some “messages” despite the fact that you really would have no idea how to talk to the dead if a necrophone were to ever exist. John Edwards is using cold reading, which is a very popular method for most mentalists who rely on psychology. He doesn’t have any powers to speak to the dead. I’ve seen perhaps inexplicable instances where someone could apparently see or sense the dead, but to speak to them? Why are these dead people speaking so vaguely, then?
In the realm of hypnosis and mind control, I’ve been very careful about just teaching my methods, even declining a chance to teach a course on it in Ateneo because of the worry of how people might end up utilizing these techniques. It doesn’t matter if the techniques are not 100% proven. All it takes is one unscrupulous person to use these techniques for the wrong reasons, and that’s quite a terrifying prospect to me. I can’t claim a reliable success rate doing hypnosis, but the fact that I sometimes get a hit only means at some point, I could teach someone who could do it reliably.
There are even a few people who claim that they use mentalism techniques to pick up girls. I don’t know how true these claims are, or how effective these methods are in that regard, but with a vocal minority of magicians in the Philippines deriding mentalists for it, you do have to worry sometimes.
There are a million and one ethical issues about mentalism. It treads on very sensitive grounds, and could very well be used for the wrong things. As a guy who has been specializing in ethics for my Masters degree in Philosophy, I can’t help but want to look at the ethics of deception and be warier of unscrupulous individuals who do more harm than good for the reputation of the art form. Personally, my belief is if you’re ever in doubt, just stick to the main purpose of mentalism: entertainment, entertainment, entertainment.
On a personal note, even if I were a genuine psychic and could literally read minds or talk to the dead, I’d still probably want to limit myself to entertaining people. I don’t want the responsibility of having to dictate to people how to think or live their lives. If I could genuinely predict the lottery, I’d still not want to use that to win on the spot. I’m all for earning my keep, which I’ve been doing all my life. And I don’t need to have a ton of relatives materialize from thin air, either.
And all I could really say right now is: go to hell, John Edwards.