Friday, October 31, 2008

Mentalism Podcast Interview

Project Alpha

Here is a short article I copied from Wikipedia about the project alpha. It was a project in which a magician and skeptic used two kids to fool scientists into believing they had supernatural powers.

Read below for an idea of what happened:

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For the military project, see Project Alpha (military).

Project Alpha was an elaborate hoax orchestrated by the stage magician and skeptic James Randi. It involved planting two fake psychics, Steve Shaw (known as Banachek) and Michael Edwards, into a paranormal research project. During the initial stages of the investigation, the researchers came to believe that the pair's psychic powers were real. However, more formal experiments, as well as criticism from both the parapsychology community and Mr. Randi himself, led them to dismiss their initial trust.[1] The hoax was later revealed publicly.

The success of Project Alpha led Randi to use variations of the technique on several other occasions. Perhaps the most famous example led to the downfall of TV evangelist and faith healer Peter Popoff, when Randi had a man pose as a woman with uterine cancer, which Popoff happily "cured". In another example, Randi hired a performance artist to pose as a channeller known as "Carlos", who was presented on Australian TV and soon had a wide following. After this hoax was exposed the artist was constantly approached by people who believed him to be genuine, even if he told them directly that he was an actor.

I listened to a podcast recently from Penn Jillettes radio show. He was interviewing the leading Mentalist and Alpha Project kid Banachek. They also had on another famous magician called Ian Swiss.

I will post the file later, but I just wanted to post some of my notes here really quickly.

3:59 - 5:30 Talking about Korean Yogic Flying Priminovin


8:00 The Alpha Project Kids were intended to fool the scientists. The hoax lasted 180 hours and was spread over 4 years. The scientists had the goal of performing various psychic tests on the kids and merely accepted the two kids into their program, because they applied for it. Neither of the two were trained by James Randi. Randi did however help the kids come up with their plan on how to organize the proceedings of the hoax. None of the scientist engaged in any sort of background check on the kids. Later though the scientists claimed that they had had other experts check on the kids. Randi had encouraged the kids to play up their abilities in their home town as best as they could, in case there ever was a background check, but all were surprised that the scientists were so unprofessional in their selection of subjects. Randi even joked that the scientists become arrogant when they receive their Ph. D.'s saying in their hearts: "I have a Ph. D. they can't fool me". Randi had offered his services as a magician to help scientists debunk those who claim to have paranormal powers, but the scientists would always reject his help. Well in this case Randi took advantage of their arrogance to show them a lesson that they need to be more weary of their own beliefs and of those making outrageous claims.

One of the directives of the Alpha Project Kids was to answer honestly that they are using tricks and deceptions, but only if they are directly asked and confronted. Otherwise they were to continue. The scientists sadly never directly asked or questioned the kids. They were true believers and never even questioned nor catalogued their own belief systems.

17:00 Spit on Camera = ghosts

19:30 stop

28:12 Being set up by Howard Stern as magic geniuses



32:59 Tricks, easy cheat, 36 seances, mentalists are able to deceive people because they are always one step ahead and know how you will think. People who come to the show are already primed. Synchronicity and coincidences will always give the mentalist an opportunity to connect dots and seem to have supernatural and magical abilities.

This is a rough draft post. You will have to listen to the entire 1 hour podcast once I post it. It will be worth it. It was fascinating to hear how these amateur magicians were able to fool scientists for so long under controlled circumstances.

At one point the two kids actually broke into the lab and bent all sorts of silverware that was inside of an aquarium. In the morning the scientist called them and the kids talked about a strange 'dream' he had had. He told the scientist that he had bent all the silverwear and the scientist exclaimed: "Your dream came true!". He totally believed the kid had psychically bent the silverwear.

Those of us who have been deceived by Warriorschool most likely didn't approach it with a scientific perspective. We weren't skeptical or suspicious enough and therefore we were duped. But even the most sophisticated of people can be fooled so easily as well. In the end it boils down to the fact that you either have a skeptical toolbox and can sort through all the frauds and lies or you don't.

If you click the link directly above this line, it should take you to the Jillette Podcast site where you can listen to the full podcast.

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