Mentalism is an ancient performing art in which its practitioners, known as mentalists, use mental acuity, principles of stage magic, hypnosis and/or suggestion to present the illusion of mind reading, psychokinesis, precognition, clairvoyance or mind control.
Mentalism is considered to be a branch of stage magic, featuring many of the same basic tools, principles, sleights and skills in its performance. Some performers add stage hypnotism and/or feats of memory or concentration to the mix. Much of what the mentalist does in his or her act can be traced back directly to tests of supernatural power that were carried out by mediums, spiritualists and psychics in the 19th Century. However, the history of mentalism goes back even further. One of the earliest recorded performances of a mentalism act was by diplomat and pioneering sleight-of-hand magician Girolamo Scotto in 1572.
Two tests still in general use today are the book test and the living-and-dead test. In the former, a book is chosen at random by an examiner (usually a member of the audience) and opened at a random page. The examiner would then concentrate on a word, sentence or paragraph of his or her choice. If the mentalist can discover the thought-of word(s), apparently using only "mental powers", then he passes the "test." In the living-and-dead test, the name of a deceased person(s) is mixed in with the names of people still living, all written on identical slips of paper. Apparently using mental powers alone, the mentalist must separate the living from the dead.
Styles of presentation can vary greatly. A few performers, in the mould of Uri Geller or James Van Praagh, claim to actually possess supernatural powers such as telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, or telekinesis. There remain some people who believe that Geller and similar practitioners are actually demonstrating supernatural powers. However, this belief is disputed by scientists and skeptics.
Many contemporary performers, including Richard Osterlind, Banachek and Derren Brown attribute their results to less supernatural skills: the ability to read body language or to manipulate the subject subliminally through psychological suggestion, for example.
Mentalists generally do not mix "standard" magic tricks with their mental feats. Doing so associates mentalism too closely with the theatrical trickery employed by stage magicians. Many mentalists claim not to be magicians at all, arguing that it is a different art form altogether.
On the other hand, magicians such as David Copperfield, David Blaine and Criss Angel routinely mix aspects of mentalism with their magical illusions. For example, a mind-reading stunt might also involve the magical transposition of two different objects. Such hybrid feats, or magic with a mental theme, are usually classified as "mental magic" by performers. Mentalism and mental magic often require performers to display an authoritative, commanding and charismatic stage presence.
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