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The Art Of False Memories And inducing Amnesia

This blog post is an interesting one. I did not think I would write this until I did more research on the matter at hand, but I also wish to know what others think about this. Hence, I will probably write another post that is sort of a sequel to this in order to bring everything to an apt conclusion. So beware, dear reader, this is a two-parter!

Being a performing Mentalist, I often try to push the boundaries on influencing people's memories. This is not something esoteric, and I believe all magicians, mentalists, hypnotists, etc. (essentially any art form that requires deception) manipulate their audience's memory of what took place. However, the interesting thing is that this technique is not limited to us Mystery Performers. Law enforcement officers will know how common the phenomenon of "false confessions" has become. Individuals like you or me willingly walk into a police station and admit to a crime that has not actually been committed by us. It is estimated that every year over 50,000 people are convicted for crimes that they did not commit, but admitted to committing. Also, this statistic is true for the US alone. Who knows the number of people who are serving sentences all over the world for crimes they did not commit but have clear memories of doing so?

An in depth study of the occurrence of such false memories is perhaps beyond the scope of this article, however this can serve as an opportunity to use this psychological phenomenon as an exploit to paint yourself as a better performer than you actually are (and in doing so, becoming a better performer who can in all honesty say that they possess the ability to manipulate/mess with people's memories using the power of their actions and words). Now there is a discussion of ethics to be had here. Is it truly on the right side of morality to use psychological exploits that have developed in our brains in the due course of evolution (and have led to hundreds of thousands of innocent people being convicted for gruesome crimes) to make yourself a better performer in the eyes the audience. However, that is a discussion for another time. I will leave you for now by asking you this: If you bend your morals a little bit and it not only elevates the experience your audience has but also creates a true sense of wonder and happiness in them, would you not be willing to do it?

If yes; congratulations! You care about entertainment and wish to develop more as a performer even if it means operating in the grey area between right and wrong. Read on and please let me know your thoughts regarding this!

If no; congratulations! While you do care about entertaining your audience, you do not wish to twist the moral fibre of your character in order to create miracles. That is absolutely alright and a totally defendable stand. However, you will probably not agree with the views I have expressed here, and hence I urge you NOT to read further.

Are you still here? Good! Let's dive right into it...

This thought struck me last night. I was performing for a friend using a deck of cards. I asked him to cut the deck into two halves (not to be patronising, but it essentially means picking up any amount of playing cards from a deck and place it next to the remainder of the deck). After he did it, I completed the cut for him (something I usually do not do). Just as my fingers left contact with the deck, I instinctively said "And look I never touched the deck.".

I winced as I realised that I had inadvertently said this while my fingers had not even left the vicinity of the deck. However, imagine my surprise when he responded by shaking his head and loudly proclaiming a resounding "No, not at all.".

A confused expression swept my face as I could not immediately make sense of what happened. Had he not seen my hands? Did he misinterpret my question? Was he even paying attention or had I bored him out of his mind?

I fixed my face, and looked at him right in the eye. He was clearly paying attention. His body was towards me, he was smiling, and most important of all, he had that eager look that seemed to imply "I cannot wait to see where this is going!".

It was at this moment that I decided to push this further. I picked up the deck, moved it to towards him, and squared it up (taking more time than usual just so that I could ask him the next question),

"And you are absolutely sure of that? I never touched the deck?"

"Yes, you did not." he responded.

As I went on with the performance I kept asking him this question, consciously trying to get him to say "No, you just touched it." as I pushed this further and further. I wished to ask him that while holding onto the deck, but saner heads prevailed and I eventually ended the performance.

This really got me thinking. I knew about the principles of creating false memories (they are nothing new in the world of Magic and Mentalism). But I had never pushed it this far! What else could happen? What new possibilities did this open up? Could this be done to a large, 200-person audience? My mind went into overdrive thinking about these ideas.

Thinking about this I could not help but remember how many times I had met someone months (even years) after I had performed for them, and noticed that they had completely elevated and altered the performance they had witnessed. Why were these false memories being created?

After doing some thinking, I have arrived at two conclusions to explain the creation of false memories and the forgetting of others by the audience.

When something happens to us, something unbelievable, we want to share that experience with other people in our social groups. However, we are at some level aware of the fact that the amazement we felt during that experience (whether it be a "Magic Performance" we saw or literally anything else that astonished us) will not translate well to whomever we are talking to. This is due to the fact that no matter how good we are as storytellers, the emotions we felt during the experience will always be stronger and more meaningful than the emotions someone will feel when we tell them about the amazing experience we had. As a human being, we wish that our listener shares the same level of excitement/happiness/shock/etc. while listening to us talk about an interesting event that we projected during the experience itself. Due to this, we tend to over exaggerate parts of our stories. What this does is that is ends up extracting a greater level of reaction from the person we are telling the story to. This helps the entire conversation seem more dynamic and meaningful. Also, at some level, we may even wish to extract a certain level of envy from the listener. This is probably not done in a malicious way and only serves to portray us as more interesting. This is what I believe instinctively. I will be the first to admit that I may be wrong here. In fact, I probably am. This are just my preliminary thoughts and I will soon write a follow up article after carrying out more internet and real-life research.

In case of the amnesia that participants seem to undergo, where they completely forget about certain words/actions carried out by the performer, I believe a slightly different process it at work. What do I mean? I mean that this seemingly "induced-amnesia" is actually a result of the way our brain functions in order to not completely collapse.

There is a theory in Psychology that the cognitive process of memorising works at three levels. The first consists of a type of memory that constantly notices things in our environment, but as most of these stimuli are of no consequence, we forget about them within one to two seconds. These may include a stranger walking by us in a waiting room or even a random horn that we hear while sitting by a window. While these stimuli are clearly registered, they are not part of our long-term memory. After this comes the short-term memory, which I will be skipping for now.

What comes after these two is the long-term memory. I believe that when one is watching a performance, only its most integral elements are registered and stored here. The "pillars of the performance" as Dani DaOrtiz would say. For example, if in a performance, a playing card is selected (say "the Two Of Hearts") and then lost in the deck before appearing to the the Magician's pocket, the audience is likely to only remember the "integral" parts of this trick such as "A card was selected, then shuffled into the deck, then it appeared in his pocket". These are the elements that are necessary when telling someone else what they saw. They will not remember every seemingly insignificant detail such as the Magician taking a step sideways, holding the deck in a slightly crooked manner, and sliding his/her (probably "his") hand over the deck before the card appeared in his/her pocket. These actions seem insignificant in terms of the larger picture,. They will be dismissed from memory even though the Magician probably carried out the "dirty work" during these actions. They will only be remembered if the Magician does something that makes them seem important.

I believe this explains why the friend I was performing to would not remember the fact that I touched the deck of cards mere seconds after I had placed the deck down.

After pushing the limits of this exploit, I will report my findings here. I urge you to try this out. Take risks and learn how Human Psychology can be used to our benefit as performers. I believe that is an area of study that can transcend someone from being "a trickster" or "a hack" to a true, genuine "Performer".

Does this make sense to you? Does it sound like utter B.S.? Please let me know! I wish to understand this concept further. One of the best ways to do that would be to actively discuss concepts like these with as many people as possible. Message me on any social media platform @kabirhanspal. Let's develop as performers and give our audiences experiences that are truly meaningful.

Hope to see you next time! I will get the research done.

PS. If you liked this, let me know. Let us take this conversation further!


After 15 minutes of Google Searching, I found some of these links you could check out.

False Confessions:

Chris Ramsay Talks Memory Hacking:

Article On False Memory:

Why People Exaggerate?

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