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ThePhilosopher
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It has been quite a while since I have been able to visit the Café, but I wanted to throw out an idea for consideration. Derren Brown, in my opinion, is an excellent performer, talented showman, and—from what I have heard—a very nice guy. I think he has done a great job restoring interest in mentalism (that is my field of work) and also in debunking psychics, new agers, and the rest. The problem is that “the rest” includes Christianity.

On one hand, I completely understand the natural skepticism one develops as a mentalist (Derren also has his personal reasons as he mentioned in his book “Tricks of the Mind”), because I see the same inclination in myself after years of performing. I was a professional mentalist and still has shows with some frequency. It is my firm conviction that mentalism is only entertaining if there is some level of belief. My personal approach is to blur the line between real demonstrations of psychological effects (psy forces, outs, etc) and those done with trickery. Over the years I have seen how easy it is to manipulate the human mind, and find that many people use the same techniques we do, but pass themselves off as the real thing (new age, psychics, and even some religious groups).


This skepticism does not make me doubt my own convictions (after all, I have been in the seminary for 5 years), but it does make me wonder about the nature of skepticism itself. Any thoughts, especially from fellow mentalists?
- Nathan
funsway
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Skepticism comes from any increase in knowledge that for centuries has lead to the issue of Discernement, attempting to separate what information and wiisdom comes from Goad and which from man for his own purposes. This skepticism drove the Mystics to give up all worldly concerns in search of a clearer focus, and I would think the same applies to monks of any persuasion.

It is easy to just accept the guidance of a preacher in this regard, but the more worldly one becomes, the deaper the questions about everything. SOme religions view this thinking as a "test of faith" whil eother see it as a basis for Testamony of building a deeper more profound understanding of man's relaionship with deity.

Thus, if you view skepticism as a process rather than an event there is no "doubting oneself" -- only growth. In my experience a person without a healthy skepticism is a very boring companion.
"the more one pretends at magic, the more awe and wonder will be found in real life." Arnold Furst



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Alan Wheeler
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While Derren has tossed out the baby with the bathwater, mystical experiences and spiritual gifts do need to be tested. The Scripture says we should not despise prophecies but also that we should test everything. Everything that can be shaken will be shaken.
The views and comments expressed on this post may be mere speculation and are not necessarily the opinions, values, or beliefs of Alan Wheeler.
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JohnWells
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Genuine skepticism is an epoche, the systematic withholding of judgement as a tool of discovery. Doubt for its own sake, or the mere scientitistic debunking that is so common now, is not skepticism. If your mind is made up, you're not a skeptic. Whether Husserlian weltdestruktion or Cartesian denial of apodictic intuition, the value is rooted in the end result.
funsway
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Quote:
On 2010-11-19 21:22, Alan Wheeler wrote:
we should test everything.


there is too much emphasis, methinks, on "testing" to mean seeking validation or exclusion. If one uses a dialectric rpocess in with the opposing idea is held in oppositon to a closely held belief, the the result might be a synthesis and the transfer from "beleiving" to "knowing." Thus, to "test" and concept should also meanm that you test yourself. To paraphrase Donald Walsch, "I do not care whether you agree with me or not; if you find support for your own views then your values will be enhanced, if you disagree you must also go to personal values, and by comparison, strengthen them. Either way, you are taken to the core of your values and belief structure"
"the more one pretends at magic, the more awe and wonder will be found in real life." Arnold Furst



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JohnWells
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"Test everything" is, I suspect, used in a very specific Scriptural sense. After a fashion , what we know, or if you prefer "know" that matters, cannot be tested, properly speaking. The verification of true friendship, to pick a wonderfully Boethian example, is not in whether my friend loves me as I love him, but in whether I love him as Christ loves him.
In many ways, I am less concerned with finding answers than I am getting to the right questions. Most meaningful questions are divergent. Convergent questions like how to build a two wheeled, non electric single user conveyance tend to create single answer solutions. Most attempts to build the best conveyance with those characteristics would look something like a bicycle.
The important questions like "why is there suffering", tend to produce radically different answers, and the continuum of these is a rich field of wisdom. Whether accepting the Buddhist response to that question or the Catholic response, the semantic band between the two is where real exploration takes place. Our value systems will tend to urge us towards one side or the other, but we can evaluate those values best by wading in the dialectic stream between the banks, so to speak.
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It could be noted that your initial question suggests a certain bias thaT is not, properly speaking, skepticism. Why is psychology, presented as nlp (though it isn't) real, and a woman who sees auras not real? You've made a value judgment; what are your grounds?
Alan Wheeler
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The Old Testement has two tests for a prophet in Deuteronomy 18. The Israelites were not to listen to a prophet if (1) what he said did not come true and (2) if he spoke in the name of other gods than the most high or one true God. I am not sure how these tests might be translated into the New Testement; however, one test seems based on material witness or physical evidence, and the other test seems based on doctrine or theological truth.
The views and comments expressed on this post may be mere speculation and are not necessarily the opinions, values, or beliefs of Alan Wheeler.
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JohnWells
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So, the options are pure empiricism or fideism?

The question is whether and/or how, mentalism, which purports to reproduce arguably real phenomena by trickery, may promote a skeptical outlook.
funsway
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Mentalism can also prepare an environment in which phenomena widely considered to be paranormal are demonstrated without trickery. Most people's perceptions are based on dogmatic indoctrination (our educational system) and rarely changed unless challenged. All magic encourages skepticism by offering "another right answer" to problems and unasked questions. With an awakening of awe and wonder comes an awakening of a desire to question and learn.

The above statement is presented in a normative manner in order to encourage skepticism rather than get agreement.
"the more one pretends at magic, the more awe and wonder will be found in real life." Arnold Furst



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JohnWells
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The bacheldor effect, fake table tipping (for example) engenders genuine table tipping.
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In keeping with the foundational premise of _this_ forum, "The Good News", that there is a Gospel which is true because its focus is Incarnated Truth, I will contend that a person must at some point simply refuse to doubt the Truth or the truths He spoke just because the person doesn't understand.

It's the same thing I always told my kids: "Just because _you_ don't understand, it doesn't mean ~I~ am wrong!"

Yes, there is room for healthy debate, and I fear the leader with the "How dare you ask questions!" stare. God is infinite, so there will always be room for doubt, confussiton, and lack of understanding in my simple finite mind.

But to encourage skepticism?? (Skepticism: "Doubt or unbelief with regard to a religion, esp. Christianity." Skeptic: "1. a person who habitually doubts the authenticity of accepted beliefs; 2. a person who mistrusts people, ideas, etc, in general; 3. a person who doubts the truth of religion, esp Christianity")

I don't think there should be any room in anything an honest Christian does that promotes any of the above. I'm not even sure we're called to challenge the beliefs of small-minded people in their tiny little worlds. I am mindful of the cautions against offending the weak of faith and the "little ones".

Yes, the world is much bigger than you or I know. And it is often jarring, even terrifying, to find one's world turned upside down by the discovery of a new thing. But I will further contend, as Steve Brooks has alluded to in his sticky at the top of this forum, that if you have no respect for the Truth or the turths He spoke, and the often fragile beliefs of others, and you are comfortable diluting, shaking, or even poking holes in the faith of others, then you probably are in the wrong forum.

If that is simply the result of an honest collision of ideas, well, it's not my job to protect everyone form this whole world and eveerything in it. But if I am deliberately setting up an encounter with the intention of inducing skepticism in another's religious beliefs, then I contend that such runs far afoul of the spirit of the Gospel - the Good News - which is the title of _this_ forum.

Ed
Reuben Dunn
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Quote:
On 2010-11-11 09:48, ThePhilosopher wrote:
...I was a professional mentalist and still has shows with some frequency. It is my firm conviction that mentalism is only entertaining if there is some level of belief....This skepticism does not make me doubt my own convictions (after all, I have been in the seminary for 5 years), but it does make me wonder about the nature of skepticism itself. Any thoughts, especially from fellow mentalists?


I have to disagree here with the comment of belief.

I waded into the mentalist arena simply because I don't have the dexterity that I need to have in my hands; seven years ago I began the role of mentalist/psychic entertainer/mind reader.

Enjoy mentalism simply because, for me at least, the hardest part is NOT doing a center tear without being spotted, or doing a drawing duplication. The hardest part for me it being able to convey the impression of my belief. In other words, acting comes into play.

90% acting and presntation and 10% technique.

If I ever get to the point where I believe that I'm actually reading your mind; that I already knew what the headline from the front page of the Los Angels Times four weeks before the show starts, then I think somebody had better fit me for a long sleeved jacket, and a 7 3/8 size rubber cap.

If I ever take myself too seriously, that's when you'll know that I've not only crossed the line, but have actually moved to a new planet.

Mentalism is fun. It gives me a chance to suspend belief for an hour; without having anyone try to figure out how I did it, ala, the zig zag box or the silk to dove. They know it's a trick. However, give someone free choice of a book, free choice of a page, and then tell them not only about the story at that point, but also what their hidden selected word is.

Gospel mentalism can be a useful tool in teaching the principles of the gospel, in that the effects are shown as an illustration of a partiular Biblical verse.

There are so many ways that we can teach power gospel principles using a center tear, a book test, even a Q&A routine set against a Biblical principle, always insuring that one does not claim any "psychic" powers etc.

It's a job I have, for an hour, I'm an actor. I'm not psychic.
Good Thoughts.


Reuben Dunn


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ThePhilosopher
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I had not seen the answers to this post for some time. Good to get some feedback.

Actually Reuben, that is what I meant. I don't think that I must believe I can really read minds. I am all too aware that I just peeked at the center tear. What I meant was exactly what you said, transiting that belief to the audience through my presentation and acting.

There were several people who brought up verification and a method to test the truth. This idea has its problems. It was modern philosophy (Descartes to Kant) that reduced truth to what can be verified by a method. This way of seeing reality has become very prevalent in contemporary culture and influences the way most of us think. However, it is an anti-religious way of seeing the world (as well, most serious contemporary philosophers after Gadamer reject it). Like Ed_Millis said in his post, "just because you don't understand doesn't mean it is wrong." The element of faith (in a broad sense) is present in any human knowledge. A scientist cannot personally test all that he holds as true. Most things he must hold on trust\faith in other people. If we reduce truth to on what can be tested, then we remove an essential part of what it is to be human.

Back to skepticism itself. I think several people were using the word in various ways. Someone mentioned that real skepticism is not doubt for its own sake, but a method. This is not true, skepticism as method is just a type. Also, what I meant was not the healthy self-questioning, which I believe is good for anyone. To ask yourself why you REALLY believe what you do is important. If not you are just kidding yourself; your faith doesn't have a chance to mature.

The skepticism I was asking about is less philosophical (i.e. method) and more personal, that your natural reaction is not one of prudence, but automatic rejection. The heart of the original question is if after a lifetime of seeing how easy it is to manipulate and fool the human mind, does this naturally lead a mentalist to doubt man's capacity to go beyond the empirical (what is immediately evident)? Does it create a tendency to lump all forms of the supernatural into one category of self-deception (as Derren Brown does)?

Thanks everyone for all the replies.
- Nathan
JohnWells
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Setting aside the notion that skepticism is philosophical, whether systematised or not, and is, in the same sense that any world view might be so called, a method (certainly seen as such by the Skeptikos who coined the term and others, such as Heidegger and Husserl who have made both academic and practical use of the epoche), that is, a particular way of evaluating and interacting with the phenomena that make up reality, whether as it is or only as perceived, I will say that, no, the sort of lapse into empiricism you ask about has not been the result of my years as a mystery performer.

As a mentalist, one must decide whether you are reproducing real phenomena or false phenomena. Are you faking potentially real psychic powers, or are you faking fake psychic powers? I believe in psychic powers, though I reject any supernatural explanation for them. Also, I would not consider the more sensational charisms such as discernment or word of knowledge to be psychic powers. Spiritual gifts are supernatural. I have experienced both; there is a marked difference.

Simply because presumably supernatural events can be faked does not implicitly militate for the falsity of all such events. Indeed, counterfeit money is only of interest to anyone because there is real money. If people did not receive some genuine benefit from supposed psychic occurences there would be no market for it. Whether the explanation accepted by "true believers" is accurate is a different question. George Washington CArver believed peanut oil to be effective for treating polio. In retrospect, it seems that it was the massages, rather than the oil that relieved the symptoms. The patients were still genuinely improved. I certainly reject pragmatism or casuistry as a legitimate ethical position, but suggest the law of charity. Where there is no definitive explanation, look to the fruits.

My clients, many damaged by "church people" get precisely the same counsel I would provide were I still preaching. They will accept the same message without my hurling proof texts at them. Truth is truth, regardless of the source, though people will reject the truth from a source that makes them uncomfortable. A mentalist who does what he does to feel powerful will reject an explanation that takes away his control. If there are genuinely psychic phenomena, those are outside the influence of human will. Where his motivation is a will to piower, he will reject any notion of a higher source. The scientific skeptic is the same sort of case. What he cannot explain, or explain away, he cannot control or truly master. Put simply, the response you ask about is, to my mind, going to be a world view brought to bear on the mindset of the mentalist, the root rather than the fruit.
ThePhilosopher
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JohnWells, great answer and good food for thought! I think the question of "whether you are reproducing real phenomena or false phenomena" is important, and not something I really thought about before. After reflecting on what you said, I think you are right: a lot depends on the world view one already has. I believe in supernatural phenomenon (after all, I am a Christian), but I reject any supernatural psychic abilities. I guess my attitude comes from the presuppositions of my world view--that there is nothing supernatural outside of divine intervention or evil that God permits.

However, I still believe that seeing how easy it is to fool the human mind (for nearly my entire life) has deeply influenced my view of man.

I guess I would respond to people that are total materialists: just because we may falsely attribute a supernatural explanation to some things does not mean that there isn't anything supernatural.

God bless!
- Nathan
JohnWells
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Materialism as a philosophy so flies in the face of reality as I assume everyone else perceives it that the task is not to find arguments against materialism, so much as a psychological explanation for materialists.

I would add a corollary to my earlier response and say that in a smaller sphere, not in matters as large as my basic world view(like skepticism or materialism or phenomenological thomism), but certainly in my interpersonal dealings, there is always the temptation to limit free will, to influence people because I can. That is, after a fashion, violence against human nature (Boethius I think?). It seems to me that rather than altering how I think about human nature, my experience as a mentalist has created the greater possibility of subverting human nature.
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Wow, I got lost in this thread a long time ago, but I seem to follow Rueben's thoughts in this. I too perform mentalism in a gospel environment but I do not worry about skepticism, I use no disclaimer anytime in me act as I believe the message that I deliver removes any need for this, I am an entertainer with a brief message to deliver when neccesary, I may be wrong but it sdeems like too much over think is going into this.
Reuben Dunn
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Quote:
On 2011-02-05 12:47, tboehnlein wrote:
Wow, I got lost in this thread a long time ago, but I seem to follow Rueben's thoughts in this. I too perform mentalism in a gospel environment but I do not worry about skepticism, I use no disclaimer anytime in me act as I believe the message that I deliver removes any need for this, I am an entertainer with a brief message to deliver when neccesary, I may be wrong but it sdeems like too much over think is going into this.


Running when one is not being chased is an occupational hazzard in both the Mentalist and the Magic arena.
Good Thoughts.


Reuben Dunn


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Dan Bernier
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However, when presenting the Good News it is good to run as if to win the race.
"If you're going to walk in the rain, don't complain about getting wet!"
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