August 10, 2009

Psychic, But Stupid

Psychic, But Stupid

This is a trick that mentalist Marc Salem explained to me many years ago… it works for him whether he’s performing here in the United States or all the way overseas in Europe. Think of a country that begins with the letter “D.”

Got it?

Don’t forget it.

Now, take the second letter of that country, and think of an animal that begins with that letter – perhaps one you’ve seen at a local zoo?

Got it? Great!

Now, picture the animal in your mind, as you would see it in real life. Focus on the color of that animal – the real color, nothing crazy like pink and purple stripes. Do you have that picture?

Mentalist Marc Salem

“Why on earth would you be thinking about a grey elephant? There are no grey elephants in Denmark.”

While it is not universal – there are always a few wiseguys, like myself, who come up with an orange jaguar from Djibouti; which is why Marc was willing to discuss the trick with me in the first place – most people will come up with this answer. It’s not being psychic – it’s simply creating the illusion of free will when there isn’t really any present. After all, how many countries are there in the entire world that start with the letter D? Hundreds? Well, not too many actually – Denmark, Djibouti, Dominica and the Dominican Republic (and technically, Dhekelia, which is one of two sovereign British military bases in Cyprus – but if you know that, you probably spend way too much time staring at atlases for fun.)

The point is, Denmark is probably the only one that quickly comes to mind, and if you go back, you’ll see I encouraged you to already be thinking about that area of the world by my use of the word “Europe.” After you pick Denmark, how many animals start with E? Earthworm, eagle, eel? Maybe, but by saying “don’t forget it” – you may be more prone to think of an elephant due to the old saying “An elephant never forgets.” And by saying “at a local zoo,” you’re less likely to think of an earthworm, or eel aren’t you? If I had wanted you to think of an eagle, I might have said, “maybe an animal used as the nickname of a professional sports team” to steer you away from elephants. It’s no guarantee. It’s not psychic – it’s just playing the odds.

This is why I never understood these gamblers at the casino who would intently stare at the cards on the blackjack table, trying to use their “psychic abilities” to decide whether or not to hit a 16 against a dealer’s face card. There’s no trick here… you simply have to play the odds. Unless you are a skilled card counter, you are supposed to hit your 16, and not even hesitate to do so. Yes, you may bust, but over the long-term, you will end up winning more often by hitting than by standing pat.

And yet, nearly every day, this situation would arise at a table and the player would hem and haw and try to look for some sort of signal as to what to do. Inevitably, this is how it plays out… the player will stand on 16, since the odds of them getting a 6 or higher (thus breaking) is 62 percent, greater than the chances of drawing a 5 or lower. (The reason this logic is flawed is that with a face card showing the dealer already has a 58 percent chance of having a “made hand” that already has them beat.)

Anyway, after the game has screeched to a halt waiting for the table’s resident Miss Cleo to divine the proper course of action and she finally stands on 16, the next player hits and a 5 comes out of the shoe.

“I knew it! I knew it!”

Sure you did, Cleo. After all you’re psychic, right? Psychic and stupid – since you “knew it” and yet decided not to hit. Please! You didn’t know it… you just guessed wrong during a situation where guessing has no value. Just play it by the book and leave the “guessing” to the professionals like Marc Salem.

Oh, and by the way, folks… there are seven elephants in the Copenhagen Zoo – the centerpiece of the Danish nature conservation center. So, don’t believe everything a mentalist tells you either.

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