What Is A Mentalist? Different Than A Magician?

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What Is A Mentalist?

What is a mentalist?

Perhaps you are one of millions of people who have seen the hit television show played by the handsome actor Simon Baker; yet like many you still don't quite understand just exactly what a “mentalist” actually is.

Mentalists are first and foremost nothing more than entertainers; performers who entertain audiences with “demonstrations” of what is ostensibly feats of specially developed or enhanced mental abilities.  Their shows or presentations typically include demonstrations of the following abilities listed below:

Mind Reading (a.k.a. "Telepathy" or ESP")

The ability to communicate clearly between the minds of two or more individuals without any spoken words or by any other physical means.  This includes the ability to tell random strangers specific thoughts, feelings, and images that they have in their minds. You can see a short demonstration of this here. 
Do Mentalists Really Read Your Mind
What is a mentalist?

Telekinesis

The ability to cause inanimate objects to move or otherwise be manipulated with the power of the mind, simply by concentrating and apparent sheer force of will.   This is usually done by causing objects to move across tables or rooms, pages in books to turn, and even causing spoons, forks, and other metals to bend and twist without any known application of outside physical force. 

Psychometry

The ability to discern facts about a person, place, or event merely by coming into direct physical contact with objects associated with them such as finger rings, clothing, houses, etc.
Mentalists demonstrated tremendous and amazing powers of influence.
What is a mentalist?

Second Sight, Clairvoyance, or Precognition

The ability to know, in advance, the actions, thoughts, or feelings of a person or persons, or an event or series of events.  This is often made apparent by writings or recordings that are supposedly made prior to the occurrence and could not have been completed after the fact. 

Extraordinary Problem-Solving

Amazing feats such as solving complicated math problems with lightning speed, difficult puzzles like Rubik’s Cubes, and even murder mysteries.  
Mentalists often demonstrate exceptional ability with numbers and complicated equations, but do they really possess good critical thinking skills or is it just a trick?
What is a mentalist?

Sightless Vision

The ability to perceive things accurately in the absence of physical eyesight, usually while blindfolded or otherwise having physical vision temporarily eliminated.   These demonstrations seem to indicate that the mentalist—without physical vision—is not only able to “see” things, but can even perceive things that people with normal vision are unable to see.  Mentalist Curtis Waltermire is well-known for his blindfolded performances.  You can see a demonstration by clicking here. 

Mediumship (a.k.a. Talking to the Dead, Spiritual Mediumship, or Channeling)

The ability to act as an intercessor in communication between living individuals and loved ones or other individuals who are dead or have passed away.  
Mentalists often demonstrate exceptional ability with numbers and complicated equations, but do they really possess good critical thinking skills or is it just a trick?

PLEASE NOTE THAT EVERY ONE OF THESE FEATS are accomplished through some combination of trickery, theatrics, psychological manipulation, and more.  Mentalists who behave honestly from an ethical standpoint readily admit that what they do involves trickery and is for entertainment purposes only, while others exploit the plausibility that these demonstrations offer (not to mention the willingness of so many who want to believe such powers exist).  These performers attempt to convince their audiences that these demonstrations prove that they actually possess exceptional mental abilities or “gifts,” and even go so far as to try to persuade others that everyone possesses these abilities as well in some form or another and that they must “learn” to “tap into” them or otherwise develop them more fully.  The “is it real or not” argument has been a great point of contention among mentalists for a very long time and likely will not end anytime soon. 

What Is A Magician, and How Are They Different Than A Mentalist?

What is the difference between a magician and a mentalist?
On the surface the two seem practically the same--both amaze and astound those around them with apparent demonstrations of supernatural abilities.  However, one of the main differences between the two is this:  AUDIENCE PERCEPTION.

Regardless of how skilled a magician may be, few people who walk out of a theater or other venue after a magic or illusion show truly believe they've witnessed something miraculous or "real."  At the very most they admire the cleverness and theatrics of the performer, but don't actually believe their assistants were sawn in half or flew through the air by some mystical power.  However--due to the highly-interactive nature of most mentalism performances--people often leave a show by a mentalist with a powerful feeling that something extraordinary has taken place, mostly due to the very personal nature of the effects they've witnessed.  While theatrical illusions performed by magicians and illusionists are impressive indeed, being told by a mentalist that he or she knew that you have an aunt named Clara who just lost her German Shepherd named Zeus is something you are not soon to forget, especially since you've never met before.  The audience's perception of the abilities of the performers are quite different indeed.

Magician's performances are usually highly visual in nature.  Mentalists tend to perform more in the "theater of the mind" while the effects put forth by magicians tend to be more visually stunning, involving disappearing people and objects, reappearances, solid objects passing through one another, levitating, flying, and even things like walking on water.
Magicians perform optical illusions while mentalists are more cerebral.

Magicians also perform basically one or more of only 7 different categories of magical effects or "tricks."  As ridiculous as that may seem, there are only 7 different basic categories of tricks in the realm of magic and illusion (though each are demonstrated in literally hundreds of different ways using hundreds of different methods):

Vanishes

Material objects disappear from view in an impossible manner.  David Copperfield Vanishing The Statue of Liberty is the largest vanish ever performed.

Appearances

Persons, animals, or objects materialize from nothing in an impossible manner.  Here Joseph Gabriel makes a large number of birds appear in one of the best classic magic acts you'll ever see.

Levitations

People or objects appear to defy gravity in an unusual manner.  Hans Klok is one of the world's most reknown illusionists who performs incredible levitations.

Penetrations

Solid objects pass through one another unharmed or unaltered in the process.  Bizarre and Comedy Magician Brian Brushwood takes this concept to the level of extreme.

Teleportations and Transpositions

People or objects move from one place to another, or switch places invisibly and with lightning speed.  Years ago an illusionist act known as The Pendragons were perhaps the best in the business at performing this type of illusion.

Restorations

People or objects that are apparently dismembered, damaged, or destroyed are completely restored or otherwise made whole again.  Here Penn and Teller perform a classic torn and restored newspaper on their TV show "Fool Us."

Mental Magic

Effects from the mentalism branch of magic involving such things as mind reading, telekinesis, and predicting future events.  Contrary to what many believe, mind reading and mental magic can be well mixed with comedy as is demonstrated here in a montage video taken from recent comedy club performances.

Curtis The Mentalist writes a spectator's word while blindfolded.

Magicians also tend to be known for flashy or elaborate props and stage items, while mentalists tend to perform with nothing more than notepads, markers, dry erase boards, and such like.  An hour-long stage magic show by a magician can involve a stage or platform full of boxes, costumes, and other items; while a mentalist may walk onstage with nothing more than a small briefcase and a stool and entertain audiences equally for the same amount of time.

The truth is that while performance styles between magicians and mentalists tend to vary greatly, the difference between a magician and a mentalist is otherwise rather subtle to the casual observer.  Mentalism is actually a branch of the art of magic that--while closely related--tends to exist somewhat entirely on it's own, employing many of the same methods but often eliciting stronger and longer lasting effects upon it's viewers.   Both magicians and mentalists are guilty of "smoke and mirrors"--with magicians using the term to a more literal degree, while mentalists demonstrate this through rhetoric and pseudoscience.

About the Author

Curtis The Mentalist

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Curtis Waltermire is an American professional comedy mentalist, mind reader, magician, speaker, actor, singer, entertainer, podcaster, video content creator, grandpa, cool dad and above-average husband. He began entertaining with his own unique style of entertainment in the mid 1980s.