The Ways of Richard Wiseman

<strong>Richard Wiseman</strong> is Professor of the Public Understanding of Psychology at University of Hertfordshire. But before that, he was a professional magician. He describes this transition as “pretty straightforward”

Feature by Keir Hind | 01 Jul 2011

Richard Wiseman continues, “Going out night after night and fooling people, and watching their reactions, and how they change when you do things a little differently, gets you interested in how that works.” Even though he is now a professional psychologist, Wiseman now also performs a rather special psychological magic act. You’re advised to prepare for the unexpected – but how does one do that?

Easy. There are several ways to experience Richard Wiseman in advance. Here are some of them:

1: Audio.

Professor Wiseman is a prolific guest on podcasts and radio shows, many of which can be found on iTunes, including his own Afternoon Tea podcast. Though Wiseman is the interviewer there, when he’s interviewed he’s usually very articulate about the nature of trickery. Still, he says, “There are tricks you can do on the radio, and some auditory illusions, but magic does work best as a visual phenomenon.” The audio experience will let you know a little about Professor Wiseman, but won’t exactly describe his act. Which brings us on to:

2: Print

Wiseman has written several books on trickery, all of which are highly acclaimed. “All my stuff is science based and backed up by research”, he tells me, “so it’s usually a very, very positive reaction. It is lovely to know that people appreciate the books.” Reading these might help ground you in magical or psychological theory… but no matter how adept at this you become, Wiseman says, “You can be fooled. Most magic doesn’t fool me, because when you know how most tricks are done you don’t fall for them, but you can still be fooled.” In fact, the more adept you are, the more Wiseman will relish fooling you, because “it’s a lot more fun if you can fool the experts.” But where can you experts actually get some sort of preview of his tricks?

3: The Edinburgh Secret Society

Ah, we can’t talk about this one; it’s a secret. (But – whisper it – there’s nothing stopping you looking it up online…) These events, which nobody officially knows about (don’t tell anyone) somehow always sell out. “People obviously got interested in psychological magic because of Derren Brown,” Wiseman explains, “who’s very talented and interesting. I think people were ready for something new rather than a routine based on just magic and jokes, so it was the new thing.” This particular thing, though, is one we’ve said too much about. Look instead at:

4: Visuals.

Now this really will whet your appetites. “They are just things I made for fun,” says Wiseman modestly of his online videos, but his amazing illusions have captured a phenomenal level of interest. “It’s lovely to know that people out there are interested in these things to the point that they’ve got good viewing figures, even compared to popular TV programmes.” You read that right – his online videos have had several millions of viewers, and counting. This has bled over to print too. “With the new book, Paranormality, we’ve put in these tags so if you’ve got an iPhone then you can scan them and view clips. It can be hard to describe an effect, so technology has really helped with that.” It’s a great primer. But really, if you want the proper experience, the best option is:

5: Unbound.

Oh yes. At the event, “I’ll be doing experiments with the crowd, like testing whether people are psychic. There’ll be audience participation, and spoon bending, and it’ll all hopefully be good fun.” Wiseman says. He describes his set-up as simply “Me and a microphone. It’ll be doing experiments, and with a bit of equipment for that, but I’m a big fan of stripped down events where you don’t hide behind lots of equipment, so not too much.” If you’re a fan of psychological magic, or even psychology itself, you’d best get to this event. Professor Wiseman is keen to point out though, that “Things can go wrong, and frequently do, but because it’s a little risky, that’s what makes it interesting.” Intrigued yet?

You can see for yourself what Richard Wiseman's act is like, when he kicks off Unbound with his FREE event in the Spiegeltent, from 9pm, on 14 Aug

His astonishing tricks can be seen on his YouTube channel, here

And The Edinburgh Secret Society can be found here (but don't say we told you):