I got into magic at the age of five. I stopped thinking psychics were real at the age of five-and-a-half. Mainly because most of them were doing tricks I had just read in the colorful magic book I had bought for three dollars the week before.
Somehow these people had been able to turn the sentence "Here's a neat trick that will amuse your family and friends" into "Here's a way to pretend you have God-like powers and convince crowds of credulous and needy people to give you their money." For them, that three dollar book certainly paid for itself.
If you want to follow their lead, allow me to present five things you must do if you want to use your cheap magician skills to convince the world you have real psychic powers.
There's an old adage that goes, "If it goes up, it's a trick. If it goes across, it's real." Basically it means the more impressive a trick looks, the less convinced most people will be that it's real.
For example, if a magician makes a crumpled ball of paper float up a meter into the air, do somersaults and then float back down, the audience knows there is obviously invisible thread or some other nefarious gimmick in use. If however, a psychic stares at the crumpled up paper ball for two minutes, straining to summon all of their psychic powers and then finally it moves three inches across the table, they figure it must be the real deal.
Of course, according to the laws of physics, making a ball of paper move one inch with the power of thought is exactly as impossible as making the entire Statue of Liberty disappear. This is based on a principal of magic called "the too perfect theory." It means deliberately weakening a trick to make it more believable. For example, if a magician is going to pretend to be psychic and predict three headlines that will appear in the next day's newspaper, then seal the predictions in an envelope to be revealed after the events, they will almost always deliberately get one wrong.
Predicting only two of the three correctly makes them seem suitably psychic and amazing, while not crossing the boundary that will make people suspicious. Kind of like when a kid cheats on a test, he'll always get a couple of answers intentionally wrong to throw the teacher off the scent.
Here, Nina Kulagina demonstrates beautifully how moving a salt-shaker half an inch will drive a bunch of scientists crazy:
If you can be seen doing it in grainy black and white footage instead of a glitzy Vegas stage surrounded by tigers and half-naked show girls, it also helps add a little bit of credibility. So remember, less is more when it comes to trying to appear psychic. Which brings us to another important point:
Diversity in the psychic trade will kill you. Find one trick you can do quite well and milk the hell out of it. Do it to death. Psychics with more than three tricks rarely make it big! Consider the most famous names of psychic history:
Spoon-bending, spoon-bending and more spoon-bending. And occasionally he'd duplicate a sealed-up picture for you.
If you had incredible psychic powers that could change the course of science and history how would you use them?
How about bending cutlery?
The Fox Sisters:
These girls started the whole spirit summoning phenomenon in the mid-1800s--and made Cracked's list of The Ballsiest Con Artists of All Time--but their trick was simple. They made ghost rapping noises by cracking their toes, and tying an apple to a string and banging it on the floor.
Based on only that, their home in New York was swarmed by people wanting to speak to the spirits, and the girls would gladly repeat this trick for anyone who asked. That's right; "psychic medium" John Edward would likely not have a career if it wasn't for two girls banging an apple against a bed.
Dr. Henry Slade:
After the Fox sisters made spiritualism big and the craze made its way to Europe, Henry Slade provided physical evidence from beyond with a trick involving two chalk board slates, the kind school kids used to write on. The participant would be asked to think of a question for the spirits. The slates would be placed together, some scratching sounds would be heard, the slates would be separated and a suitably vague Magic 8-Ball style answer would be written on the slates in chalk.
Though a well known magic trick nowadays, this made Slade a small fortune. By the way, there's no evidence "Dr." Henry Slade was actually a doctor, so he is one of a long line of entertainers that figured out when you have the title "Dr." in front of your name, no matter how ridiculous what you're saying is, people will still believe you.
Hydrick shot to fame in the early 1980s with an eerie psychic ability to move pencils along a table with his mind. He would then psycho-kinetically turn the pages of a phone book. It's pretty clear to any beginning magician how he moved these items--he blew on them. Skeptic James Randi eventually busted Hydrick, exposing his one trick. In fairness though, Hydrick could do this trick really, really well.
Again, you see how they all kept the previous rule in mind, and how really modest these tricks are. If James Hydrick had made the pencil move, then float, then dance a jig, not a single person would have believed him (OK, maybe I'm being optimistic here).
So pull out an old magic book, find a trick and do that trick over and over again till someone believes it's real.
OK, so you've got your one trick and you've made sure it doesn't stretch credibility too far. This is the trick you'll be taking around the world. Eventually, if you get famous enough, someone will try and bust you on it, by telling the world, "He's not moving the pencils with his mind, he's just freaking blowing on them!" Therefore it's crucial that, even though you only have one trick, you have more than one method of doing it.
For example, when James Hydrick went on That's Incredible in 1981 to show off his pencil-moving trick, the host was sure he had caught on to Hydrick's method, and he had (i.e. Hydrick was blowing on the pencil).
So then Hydrick offered to do the trick again, with the host's hand positioned over his mouth. From there, Hydrick simply repositioned the pencil right on the edge of the table, and used the air from the movement of his hands as they passed over the pencil to move it. Still a very simple method, but because it was not the one the host was looking for, Hydrick completely befuddled him, to the point that the show declared Hydrick genuine.
Skeptics often make this mistake, debunking the psychic by saying, "He's just ______________!" where the blank is just one specific method of doing the trick. This is perfect for someone like the spoon-bending Uri Geller, because, as far as I can see, he has several methods, some weaker than others, some using misdirection and some using gimmicked spoons.
In fact, it actually works better when one method has been debunked, thus giving you an audience who thinks they know how the trick is done. They're now "half-smart"--they know just enough to make themselves easier to fool. By doing trick another way (that precludes the technique they're looking for), you're using their knowledge against them.