Sunday, August 5, 2012

Muscle reading

 Muscle reading, also known as "Hellstromism"[6], "Cumberlandism" or "contact mind reading", is a technique used by mentalists to determine the thoughts or knowledge of a subject, the effect of which tends to be perceived as a form of mind reading. The performer can determine many things about the mental state of a subject by observing subtle, involuntary responses to speech or any other stimuli. It is closely related to the ideomotor effect, whereby subtle movements made without conscious awareness reflect a physical movement, action or direction which the subject is thinking about. The term "muscle reading" was coined in the 1870s by American neurologist George M. Beard to describe the actions of mentalist J. Randall Brown [1], an early proponent of the art.

The technique relies on the assertion that the subject will subconsciously reveal their thoughts through very slight involuntary physical reactions, also known as ideomotor responses. The performer can determine what the subject is thinking by recognising and interpreting those responses. Muscle reading may be billed by some entertainers as a psychic phenomenon, where the audience will be told that by creating physical contact with the subject, a better psychic connection can be formed. In fact, the contact allows the performer to read more subtle reactions in the subject's motor functions that may not be apparent without contact, such as muscle control and heart rate.

Because muscle reading relies so heavily on the subject's subconscious reactions to their environment and situation, this technique is used commonly when performing stunts dealing with locating objects in an auditorium or on stage, and as such, it can be done 'clean' by the magician skilled in reading body language.

Performers often instruct the subject to imagine voicing instructions, which presumably amplifies the reactions of the subject, thus promoting the idea that the trick involves genuine thought tranference or mind-reading. However the subject who is "thinking directions" has a physical, kinaesthetic reaction that guides the performer so that he or she can, for example, locate a specific place on a wall on which to place a pin, without prior knowledge of where the pin should go.

Knowledge of muscle reading is a technique that is also reportedly used by poker players to hide their reactions to the game, as well as to read the other players for potential bluffs and/or better hands.

 [1] J. Randall Brown was an American mentalist of the Victorian era, and was one of the first nationally popular mentalists of his age. He was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Brown was a stage performer and early proponent of muscle reading, sometimes called "contact mind reading" or "Cumberlandism" after Stuart Cumberland [2], although Brown's act predated Cumberland's,  and Brown himself is often credited with starting the vogue for the art. The very term "muscle reading" was coined in a series of articles about Brown's abilities. Brown's shows also combined elements of the willing game and traditional séances. One of his trademark acts was the one in which he instructed the audience that while he was out of the room they were to select one of their own to be an imaginary murderer, one the victim, and something in the room to be the murder weapon. When they were done, Brown would return, take hold of one audience member by the wrist and physically lead that person to all three selections - "reading" the muscle resistance (or lack thereof) the audience member would give as he led them about the room. Much of his act consisted of variations on finding things he could not possibly know the location of. While an expert muscle reader, Brown still described this trick to his audience as "mind reading".

Brown was quite famous in the 1870s, attracting national attention with his feats. He was described in one article as holding the American people "by the nape of the neck, controlling the press as absolutely as a Napoleon or a Czar". Among people living through the progress and wonders of the Second Industrial Revolution, Brown helped create the popular impression that mental telepathy was a real skill that mankind was on the cusp of developing. He was the subject of some investigation and journalism by American neurologist George M. Beard. In 1874, Beard - irritated that Brown's abilities enjoyed so much excitement and attention in the scientific community - tested and examined Brown's claims in a New Haven music hall and (correctly) deduced that Brown's abilities were in fact due to muscle reading and not "thought transference" as Brown himself claimed. Beard also wrote a series of journalistic articles to this effect, but these were largely ignored by popular audiences and by his scientific peers.

Several of Brown's stage assistants, such as Washington Irving Bishop [4], took the information they gleaned in Brown's employ and went on to profitable solo careers of their own in the art.

 [2] Stuart Cumberland enjoyed such success as a mentalist that a key part of contact mind reading is sometimes also known as Cumberlandism. The Englishman was a ‘thought reader’ who accomplished his theatrical feats by closely studying his subjects’ ‘facial expressions and muscular tensions.’ It was by using this early knowledge of a phenomenon known as the ideomotor effect that Cumberland’s muscle reading flourished.
With his act, he traveled throughout Europe and drew much acclaim for his talents. He was adept at discerning secret words (sometimes in languages he didn’t even know) and locating hidden objects with what seemed like lightning speed, and he performed for Oscar Wilde, Andrew Carnegie and other great names of the era. He could even pinpoint physical pains and ailments known only to the sufferer. One quote describes him as able to “do all that Mr. Bishop [Washington Irving Bishop[3]], ever professes to do without the fuss.”
As a journalist and author, he also penned a newspaper and several books concerning mentalism and the techniques he used to help spot fraudulent mediums and phony psychics. More than one of his contemporaries came under attack (including Washington Irving Bishop[3]) from Cumberland for claiming to possess a supernatural extra-sensory perception. He himself was one of the few mentalists who never claimed to have any kind of psychic powers whatsoever, attributing his extraordinary powers of insight entirely to muscle reading.

[3] Washington Irving Bishop, also known as Wellington (1855-1889) was an American stage mentalist. He started his career as an assistant under the muscle reader J. Randall Brown [2], but was most well known for his performance of the blindfold drive.[4]

[4] Blindfold Drive is an specific Blindfold Vision illusion in which the performer is able to navigate in a vehicle while his eyes are covered. Washington Irving Bishop was the originator of the blindfold drive in 1885, using a horse and carriage.

See also

 [6] Axel Hellstrom was a muscle reader, mentalist and stage magician. He re-defined the art of muscle reading to such an extent that this technique, also known as "contact mind reading" and "Cumberlandism" (after a 19th century practitioner named Stuart Cumberland[2]), is now best known by the name "Hellstromism".
Hellstrom lived in Germany and fought in World War I where he watched a man perform an act of muscle reading. At the time, Germany did not allow mind reading unless it had a plausible explanation behind its means. The only type of mind reading allowed was muscle reading, and so Axel studied it carefully and taught himself everything. He entertained his fellow soldiers and became quite good at this old technique; and so, after the war, he and his wife moved to America where he knew his art form would be accepted by many - especially the magic audiences. He practiced and astonished many. Soon he was performing for professional magic audiences and amazed and bewildered all. After a short while mind readers, and even fellow hellstromists were questioning his ability.
During his live performances, his manager spoke for him because his English vocabulary was limited. Hellstrom would successfully complete many different challenges such as locating hidden items, performing actions of which others were thinking and determining which object someone had selected out of many. The accuracy of his results was astonishing and he was soon known throughout the United States. He was well respected by his peers ain the stage magic community, and other performers paid hundreds of dollars just to learn the secret behind his work.
During the 1930s, the American magician and mentalist Robert A. Nelson published the definitive book on Hellstrom's techniques, with his cooperation. Modern practitioners of Hellstromisnm include the magicians Banachek and Kreskin.

 [*] Sydney Piddington (1918 –  1991) and Lesley Piddington ( 1925 - ) were an Australian husband and wife mentalism team who performed as The Piddingtons and gave one of the most famous stage and radio telepathy acts of modern times.

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