Use the Force: How Magicians Can Control Your Decisions | Mind & Brain | DISCOVER Magazine


Use the Force: How Magicians Can Control Your Decisions | Mind & Brain | DISCOVER Magazine.


In magic, choices are rarely what they seem. Magicians know how to manipulate us into a false sense of free will while really holding the puppet strings. Here’s a simple but clever example of a false choice used in magic. Imagine, if you will, the face of an analog clock and think of any hour on the dial (one, two, three….all the way to twelve.) You have a totally free choice. You can even change your mind if you like. Now we’re going to inject some randomness into your decision. Imagine that your finger is the hour hand and, starting at midnight, spell out the hour you chose, moving your finger clockwise by one step for each letter. (For instance, if you thought of seven, you’d spell out s-e-v-e-n, moving the time forward a total of five hours.). After you’ve done that, your finger will be on a new number. Starting there, spell this number, following the same procedure as before, moving your finger around the dial until you land on yet another number. Repeat the procedure one last time, starting where you left off. Remember the hour on which your finger finally lands. This is your selection. You arrived at this number randomly after making a free choice, so I think it’s fair to say that it would be impossible for me to know where your finger ended up. And yet I’m getting an impression right now. In my third eye, a vision of an old mahogany grandfather clock with a swinging pendulum and hand-painted Roman numerals on the dial. The image is ghostly and pale. I can barely make out the face. The hour-hand reads: One o’clock.

This elementary ruse is known as a force. (Try starting with another number and you’ll see why it’s a force.) A force is a way to control a spectator’s selection, be it of a card, number, word, letter—just about anything—and it’s one of the most powerful weapons in magic. There are hundreds of methods. (See for instance, 202 Methods of Forcing, by the great mentalist Ted Annemann.) Forcing gets way more sophisticated, but the basic idea is always the same.

Another familiar force is known as Magician’s Choice, the equivoqué. The idea is to set up multiple paths to the same endpoint. In the simplest version, you deal two cards down on the table and ask the spectator to “remove” to one of them. If your volunteer removes to the card you want to force, you say “Ok, that’ll be yours.” If, however, the spectator points to the other card, you eliminate it, saying “Great, we’ll remove that one.” (Here you’re exploiting the ambiguity in the meaning of the word remove.) Either way the spectator winds up with the same card. This sounds transparent—especially with only two cards—but it gets more sophisticated. In the right hands, it can be incredibly deceptive. By couching choices in ambiguous, open-ended language and exploiting the fact that the spectator doesn’t know what’s coming—assuming they’ve never seen the trick before—the magician can gently control an apparently free decision from among numerous items.