Friday, June 01, 2007

The Art of Deception

The man sitting across the table from you is known for trickery. He is a stage magician. You know he employs trickery, so he tells you he is going to do a card trick in which he can't possibly manipulate the cards. In this trick, you will do all of the card handling. He won't touch the cards at all.

He instructs you to cut the deck into four piles. You do so. He then tells you that you are going to randomize the order of the cards by shuffling them around and moving cards from one pile to another. Pointing to a pile of cards, he instructs you to take the top three cards and place them at the bottom of that pile. Then, take the next three cards and place them, one each, on top of the three piles remaining on the table. You repeat the procedure with all four piles of cards. The cards should now be very well mixed.

The man then begins his patter in earnest. He asks you to confirm the fact that he has not touched the cards. You agree. In no way could he have manipulated how you would cut the cards or handle them. Again, you agree. With a smile, he asks you to turn over the top card from each pile. You are amazed. The four aces sit at the top of each of the four piles of cards. For a moment, your mind might actually entertain the possibility that real magic has been performed, though you "know" you've been duped.

The fact is, this trick can be taught in a couple of minutes to any child capable of understanding the instructions. It requires no fine motor skills for clever card handling since the performer does not even handle the deck. The only thing required is setting up the deck before the trick is performed and being able to do a little sales patter in which you get the audience to agree to a statement that is blatantly false.

Take a moment and see if you can identify the lie that makes the trick believable. Everything the magician says is true with one exception. The trick is based completely on a facet of human psychology that most people--stage magicians, salesmen and politicians aside--don't understand. When a person is given a number of facts that are demonstrably true, they will tend to group all statements in that group together, agreeing to everything said, including an embedded lie.

1. The magician asked you to agree that he did not touch the cards during the trick: True
2. He asks you to agree that he did not influence you in any way in how the cards were cut: True
3. He asks you to agree that in no way did he manipulate you in the handling of the cards: FALSE

In fact, the only thing he did was manipulate you while creating the illusion in your mind that you were making free choices. If you don't see the manipulation yet, read through the description of the trick again. The magician did not allow you to choose how the cards would be shuffled once they were cut into four piles. Instead, he guided you through a pre-programmed series of moves--three cards to the bottom then three cards on top of the remaining piles--designed to move the four aces to the top of the four piles from their pre-placed position at the top of the deck! If you want to understand the mechanics of the trick, grab a deck of cards and try it. Just put the four aces at the top of the deck then simply follow the trick as outlined above.

Once you understand how the trick is done, you'll realize it is a very cheap bit of manipulation. If you found your mind reeling at the description of the trick, you'll probably feel a bit of a fool at how easily you could be duped. The trick really is a child's game and a very old one, at that. Yet, people are still fooled by it.

It works with more than just cards. The phrase, "stacking the deck" means using a variation of this kind of trick to predetermine the outcome of any situation by placing what is to be chosen in a particular position then guiding the chooser through a predefined set of movements that forces that particular choice while giving the illusion of free choice. There are a number of other methods used to force a selection in stage magic. Many card tricks rely on forced selection, but the magician can't use the same force twice in his act. As he changes methods, he informs you that each new method is an assurance that he is not engaging in any sort of trickery. Maybe he fooled you on the last one, so this time he won't even touch the cards. Next time, perhaps he'll use the force called Magician's Choice. He'll give you three choices and ask you to pick one at random. You, of course, have no choice but to pick exactly what you are forced to pick.

How can that be? It's easy. Given three choices, A, B and C, suppose I want you to pick B. I ask you to pick one at random. If you happen to pick B, the force is done. If you pick A, I set A aside and ask you to pick from B and C. If you pick C, I declare that you've left your choice, B, on the table. Again, a cheap trick that most people will fall for if done with the requisite theatricality. Forced choice and sleight-of-hand are not only the prevue of stage magicians, though. Take a look at how it is done in real life.

The most enduring form of the forced choice in the U.S. and western Europe is the electoral process. This is such an obvious forced choice that it can, rather paradoxically, remain undetected even after it is pointed out. The key is the emotional involvement of the electors, which just happens to be the key to stage magic, too. Once you've convinced someone they are making a free choice, they will provide the evidence of the freedom of their choice for you. If human beings didn't possess this peculiar bit of psychology, stage magic wouldn't work. It wouldn't matter what the magician said. The forced choice would be seen for precisely what it is: forced. Instead, a little salesmanship on the part of the performer convinces the audience of what is to come before the trick is performed. The audience then dutifully sees exactly what they were told to see and the magician is free to manipulate events to his favor.

Here is another example of the techniques of stage magic at work. On the morning of September 11, 2001, you awoke to reports that the unthinkable had happened--a massive terrorist attack had occurred on U.S. soil. As the day unfolds, you learn the following facts. Four planes had been hijacked to be used as veritable flying bombs against high profile targets. Two of those planes, in front of thousands of witnesses and several video cameras, fly into the twin towers of the World Trade Center. Later that morning, those towers collapse, leaving not even a bit of the structures left standing. In the Pennsylvania countryside, another of the hijacked planes crashes following an apparent heroic effort by the passengers to regain control of the aircraft from its hijackers. Also, something crashes into the Pentagon, causing massive damage, a huge fire ball and loss of life.

Eventually, it is announced that the damage at the Pentagon was caused by the fourth hijacked plane. This makes perfect sense to you. Four planes are hijacked, three are clearly accounted for, and something crashed into the Pentagon. The only logical choice is that the fourth plane crashed into the Pentagon. What doesn't occur to you is that you have been duped once again by another variation of the forced choice. Just like with the card trick, you don't think of the obvious, that the deck has been stacked and movements manipulated to force this particular choice.

Subsequent revelations about the inconsistencies in the official story of the event only further the illusion. A magician might turn your mind away from thoughts of the cheap manipulation he has performed by giving you a false choice of explanations for what you have witnessed. He only needs to give you one of the possible explanations, letting you provide the other in the privacy of your own mind. He tells you it must have been "magic." While you know it isn't true, his suggestion has clouded your thinking by introducing noise into your thought process. After all, if you were sufficiently impressed by the trick, that very thought likely went through your head. The same thing is done in the official story of the events of the day of 911. A false choice is set up by suggesting that the alternative to the official story is something preposterous, like holograms of planes flying into the twin towers, or rogue elements of the U.S. government committing this atrocity.

And here we see that a subtle variation of the trick, also used in stage magic, has been employed to divert your attention. You have been given two possible scenarios that contradict the official story. One of them is blatantly silly, one is not. Yet, as any stage magician, salesman or professional politician knows, your mind will group the statements together and dismiss the second with the first. In other words, the truth about the trick has been told openly, but in such a way that you will reject the truth, sending you down any number of dead-end blind alleys searching for the secret of how it was done.

Take a moment again to review what you were told and what you actually saw with your own eyes. If you want to see how the trick is done, do not accept anything the magician tells you at face value. He is a liar. His job is to give you as much truth and openness as possible, for the purpose of proving to you that he is not manipulating events in any way, so that the critical lie that makes the trick work will go undetected by the average observer. In the case of 911, you were flooded with demonstrable facts that were horrifying, engaging your emotions to a high degree. Remember, the key to all trickery is the emotional involvement of the audience in supporting the lie. Each fact presented made the ensuing lies all the more believable.
Two planes really did crash into the twin towers. A plane really did crash into the Pennsylvania countryside. Something really did crash into the Pentagon. All of this is a matter of record, so everything that comes after, your mind will tell you, is a matter of record, too.

But it isn't.

In fact, the evidence strongly suggests that a commercial aircraft could not have crashed into the Pentagon. There was, for example, no wreckage found at the scene that could have come from such a craft. For the craft to have hit the building as low as it did, its engines would have had to scrape the ground, yet the lawn in front of the Pentagon was left unmarked. The hole left in the Pentagon was barely as wide as the fuselage of such a craft. Assuming that the fuselage managed to fully penetrate the building and disintegrate, creating a hole that size, one is still left to account for the wings and engines. The official story would have the folding back and penetrating the building along with the fuselage. But there is simply no room for them to have made it through the hole.

In the case of the twin towers, the claim has been made that they collapsed--as did the building 7, later--due to a loss of structural integrity caused by massive fire and a weakening of supports from the shock caused by the impact of the planes. This was accepted as a reasonable explanation, despite the fact that the buildings were designed to withstand such a shock and no steel reinforced building has ever collapsed due to fire, before or since. Also, as any publicly available video of the collapse of the towers will show you, the tops of the towers leaned to one side as they began to fall, yet still managed to right themselves and fall into the footprint of the building. This would be impossible without a controlled demolition of the buildings.

You have also been asked to believe that each and every safeguard against such an event put in place by the U.S. military failed simultaneously on that fateful day, despite the fact that those safeguards had been called to action over 60 times in the preceding 12 months and worked perfectly each and every time. In the words of our stage magician, "it was magic!"

Of course, in the case of stage magic, the lies are told for our amusement. No harm done, maybe even a lesson learned. In the case of a deception like 911, the stakes are a bit higher. The art of deception is as old as mankind. Strike that. It is far older. It is as old as the universe itself. Deception is a key survival strategy for nearly everything that has ever been alive. How curious, then, that we—the one species we believe capable of rational thought on the planet—remain almost completely ignorant of the various means of deception. What’s even more curious is the fact that many remain steadfast in their belief that such deception is rare when the evidence contradicting that belief can be seen in even the most cursory investigation of nature.

Chameleons change color to blend into their surroundings. Some species of moths and butterflies have markings that are so close to the bark of the trees on which they perch that you can look right at them and not notice they are there. Carnivorous plants will mimic the smell of rotting flesh in order to attract the flies they like to eat. The list goes on and on, from one link in the food chain to the next. Why do we insist that this behavior ends with mankind?

The key, once again, is emotional involvement in a lie we have been told. Since the time we were children, it has been drummed into our heads. Everyone is the same inside. It’s a lovely democratic sentiment, but it is a sentiment that is contradicted by evidence. Just like in stage magic, we are directed away from seeing the truth through clever means of misdirection. The belief of what we are to see is planted in our heads before we ever see it. If we begin to suspect the truth, noise is injected into our thought process and true statements are mixed with false to use our psychology against us.

The simple fact is, all who look human are not human in the way we normally understand humanity. A small but very destructive minority of those who look human lack some of the most basic of human characteristics—empathy and conscience. These creatures use deception and misdirection to prey on human beings. If humans begin to suspect that all is not right with them, they will put a preprogrammed set of movements into play that are designed to steer you away from the truth. And, just like in the trick, everything they do is mechanical. Yet, as long as people remain unaware of their methods, their actions continue to befuddle and even amaze.

Another real world example of how this kind of trickery is performed. As you read this, the chances are pretty good that a soldier for the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) is either using a Palestinian mother as a human shield while he terrorizes innocent people in their homes, ostensibly to search for terrorists, or is shooting a small Palestinian child in the back for the egregious crime of throwing rocks at an Israeli checkpoint in anger.

If this were any other country, you would be outraged. But this is not any country. This country was set up with immunity from criticism before it even existed. Do you see the correlation to stage magic again? The audience is told what they will see BEFORE they see it, preparing them to look for clues that validate what they were told and ignore what doesn’t fit. In the case of Israel, the audience was told that they are God’s chosen people who have suffered endlessly and now deserve to have this little plot of land to call home and live in peace.

What the audience misses is the fact that a large portion of the Jews who have made Israel their home are the descendents of converts to Judaism rather than descendents of the founders of that religion, and that they appear to be lead by some of the aforementioned almost-human predators, a.k.a., psychopaths. Even the slightest hint of criticism of Israel is met with cries of anti-Semitism, another bit of manipulation in which the only choice given is to wholeheartedly support everything Israel does or side with the Nazis. It’s another bit of forced choice that is as cheap as any described here…and it is remarkably effective.

The fact is, most Jews are caring, compassionate people who really do want to live their lives in peace. Because nearly everyone has had at least a Jewish friend or two and has observed this for themselves, charges of anti-Semitism can carry weight in their minds. Jews are not monsters, so how could these people claim they are doing anything but defending themselves against a relentless Palestinian terrorist mob that threatens their very existence? Let’s look at the statements in the same way we looked at the card trick.

1. Most Jews are caring and compassionate: True
2. Jews deserve a home in which they can live in peace like everyone else: True
3. Therefore, Israel is only defending itself when it imposes curfews, limits travel and even shoots small Palestinian children: FALSE

No one deserves a home at the expense of others. The Palestinians were living peacefully in the region for thousands of years before the U.N. created the state of Israel. Even after that event, Palestinians were gracious to their new neighbors. It was not until the leaders of Israel saw fit to demolish Palestinian homes and drive a people from a land that had been theirs for thousands of years that things turned ugly. Put yourself in their position for a moment and tell me you wouldn’t be just a little pissed off.

You may think I’ve given three examples of trickery in the real world—voting, 911 and the assumed irreproachability of Israel. In fact, I’ve only given one. The best tricks have multiple levels. One deception follows another until the audience is completely lost in the tricky with no hope of unraveling the secrets. The same is true, here. There are more levels to this particular trick, far more than we could talk about now. The rabbit hole is deep with a lot of branching tunnels that lead nowhere.

It is possible to unravel this trick, however. The key, as always, is to avoid taking any of what the magician says at face value. To see how the trick is done requires a little study and a willingness to accept that you have been tricked at all. Maintain your emotional attachment to supporting the lie and you will only fall further under the spell of the magician. Learn to open your eyes and you will suddenly see what has been going on right under you nose, undetected. One day, the trick will seem cheap and obvious and you will wonder how you didn’t see it all along.

If that day comes for you, the day your study has paid off and you can see the trickery of the magician, you will have a future.


Visible said...

Bravo!!! Well Done!!! Splendid!!! One of the best things I have read in a long time. You are to be congratulated.

A friend of mine in Australia sent me the link and imagine my surprise when I wound up reading it on a site that also hosts my work. Strange.

Carry on. I look forward to more

Anonymous said...

Absolutely brilliant. I am going to sent this out to as many friends as possible.

Stefan Verstappen said...

Great article.

A stage hypnotist likewise stacks the deck at the begging of his performance. He first asks the audience to close their eyes, hold out their hands, and imagine a weight in their right hand and a balloon tied to the other. The hypnotist then chooses members of the audience whose left hands are higher then their right.

From that point on, whatever he tells his volunteers to do, they will obey.

The lesson is that once people believe in one lie, they are committed to believe all lies.

Please see my youtube video, "Defense Against the Psychopath" for a primer on psychopathy.

PS Need to stack three other cards on top of the four aces.

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