Last night while tossing and turning with insomnia, I came across “Deception with Keith Barry” on the Discovery Channel. Being a fan of other Discovery Channel shows, I gave it a watch. The premise was that this Irish mentalist was going to work with used car salesmen and explain how they use “mind control” to make us buy a lemon of a ’97 Buick with 150,000 miles and a cracked windshield for $15,000. Maybe that was just me. After I heard the phrase “mind control” I thought I was in for a woo-fest and settled in with a bag of popcorn.
Barry mentioned more than once that he was going to “hack into your subconscious”. Again, this seemed like techno-woo to me. As I watched the program, however, Barry went on to explain some basic facts about human perception that seemed to have some basis in science. For example, he had a subject sit across from him at a table and look into his eyes while he held a tie under the table. He asked the subject to pick a color and a pattern that they would like to see on the tie. Of course they could not see the tie before they gave their answer. Everyone doing this picked the color blue with a white polka dot pattern. The subjects were amazed to see that the tie under the table was indeed blue with white polka dots. Barry then explained the “trick”. He and the subjects were sitting beside a large window. For a split second while Barry was asking them to imagine any color and pattern, a blue car with white polka dots drove by. The implication was that the car was seen out of one’s peripheral vision and subconsciously everyone picked the color and pattern predicted by Barry.
The show was an odd, but somewhat entertaining, mix of stage magic and Psych 101. What bothered me was the fact that Barry, on some of his more spectacular mind reading tricks, refused to explain how it was done. I found myself wondering if this new show was trying to be informative from a scientific point of view or just fun parlor tricks. The jury is still out on that one. I recommend giving an episode or two a try.