Richard Wiseman on Lessons from Dale Carnegie, How to Keep a Luck Diary, Mentalism, The Psychology of the Paranormal, Mass Participation Experiments, NLP, Remote Viewing, and Attempting the Impossible | The Tim Ferriss Show (#593)

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Key Takeaways

  • “As a scientist, when you run an experiment, you’re not supposed to look at your results and then decide how to analyze your data.”Richard Wiseman
  • Doing magic tricks is like doing a psychology study
    • Magicians are good psychologists, “…they have to understand where you’re going to place your attention, how you’re perceiving a particular action.” Richard Wiseman
    • Psychology studies sometimes fail, but magic tricks have to work every single time
  • The MegaLab truth test was Wiseman’s first mass participation experiment and a life-changing experience
    • “When we watch people lie and tell the truth on video or film or TV, we are really not very good at detecting a lie.” – Richard Wiseman
  • How to spot a liar?
    • All of us have a certain “signature” in terms of the eye contact we make when talking, the adjectives we use, pronouns, etc.
    • When people lie, they consistently push against that baseline
  • Research now shows us that dreams are not random
    • Dreams are our minds working through anxieties, worries, and trying to solve problems
  • The self-dev authors are asking people who’ve got issues in their lives to go and make these changes with no evidence at all
    • The other problem with them is that if they are not effective, people become very fatalistic
  •  Both observation and memory are less reliable than people think
    • Memory is not like replaying a film or a videotape; we are building a narrative based on fragments

Key Books Mentioned

Intro

  • Richard Wiseman (@richardwiseman) is a psychologist, author, and magician
    • Wiseman holds Britain’s only professorship in the public understanding of psychology (University of Hertfordshire)
    • He served as director of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (the largest arts festival in the world) for eight years
    • Check out Richard’s psychology-based YouTube videos
  • What do magic tricks and psychology have in common? 
    • Why are self-dev books sometimes harmful?
    • Is NLP a bunch of bullsh!t?
  • Tim Ferriss and Richard Wiseman explore the psychology of the paranormal, the link between magic tricks and psychology, and the most common problems with self-development books

Parapsychology – the Psychology of the Paranormal

  • Wiseman has been involved in parapsychology for a long time
    • He originally worked as a magician and got fascinated with the paranormal
  • “Experimenter Effects and the Remote Detection of Staring” by Richard Wiseman and Marilyn Schlitz
    • A study they did at the University of Hertfordshire about remote detection of staring 
    • Is it possible to psychically detect the gaze of someone staring at you behind your back?
    • They wanted to find experimental evidence for this but there was no proof of psychic functioning
    • Richard was imposing his thoughts and wishes on the experiment (evidence of an experimental effect)
  • “As a scientist, when you run an experiment, you’re not supposed to look at your results and then decide how to analyze your data.”Richard Wiseman
    • This is also true of psychology
    • Nowadays, there’s this big movement towards attempting to increase the quality of psychological research 
    • Strangely, the catalyst for that movement is parapsychology

Why Study Parapsychology?

  • Most of Wiseman’s research was looking at why people believe in paranormal phenomena
    • “I think the real answer, though, in terms of doing the experimental work, is this just really interesting. It’s really fun.” Richard Wiseman
  • Many years later, Wiseman is still unconvinced but finds it fascinating
    • “Once you’ve got that passion, you just spend longer looking at the topic you’re passionate about and you become better than everyone else or better informed than everyone else.”Richard Wiseman
  • Apart from fun, most people are driven by some sort of a personal paranormal experience
    • Something inexplicable has happened to them and that’s what keeps them going

What’s So Magical About Magic?

  • Richard Wiseman is a member of the “Inner Magic Circle” (only 300 magicians worldwide)
    • The Magic Circle is a melting pot for all kinds of British magicians
  • Magic is the gift that keeps on giving
    • It provides you with a wonderful close-knit community
    • “I think we overlook that with hobbies and interests it’s that it isn’t just that interest. The fact you’re connecting with others, you’ve got a shared interest, it’s people you can talk to about whatever it is.”Richard Wiseman
    • Building a community of like-minded people is tremendously important, and magic does that easily
  • Doing magic tricks is like doing a psychology study
    • Magicians are good psychologists, “…they have to understand where you’re going to place your attention, how you’re perceiving a particular action.” Richard Wiseman
    • Psychology studies sometimes fail, but magic tricks have to work every single time
  • It’s a really hard way to earn your living
    • Wiseman is always impressed by anyone who earns their living doing magic
  • Magicians withhold their secrets from the audience for their own good
    • If you saw the method, it would probably disappoint you
  • The brilliance of David Blains’s early street work
    • Taking the magic away from the stage and back to the streets
    • Instead of placing the camera on himself performing, he’d focus on the audience responding
  • What’s the deal with mentalism?
    • Mentalism is the imitation of various mental effects (telepathy, clairvoyance, predicting the future, etc.)
    • Cold reading (one of the most common mentalism techniques) 
      • It’s what psychic readers do
      • You start with very general statements about the person
      • Depending on their body language and how interested they look, you try to find out more about them
    • Check out Derren Brown for mentalism and psychological stuff

Mass Participation Studies

  • The MegaLab truth test was Wiseman’s first mass participation experiment and a life-changing experience
    • Getting the whole country trying to identify a liar
    • Wiseman got Sir Robin Day to come and lie and tell the truth on national television
    • They got about 30,000 people calling
    • “When we watch people lie and tell the truth on video or film or TV, we are really not very good at detecting a lie.” Richard Wiseman
    • The results supported that, they were about 50/50
    • “When you focus people’s attention on the verbal cues, which is where the really good stuff is in terms of signals for lying, they become much better lie detectors.” Richard Wiseman
  • They did another study, this time on national radio
    • We miss a lot of details when we are overwhelmed with visual information
    • When focusing only on the audio information, “…suddenly all the ‘ums’ and the ‘ahs’ and the lack of detail, the lack of ‘I’s, me, my,’ and so on, all jump out at you.” Richard Wiseman

How to Be a Human Lie Detector

  • The most important thing is to be on the lookout for movements that are away from the “baseline”
    • All of us have a certain “signature” in terms of the eye contact we make when talking, the adjectives we use, pronouns, etc.
    • When people lie, they consistently push against that baseline
    • Look for lack of detail, shorter sentences, bigger response time, and psychological distancing (not saying “me”, “my”, “I”…)

Neurolinguistic Programming? Don’t Even Bother

  • NLP is a bunch of different ideas
    • Some aspects are valid (e.g. mirroring the other person’s body language to get rapport), but big parts of NLP just don’t work out at all
    • With lying, it’s a very widely believed idea that if a person looks to the left, he’s lying and down to the right, telling the truth 
    • This doesn’t work at all
  • “…it’s not just NLP, there so many things out there, which everybody does that are based on psychology and the academic work doesn’t underpin it.” – Richard Wiseman

Why Are We Fascinated by Dreaming?

  • Research now shows us that dreams are not random
    • Dreams are our minds working through anxieties, worries, and trying to solve problems
    • “What I find incredible is the number of times I have woken up with a solution to an experiment or an idea or a book fully formed in my head.” Richard Wiseman
  • Tim can lucid dream, Wiseman can’t
    • If you don’t have any dream recall, trying to induce lucidity is mostly pointless, according to Tim
  • About dealing with night terrors
    • Night terrors are related to anxiety and to being in a warm room
    • Use an icebox to keep the bed cool
    • Don’t touch the person who’s having the night terror. Keep your distance
    • Oftentimes, saying the person’s name gently will be enough to bring them out of it
    • If your night terrors are based on anxiety, it can be helpful to write down your anxieties and worries before you go to bed 
    • Counting backward from a hundred fills working memory, and that means those anxieties can’t get in
  • If you have problems waking up during the night
    • Get out of bed and do something non-stimulating but physical (e.g. adult coloring books) for 10 minutes and go back to bed 
    • If you’re still awake 10 minutes later, repeat the activity
    • Moving out of the bed and occupying the mind is an effective technique to stop associating the bed with the anxiety of being awake

The Problem With Self-Dev Books

  • If it works for you, then great
  • “My beef with a lot of them is that even the practitioners writing them don’t believe half this stuff, and there’s no evidential, no scientific underpinning of it.”Richard Wiseman
    • The self-dev authors are asking people who’ve got issues in their lives to go and make these changes with no evidence at all
    • Wiseman always looks for the scientific underpinning of these ideas
  • The other problem with them is that if they are not effective, people become very fatalistic 
    • They put all that effort into it and it made no difference. Because of it, they could have a dangerous impact
  • Wiseman is a big fan of Carnegie even though it’s self-dev literature
    • He believes How to Win Friends and Influence People, and How to Stop Worrying and Start Living by Dale Carnegie are the two greatest books ever written 
  • Carnegie kept a diary called “The damn stupid mistakes I’ve made”
    • Every day, he’d write about something he wished he hadn’t done to avoid it in the future
    • It’s the opposite of positive journaling

How to Keep a Luck Diary

  • The idea for The Luck Diary came out of The Luck School, which came out of A Chance Happening (a study by his colleague about key moments in people’s lives)
    • Luck beliefs are a bit like paranormal stuff, but they are far more common
    • Nevertheless, far less research has been done on luck beliefs than on paranormal stuff
    • Wiseman spent about 10 years researching the psychology of luck and the behavior of lucky (and unlucky) people
    • Once we get used to the things that make us happy (our health, relationships, career, etc.), they vanish
    • Then we end up needing more and more to get the feeling back (hedonistic treadmill)
    • The Luck Diary resets that by making you think about gratitude and naming positive things that happened to you throughout the day
    • By doing so, people can change their self-identity to feel more like a lucky people, and that is a catalyst for all sorts of behavioral changes

Fooling Oneself – The Construction or Reconstruction of Memory

  • Both observation and memory are less reliable than people think
    • Cognitive psychology teaches us that humans are not that good observers, and our memory is not accurate
  • How observation works is incredibly clever
    • If you were taking all the information coming at you all the time, you would need a brain the size of the planet 
    • Our brain focuses on what it thinks is the most important thing 
    • And then if other stuff changes, you don’t spot that 
    • Humans are very selective observers
  • Memory is not like replaying a film or a videotape 
    • Instead, we try and remember fragments and create a narrative around them 
    • We might think that it’s always the other people that aren’t observant but the truth is, we all suffer from this kind of “uniqueness” bias

A Message to Get the Attention of Billions of People…

  • Smile. That’s it
    • It all comes back to Carnegie; phenomenal and simple
    • Smiling is reciprocated by the other person and they feel good about it
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Notes By Dario

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