299 - Magical Solutions

Speaker: Mark Worden (Standard British accent)

Richard Wiseman is both a psychologist and a magician. The title of his latest book, Paranormality: Why We See What Isn’t There, is probably self-explanatory. He argues that paranormal phenomena like ghosts don’t exist, but he is fascinated by the fact that people believe in them. He is also sceptical about the “self-help” industry:

Richard Wiseman (Standard British accent)
Well, I’m not a fan of the self-help industry: I’m more critical of that than the paranormal! And in fact it shares quite a lot of factors with the paranormal, in that it promises something. You know, it says, “Oh, in two seconds, you know, you can become successful” and... and so on. A lot of the psychology that’s being peddled simply has no basis in... in fact at all and... so, in a previous book, 59 Seconds, I went through all of that psychology and argued that lots of… the techniques that are being pushed in self-help, you know, like visualisation and so on, simply aren’t very helpful and in fact may actually hinder you, so that the self-help normally refers to the author’s bank balance, rather than whether or not you’re actually going to get anything out of it yourself!

During his career he has also invented a word: quirkology.

Richard Wiseman
We were looking for a title for a book and... and book titles are notoriously difficult and someone said to me, “What’s the book about?” I said, “Well, it’s... it’s... it’s psychology, but it’s all my stuff, which tends to be quite quirky, so it’s quirky psychology.” And then we came upon the... the genius idea of taking the word “quirky” and taking the word “psychology” and putting them together and getting “quirkology,” which has actually taken off and we sort of put it out as a joke initially, but it has actually taken off, so I now get emails from students and... teachers kind of going, “Oh, I’ve got these… they’re doing these quirkology projects and... so on, which is... quite nice, to invent a word that actually gets out there.

In conclusion he treated us to a simple magic trick:

Richard Wiseman
So this is one (of) the first things you learn as a... as a magician. You have to tuck this handkerchief into your hand, which is not a particularly exciting thing to do, but slightly more exciting is to make it disappear. And what’s very good about that is that you can actually bring it back again, which is useful because otherwise you run out of handkerchiefs very quickly!

(Richard Wiseman was talking to Mark Worden)