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A very profitable trick

The braceletOn July 31, 1665, Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary about how an acquaintance had witnessed an unexplainable event. Four young girls had lifted a boy above their heads using only one finger each. A version of this trick was later used by spiritualists where audience members would be invited to lift someone from a chair using only their index fingers, thus showing the power of the spirit world to overcome the force of gravity. I have seen the trick used by very expensive motivational speakers who use it to show how the power of the mind (enhanced by the guruís teachings of course) can be used to influence the laws of the universe.

It is a trick, and simply relies on the fact that most people can easily lift one quarter of the weight of one person. Yes, it looks impressive, but there is no reason to pay (sometimes thousands of) dollars to learn how to do it.

I do presentations about medical quackery and one part of my stage act is to demonstrate how certain chemicals can make a personís muscles weak. If I am talking at a dinner there are always packets of sugar and artificial sweetener available so I can easily show how I canít push someoneís arm down if they resist while holding a packet of sugar but I can easily do it if they are holding a packet of aspartame. (If I talk to diet soft drink makers the effects mysteriously reverse.) When I go to the MindBodySpirit Festival I see people using a similar technique to test for allergies and I can only assume that there is something in the atmosphere at these shows which enables the tester to always have just the right cure for the allergies which are inevitably detected.

It is a trick (usually called applied kinesiology, but it often uses an alias), and simply relies on the way muscles react to forces in different directions. I use three methods (which took me a total of about five minutes to learn) but there are other ways, and one of the reasons I go to the MBS Festival is to see if I can pick up tips for doing the trick better or in different ways. I cannot diagnose allergies, no matter how much I am paid to do so.

On December 15 this year, 344 years after Pepys couldnít work out how a parlour trick was done, the television show Today Tonight featured a man with some magic bracelets that can enhance your balance, strength and flexibility. The bracelets are very similar to those coloured plastic wristbands that sell for a couple of dollars to raise money for charities, except these magic wristbands sell for $60. The seller of the bracelets demonstrated in several ways how wearing the bracelets could make people stay upright when pushed and turn further around than they thought they could. The bracelets not only work on humans, but apparently if you put enough of them on or around a racehorse it can win the Kentucky Derby. Closer to my sporting interests, they can make the most experienced driver in Formula One driving one of the four best cars in the 2009 field come in the top four in the driversí championship. I expect that they will be banned in thoroughbred racing and motor sport very soon because of the advantage they provide to users.

It is a trick, and again relies on how the body and muscles react to pressure and movement. Immediately after watching the show I demonstrated one of the tricks to my wife. I didnít have any magic $60 wristbands handy so I used the first thing I could put my hand on. Remarkably, my reading glasses had the same magic power as the bracelets. Perhaps my optician and I could take a stand at the next MindBodySpirit Festival and treat peopleís ills with spectacle frames. Perhaps not. Iím going to spend some time with my recording of the show, however, because the wristband seller used a couple of tricks that I havenít seen before and I need to learn them for my own show.

Seriously, I realise that shows like Today Tonight have a charter to entertain as well as inform but when entertainment and stage magic is presented as fact there is a real chance that viewers might be hurt. In this case the hurt is financial, because spending $60 on something that should cost $3 and which does nothing is simply a waste of money. There is the real possibility, however, that people with ailments such as arthritis might think that a cheap cure has arrived. If you have an urgent need to give away $60 and get nothing in return then I am sure that looking under "Charities" in the Yellow Pages could provide some hints.

A version of this article was published on the Yahoo! 7 News Blog on December 22, 2009
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