Here’s why you should never lie to mentalist Nicolai Friedrich. He can read your mind
German mentalist-magician Nicolai Friedrich, who performed in Gurugram recently, can make objects float and pull things out of thin air. He can also read your mind. The illusionist speaks to HT about life as a mentalist and a lawyer, and the science behind reading minds.
The stage glows in the dark auditorium as mentalist Nicolai Friedrich asks for a ten-rupee note from the audience. Once he has a volunteer, he asks the man to sign the tenner and holds it up for all to see as he folds it into a tiny square. With a broad smile, he asks the audience what denomination they would like to see it converted to. The public goes for the highest – a two-thousand rupee note. Friedrich waves the folded square in the air and then begins unfolding it to reveal a violet currency note. When the deafening applause dies down, he invites the volunteer onstage and asks him to open a sealed peanut can and pour its contents into a glass. At the base of the now empty can is the man’s signed, folded ten-rupee note.
Two minutes into German mentalist-magician Nicolai Friedrich’s show and even the dyed-in-the-wool sceptics are left with plummeting jaws. For not only can he make a table float and tear a newspaper to shreds only to make it whole again with a flick of his hand, he can also read your mind and guess your birthday and the identity of the person whose photo is in your wallet by just looking at you.
Ask him how he does it and Friedrich, 41, is all logic and science. “There is a science behind it because I do not have supernatural powers,” he laughs. “There is psychology involved and the power of suggestion. It also involves hypnotism and manipulating and influencing people by planting thoughts in their heads. It creates the illusion of mind reading,” says Friedrich who performed in Gurugram last Sunday.
It is one thing when to make his point Friedrich asks you to pick a number from a dice and then guesses it correctly as you count aloud from one to six. Maybe your eyes gave you away the first time, you think; maybe you looked away the second time; maybe your face wasn’t poker enough when he was right for the third time. But when he invites randomly selected people from the audience and asks them to pick words from different books and then guesses the correct words and page numbers, not once, not twice but thrice, you can only but marvel.
“You think that I am guessing what you are thinking, but you are thinking what I want you to think,” he explains. “I cannot look into somebody’s head and tell what thoughts they have, but if I am controlling the communication procedure, if I get responses to my questions I can pretty much tell what’s in there,” he says. “Your subconscious mind causes mini-muscle effects,” he tells a shocked participant on stage after correctly predicting the city, the colour and the number she had been thinking about.
With achievements such as ‘Magician of the Year’ (Germany, 1997) and best performer (Beijing, 2009) at World Championships of Magic to his credit, Friedrich’s CV reads like something right out of the Harry Potter Universe. But he is firmly rooted in reality. He is a lawyer by education and works for a law firm in Frankfurt. He calls himself a “professional magician and a hobby lawyer”.
The odd combination is the result of a childhood deal with his mother who insisted he study something serious before embarking on a career as a magician. “Now she is my manager,” he says, “because that was our deal. I go to the university and then she manages my career. Luckily, I am doing very well. I travel the world, do shows all over like in India, or Dubai or back home in Germany.”
Though Friedrich has performed close to 70 shows in India in the last three years, he says he was initially baffled when he tried to read the body language of Indian audiences. “All over the world, when people are nodding their head this means yes, and shaking their head means no. However,” he says, “Indians can do both at the same time! The first time I performed here, I was totally confused,” he laughs.
So can he help investigators solve crimes like Patrick Jane from the TV show The Mentalist? “No, it doesn’t work like that” Friedrich explains. “You can help police with interrogations but you can’t solve mysteries like they show on TV. I can find a hidden object as long as the person knows on a subconscious level where it is. But if it is hidden somewhere and nobody knows, I can’t do it.”
Though he admits his mind-reading skills do give him some advantages in real life. “If I look closely I can tell if people are lying to me. It is very hard to lie to me. People usually don’t dare,” he says. Neither do his two children, 5 and 8. “But it only works to a certain extent,” he says. “If they’re fighting each other, I can’t do much magic. Then I am like every other dad.”
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The author tweets @DoNotRamble