GOD versus THE MIND READER
theSpace on the Mile , Edinburgh, Scotland
02/08/2013 - 24/08/2013
A mind reading show that will make you think again…
Mind Blowing, Funny, Unashamedly Sceptical …And a true story.
God versus The Mind Reader
Mark Cairns (born and raised in New Zealand) has spent the last 12 years convincing private and corporate audiences up and down the UK that he can read minds. Which he can’t, really. Think of him as a fake psychic who is honest about the fact that he is a fake.
Three years ago, and completely out of the blue, Mark’s wife of 16 years sat him down and told him that she had secretly converted to Islam a few months earlier. The resulting divorce left Mark wondering how a person who had professed not to have any particular belief could suddenly become convinced of the existence of an imaginary being, and a very specific flavour of imaginary being at that?
Then it hit him. Who could be better placed than someone who spends his life being paid to make people believe things that aren’t true to understand just how someone could believe something that isn’t true.
A show like no other, God versus The Mind Reader is an eye-popping, intelligent and funny look at just what it is that makes humans believe in the unbelievable. Without getting all Dawkins and ranty about it.
2 – 24 August 14:50-15:40 (not 4, 11, 18)
Mon – Weds £8.50 (£7.50)
Thurs – Sat £9.50 (£8.50)
theSpace on the Mile – Space 2 (V39)
Fringe Box Office: 0131 226 0000
Venue Box Office: 0131 510 2382
Learn a little about how little you’ve learnt
Review by Robbie Nicol 15th Aug 2013
I ask if I can get a press pack off of Mark Cairns at the end of his performance. He admits he has left them at home and we walk around the corner to his flat just off the Royal Mile. He is buzzing the whole way, telling me that he won’t fully calm down for another half hour. The goal, he says, is to make his work look effortless to the audience, while he frantically keeps everything on track.
It is easy to understand why manipulating the outcomes of God versus the Mind Reader would be no relaxing task. In his first ever public show (working only corporate and private events up to this point) Mark Cairns doesn’t quite have the showmanship down to a tee, but his gentle atheism and baffling predictions are more than enough to keep us entertained.
Moreover, the delightful conclusion of his performance relies on every previous moment of the show going exactly as he intended. I would like to explain the brilliant conclusion to you, but it would ruin your experience of the show. Just know that it is sufficiently extraordinary.
The performance begins with Cairns choosing an audience member with a ball thrown behind his back and into the crowd. The audience member chooses two other volunteers, and they in turn choose more throughout the show. Each person seems to have complete control over the choices they make, and yet, in increasingly mysterious ways, Cairns predicts exactly how every person will behave.
Strung throughout the trickery is a simple message best summed up in a quotation from the Sceptics’ Society founder Michael Shermer that Cairns shares towards the end of the performance: “I’m a sceptic not because I don’t want to believe, but because I want to know.”
Cain uses his recent divorce from a woman who converted to Islam – “I didn’t feel like I’d left her, but that she’d left me for someone else. Someone who didn’t even exist!” – as a way of sharing with us the reasons for our own beliefs. Clearly Cain has read Shermer’s Why People Believe Weird Things, and the tricks he performs examine our confirmation bias and the second presence effect.
I am an atheist, but I still felt put on the spot as he pointed out again and again that however we thought he was doing his mind-reading at the start of the show, was probably how we thought he was doing the show by the time it ended.
Whether we’re the type of person who accused him of using “x-ray contacts”, or the type of person who accused him of “fraudulently claiming not to be able to speak to dead people”, we would likely hold the same position once the show was over. In this way, Cain criticises religion tangentially pointing out how all of us (theist and atheist alike) fall victim to the confirmation bias.
What is wonderful about the atheist angle of Cain’s show is not simply that it adds depth to his performance, but also that it stops us from explaining away his tricks. He implores us to accept that, even though there is a correct answer to “How did he do that?”, we, like the scientists, must relish in not knowing.
In constantly reminding us of our own lack of certainty, we throw our explanations into doubt, thereby enjoying the show even more. Like the happy agnostic, we gain pleasure from fighting our need for immediate closure.
The frantic work Cain does to keep the show on track is a little more visible than he might think, and it is this that stops him from hitting the big leagues. He checks his watch twice throughout the show, and I hear him mention afterwards that he is running behind schedule. Frankly, the show would have benefited from being a good fifty percent longer.
God versus the Mind Reader doesn’t demonstrate the effortless charm of big performers, but it does avoid the irritating arrogance displayed by many successful magicians who think they’re two tricks away from being the second coming. Even though Cairns has been in the UK for well over a decade, he’s clearly still a New Zealander. He isn’t grandiose about his trickery, and he stands strong when he knows he’s right.
I left the show grinning from ear to ear, and few magic shows at the Fringe can really guarantee you that. If you’re after a short performance in the early afternoon that will leave you thoroughly confused, then pop into theSpace on the Mile. It’s a good opportunity to learn a little about how little you’ve learnt.
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