Big Think Interview With Gerard Senehi
Gerard Senehi: My name is Gerard Senehi and I’m a mentalist who likes to evoke mystery and a mystic who likes to seek truth.
Question: What does a mentalist do?
Gerard Senehi: There’s different labels to a mentalist but the label that I like for mentalist is that it’s someone who invokes mystery. There are some mentalists who manipulate people’s thoughts and have the ability to hypnotize people and I like to create mystery and invoke that in people.
The mystic element is that the mystic represents seeking truth. So, I’m a seeker of truth and I like to take people along with me through the entertainment to explore truth.
Question: What’s the difference between a mentalist and magician?
Gerard Senehi: A mentalist is someone who relies more on abilities of the mind whether it be the reading of the people, body language, psychology, influencing their thinking or some people would say even psychic abilities and abilities to predict the future whereas the magician will use more props and slide of hand. That’s the distinction.
Question: How did you become a mentalist?
Gerard Senehi: I had a psychic experience early on when I was in high school and I have a few different ones but there was one in particular that really struck me so that intrigued me and in started to inquire and look at my experience and experiment with it.
There was no training but it’s more you experiment with different ways of doing things and you just see if it works and most of the time it doesn’t work but then you just keep experimenting and when it works it often catches you by surprise but then you reflect back and you go, “Okay, what was it that happened that it actually worked?”
Question: Who has inspired you?
Gerard Senehi: There was a German mentalist named Ted Lesley who in the early days, when I was just starting out, I met him through my travels and he told me something really interesting that intrigue me and that impacted me quite a bit. He said that 99% of your success as a mentalist has to do with your…how you are rather than what you do and I was more leaning towards doing incredible things but that impacted me quite a bit. He is no longer alive but he was really on to something there.
Question: What have you taken from this advice?
Gerard Senehi: Well I think it brings the inner and the outer together because I think when you…when one starts in performance you tend to relate to that you’re putting something out that it’s either a skill that you’re putting out or knowledge or an ability that you’re putting out but then you realize that actually what you are really putting out is your self and you’re also putting out a skill and a performance but it’s a vehicle to put yourself out and so I learned that early on because when I started performing, I was actually performing on the streets in Tel Aviv, and so there I had to put myself into it because otherwise I wouldn’t get much response.
If I was just putting out something and my tendency was, has been to just play it safe and not to put my self out but to put out something cool or fancy or impressive and then I think what I’ve learned is that you have an opportunity to put your self out and then says who we are has boundless depth then you can always go deeper in putting out who you are because there is always more it’s not just it’s not just too dimensional. You’re not just someone who enjoys messing with people’s minds there is more depth to it than that and part of it is sometimes you’re just in to with that and then you have to dig deeper to find out what that actually means.
Question: What is the power of your work?
Gerard Senehi: I think it’s interesting because it’s something that people, we generally think we understand reality but when you see something like that it can make you question that, it can make you suspend your ideas and I think that is really interesting to me it’s not because some people look at it as you know it expands what’s possible but to me what’s interesting is it gets people to suspend their ideas by reality and not to be so sure that we know because I think we often think that we already understand reality.
We think that our world view is more or less complete that maybe there’s some things that we don’t know and some things that we don’t understand but more or less we’ve got to handle on reality and I like to do what I do because it brings that into question and that creates space for us to discover a lot more depth about who we are and why we’re here.
Question: Do you ever explain your tricks to people?
Gerard Senehi: No, I never explain. What I do and that’s unique to my style because I don’t tell people whether what I do is real or not real. I like to leave them guessing and that’s part of or creates this sense of suspension of the ideas because if I told them that it wasn’t real that I have some ideas about it and if I told them it was real they will just form some other ideas about it as well and I like to keep people perfectly in the middle whether they’re not sure and is much more interesting.
Question: Are we too focused on scientific explanations for paranormal phenomena?
Gerard Senehi: I don’t think they’re over focused. I mean I think we have certain belief systems that; but I find that people are remarkably open. I performed for scientists and always doctors and I’m always amazed at how open they are. I think it’s not that we tend to be skeptical it’s we’ve been given a very materialistic framework for existence and we don’t yet have a way even when new experience something on materialistic whether it’s psychic or spiritual which are two different things.
If we experience either of those we don’t necessarily have a conceptual framework or understanding to make meaning from it therefore it’s easier to kind of dismiss it but I don’t think it’s that people are necessarily overly skeptical. I’m always amazed at how open-minded people are.
Question: Why do people like being fooled by you?
Gerard Senehi: I think people are fascinated by the psychic dimension or the paranormal because it represents...It’s a metaphor for what more might be possible and I don’t think it’s inherently where the answer lies for us there are possibilities for humanity lies in psychic abilities but I think it’s a metaphor for that other things are possible, that things are deeper than they appear on the surface, that there’ a lot more and that’s why it’s always so fascinating.
That’s why also in times of crises people sometimes go back to their, you know it’s an easy place to look for deeper meaning or higher possibilities or greater possibilities and it’s not necessarily where we’ll find it but it’s the first place, one of the first places to look.
Question: Has there been a psychic shift since the start of the financial crisis?
Gerard Senehi: I don’t feel that people are [IB] pressing more. I mean, when I perform it’s it’s…it impacts people. People have strong reactions to it so I don’t feel that people’s responses has deferred. There’s perhaps new opportunities that are opening up because maybe because there is more interest in media but from people them selves I haven; felt the difference.
Question: Do your performances frighten people? How do people react to your performances?
Gerard Senehi: People are rarely scared by what I do. Occasionally, I’ve had somebody be caught off guard and get upset because they just couldn’t understand it and they show the visible kind of response. That’s rare because I also approach what I do in a very light-hearted way. It’s a playful kind of mess with your mind kind of quality.
I think it’s more when something just unexpected happens, that’s what’s most shocking for people and they can pop up at any point during my performances like it’s completely unexpected and that’s what catches people and makes them all of a sudden kind of step back and go, “What? Did that really happen? What did I just see?”
So it’s more the unexpected component rather the specific thing that I do. There was one time where I performed a miracle but because it was kind of expected it hardly had any impact and then I remember a few seconds later doing something more simple and then realizing that I have a much bigger impact as it was like.
Question: Do some people believe in you too much?
Gerard Senehi: Yeah, well I always like to make the distinction between psychic and spiritual that they’re not the same thing because sometimes I get people who respond quite strongly and then they assume that it must be the expression of something higher or some expression of God or something like that and of course that’s crazy but I do it by making the distinction between the psychic realm and the spiritual realm--because that’s an important distinction because we often assume if we experience something that’s not normal to our experience that there’s deeper or higher to it and that’s not necessarily the case.
Question: Are science and spirituality incompatible?
Gerard Senehi: I think spirituality can be approached in a profoundly objective manner because it has to do with the reality of our experience and our experience it’s important to be objective about our experience and we can quantify our experience, we can look at it objectively and that’s…that’s really important and we can look at that and recognize that something is deep versus something is not deep. We can recognize very objectively motivations, pure motivation, impure motivations. So, I think we could be very objective.
I mean, science has given us an incredible tool and at the same time we have to have the capacity to expand our consciousness. We have to have the capacity to let go and connect with something that we can’t hold with our minds but yeah we could still be objective as to whether we are doing it or not. So, there is still an element of profound rationality and reason. I think sometimes spiritually people think we should discard reason and…I think there is different sides to it because reason’s really important and our capacity to also let go and transcend reason is also really important.
Question: How do you pursue truth?
Gerard Senehi: Well it’s really something that we’re all collectively engaged with and it’s great to just kind of say, “That’s what I’m interested in. That’s a part of me.” And of course, we all should be interested in truth we…It doesn’t get the kind of recognition and it’s almost like, “What, you’re interested in truth? “And actually it should be “Well, of course.” You know, and isn’t it great what we can just say that and say and pursue that and explore what it means and not be afraid also of…of it’s implications because often if you’re interested in truth; part of it is like, “Well, who’s truth are you talking about?” And it’s like, “Wait a minute we actually are here to discover more and to get closer to truth.”
We don’t want to just kind of flatten it all out and say, “There’s no truth. That’s not possible to discover truth.” So, this is great. It’s great to; because I think also it may create space for all of us because it’s something that we’re all discovering together. It’s not just something that one person is going to figure out but we actually have to really kind of claim that it’s even possible.
Question: Do you distinguish between the real and unreal?
Gerard Senehi: I don’t draw a line between real and unreal and I think...I think I do that deliberately, very consciously because I’m provoking people. I’m provoking…I’m provoking them to question their ideas. I’m not giving them easy answers and also I’m entertaining them that’s part of what’s really interesting. Somebody told me early on that…I was at a fancy party and they said, “You know the reason we like what you do is because we know how to write book, we know how to operate on the human body, we know how to do all these things but we don’t understand what you do.”
And so, I think that’s part of what makes it fun and that’s part of what can create…It’s like art and beauty, you know. Art has the capacity to suspend our ideas. When we see something really beautiful, it has the capacity to make us feel like we don’t totally understand this and we can’t put it in a box. So, I like to do something that the people can’t put in a box and that’s what makes it good entertainment and has another added dimension because I like to make entertainment relevant for people.
Question: What is entertainment good for?
Gerard Senehi: I think entertainment has the capacity to evolve culture. So I think entertainment can be…can serve different functions. Entertainment can be used for escape, it can use for education. It can be used…and it can also be used to reflect deeper dimensions of who we are. I think and often I think in post modern culture, entertainment has slipped into some sort of feeling good, escape is--and I feel it’s important, it’s a great opportunity to say, “Wait a minute entertainment can be really cool, it can be dynamic, it can be intriguing, it could be creative, and it can help educate us or take culture forward.
Question: What are your goals as a mystic?
Gerard Senehi: I don’t know about 5 years but my goal is…my short term goal is to...is to try to generate momentum…Use public kind of a public success perhaps television work, to create a bit of kind of in the field of entertainment, create a movement of reflecting on deeper question, questioning reality, bringing attention to meaning, purpose, who we are or why we’re here in a creative fun way that’s not pedantic and that helps people to reflect on themselves and their own experience.
So that’s my goal and it’s something that I’ve always been interested in but recently I’ve been leaning into it and say how can I do that within my role as a kind of mystery entertainer.
Question: Can you do a trick on camera?
Gerard Senehi: It’s possible. It’s very unusual. I mean, it’s…because part of the impact is how…Part of the mystery of what happens is what happens between me and the other person. So it’s not just the kind of…But I can try something.
Topic: The spoon bender.
Gerard Senehi: All right. Watch this. Let’s just try.
Topic: Another spoon trick.
Gerard Senehi: Tell me how this looks. This is a little experiment with this spoon. Watch.
Topic: The magic business card.
Gerard Senehi: This is just a fun little thing but let’s just try this. This is the Big Think business card. I want you to catch it.
Recorded on: June 4, 2009
A conversation with the famed mentalist and mystic.
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