You are likely familiar with “mentalism” as a performance art, made popular by famous shows like Psych and The Mentalist, but did you know that “Mentalism” used to be a formal branch of academia? Mentalism once referred to a type of psychology that helped bring the science of human thought and emotion to the forefront of public discussion.
Find out more about how mentalism helped form the foundations of psychology and how it came to mean a different thing entirely even though its concepts are now being revisited.
Mentalism as Early Psychology
Mentalism began as an offshoot of philosophy, spearheaded by intellectual leaders like René Descartes, Baruch Spinoza and Immanuel Kant. These individuals wanted to get to the heart of human thought processes and explain the general meaning of thought by applying systematic logic.
While many of these philosophers are still discussed and well-loved to this day, the unfortunate reality of their work was that it was mere “thoughts on thoughts.” The emerging scientific techniques based upon observation, as pioneered by those like Francis Bacon, shunted aside such musings as having a mere literary value but not much substance in terms of reliably explaining how humans think and behave.
Nevertheless, guesses were all people had to go on in a time when psychological experiments were usually limited to dissection or anecdotal analysis. Sigmund Freud in particular used the deductive logic and hypothesizing approach to describe the “hysterias” his patients were experiencing. Between him and Carl Jung, anecdotes and patient observations formed the backbone of what would later become modern psychology.
This approach was called “mentalism psychology” because it focused on how human thought patterns and processes translated into behavior and psychological phenomenon. Later American psychologists like William James carried on this legacy.
Around the early 1900s, academics and psychologists began to turn away from mentalism psychology because it was based on guesses, loose hypotheses and subjective musings. Instead, they wanted to base their theories on observed behaviors, and thus began the era of Pavlov’s dog experiments and B.F. Skinner’s infamous rat and addiction experiments. This movement became known as behaviorism to separate it from mentalism, which was seen as based on flimsier pretexts rather than observation.
It was not until 1959, when linguist Noam Chomsky wrote a scathing review of Skinner’s “Verbal Behavior,” that behaviorism declined. Around the same time, techniques for observing neural activity in the brain and other forms of live-subject thought observation lead to a rebirth in mentalist-like thinking, this time called “cognitive psychology.”
How Mentalism Psychology Relates to a Mentalist in Miami
We hope the above summary did not sound too dry, but the main point was that “mentalism” used to refer to one of the most advanced sciences of its day. Now, mentalism refers to one of the most advanced performance arts, challenging expectations and pushing the boundaries in the relationship between performer and audience.
Modern performance mentalism actually uses both classic mentalism psychology and behaviorism to help the performer “read” their subject’s mind through observation and intimate knowledge of how the mind works.
Come watch how this form of entertainment has become part art, part science and all fun with Mio, who considered an unparalleled mentalist in Miami. You may just learn something about how you think, but you will definitely be surprised and entertained.
Take a look at our video section to watch Mio’s astounding mentalism in action.