The word ‘gullible’ isn’t in the dictionary…

Richard Gere goes to extraordinary lengths to keep his hoax going

I’ve just watched a brilliant Richard Gere film called The Hoax. It’s based on the true story of Clifford Irving, a writer who persuaded everyone that he was writing Howard Hughes’s autobiography. It was a huge scale scam! Irving played on the fact that Hughes was so reclusive and went to great lengths to fake all their communications. He even faked a meeting, hiring a helicopter which he claimed couldn’t land because of Hughes’s OCD – all very ingenious!

Very stressful too though, and I did start to feel a bit sorry for him. In a funny way Irving probably did come close to writing the first Hughes autobiography, because he researched Hughes so thoroughly he knew him as well as anyone.

Anyway, it got me thinking about other famous hoaxes. Have a look at these and see whether you can sympathise with the perpetrators…

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Total recall – the people who never forget

How can we be certain our memories are real? Arnie starred in the ultimate paranoia movie, Total Recall (1990)

Do you have a good memory? OK, what were you doing on the 26th of September, 2005? Actually, what were you doing this time last week? As you maybe saw on last night’s C4 documentary about Aurelien Hayman (or yesterday’s BBC Breakfast interview with him) there are people with a medical condition called hyperthymesia who can recall every day of their life in amazing detail.

As they can’t suppress or forget anything, people with this condition seem to feel intensely that they’re living ‘in the moment’, with some saying it has made them more compassionate. I was just reading about the actress Marilu Henner, who compares it to time travel. She has a teenage son, and if she wants to imagine what he’s going through she just transports herself back to when she was exactly his age. I suppose being reminded of our teenaged selves does have its uses…

We can all improve our memories by coming up with funny and exaggerated images to represent what we’re trying to remember. Everyone from Ancient Romans to stage memory masters use this technique – it really works! More about this method here.

Unforgettable is a documentary about Brad Williams, a hyperthymesia sufferer dubbed ‘The Human Google’. Check out the amazing trailer over the turn…

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How to make a hare disappear

ImageRemember Anneka Rice on telly, flying around in a helicopter hunting for treasure? Everyone was into puzzles and money back in the 80s, so things that involved both of those were bound to do well! Do you remember the book ‘Masquerade’?

Through pictures and mysterious bits of text, Masquerade tells the story of a hare who loses some treasure. It looked like a really beautiful kids picture book about woodland animals, but it was so much more than that! Somewhere in England, a small hare made of real gold was buried, and everything you needed to find it was there in the book.

ImageI think Masquerade is a great example of why puzzles should never be too difficult. I mean, it was really, really hard! The solution involved drawing lines from the eyes of the animals to the letters around the outside of the page, spelling a riddle, and working it out from that! No one got it right – though this being the get-rich-quick era, people tried digging holes all over the place. When it finally was solved, foul play was suspected, kind of ruining the game for everyone.

This lovely clip shows the creator of Masquerade, Kit Williams, being reunited with his masterpiece after 20 years:

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Wonder Woman’s Lie Detector

Wonder Woman’s “Lasso of truth” was a failsafe way to defeat criminals

I’ve just been reading about lying. Isn’t this fact great: William Moulton Marston, inventor of the lie detector, was also a feminist campaigner and the creator of Wonder Woman! It’s even more brilliant when you remember that Wonder Woman’s superpower was a magic lasso that could force villains to tell the truth!

I don’t know about magic lassos, but some modern lie detectors probably do work, because they measure breathing, sweating and blood pressure. Deceiving puts the body under a lot of stress.

You can get a lot from just looking at people. Studies show that liars touch their face more, look away, swallow too much and talk more cautiously (they use more words – “I did not do it” instead of  “I didn’t“).

Gregory Peck takes on the Mouth of Truth in Roman Holiday. Love how genuinely worried Audrey Hepburn looks here.

Not all lie detectors are high tech though. It was said that if a liar put their hand in the ancient Roman “Mouth of Truth” it would get bitten off!

A bit of untruth can be useful sometimes. Here’s a painfully honest first date, from The Invention of LyingContinue reading

How to read minds

Back to the Future’s Doc had limited success with his psychic device

Close your eyes and let me read your mind. Hmm. Would you say you sometimes feel insecure, especially with people you don’t know very well? I sense you need others to like you, and are quite self-critical. I get the feeling you are mostly reserved, but when you feel like it, you can easily be the centre of attention. And you… you seem to be on the brink of making a big decision. I’m getting something about telephones; does a broken phone mean anything to you?

This is the Forer or Barnum effect. P. T Barnum was a fascinating 19th Century showman and hoaxer. He said he had “something for everyone” which of course he did! These statements are so general they can apply to anyone and are still used by psychics, palm readers and astrologers all the time to great effect. Some even cleverly contain totally opposite ideas in one sentence: remember when I asked you if you were sometimes shy, but then sometimes outgoing, too?

Horoscopes are full of Barnum statements – but don’t take my word for it. Look at these predictions from different star signs on How many of them apply to you (or anyone who might be likely to read and believe their horoscopes)?

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Do you believe in ghosts?

ImageDo you believe in ghosts? How about now? Yeah, I’m not sure either, to be honest. A lot of ghosts in photos look eerily like random rock formations or shadows, to me. Some of them are definitely good though… notice anything funny about this picture?

Ghost photos are nothing new. When photography first started cameras needed long exposures, so the Victorians were always getting ghosts in their pictures by mistake. An optical scientist called Brewster was the master of the ghost photo and you can see some fun deliberate ones concocted by him and other mischevious Victorians here and here. Charlatan mediums used camera tricks too.

These days spirit orbs are all the rage with ghost photographers. Spirits are apparently quite shy, and only appear as little glowing balls of light after the film is developed. Chances are the camera flash is just lighting up specks of dust or water in the air. But who knows for sure? Are ghosts real? Have a look through the pictures below and decide for yourself.

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Believing the impossible

Moonie wedding

The Unification Church is famous for its mass weddings.

Why do people believe the things they do? It’s something I think about a lot in my job. People do seem to really like believing in things that can’t be proved.

The leader of the moonies, Sun Myung Moon, died recently, but not before collecting millions of followers around the world. Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes still can’t be mentioned without Tom’s Scientology. The Queen in Alice Through the Looking Glass managed to believe six impossible things before breakfast!

It’s easy to make fun of these people, (especially Tom Cruise) but have a look at this article! The Christian writer talks about how religion, for him, is about emotion and imagination. Skepticism and atheism are hot at the moment, so to come out and say that is pretty brave.

It certainly seems like life can be more fun if you keep an open mind. Having said that, I’m not sure how much fun David Icke is having in this clip…