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Meme Update #13

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The Polish edition of VIRUS OF THE MIND: The New Science of the Meme is now available (in Poland).

A deal for the Korean edition has just been signed - look for it in 18 months or so.


I saw a Vegas stage show the other day by Marshall Sylver, who bills himself as "The World's Greatest Hypnotist." Hypnosis is one of those pursuits that sits on the bubble between science and pseudoscience. The neurolinguistic programming (NLP) community swears by its efficacy, and in fact credits the hypnosis research of Dr. Milton Erickson for much of the basics of NLP. However, the practice of hypnosis as a therapeutic tool seems to have fallen from favor in the medical/psychological community.

Hypnosis deals with accessing the unconscious mind. I would say that what a hypnotist does is plant or alter memes in the subject's mind so that they stay there after the session is over. While researching this, I talked to several hypnotists who said that the common idea of putting people into a "trance" is often misunderstood. Hypnosis can be done with eyes open or closed, and people often walk around in a "trance" state, meaning a state receptive to suggestion, much of the time. Many people say that television is hypnotic, which is why it is such an effective form of advertising.

Sylver put on an entertaining performance, the most amusing part of which was the planting of a posthypnotic suggestion in one participant to sit in the audience until Sylver said "ladies and gentlemen," then discover that hearing that phrase made him very angry. The participant, whose name was Jason, happened to be sitting at the table next to me, and as Sylver kept repeating "ladies and gentlemen" I watched as Jason grew more and more visibly riled. After a couple times, he stood up and yelled "Shut up!" Finally, I heard him turn to his friend and quietly say "That's it" in the most convincingly real manner before heading up to the stage ready to "kick Sylver's butt" as programmed.

The fascinating part of the show for me was Sylver's use of his skills to build enough rapport with the audience that he could take a room full of people who paid $30 each to get in and have them sit eagerly while he turned the last 10 minutes of his show into a commercial for his tapes and seminars. He used many of the techniques found in Cialdini's excellent book "Influence" (available from the Memetics Bookstore, ) to win the crowd over.

Reciprocity - he gave away a couple tapes before asking the audience to buy more

Scarcity - he sold videos of the evening's show, but only a limited number. You should have seen this one guy jump out of his seat!

Window of Opportunity - he would be available to autograph products for only a short time after the show.

Perceived value - all the tapes had "regular" prices much higher than he was selling them for at the show.

Consistency - You enjoyed the performance, now enjoy the tapes/seminars.

At the end of his show, he completed the mind-virus template by suggesting that audience members return to the show and bring friends, indeed tell everyone they knew about the show. Sylver said that, while he's billed as "The World's Greatest Hypnotist," it would be for the audience to judge whether that was really true. Judging from the line outside the show to buy his products, I would say that I don't know if he's the greatest, but he's pretty darned good at what he does.


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