Sunday, November 04, 2007

Suspension of disbelief is somewhat of a "device" used in arts and entertainment, such as literature, film and even the physical medium of art itself; drawing, painting, sculpting and so forth. It is both the goal of the one using the device and the one exposed to the art in which the device is being used to have a suspension of disbelief, which is exactly what it sounds -- stopping your disbelief and accepting what you see as the plausible truth.

To simplify, we can use literature as an example. The author will create a story believable enough in the hopes that the reader will suspend all disbelief, i.e. they will be able to cast aside their doubts and criticisms even if the work may contain highly fantastical or quite improbable ideas. The gain of doing this is for the reader; they are able to enjoy the story more, engross themselves in the plot and characters and 'escape' the real world to enjoy the story on a more fulfilling level. Possibly some part of them believes or wishes what they're reading could be true, somewhere somehow.

Recently I've been studying and watching a lot of magic on tv and the internet, seeing how some magic tricks are done, the 'secrets revealed!', things like that. A lot of magic is based on this idea of suspended disbelief. The magician may even study hypnotism, if he's really good, because what he does actually puts you in a very mild hypnotic state and almost regresses you (anyone, of any age) back a little bit towards childhood and innocence. The whole allure of everything, the guise of magic and magicians and all the theatrics, the way they talks and use their voice, everything is designed to make you feel a certain way. This time, instead of allowing you to say, read a book and fall into a state of suspended disbelief in order to become entertained, the magician will directly force this state upon you. Of course, you're more than happy and willing to accept it because "yay magic is fun!" What happens is that your mind starts to loosen up a little bit and becomes more open to ideas and wonderment, even if you are the biggest skeptic looking for the loopholes or "catch" in the trick, you're still lulled into the whole world of magic and sort of at least half-expect to see something amazing or unbelievable. Even if you are looking for the secret, chances are you will be too focused looking for the 'trick' that you'll totally miss what it was anyway and then be amazed at how the magic was done.

Many of the key elements are based on the fact that the magician has forced this state upon you. They talk a lot and move their arms and hands around a lot to "show you nothing's up their sleeve" but all the while distracting your eyes and attention from what's really happening say with their leg or foot or other hand. Once you're at this point the magician will fool almost anyone because he has got you to a state where your mind will see what it wants to see. Some very good magicians can also 'force' certain numbers or images into your mind using hypnosis as well. They can make you see what you want to see, or expect to see.

That's key. Regardless of the truth, people will see what they want to see or see what they expect to see.

It doesn't apply only to arts & entertainment either, just a very good example of where it's effectively used. Ever been dating someone and everyone around you is telling you one thing (usually negative) and you see an entirely different thing? It's hard to see the forest for the trees when you're deep on the inside of the current situation, isn't it? I know, I've been there and I've told people that they just don't know what it's like on the inside: "You don't even KNOW!", gotten all angry and stuff. Then a short while after I broke up with her I would say "Why the hell didn't you guys SAY SOMETHING, you're such jerks!". It's tough. But it's the same thing happening there; you suspend your disbelief, reject the actual reality and substitute your own (Thanks Adam from MythBusters for that gem of a quote, slightly modified). Nothing that anyone says can really make you see the truth and how bad the situation is until you're able to realise it for yourself, and that can take ages. A painfully long time.

Through the good and bad, suspension of disbelief is one of my favourite ideas/techniques in media-type things because I have an easy time losing touch with reality and getting into a good movie or book.


Wow, I can't believe I wrote all of that on pretty much nothing special....unless you could make me believe otherwise.

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