Richard Wiseman: Night School

Night School is an odd ‘show’ that seems to hover somewhere between an entertaining lecture and a TED talk. Often billed or referred to as ‘Professor,’ Wiseman himself is a mixture of entertaining teacher and slightly annoying boffin, a touch too fond of his own jokes. One thing he doesn’t do, however, is send his audience to sleep – although one suspects he could if he wanted. To pull an audience for an hour-long talk on the psychology of sleep requires subtle deception, and this is one of Wiseman’s chief tricks.

Anyone who has seen him perform before will have learnt little, because he presents variations on the same material on every occasion.

Entertaining us with magic, multi-media and good stock of wisecracks, we are shown how the mind easily allows itself to be fooled. But Wiseman gets us on side by explaining and debunking, for example, how magic works, what paranormal is and isn’t, or how we (think we) see the face of Jesus – or the head of a cat – in a piece of toast. Every little demonstration is rounded off with some kind of quip or punchline and, as with the slick powerpoint presentation keeping the audience’s attention, Wiseman is quick to say that he spent a long time putting this together. He repeats, at one point, a 2-second animated graphic to justify, he says, the 45 minutes spent creating it.

Amusing, witty and informative though this is, the audience may leave asking, what have we just learned from this lecture? Well, first, that Wiseman loves science. Also, that psychology is really quite interesting, especially when delivered in such an entertaining way. We are told, when we get onto the main subject, that sleep deprivation is an epidemic, and with Wiseman’s statistics it seems likely that 90% of the audience – or more – has suffered or will suffer from the one of the various conditions he outlines. Which is good, because he has a book to sell. And so it is no surprise that he claims ‘this talk can save your life, and save your relationships.’

Ultimately, given that Wiseman frequently appears on the spoken word scene and is popular and well-promoted, anyone who has seen him perform before will have learnt little, because he presents variations on the same material on every occasion. But at least he didn’t deprive the audience of his charm.

Reviews by J. A. Sutherland

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The Blurb

Join psychologist Richard Wiseman as he uncovers the power of the sleeping mind, revealing how to get the perfect night’s sleep and decode your dreams. Involves live EEG demonstration, mass suggestion and a free pair of yellow glasses.