The Frontal Cortex

Magic and Neuroscience

I’ve got a new article in the latest issue of Wired, guest-edited by J.J. Abrams. It’s quite an excellent issue, I think, although I’m still utterly befuddled by the hidden puzzles on the glossy pages. My article is an investigation of what stage magicians can teach us about the human mind and the frailties of perception:

For Teller (that’s his full legal name), magic is more than entertainment. He wants his tricks to reveal the everyday fraud of perception so that people become aware of the tension between what is and what seems to be. Our brains don’t see everything–the world is too big, too full of stimuli. So the brain takes shortcuts, constructing a picture of reality with relatively simple algorithms for what things are supposed to look like. Magicians capitalize on those rules. “Every time you perform a magic trick, you’re engaging in experimental psychology,” Teller says. “If the audience asks, ‘How the hell did he do that?’ then the experiment was successful. I’ve exploited the efficiencies of your mind.”

Now that on-the-job experimentation has taken an academic turn. A couple of years ago, Teller joined a coterie of illusionists and tricksters recruited by Stephen Macknik and Susana Martinez-Conde, researchers at the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, Arizona, to look at the neuroscience of magic. Last summer, that work culminated in an article for the journal Nature Reviews Neuroscience called “Attention and Awareness in Stage Magic.” Teller was one of the coauthors, and its publication was a signal event in a field some researchers are calling magicology, the mining of stage illusions for insights into brain function.

And here’s the peer-reviewed paper.

Comments

  1. #1 William
    April 21, 2009

    Cool, James Randi was one of the authors also….

  2. #2 wybory sondaze demokracja
    April 23, 2009

    Amazing. Especially such an ‘easy’ tricks as ‘Vanishing-Ball Illusion’. I could hardly believe it until saw it with my own eyes. It’s really funny thing that our brain ignores some facts in order not to be over-flooded with, but those facts happen to can be crucial, however.

    I wonder if children, as they don’t have so many schemes yet, are also so easy to be deceited?

    BTW – it’s good to know, that when somebody seems too trustworthy, it probably is not trustworthy at all, as pickpockets mentioned in the paper.

    Just to sum it up: if something looks almost unbelievable – it’s good just to take another look at it (if possible).

  3. #3 Pet Sevenler
    April 25, 2009

    very useful information absolutely agree

  4. #4 sere serpe
    November 16, 2009

    Amazing. Especially such an ‘easy’ tricks as ‘Vanishing-Ball Illusion’. I could hardly believe it until saw it with my own eyes. It’s really funny thing that our brain ignores some facts in order not to be over-flooded with, but those facts happen to can be crucial, however.

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