FOOD FOR THOUGHT

  There are many insightful statements in Drs. Macknik and Martinez-Conde’s book Sleights of Mind. The authors are neuroscientists with a passion for magic, and their research brought them into contact with such notable magicians as Teller, Mac King, Johnny Thompson, Apollo Robbins, and the Amazing Randi, among others. The authors and these magicians are all students of cognition. They all consciously study and explore the effects of magic on the human mind but perhaps with the following difference: You might say that the scientists seek to explain what happens in the brain when magic is performed, while the magicians seek out how to exploit what happens.

 

     Drs. Macknik and Martinez-Conde point out “Magicians are masterminds of human cognition.” When we interact with an audience we “…control sophisticated cognitive processes, such as attention, memory, and causal inference, with a bewildering combination of visual, auditory, tactile, and social manipulations.”

 

     Now certainly a lot of us are not necessarily thinking along these lines when we formulate and rehearse an effect, and yet to create the impression of something truly magical happening before our spectators’ eyes, we actually are employing many of processes listed above.

 

    Clearly I am neither a neuroscientist nor a magician even close to the level of the gentlemen noted above, but after reading Sleights of Mind I found myself really thinking about misdirection, which by the way the authors refer to as “attention management.” When I practice now I ask myself a series of questions. What and where is my attention focused? Are my hands moving as Teller says with “convincing intention?” Are my words purposeful? Should I build time into the effect? In essence, how is what I’m doing playing inside my observer’s head? Are my actions contributing to creating a magical outcome, or am I just showing off?

 

     Sometimes we read about or see something new and think, “Oh I have to learn this one and try it out on my friends.” And it’s hard not to if you love magic. All I’m trying to offer here is that this book, like a good teacher, told me to slow down and worry less about the latest sleight or device or gimmick, and think about how I can take advantage of how the mind works to maximize the effect.

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     Again, the title of the book is Sleights of Mind and the authors are Drs. Stephen L. Macknik and Susana Martinez-Conde.