Magic as experiments?

All beginners in magic should address their questions here.

Postby Umpa Duze » 11/09/08 06:26 PM

Hi All,
I recently came across some references to magicians presenting their wonders as "experiments." I know this is not novel and mentalists use this approach as well, but I wonder if the concept of experimenting with the supernatural forces as a way to frame presentations was more common back in earlier times?

Any insights would be greatly appreciated,
Umpa
Cheers,
Umpa Duze
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 11/09/08 06:44 PM

Yes - you are on the right track. Have a good read of our history for where our craft diverged from religion and experimental chemistry/physics to diversions and amusements without context beyond clowning for most.
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Postby Dale Shrimpton » 11/11/08 01:10 PM

but I wonder if the concept of experimenting with the supernatural forces as a way to frame presentations was more common back in earlier times?


I wouldnt go as far as to say that the Supernatural was experimented with, since In the not to far distant past, that kind of thing would bring you a whole heap of trouble.

But framing a magical effect with the latest discovery, Electricity, for example, or moving pictures as in the case of devants film to life, was more than common place.

Indeed, it was very popular for a time, to mix genuine scientific demonstrations, with magical effects. You can see many playbills going back roughly 100 years, that offer microscopic entertainments, through the medium of the magic lantern, and the microscope.

Then you have performers like Selbitt, who created his broadcasting a woman Ilusion. I have in my collection, a play bill showing him, performing this very effect under the title " Television"
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 11/11/08 01:30 PM

Along with what Dale pointed out - consider how Robert-Houdin presented the broom levitation as a demonstration of the effects of ether.

Link: http://www.bl.uk/catalogues/evanion/Rec ... ageIndex=0
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Postby Umpa Duze » 11/11/08 06:09 PM

Thanks for the insights, they are most helpful and appreciated.

I came to this topic while giving a lecture on experimental designs and the rules of causation. I realized that much of what we do in performances parallels the rules. We establish a demonstratable relationship between our application of magic and the effect it produces, the magic proceeds the effect, and we create conditions such as rolling up our sleeves to eliminate alternate explanations.

What intrigues me is if magic is experienced through emotional belief, and is most powerful when it is symbolic of some deeper human need or intention, what role does cognition have. At their core, experiments are logic based.

We often talk about the need to get audiences to suspend disbelief, create an emotional investment, or experince non-rational thought. All of these are at odds with the notion of logical proof, and yet it seems like we have to placate the intellect with some alternative hypothesis that can be accepted, but not strictly subjected to logical analysis. The "ether" (I have always loved the idea that he misted the air with ether to reinforce the effect) is a pseudoscientific hypothesis as are other false, but science sounding explanations. Does an audience need an intellectual "out" in order to generate real emotional belief? Does presenting magic as an experiment help in that?

Umpa
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 11/11/08 07:30 PM

Umpa - check what the beliefs are anchored to and which ones about context or situations are anchored to each other. Sympathetic magic can be looked at as an argument form. Try this experiment with a very youngster:

Take out a hank and do the standard peek-a-boo bit.
Then take out a coin and repeat covering and uncovering
Then react to the coin vanishing while covered with the hank.
Then show the hank empty and watch the distress.
Then pretend to notice the coin behind their ear - smile - produce from there.
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