Michael Close Essay - Hidden Assumptions

Discuss general aspects of Genii.

Postby Joe Mckay » 08/30/09 10:31 AM

In 'Workers Vol. 5', Michael Close has an essay on the power of analysing hidden assumptions that the spectator makes when witnessing a magic trick. He talks about how we can make use of these assumptions to strengthen our magic. It is well worth checking out, and I consider it the best essay I have read in magic. I was thinking about this topic last night and have thought of a few more assumptions that can be added to the list that Michael provides. I don't have the book in front of me, so I am unsure if I have duplicated any from Michael's list. This is a partly academic list, so one or two of the suggestions may seem a bit dumb (but are included for the sake of completion). I want to thank Michael for this wonderful essay and I want to thank another Michael (Michael Vincent) whose DVD I watched last night, which led to this list of assumptions (he briefly touched on this subject). The list is an attempt to include ideas not originally mentioned in 'Workers Vol.5' (although I am going from memory). So, to get a better overview of the subject it is well worth tracking down the original essay...

1) THE METHOD FOR THE TRICK IS COMPLETED BEFORE THE TRICK IS COMPLETED. [this one is the one that Michael Vincent touches on]

- Think about a trick like the Francis Carlye 'Card To Pocket'. The card is produced from a pocket (the spectator assumes it is his card). The trick seems to be over. However, at the same time the magician secretly palms the selection from the deck and then produces it from the pocket (thus switching the card on display for the spectator's selection). Another example would be from Michael Vincent's 'The Classical Magic Of Michael Vincent Vol. 1' which details a sleight-of-hand method for Brainwave in which the method is completed AFTER the climax of the trick.

2) DUAL REALITY

- Spectators assume that everybody witnessing the same performace are witnessing the same effect.

3) THERE IS NO METHOD

- Sometimes an effect will rely on luck to work - as such there is no method to try and figure out. This could be the magician who is prepared to openly risk failure and just hope for the best eg. Lay a playing card on the table and ask the spectator to name any card (and hope that your 1 in 52 chance pays off). Another example is in effects which have more tha one out. Euan Bingham has a brilliant approach for doing 'The Smiling Mule' by Roy Walton. Before the trick takes place he loads 4 or 5 cards into different locations (eg both pockets, the card-case, inside both shoes). When the effect takes place, he has the spectator name any card. Should it be one of the cards that is pre-loaded, he ditches the Roy Walton effect and just shows that the card has vanished from the deck and re-produces it from one of his prepared locations. If such a card is not named, he then just continues with the original Walton trick (which is a great trick by the way). About ten percent of the time such an effect will have a stunning conclusion in which luck is the only method.

4) INSTANT STOOGE

- A spectator assumes that even if a stooge is involved in the method, then the stooge must have being prepared by the magician before the show even starts.

5) NUMBER OF PEOPLE WATCHING AN EFFECT IS GREATER THAN THE NUMBER OF PEOPLE 'IN ON THE SECRET'

- The above is my way of summarising an idea associated with Joseph Dunninger. The idea that is worth having 99 stooges in an audience in order to fool the 1 spectator.

6) ANY MONEY APPARENTLY BURNED/DESTROYED IN A TRICK ISN'T REALLY DAMAGED

- In their book for the general public ('Penn And Teller's How To Play In Traffic'), P&T explain a destroyed and reproduced bank note. The mthod actually involves (genuinely) destroyed a borrowed bank note. Such a trick costs the magician money to perform and P&T encourage the reader to destroy as large an amount of money so as to strengthen the illusion that the magician wouldn't actually destroy such a large bill.

7) THE MAGICIAN IS UNPREPARED FOR A SPONTANEOUS CHALLENGE FROM THE AUDIENCE

- Pit Hartling has a brilliant essay in his book 'Card Fictions'. He talks about trying to induce challenges from the spectator (which the magician is secretly prepared to tackle). Imagine you had a trick where the spectator could shuffle the deck before the trick starts. Instead of allowing them to just shuffle the deck - it might be more effective to try and act suspiciously with the deck in the hopes that they will challenge the magician to let the spectator shuffle the deck (which of course they can).

8) A SPECTATOR'S SHUFFLE WILL DESTROY ANY ORDER IN THE DECK

- Tricks such as those using The Gilbreath Principle makes use of this assumption. An even better example of this kind of thinking is 'Carter's Fooler' by Peter Duffie.

9) WHEN A TRICK IS REPEATED THE SAME METHOD IS USED

- A magician may repeat the trick under challenge conditions (but switch methods) and apparently rule out various methods. 'The Tuned Deck' by R.W. Hull is a good example of this.

10) A STOOGE INVOLVED IN A TRICK WILL ASSUME HE IS THE ONLY STOOGE TAKING PART

- In '52 Memories', Jack Parker details a wildly ingenious magician fooler which makes use of this assumption.

11) A VOLUNTEER WILL NOT CONFIRM INCORRECT STATEMENTS

- Some of the recent work in mentalism (think Luke Jermay) involves subtly pressurising a volunteer to agree to statements which whilst they are in front of an audience and under the spotlights they may feel shy about contradicting. A more subtle approach to this is one involving Max Maven on a TV Show many years ago (I read about it in a UK magic magazine). At the end of an effect he asks a spectator to confirm that the liquid involved in the trick now smells of peppermint. This is quite subtle since the spectator will feel unsure as to how strong the smell should be, how strong their own sense of smell is and will have had little experience of sniffing for a peppermint smell. As such, on the spur of the moment, they will confirm that a glass of water now smells of peppermint.

12) THE METHOD EXPOSED IS THE SAME AS THE ONE USED

- I remember Penn and Teller doing a wonderful stunt. It was on a UK TV show and was an attempt at the world's most expensive card trick. Penn stopped a spectator on the street in Leicester Square, London. He had a card selected and whilst the card was removed he fanned the deck of cards (now missing a card) to the camera. Back in the TV Studio, Teller used a computer program to scan through the image of the 51 card fan. It quickly found the missing card which he then typed into a computer. This then sent the message to a giant electronic advertising board behind the spectator. Penn then glanced at this board to find what the chosen card was. He then told the spectator what his card was. The spectator was impressed and had no idea of the technology and thousands of pounds involved. A very amusing stunt for the viewer at home. However - in a later interview - P&T said they just used a stooge to achieve the effect. So, the expensive and involved method involved was just for the amusement of the people watching at home and wasn't the true method involved.

13) VERY EXPENSIVE METHODS WON'T BE IN USE

- This touches on the example above. Surely - a spectator would discount the possibility that thousands (millions?) of pounds are involved in the successful carrying off of a magic trick. Imagine how badly Bill Gates could fool you if he decided to blow a billion pounds on an incredible "pick a card, any card" trick...

14) THE METHOD WON'T INVOLVE AN IMPORTANT NEW SCIENTIFIC DISCOVERY THAT HAS BEING KEPT SECRET FOR THE SAKE OF IT'S USE IN MAGIC

- Robert Houdin used the principle of electro-magnets (then a recent scientific invention) to fool people in the nineteenth century. Imagine how much more impossible these tricks would have being if the scientist who made the discovery decided not to release his results to the scientific community, and instead decided to use them as a new method for magic tricks. Fe people would imagine that a scientist would forego academic aclaim and prizes (eg The Nobel Prize) for the sake of being able to fool people with an unknown scientific principle.

15) THE METHOD WON'T INVOLVE ACTUAL MAGIC POWERS

- I once knew a guy at a magic club. He told me had actual magic powers (he was quite serious about this) and planned to use these supernatural powers to achieve ordinary magic tricks. Instead of using sleight-of-hand as the method for an Ambitious Card Routine, he would use actual magic powers and then take the credit for his clever use of sleight-of-hand. The guy could probably be described as mad (although his ambitious card routine was mighty clean!) - however, it is can still be classed as a hidden assumption that spectator's make.

16) IF A DECK IS SHUFFLED THE DECK MUST CONTAIN DIFFERENT PLAYING CARDS

- A great way leading spectator's minds away from the idea that you are using a deck that contains 52 identical playing cards (ie a one-way forcing deck) is to casually shuffle it. Alternatively - you could do a bad false shuffle in order to give the appearance you are trying to preserve a stack of cards. Or you could insist they can cut the cards as many times as possible (but not shuffle it). All these stratagems plant the idea that the deck in use is not one in which every card is the same.

17) A TRICK INVOLVING A CELEBRITY WON'T MAKE USE OF IDENTICAL TWINS.

- What if a famous celebrity had an identical twin that either few people knew about, or was deliberately kept secret. Such a twin (or celebrity lookalike?) could be used to good effect in any stage illusions involving identical twins.

18) THE METHOD INVOLVED FOR A TRICK INVOLVING AN ANIMAL/HUMAN WON'T RESULT IN THE DEATH OF THE ANIMAL/HUMAN

- I remember reading that 40/50 years ago, some of the dove workers would use methods for the disappearance of doves that involved the killing or injuring (ie. broken legs) of the bird. In theory this could be extended to other animals - ie making a rabbit disappear from a box by using a hidden compartment which crushes the animal out of view (alot of mechanical force may be required). This is an example of what could be achieved if you had no morals for the welfare of animals (which I abhore, but may have being an attidue that existed the fringes of magic a few decades ago). This idea can be extended to humans. Surely no-onw would assume the murder of a human being was the secret to an effect, but I note that this is an assumption that Ricky Jay played with when he guest-starred in an episode of the 'X-Files' ('The Great Maleeni'). A combination of this assumption and the assumption involving the use of luck as a method could be used for a version of 'Russian Roulette'. Imagine if a lunatic decided to genuinely perform 'Russian Roulette' in the middle of a magic act. If he were lucky, he would get the cedit for an impossibly clean effect. Equally, evil regimes (like Nazi Germany) with an utter disregard for human life could use inhumane methods in the creation of impossible seeming illusions...

Well - that should do for now. I am going to include a link to a discussion on 'The Magic Cafe'. It discusses Michael Close's essay and has some interesting contributions. However, I think the link may only work for members of 'The Magic Cafe' who have made over 50 posts. I am not 100% sure though...

Hidden Assumptions - The Magic Cafe

All the best,

Joe
Joe Mckay
 
Posts: 699
Joined: 04/13/08 06:56 AM

Postby Joe Mckay » 08/30/09 05:45 PM

I wish I could edit parts of my original post for spelling (any chance the edit function could be available for longer - say an hour?) Anyway - the first category should read:

1) THE METHOD FOR THE TRICK IS COMPLETED AFTER THE TRICK IS COMPLETED.

- Another example to add to this heading would be the 'Folded Card to Ringbox' by Bruno Hennig. The card that appears in the ringbox (signalling the climax of the effect) is switched seconds later for the spectator's folded playing card. Thus the method is completed AFTER the spectator thinks the trick has ended.

Joe
Joe Mckay
 
Posts: 699
Joined: 04/13/08 06:56 AM

Postby Joe Mckay » 09/01/09 12:46 PM

One last example to go under the first heading:

1) THE METHOD FOR THE TRICK IS COMPLETED AFTER THE TRICK IS COMPLETED.

- Check out GRASSHOPPER by Paul Harris (AoA Vol. 1). It has a lovely structure in which the method is completed after the climax to the effect...
Joe Mckay
 
Posts: 699
Joined: 04/13/08 06:56 AM

Postby Joe Pecore » 09/01/09 05:16 PM

Some great food for thought. Thanks for posting.
Share your knowledge on the MagicPedia wiki.
User avatar
Joe Pecore
 
Posts: 1788
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: Northern Virginia

Postby Joe Mckay » 09/01/09 05:56 PM

Just thought of another:

19) THE MAGICIAN IS THE MAGICIAN

- This cryptic statement is my way of summarising the following idea. Alot of incredibly clean and strong magic can be done if we pick somebody who everybody knows not to be a magician and let them be the star. Imagine being in a group of people (who don't realise you have an interest in magic) and then allowing somebody else to perform a trick for you. You can use sleight of hand as you shuffle the deck and pick a card in order to let them receive the credit for impossibly clean sandwich effects or whatever else you fancy (cutting the four aces?). This idea can be extended in a bunch of ways and requires the magician to give up a piece of his ego in order to let somebody else take the credit. Think of it as working undercover...

PS. The following category was touched on by Dai Vernon in his memoirs (Vol. 4 of 'The Vernon Chronicles'):

14) THE METHOD WON'T INVOLVE AN IMPORTANT NEW SCIENTIFIC DISCOVERY THAT HAS BEING KEPT SECRET FOR THE SAKE OF IT'S USE IN MAGIC

- He mentioned that he believed that Dr. Hooker (who was a chemist) had discovered a new scientifc principle which allowed him to perform this astonishing effect (ie 'The Hooker Rising Cards'). I just thought I'd mention it...
Joe Mckay
 
Posts: 699
Joined: 04/13/08 06:56 AM

Postby Joe Pecore » 09/01/09 06:34 PM

I thought this quote was apropos. From Chapter 3 of "Understanding Magic Essay" found at http://members.cox.net/astonishment/essay.html : If astonishment is the blood of magic, then these hidden assumptions are the veins.
User avatar
Joe Pecore
 
Posts: 1788
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: Northern Virginia

Postby Joe Mckay » 09/01/09 06:38 PM

Consider the fourth catergory:

4) INSTANT STOOGE

- I think this is something that Derren Brown uses (the idea touches on Juan Tamariz' 'Theory Of False Solutions'). We mention a possible method in order to show we don't use that method. Well - imagine you went to a great deal of trouble (eg. throwing a frisbee into an audience of hundreds of spectators in order to pick - at random - a volunteer) to show you couldn't possibly be using a stooge. Well - this introduces and subsequently eliminates the idea of stooges to the people watching. What better time to then make use of the INSTANT STOOGE principle later on in the effect? This might seem an obvious idea to many - but it has only occured to me now as I read through the original list. It is quite rare that I get something concrete and ueseable when considering magic theory.

Thanks once again to Mr. Close for uncovering this powerful tool...

PS. Thanks for the link (and the kind words) Joe...
Joe Mckay
 
Posts: 699
Joined: 04/13/08 06:56 AM

Postby Joe Mckay » 09/01/09 07:12 PM

20) GEEK MAGIC

- You fool them by actually doing what they think you are only pretending to do. Imagine you decided to eat a packet of lit cigarettes and pretended it was a magic effect. This could fool people. The example I give has an ironic touch to it. I read somewhere that Tom Mullica was once denied a magic prize (at FISM?) because the judges believed he was actually eating the lit cigarettes involved (he was actually only pretending to - the method involved a clever mix of psychology and sleight-of-hand).

21) THE EFFECT LOOKS LIKE MAGIC

- Penn and Teller use this assumption in their classic 'Lighting A Cigarette Routine'. Apparently - Teller walks on stage, lights a cigarette and throws away the match. It is later revealed that he has used intricate sleight-of-hand and illusion to achieve this 'non-effect'.
Joe Mckay
 
Posts: 699
Joined: 04/13/08 06:56 AM

Postby Joe Mckay » 09/02/09 08:11 AM

22) A SINGLE METHOD IS USED

- A good way to strengthen a method is to combine more than one principle. Laypeople naturally try to explain effects as being down to a single thing (eg. it went up the sleeves, mirrors, threads, magnets). Using multiple methods in the same effect is a good way of sidetracking this assumption. Tommy Wonder has an interesting essay on trying to combine more than one principle in magic tricks (mechanical, psychological and sleight-of-hand).

Thanks once again to Joe Pecore! He has started an excellent MagicPedia page on this topic:

MAGICPEDIA - ASSUMPTIONS
Joe Mckay
 
Posts: 699
Joined: 04/13/08 06:56 AM

Postby Jonathan Townsend » 09/02/09 11:38 AM

What hidden assumptions held by who and how can one tell whether or not they are hidden or even present?

got a peanut?
Mundus vult decipi -per Caleb Carr's story Killing Time
Jonathan Townsend
 
Posts: 6967
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: Westchester, NY

Postby oliver m » 09/02/09 12:18 PM

Excellent thread, Joe.

I seem to recall a passage in Strong Magic as well listing assumptions that spectators would make if you removed a deck from its case and placed it on the table (all cards different, deck made of card, table solid, etc.)
Oliver Meech
www.olivermeech.com
oliver m
 
Posts: 27
Joined: 05/29/08 12:16 PM

Postby Joe Mckay » 09/02/09 01:52 PM

In the case of the following category:

19) THE MAGICIAN IS THE MAGICIAN

- We could say the person performing the effect is the person who is stooged. So - in a sense - the magician is the stooge.

I don't understand Jonathan's reply. Have you read the original essay by Michael Close? It may help make things clearer. Although there is a good overview on the MagicPedia page on this topic. Would be interested in any suggestions from Jonathan since I consider him a very creative mind...

All the best,

Joe
Joe Mckay
 
Posts: 699
Joined: 04/13/08 06:56 AM

Postby Joe Mckay » 09/02/09 02:35 PM

Here is a very interesting discussion with Michael on this very issue. It is from 'The Magic Cafe' and is a couple of years old THE MAGIC CAFE - MICHAEL CLOSE ON 'ASSUMPTIONS'

Joe
Joe Mckay
 
Posts: 699
Joined: 04/13/08 06:56 AM

Postby Jonathan Townsend » 09/02/09 10:33 PM

One might well wonder if much of what's being explored is actually there at all before one goes forcing language and structure and expectations into the situation.

IMHO it seems like asking for rationalizations based upon abstraction when one might get quicker and more certain results by testing for "tells" that give audience members cause to start thinking about that stuff on any level. The usual developmental psych study cited at this point is the one using a puppet monkey and the box of crayons that has a string inside. So as long as you don't get them wondering whether there's anything but crayons in that box...

Why the fuss to reinvent the wheel in the magic shop?
Last edited by Jonathan Townsend on 09/02/09 10:42 PM, edited 0 times in total.
Reason: what next, a book on fixing cars by sleight of hand and selling wd40 as a secret gimmick?
Jonathan Townsend
 
Posts: 6967
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: Westchester, NY

Postby Joe Mckay » 09/03/09 10:23 AM

Well the point of the original Michael Close essay is to try and fool spectators using methods which involve tripping them up on the assumptions they have already made before the effect even takes place. This seems a useful tool for trying to think of some sneaky and novel methods when designing a trick. I am not sure if such an approach is philosophically/psychologically sound in terms of the academic view that Jonathan takes. But on a more practical level, I have found it useful to consider (it is also strangely addictive trying to think up more hidden assumptions). I am sure that Michael explains all this much clearer than me...

Anyway - here is another one:

22) A BORROWED DECK WON'T INVOLVE THE USE OF STACKS OR GAFFS

- Inserting gaffs into a borrowed deck is a great way to achieve miracles (a popular approach at magic conventions). As for stacks - I remember reading in Vol. 1 of the Alex Elmsley book (written by Stephen Minch) that Alex was once fooled when Ricky Jay scanned through his deck and culled cards for a set-up for his following trick (he did this under the guise of checking out the cards used in Britain). A few minutes later he borrowed Alex's cads and then demonstrated a remarkably clean gambling demonstration. Another idea (this applies to magicians) is that when borrowing a fellow magician's deck, the deck will often already be set up in some way ie. the 4 aces on top of the deck. This is because alot of magicians carry decks which are already set up for their next trick - this can be used to great effect...

Joe
Joe Mckay
 
Posts: 699
Joined: 04/13/08 06:56 AM

Postby Jonathan Townsend » 09/03/09 12:42 PM

Theory is supposed to offer the most useful codification of what's been found and tested to date. A good test is one that others can replicate and collect data to add to the discusion.

There's a funny thing that happens when one starts learning about magic from the audience's perspective...

But first one has to have audiences and become open and genial in their presense so they can tell you what they were noticing or thinking about. One also has to learn to listen.

Not much of a market for a book on how to listen and when to speak around here i'd guess*. Let's find out: how many here have read Adler's book?
Mundus vult decipi -per Caleb Carr's story Killing Time
Jonathan Townsend
 
Posts: 6967
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: Westchester, NY

Postby Joe Mckay » 09/03/09 01:29 PM

Thanks for that, Jonathan... It reminds me of an idea I recently had. A useful thing for anybody who becomes interested in learning magic would be for them to spend a few months watching as much magic as possible and not learning even a single secret. Then when they become a student in the techniques of magic they will have a useful grounding in exactly how a layperson feels/thinks when witnessing magic. I think back to the tricks that impressed me when I first became interested in magic and they are nothing like the things that interest me today. I think this is a weakness that alot of magicians have - the ability to remember what it was like to be a layperson. I remember an early magic video that I watched. For some reason I only saw the performances on it. It was a difficult video to get hold of and in the following years I used to think back to the amazing magic I saw on this video. Eventually, I managed to track it down in at a magic auction - I was dissapointed. The 4/5 years worth of knowledge that I had accumulated made the card tricks I saw seem terribly cluttered and unimpressive. I wonder if I was correct or had I just lost the ability to look at these effects like a layperson?

Joe
Joe Mckay
 
Posts: 699
Joined: 04/13/08 06:56 AM

Postby Bob Cunningham » 09/03/09 01:49 PM

I am a huge fan of Mortimer Adler including How to Speak How to Listen. I first read his most popular work, How to Read a Book 40 years ago.

I think his analysis of Marc Antony's speech in Shakespeare Julius Caesar was my first introduction to effective rhetoric.
User avatar
Bob Cunningham
 
Posts: 350
Joined: 05/25/08 04:11 PM
Location: Texas

Postby Jonathan Townsend » 09/03/09 02:39 PM

Shakespeare's version of Marc Anthony was out to lead a mob into a frenzy - or so it was intended to seem to the play's audiences of that time. What we usually wish to accomplish is to lead the mob's imagination down a path of our choosing.

By way of contrast to rhetoric which leads to action, let's also have a quick look at the mechanics of establishing complicity in a lie, say Eco's discussion of how Victor Hugo enrolls his audience.

I still wonder why some of us are seeking to convince rather than seeking to retain the audience's confidence that the performer's props and actions are genuine.
Mundus vult decipi -per Caleb Carr's story Killing Time
Jonathan Townsend
 
Posts: 6967
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: Westchester, NY

Postby Joe Mckay » 09/17/09 01:07 PM

Here is a lovely addition to the list...

My friend, Douglas, was chatting to Roy Walton (who happens to be the most inventive thinker in the history of card magic). He mentioned a beautiful example of the principle that was mentioned at the start of this list:

1) THE METHOD FOR THE TRICK IS COMPLETED AFTER THE TRICK IS COMPLETED.

- This principle is my favourite of all the ones listed (thanks Michael Vincent!) There is something very sneaky about completing the method for the trick AFTER the effect is finished. Anyway - the discussion prompted Roy to remember an effect that was done by Joseph Dunninger. It is a very devious trick and is the type of thing I could see Derren Brown using today. Here is a description of the trick:

------

EFFECT: It's a newspaper headline prediction. A prediction has been sent ahead of time to someone attending the show. On the night this person is asked to come on stage and bring with him the envelope containing the prediction. A second spectator is also brought up on stage to assist. Spectator A is asked to pass the unopened envelope to Spectator B. The performer never touches the envelope. Spectator A is given a copy of today's paper. Spec A is asked to read aloud the headline from the front page. Spec B is asked to open the envelope and read it's contents - Spec B says that it says "it is exactly the same". The prediction is then passed to Spec A to confirm that the prediction is indeed an accurate duplication of the papers headline.

METHOD: The prediction that is taken from the envelope says, "It is exactly the same". This is then switched as it is passed to Spec A for verificaton for a piece of paper that does indeed have the days headline written on it.

-------

So thanks to my friend Douglas, and to Roy. And congratulations to Dunninger for been able to astonish me from beyond the grave...

Joe
Joe Mckay
 
Posts: 699
Joined: 04/13/08 06:56 AM

Postby David Alexander » 09/17/09 03:43 PM

The story is a bit more detailed.

As I recall, the person who was selected to read the "prediction" was a clergyman. He was firmly and forcefully instructed by Dunninger (and possibly David Lustig as well) to read "exactly what was on the paper."

To add to the man's nervousness of dealing with Dunningers forceful personality, he was going to be on the radio in front of millions of people. This added to his malleability and willingness to do exactly as he was told.

True to the previous narration, he opened the prediction and read exactly what was on the slip which was similar to what was described. Dunninger took the slip, switched it, and handed it casually to someone else for verification. The clergyman was either too stunned to react or, more probably, not willing to admit hed been duped in front of a national audience. Dunninger was a master of psychology.
David Alexander
 
Posts: 1550
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: Aurora IL


Return to General