2/2 : Nova Science Now: Magic & The Brain

Discussions of new films, books, television shows, and media indirectly related to magic and magicians. For example, there may be a book on mnemonics or theatrical technique we should know or at least know about.

Postby mai-ling » 01/27/11 10:42 AM

Neil Degrasse Tyson travels to Vegas and
will talk about how the brain works, with
a segment on magic.

It will feature Penn & Teller,
Mac King and Apollo Robbins.


pbs roks!
you will remember my name
http://www.mai-ling.net
world's youngest illusionista

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Postby Jim Maloney » 01/27/11 12:23 PM

Nice, thanks for the heads up.
Books and Magazines for sale -- more than 200 items (Last updated January 10th, 2014. Link goes to public Google Doc.)
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 01/27/11 01:57 PM

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/body/psychology-magic.html

Kindly post links to sources cited.

Hypothesis for exploration - something makes looking up at a person more important than watching what they are doing. Here's a link to some initial exploration of the topic: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/body/magic-autism.html
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Postby Kardova » 05/11/11 04:39 PM

After the magic segment, I believe they went into other aspects of the mind and how it processes information.

I found this particular bit quite interesting (see link below): how the brain's already stored information overrides certain outside stimuli that contradicts previous experiences and expectations about constructions of reality. Like the narrator explains, the mind refuses to see the concave nature of the face because it's so unlikely that such a configuration would exist. This leads us to conclude that when processing information, we only register some of the information that would be necessary to distinguish it from, say, another face. The general overall aspects (i.e. the convex nature of faces) are brought into the picture not from the actual face itself, but from previously stored pieces of information that contributes to the overall "picture" we get after all the old and new bits are (re)assembled together.

I suppose that's why the old adage, "be natural" really does matter, because when what you do follows the natural way of doing things, most sleights will indeed (literally) not be registered when done correctly and with proper natural (mis)direction. When you flaunt skill, it will register and be remembered because it goes against the natural grain of things.

Nothing new has been said here, but it's always cool when science does indeed back up the theory.

Finally, I believe the scientists who studied the magicians on the program also put out a book on their findings. I think it would be a fine addition to any magician's overall understanding of what goes on in the spectator's minds when we do our tricks.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QbKw0_v2clo

http://www.sleightsofmind.com/
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Postby Sophia Feltro » 05/11/11 07:25 PM

In regards to top-down knowledge I think initial conditioning needs to be set in the minds of the lay(wo)men who may not see a whole lot of magic in his/her lifetime. The mind does indeed fill in and interpret most of the gaps that the brain does not register (due to prior knowledge & experience), but someone watching you perform for the first time needs something to work with that may be temporarily stored as a frame of reference when watching YOU specifically perform (so that they may appreciate the effect when it does occur). All of the left-out information is then filled-in by the natural way you handle a ball or deck of cards, but initial conditions again need to set in their minds so that it becomes background information. So their initial-updated (now prior) experiences of seeing you handle the props in conjunction to the sleights you use, blends-in with simulate natural procedure (fillers). The illusion then is that nothing out the ordinary has occurred, which is what the magician is going for to maximize the effect.

(Top)Layer 1 . . . . . . . . . . (i.e. hands holding a ball, coin, or pack of cards)

(Conditioning) Layer 2 . . . . . . . . . . . (i.e. YOUR style of handling a ball, coin, or pack of cards)

(Bottom) Sleight + (Mis)direction . . . . . . . (i.e. Consistency with Layer 1 & 2)

With each dot representing a piece of stored and new information, the best results would be the upper layers filling-in (providing) most of the bottom layer dots. So the only new information at the end should be the effect. The inner dialogue for the spectator should then be, the ball vanished or the card changed. Throwing in a suspicious move only detracts from the effect you wish to convey.

When the only apparently new piece of information is only the effect, thats what makes them laugh and/or react, because the new bit of information collapses their layers into a an unexplainable piece of wonder, the rare moment that we all work so hard to create.
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Postby Faxton » 05/11/11 10:36 PM

Here are two additional experiments that were showcased on the program.

Test Your Awareness: Do the Test

Derren Brown: Person Swap
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Postby Kardova » 05/12/11 12:13 AM

To hell with the layers. Just throw in a couple of jokes and theyll cover-up the discrepancies.
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Postby Faxton » 05/12/11 12:14 AM

With a grain of salt yes, but it shouldnt be a justification for poor technique or long-winded procedure.


The old adage: That which does not add, detracts certainly applies here.

Good strong magic already has the inherent ability to create laughter, granted a different sort of laugh, but a laugh that is not at the expense of clarity of effect.
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Postby Sophia Feltro » 05/12/11 12:17 AM

In regards to the Chaplin mask: What if you really do see the concave nature of the mask when it comes around and looks straight at you?
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Postby Faxton » 05/12/11 12:19 AM

It means youre a schizophrenic and an evil demon has conspired to reveal the actual nature of the illusion.

Footnote/Reference: The gentleman narrating the Charlie Chaplin Mask and the footage itself is courtesy of Prof. Richard Gregory.
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 05/12/11 09:36 AM

Sophia Feltro wrote:In regards to the Chaplin mask: What if you really do see the concave nature of the mask when it comes around and looks straight at you?


Occasionally or reliably?

It could simply be a learned (or naive) preference in perceiving by way of binocular depth as seen over presumed spatial cues based on experience with similar objects.

In context it's like watching most magicians turn over cards.
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 05/12/11 11:17 AM



Not quite. What one can say is that the normally deluded/preoccupied viewer is more apt to miss the cues to the ambuguity of the illusion as presented and jump to the wrong perceptual frame when presented with that stimulus.

As things stand it's just about like blaming the audience for not being fooled/impressed rather than going back to find out what's lacking in the illusion design or presentation - which is not so uncommon in our magicland.
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Postby Kardova » 05/12/11 01:21 PM

It's funny really, because it seems that the schizos should be the sane ones for seeing the illusion for what it really is.

But what do I know, I'm just part of the herd who thinks the few outliers are the crazy ones.
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