How Magic Works

by ryan

Today while procrastinating on working on some writing, I found an article about magic and neuroscience that speaks to the reasons that we have the demonstration on the floor. I know that we always feel like we have to justify having magic in a science museum, but this article offers even more evidence in favor of the art of illusion.  In the subtitle, the Scientific American article states that…

Magicians have been testing and exploiting the limits of cognition and attention for hundreds of years. Neuroscientists are just beginning to catch up

It makes sense to me to have both the magic and the sheep brain demo in the back of the museum and this article talks about how they are related. The article reveals that…

the most versatile instrument in their bag of tricks may be the ability to create cognitive illusions. Like visual illusions, cognitive illusions mask the perception of physical reality. Yet unlike visual illusions, cognitive illusions are not sensory in nature. Rather they involve high-level functions such as attention, memory and causal inference. With all those tools at their disposal, well-practiced magicians make it virtually impossible to follow the physics of what is actually happening—leaving the impression that the only explanation for the events is magic.

Neuroscientists are just beginning to catch up with the magician’s facility in manipulating attention and cognition. Of course the aims of neuroscience are different from those of magic; the neuroscientist seeks to understand the brain and neuron underpinnings of cognitive functions, whereas the magician wants mainly to exploit cognitive weaknesses. Yet the techniques developed by magicians over centuries of stage magic could also be subtle and powerful probes in the hands of neuroscientists, supplementing and perhaps expanding the instruments already in experimental use.

The author talks about how scientists are beginning to look at magic scientifically to understand more deeply how the brain functions in day to day life.

There’s all kinds of great info that relates to both demos. You all can read the full article here…

Magic and the Brain

These connections may also reveal why the Exploratorium’s resident neuroscience expert is also our magic aficionado. And while the article does a great job explaining slight of hand, we can also rely on the magicians Penn and Teller to reveal the real secrets behind slight of hand.