Psychology lessons from the Magic Circle
Do you believe in magic? Whether you do or not in the abstract is actually less important than you might think, because your senses have already decided that they’re believers.
Dr Gustav Kuhn, a reader in psychology at Goldsmiths and author of Experiencing the Impossible: The Science of Magic, has been practising magic since he was a child. Now he spends his days examining how the tricks work, and the alarming thing is that often the magicians’ best hunches are only half correct or even completely off. “Although magicians are very good at performing the trick and knowing what tricks work, their explanation for why they work are not necessarily correct,” he tells TechRadar, following his performance/lecture to an audience of skeptics at New Scientist Live.
“With magic, there are huge perceptual memory or reasoning distortions and they can give us really interesting insights into how the human mind works.” The long and short of it is that your perceptions are inherently faulty, with your brain providing helpful shortcuts that generally help you to function… unless someone is deliberately trying to deceive you, that is.
At one point in his talk, Kuhn bounces a ball twice before pretending to bounce it a third time. It’s not exactly David Copperfield, but it does the job as a demonstration. “About two thirds of people experience a ball that’s moving up and then disappearing,” he says. “You’re seeing something that clearly hasn’t happened.”
Another example: just by adding a flicker to two images, Kuhn is able to make the majority of the audience fail to spot a fairly obvious difference between two pictures. Remove the flicker, and it’s apparent to everyone – which is probably why you should never play those pub quiz machine Spot the Difference games.
“People are oblivious to most of the things going on in their environment,” Kuhn explains. “And so once you’ve actually got control over their attention, you’ve got pretty much full control over what they see and what they miss.” READ MORE