Magic. In the realm of the rational (or at least at a blog called Rationally Speaking), magic is usually something to be debunked, explained, or exposed as the normal quite of-this-earth phenomenon that it really is. Magic, and those who claim to perform it, present more obstacles than insights to the people who want to understand things as they really are.
Except — magic might teach us more than we think.
In a recent book called Sleights of Mind, neuroscientists Stephen Macknik and Susana Martinez-Conde take a closer look at magic — from the perspective of the brain. “Pop[ping] the hood on your brain as you are suckered in by sleights of hand,” is how they describe their magical adventure into visual illusions, attention misdirection, change blindness, multisensory perceptions and all sorts of other cognitive tricks that magicians perform daily, but scientists are only just beginning to understand.
Coining the term “neuromagic,” to describe their new field, the authors explain how “magic tricks work because humans have a hardwired process of attention and awareness that is hackable.” Understanding how magicians manipulate our brains into thinking the impossible can tell us how our brains might be “hacked” in other situations (and why they evolved to be hackable in the first place). Magic, the authors claim, reveals just how much deception is “part and parcel of being human.”
What follows are just a few of the many stops on these fascinating parallel tours through magic and the brain. I’ve chosen to focus on one of the obvious cognitive hacks integral to any magic trick: attention.
Read the rest on Rationally Speaking.