Monday, November 01, 2010

Neuroscience, magic and misdirection

When I was growing up I did stage magic. I never reached the highest levels with sleights, but I did do shows for dozens of people at a time (usually birthday parties for younger kids). The most amazing thing I learned as a magician is how to manipulate the (surprisingly narrow) attention focus of the audience. This can come in very handy, although I've sworn never to use my super-powers in academic talks, where clarity and honesty are the main goals :-) (A little showmanship, however, will definitely liven up a classroom or VC presentation!) One thing I can do, even today, is get a laugh from a child by showing them a little sleight of hand.

Analyzing magic tricks is good training for the mind -- it teaches you to expand your mental models beyond what is immediately perceptible. (How does what I am seeing actually constrain what is really happening?) Anyone involved in due diligence should spend some time with a magician, study a few classic con games, or try to deconstruct a few illusions.

In the video below two neuroscientists analyze some street magic, with emphasis on the role of misdirection. (Via Simoleonsense.)

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