Magic and Mind Tricks

Benedict Carey has a NY Times article today, While a Magician Works, the Mind Does the Tricks. Cognitive neuroscience and magic has been receiving a lot of attention lately. Mind Hacks has written extensively on magic and Neurophilosophy has a more general post.

Carey covers much the same ground, beginning with the recent paper “Attention and Awareness in Stage Magic: Turning Tricks into Research” (full paper) by Stephen Macknik and colleages in Nature Neuroscience Reviews. Carey writes about the visual and tactile tricks of magic, of a red flash that lingers in vision to hide the stripping away of a white dress or gripping the wrist to leave a “somatosensory afterimage” before neatly stealing a man’s watch.

Carey also links to an extensive collection of videos that accompanied the Nature article. That’s one of the things I definitely want to highlight. These are videos of magicians doing their tricks, as well as some talks at a recent conference.

Magic would make a great neuroanthropology research project, similar to the placebo effect or video games. Anthropologists have long studied “magic, witchcraft and religion” (a typical course title), and are well placed to understand the techniques and training of magicians, the cultural knowledge and biases that magic seems to subvert or surprise, and how audiences read intentions into actions by the magician.

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