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According to the authors of Sleights of Mind, magicians are able to do what they do because of natural processes hardwired into the mind's perceptions. By hacking into the inner-workings of the mind, magicians reveal new insights into how the brain functions. The authors talk about their book and the science behind what they call "neuromagic" on Wednesday, Feb. 23.
Authors Susana Martinez-Conde and Stephen Macknik came up with the topic for their new book while organizing a conference on attention and awareness in Las Vegas, Nev. The two are directors of the neuromagic labaratory at the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, Ariz. They co-wrote the book with local science writer Sandra Blakeslee.
As Macknik tells it, they were trying to figure out how to drum up public interest in their conference when they realized the answer was all around them.
"We were surrounded by these giant pictures of magicians, and we realized that magicians are artists of attention and awareness. We do the same kinds of things they do in our cognitive science labs, but they do these things consistently day-in and day-out all year long," Macknik tells SFR.
The authors claim that magicians exploit the attention and awareness systems of the audience by using these systems in the same way they are normally used. The difference is that magicians use them against the mind.
One example relates to what magicians refer to as misdirection. Macknik explains that there are basically two types of alignment of the oculomotor system: smooth tracking and saccades. That is to say, when tracking things with one's eyes, one can make either smooth or jerky movements.
By taking advantage of a glitch related to smooth tracking, magicians are able to lead the audience's attention to a specific point in space. When one focuses attention on a specific point, everything else is suppressed.
Thus, magicians are able to work their "magic" in one place, while the audience is focused on something else.
Neuroscientists like Macknik and Martinez-Conde are able to take the simple tricks inherent to the practice of magic and apply them to the practical, scientific study of the mind.
"Magicians have these techniques that can lead to new discoveries," Macknik says.
The authors dissect some of the magic trade's most notorious illusions in order to illustrate how they provide insight on everyday functions of the mind during their lecture.
Neuromagic Lecture and Discussion
Wednesday, Feb. 23
Santa Fe Complex
632 Aqua Fria St.