Science of magic: "Theatrical linking of cause and effect"

Teller is an authority on the history of magic, but in a session I am really looking forward to he will take the stage at IF in September to discuss the science behind it. As science writer George Johnson wrote in "Sleights of Mind" last year, now that we've heard from the scientists and philosophers - the experts, if you will - about what and how the mind knows, about what lies at the limits of cognition, "it's time to hear from the pros."

Attend this session and you will. Johnson described Teller offering instruction in the science of magic at a meeting of the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness last August:

Sounding more like a professor than a comedian and magician, Teller described how a good conjuror exploits the human compulsion to find patterns, and to impose them when they aren’t really there.

'In real life if you see something done again and again, you study it and you gradually pick up a pattern,' he said as he walked onstage holding a brass bucket in his left hand. 'If you do that with a magician, it’s sometimes a big mistake.'

Pulling one coin after another from the air, he dropped them, thunk, thunk, thunk, into the bucket. Just as the audience was beginning to catch on — somehow he was concealing the coins between his fingers — he flashed his empty palm and, thunk, dropped another coin, and then grabbed another from a gentleman’s white hair. For the climax of the act, Teller deftly removed a spectator’s glasses, tipped them over the bucket and, thunk, thunk, two more coins fell.

As he ran through the trick a second time, annotating each step, we saw how we had been led to mismatch cause and effect, to form one false hypothesis after another. Sometimes the coins were coming from his right hand, and sometimes from his left, hidden beneath the fingers holding the bucket.

He left us with his definition of magic: 'The theatrical linking of a cause with an effect that has no basis in physical reality, but that — in our hearts — ought to.'

As a lover of words, I also appreciate the alternative spelling of "conjurer" used at the beginning of this quote. "Con-juror?" Sounds about right.

Wayne