IdeaFestival

Pickpocket's Secret: Our Minds Don't Multi-Task

According to BBC Future, the secret to pickpocket's success is that the mind, spectacularly tuned to notice that single difference, can just as easily be misled by that difference to drop its guard.

According to neuroscientists our brains come pretty much hard-wired to be tricked, thanks to the vagaries of our attention and perception systems. In fact, the key requirement for a successful pickpocket isn’t having nifty fingers, it’s having a working knowledge of the loopholes in our brains. Some are so good at it that researchers are working with them to get an insight into the way our minds work.

The most important of these loopholes is the fact that our brains are not set up to multi-task. Most of the time that is a good thing – it allows us to filter out all but the most important features of the world around us. But neuroscientist Susana Martinez-Conde, the author of the book Sleights of Mind, says that a good trickster can use it against you. She should know: as a researcher at the Laboratory of Visual Neuroscience in Arizona, she has studied how Las Vegas stage pickpocket Apollo Robbins performs his tricks.

The rest of the story here, as is a prior IF blog post on Apollo Robbins, the pickpocket performance artist whose thefts were compared to a Salsa in this lengthy New Yorker piece. While the thefts in the video are awfully impressive, Robbins' understanding of human psychology is equally deft.

One day, over lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant in a Las Vegas strip mall, Robbins demonstrated his method on me. 'When I shake someone’s hand, I apply the lightest pressure on their wrist with my index and middle fingers and lead them across my body to my left,' he said, showing me. 'The cross-body lead is actually a move from salsa dancing. I’m finding out what kind of a partner they’re going to be, and I know that if they follow my lead I can do whatever I want with them.'

Robbins needs to get close to his victims without setting off alarm bells. 'If I come at you head-on, like this,' he said, stepping forward, 'I’m going to run into that bubble of your personal space very quickly, and that’s going to make you uncomfortable.' He took a step back. 'So, what I do is I give you a point of focus, say a coin. Then I break eye contact by looking down, and I pivot around the point of focus, stepping forward in an arc, or a semicircle, till I’m in your space.' He demonstrated, winding up shoulder to shoulder with me, looking up at me sideways, his head cocked, all innocence. 'See how I was able to close the gap?' he said. 'I flew in under your radar and I have access to all your pockets.'

Learning how magic tricks are done is often disappointing, because it’s not really magic. With Robbins, though, effect and method are one and the same, and seeing how he accomplishes his thefts is just as impressive as witnessing, or failing to witness, the acts themselves. Each movement dovetails perfectly with the next, with no extraneous steps or flourishes. When he places his arm somewhere, it’s not an accident; he’s blocking his victim’s view or locking him in place or temporarily stashing a wallet by pinning it against its owner’s body.

I loved the comparison of a pickpocket's work to a dance. The comic's ability to slip past our planked up defenses to lift hidden assumptions has, I think, a similar thieving grace. Live every art, its power is revelatory. 

Stay Curious.

Wayne

Will Shortz on the"Grab-bag Brain" - IdeaFestival Conversation

New York Times crossword editor, puzzle master for npr's Weekend Edition Sunday and enigmatologist, Will Shortz, on the "grab bag brain". Filmed in Louisville, Kentucky at the ideafestival, September, 2008.
From: IFTV
Views: 130
0 ratings
Time: 01:37 More in Gaming

'Vision' and 'Visionary' Differ in Degree

No man understands a deep book until he has seen and lived at least part of its contents. ― Ezra Pound

What distinguishes a genius from the merely creative? It's not intelligence, but a cognitive nimbleness with ideas, a capacity to think wide as well as deep according to the neuroscientist and medical doctor Nancy Andreasen.

That capacity for genius, however, may come at a cost. Following decades of work with the mentally ill, she has in more recent years studied the brains of extraordinarily creative people and finds between the two some commonalities.

One possible contributory factor is a personality style shared by many of my creative subjects. These subjects are adventuresome and exploratory. They take risks. Particularly in science, the best work tends to occur in new frontiers. (As a popular saying among scientists goes: “When you work at the cutting edge, you are likely to bleed.”) They have to confront doubt and rejection. And yet they have to persist in spite of that, because they believe strongly in the value of what they do. This can lead to psychic pain, which may manifest itself as depression or anxiety, or lead people to attempt to reduce their discomfort by turning to pain relievers such as alcohol.

I’ve been struck by how many of these people refer to their most creative ideas as 'obvious.' Since these ideas are almost always the opposite of obvious to other people, creative luminaries can face doubt and resistance when advocating for them. As one artist told me, 'The funny thing about [one’s own] talent is that you are blind to it. You just can’t see what it is when you have it… When you have talent and see things in a particular way, you are amazed that other people can’t see it.' Persisting in the face of doubt or rejection, for artists or for scientists, can be a lonely path—one that may also partially explain why some of these people experience mental illness....

Some people see things others cannot, and they are right, and we call them creative geniuses. Some people see things others cannot, and they are wrong, and we call them mentally ill. And some people, like John Nash, are both.

Her piece reminded me of this quote from Arthur Schopenhuer at The Creativity Post: geniuses don't just hit targets that no one else can hit, they hit targets no one else can see. The difference between having visions and being visionary may be of degree, not kind.

Read Secrets of the Creative Brain and decide for yourself.

I hope to see you at IdeaFestival 2014!

Wayne

Image: IdeaFesival diners on Main St. in Louisville, 2008.

Thank You!

Thank you for making IdeaFestival 2011 so wonderful! We couldn't do it without you, our fans and sponsors, who for four days make the IdeaFestival the most creative and inspiring place to be in the world.

Wayne

Image: Geoff Oliver Bugbee

Pic: Lindsey Stirling playing violin

In a surprise performance right before a talk on the multi-verse, Lindsey Stirling gave an amazing, florid, melodic, beautiful, and slamming violin performance.

Let's just say that any world that can produce this kind of music is a world in which I want to live.

Many of the pictures that you will see here can also be found in the IdeaFestival 2011 Flickr pool. Please! Join and contribute your images.

Wayne


IdeaFestival/ICI, Inc. | 200 West Vine Street, Suite 420 | Lexington, KY 40507 | idea@ideafestival.com | phone: 866-966-4607 toll-free or 502-966-4607 | fax: 859.259.0986

Copyright @ ICI, Inc. 2014