Some of the world’s best illusionists are now collaborating with cognitive scientists to better understand the mind and brain but this turns out to be old news. A brilliant article in The Psychologist charts the remarkably long history of magicians and psychologists working together to understand the human mind.
The piece is by psychologist and historian Peter Lamont, himself a stage magician of some repute, who looks back at how illusionists knowledge of mental engineering was in demand even in the earliest days of experimental psychology.
At the end of the 19th century, Hermann and Kellar were the two greatest conjurors in the world, though who was greatest depended upon whose publicity one believed. In the United States they competed over audiences and advertising space, and each considered the other his arch-rival. When Hermann died in 1896, Kellar was free to establish his reign and, aside from his notable achievements in the world of magic, he was almost certainly the inspiration for the Wizard of Oz. But before Kellar became the grand wizard, and shortly before Hermann’s death, the two great rivals agreed to compete in a quite different environment – the psychological laboratory.
In fact, December’s edition of The Psychologist is a special issue on the history of psychology with all the major articles open and available to all.
Full disclosure: I’m an unpaid associate editor and occasional columnist for The Psychologist. Sadly, I lost the magic years ago.