A misdirection of mind

Scientific American has an excellent video where two neuroscientists and a street magician with remarkable pickpocketing skills explain how illusionists manipulate our attention.

It’s a hugely entertaining piece and really highlights how the idea of ‘sleight of hand’ is itself a misdirection, as the most important of the magician’s manipulations is to alter where we focus and what we expect.

The people featured in the video were all involved in the recent scientific discussions about what stage magic can teach cognitive neuroscience about the mind and brain.

You’ll also notice there is a bit of scientific sleight of hand that happens at about the 9 minute mark where the all-purpose ‘mirror neuron‘ theory is pulled out of a hat as an explanation that stretches way beyond what we actually know about the mirror system.

It doesn’t say whether mirror neurons can also saw a woman in half but I’m sure someone will suggest it in the near future.

Despite this moment of unsubstantiated speculation, the video is an excellent guide to the psychology of attention and great fun to boot.

Link to video ‘Neuroscience meets magic’.

5 thoughts on “A misdirection of mind”

  1. Recently I bid on a ghostwriting job for a mentalist. I knew his instincts were no good when I had to write him twice to propose that he hire me before anyone else because I have the experience of having studied stage hypnotism in the context of doing a historical outline of propaganda… like, the perfect combination of experience for the job, in fact. In addition to poor instincts, this mentalist also is stingy and accused me of bidding too high. Upon receipt of my bid, he actually lost his temper– yelled at me that artists & writers like me deserve to starve. I figured whatta lousy *mentalist* considering that his craft is manipulating of the emotions & as such he should be above an outburst.
    Anyway, this vid is great & reminded me of my studies which I referenced above.
    But I have questions about what most interests me here, like, when is the individual responsible for his own welfare… say, as a mark? Is it possible for a human to be in a state of hyper-awareness that would leave him impossible to manipulate? And, if it were possible, is heightened awareness desirable to the individual; should I be training my children (like maybe in some martial arts specialty)? Or would life be more pleasant just going thru wondering what happened to my watch, but o well, watches come & go…?
    The magician in the vid is *gentlemanly*, but another with his training could make himself a small fortune & never share any of his satisfaction or secrets. In the same way, hypnotists have been accused of unethical practices. The very idea of *brain-washing* or *mind-control* gives me a sick feeling in my belly, and this feeling seems to be the norm. When does the individual not trained in attention manipulation have or lose self-responsibility? Should it be the charge of all people to arm themselves with training in the esoteric arts?
    Would the neuroscientists claim that the marks are incapable of reacting another way? I know that certain autistic people fail to be entertained because they don’t get the joke; they perceive in slow motion or something, but the sleight is visible to them.
    Is the interest in this field of study always the psychology of the mass which is always somehow kept at a lowered state of awareness thru emotional manipulation? And, if it is not, if it is the individual psychology, then isn’t it unfair to carry out these dark arts to see the reactions of the uninitiated? What would happen if we kicked things up a notch by teaching these tricks, like they were games, to our children…?
    I dunno, I just can’t help thinking of all these things… even tho I was absolutely entertained by the video, & my daughter has been practicing the trick with the ink pen & cap since last night….

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