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.
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’.