Putting the tricks back into magic – Sleights of Mind: Magic and Neuroscience

I’ve been spending the last few days trying to like the Sleights of Mind.  I simply can’t.  I’m not convinced that this ‘popular science’ book does any favours to the art of magic.  It may have grand ideas and grand science behind it, but it trivialises magic back into mere tricks, and then exposes them – sometimes alarmingly so.  This trivialisation was all the more apparent to me when I saw the cartoon style feature/advert for the book in a newspaper supplement; entitled the ‘real secrets of magic’ it concentrated solely on exposure.

However, exposure isn’t the biggest problem for me – it’s the uneasy feeling I get when I see magic turned into mere tricks – or as the authors call it ‘head hacking’.  The magicians who collaborated with the authors are firmly in the ‘magic is all tricks’ camp, but no consideration is given to magicians who want to move away from magic being seen as tricks and puzzles with solutions.  What is wrong with going to a performance of magic, suspending disbelief and for the duration actually enjoy the experience of magic?  Having your mind read?  Seeing spirit messages appear?

Similarly, many magicians structure their entire act by creating a worldview that suggests that magic happens by other means (I’m being deliberately cagey here) – there is no space for that it this book.  The view of magic it puts across is cold, clinical and silly.  It’s almost like watching a magician perform and after each effect someone come outs and tells you how the ‘trick’ was done.  For me that’s not what magic should be about.

I find the philosophy of exposure in the final chapter worrying, and I’m disappointed how it seems to disregard other genres of performance magic(k).   (Think back to some of Penn’s comments during the ‘Fool Us’ TV show.)

Even so, I doubt this book will do much harm to our art. I just find this singular view of magic problematic.

Also see my TAM 7 blog entry.

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