Science & Technology

Magic Meets Science


A fun piece in The New York Times about a conference of scientists, philosophers, and magicians:

Secretive as they are about specifics, the magicians were as eager as the scientists when it came to discussing the cognitive illusions that masquerade as magic: disguising one action as another, implying data that isn't there, taking advantage of how the brain fills in gaps—making assumptions, as The Amazing Randi put it, and mistaking them for facts.

Sounding more like a professor than a comedian and magician, Teller described how a good conjuror exploits the human compulsion to find patterns, and to impose them when they aren't really there.

"In real life if you see something done again and again, you study it and you gradually pick up a pattern," he said as he walked onstage holding a brass bucket in his left hand. "If you do that with a magician, it's sometimes a big mistake."

And not just with magicians…

Elsewhere in Reason: Teller has a cameo in the August/September Reason, available at newsstands now. And the philosopher Daniel Dennett, who plays a significant role in the Times piece, was interviewed in our May 2003 issue.