As long as there have been magicians, there have been skeptics trying to unravel their secrets. How did the bunny come out of the hat? How did Houdini escape from the chains and containers? In a new paper, a group of cognitive scientists argue that the real secret of magic is the way it exploits the blind spots of the brain. A good magician can get the audience to stare at the wrong part of the stage, fixate on the wrong hand, or guess the one card that’s already been pulled from the deck. As a result, these tricksters are able to make the impossible look easy: The flaws of the mind are turned into entertainment. As the authors note, although magic tricks have been ignored by scientists, the “effects are large, replicable, and experienced by just about everyone.” By studying how we get tricked, they hope to learn how we perceive.
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