Hitler on Chris Angel

...via Tim Ellis, via Tom Ogden (one of my old magic camp teachers...sigh).

SkeptiCamp Phoenix Live Blog

Friday Magic Showcase: Norm Nielsen

Norm Nielsen has one of the most recognizable styles in magic. From Paul Daniels and the Story of Magic by John Fisher:
This warm, engaging performer weaves a very special spell of wonder as first a flute disintegrates into silver dust the moment it touches his lips. Coins appear mysteriously at his fingertips, to be dropped melodically upon what resembles a vertical xylophone, down which they tinkle with a distinctive melody of their own, faster and faster until his hands are overflowing. The whole sequence has that Cartier stamp of dazzle and class. Nielsen’s speciality, however, is his floating violin, rightly considered to be one of the most beautiful illusions in magic...Seldom has a magician endowed a supposedly inanimate object with such telling personality.

Randi Debunks Hydrick

In preparation for my talk at SkeptiCamp, I've been reviewing video of people claiming psychic powers. Here's some vintage footage of James Randi debunking psychokinete, James Hydrick (who's sporting his fancy new Spring ensemble).


The price is wrong, James.

Live-Blogging SkeptiCamp Phoenix

On Saturday, as reported earlier, I'll be one of the presenters at SkeptiCamp Phoenix. I'm speaking on "Methods of the Pseudo-Psychic." Sure...I'll admit that the title is redundant. All psychics are equally "pseudo." I'll also be live-blogging from the event, so be sure to tune in to http://magictony.blogspot.com on Saturday around 12:30pm to follow my play by play and contribute to the conversation yourself!

Friday Magic Showcase: Topas

Topas is one of my favorite magicians. He is a two-time FISM award winner and is recognized as one of the world's most creative working magicians. Here is Topas performing the act that won him his first FISM award in the manipulation category. I particularly love the '80s flavor. If you've got some time, an extended version with better sound/video synchronization can be found here.

Mac King's Wildest Dreams...

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Mac King in his cloak of invisibility

One of the highlights of Mac King's act is his "method" for making cards disappear from the hands of a spectator on one side of the stage, reappearing in the hands of someone on the other side of the stage. He simply uses his relatively ineffective "cloak of invisibility," of course! Well, Mac's wildest dreams may be coming true sooner than anticipated. This month, the highly respected journal Nature reported on the work of a group of scientists at the
Hong Kong University of Science and Technology who have described a theoretical method for creating a cloak of invisibility. I'm not well-versed in physics, so I can't make much sense of the paper (found here), but the implications of such a tool for magicians are incredible!

Here's a CNN report about the technology:



Update: Come to think of it, magicians have been employing a similar technology for hundreds of years, now. Here's Omar Pasha:

Eye Wiggling Benefits Memory

In my Ignite Phoenix talk, "The Eyes Have It," I discussed a study by Lyle, Logan, and Roediger (2008) wherein strongly right-handed participants who wiggled their eyes from side to side demonstrated better recall for a memorized word list than those who didn't move their eyes. The authors suggested that lateral eye movements increased hemispheric cross-talk (which is usually lacking in strong right-handers), leading to deeper, richer encoding. Another study has just come out in the journal Brain and Cognition that provides further support for this assertion, this time employing a source monitoring paradigm.

Parker, Buckley, and Dagnall (2009) showed participants a series of pictures accompanied by a narrative. They followed this up by asking them a number of misleading questions about the specifics of the story. Participants were then directed to move their eyes either laterally, vertically, or not at all. The authors found that lateral eye movements led to better memory for the contents of the pictures and narrative. In addition, participants who moved their eyes from side to side were less apt to adopt the misinformation elements into their recollections.

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References:

Lyle, K. B., Logan, J. M., & Roediger III, H. L. (2008). Eye movements enhance memory for individuals who are strongly right-handed and harm it for individuals who are not. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 15, 515-520. Link

Parker, A., Buckley, S., & Dagnall, N. (2009). Reduced misinformation effects following saccadic bilateral eye movements. Brain and Cognition, 69, 89-97. Link

The "Progressive" Quiz

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My score seems a little low to me. Try for yourself here.

Friday Magic Showcase: Dai Vernon (1894-1992)

This week's Friday Magic Showcase features Dai Vernon, "The Professor." Many consider Vernon to be the father of modern close-up magic. He trained many of today's best sleight-of-hand artists during his years of residency at Hollywood's famous Magic Castle and was the subject of a 2005 book, The Magician and the Cardsharp, which detailed his quest to seek out the elusive "center deal." I highly recommend reading it. Here is Dai performing his take on the classic cups and balls illusion.

Body Asymmetry & Paranormal Beliefs

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While planning for my talk at SkeptiCamp later this month, I discovered a recent special issue of the journal Cortex dedicated to studies of paranormal beliefs. One article in the issue that caught my attention looked at the correlation between body and brain asymmetry and belief in the paranormal. G√ľnter Schulter and Ilona Papousek at the University of Graz, in Austria, found that asymmetries between finger lengths of the two hands were associated with greater belief in paranormal phenomena.

I'm always intrigued by these types of findings, but they often lead only to more questions. Many times, authors of this type of work will argue that the bodily asymmetry is suggestive of an underlying brain asymmetry as well (kudos to Schulter and Papousek for staying away from this line of reasoning). This is a problematic argument. Since this study is correlational, there could easily (and likely) be a third variable at play. For example, people whose faces are more symmetrical are perceived to be more beautiful (Rhodes, Proffitt, Grady, & Sumich, 1998). We all know that beautiful people are treated differently in our society, and social rejection seems likely to be correlated with magical thinking, paranormal belief, and religiosity. So, this relationship between physique and belief could have absolutely nothing to do with brain structure at all. One thing we do know, though, is that symmetrical people smell better!

There are many other interesting articles in the special issue. Be sure to check it out here.

References:

Rhodes, G., Proffitt, F., Grady, J. M., & Sumich, A. (1998). Facial symmetry and the perception of beauty. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 5, 659-669. Link

Schulter, G. & Papousek, I. (2008). Believing in paranormal phenomena: Relations to asymmetry of body and brain. Cortex, 44, 1326-1335.

SkeptiCamp Phoenix

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Later this month (on March 28th, to be exact), I'll be taking part in SkeptiCamp Phoenix 2009. SkeptiCamp "focuses on topics of interest to skeptics, including science, critical thinking and skeptical inquiry," and all of the presentations are given by camp attendees. So far, the schedule includes talks on academic freedom and the intelligent design movement, how to be a happy skeptic, and critical thinking for dummies (among others). I'll be giving a talk entitled, "Methods of the Pseudo-Psychic." This promises to be a really interesting and entertaining day. There are still a lot of open seats, so I suggest you sign up! Here's the information:


When: 10:00am Saturday, March 28th, 2009
Where: Arizona State University, Discovery Building Rm. 246 (map)


More info here.
Register here.

Ali Bongo (1929-2009)

Sad news, today. One of the most knowledgeable and recognizable figures in the magic world, Ali Bongo, has passed away. Aside from the major contributions he made to conjuring, Bongo also played an important role in the debunking of pseudo-psychic Uri Geller. From the Telegraph:
Bongo was the first experienced magician publicly to challenge the Israeli-born showman Uri Geller over his supposed psychic powers. Vowing to "put my money where my mouth is", Bongo made an appearance on the Blue Peter programme aiming to recreate Geller's spoon-bending and mind-reading experiments in front of a studio audience using only conventional magic techniques.

The experiment was a muted success – "He didn't break the fork, he only bent it," complained the metallurgist Alistair Brown – but Bongo emerged from the episode as a likeable figure, self-deprecating and generous with his expertise. He had been taken to Geller's hotel by a Daily Mail journalist the previous day in an attempt to force Geller into "proving" his abilities before an expert. The Israeli psychic ordered him out of the building with the words: "I have no time for magicians! What do they know about my powers?"

R.I.P., Ali.

Friday Magic Showcase: Roy Benson (1914-1977)

Thanks to the wonder that is youtube, there's a lot of great magic footage to be had. Every Friday, I plan on showcasing video of a different classic magician or illusion, beginning today with Roy Benson. He's my kind of magician...zippered banana and all. Enjoy!


Magic @ the Origins Symposium

If you live in the Phoenix area, an amazing event is happening at Arizona State University on April 6th. As part of ASU's "origins initiative," a symposium is being held with some of the biggest names in science (you name the field!) in attendance. The culmination is a talk by Stephen Hawking held in Gammage auditorium. Tickets are half price for anyone with an ASU ID and tickets go on sale to the general public on Friday. Hawking's opening act is a magician named Jason Latimer who was a graduate student in optics (among other things) at UC Santa Barbara. He's well-known for his take on the classic cups and balls illusion.

The Eyes Have It

February 25th saw the third installment of Ignite Phoenix, an event where people from a variety of creative fields gather to give brief talks on the topic of their choosing. This was my second Ignite Phoenix, and they just keep getting better. Presenting at Ignite is challenging because they employ the "lightning talk" format wherein you have 5 minutes to articulate your ideas with 20 powerpoint slides that change automatically every 15 seconds. This time, my talk was entitled, "The Eyes Have It: Eyes as a Window to Cognition." Despite some linguistic flubs at the beginning and a bad camera angle on the magic trick, I was happy with my performance. Below the break you will find some of the references I cited in the talk.




References:

Beatty, J. (1982). Task-evoked pupillary responses, processing load, and the structure of processing resources.
Psychological Bulletin, 91, 276-292.

Kuhn, G. & Land, M. F. (2006). There's more to magic than meets the eye.
Current Biology, 16, R950-R951.

Lyle, K. B., Logan, J. M., & Roediger III, H. L. (2008). Eye movements enhance memory for individuals who are strongly right-handed and harm it for individuals who are not.
Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 15, 515-520.

Milgram, S., Bickman, L., & Berkowitz, L. (1969). Note on the drawing power of crowds of different size.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 13, 79-82.

Ricciardelli, P., Bricolo, E., Aglioti, S. M., & Chelazzi, L. (2002). My eyes want to look where your eyes are looking: Exploring the tendency to imitate another individual's gaze.
Neuroreport, 13, 2259-2264.

Tomasello, M., Hare, B., Lehmann, H., & Call, J. (2007). Reliance on head versus eyes in the gaze following of great apes and human infants: The cooperative eye hypothesis.
Journal of Human Evolution, 52, 314-320.

History: Alfred Binet's "Psychology of Prestidigitation"

As I alluded to in my first post, we are experiencing a renaissance in the psychological study of magic, but many of the ideas being tossed around today are simply reminiscences of past observations. It may surprise you to learn that one of the earliest researchers in psychology and magic was famed intelligence tester, Alfred Binet. In addition to creating the first intelligence test, Binet is credited with capturing the first moving picture of a magician (with the help of French photographer Georges Demeny). Recently, Richard Wiseman (2005) rediscovered the original footage collected by Binet of magician "Raynaly" vanishing a ball (seen below).


In 1894, Binet wrote a manuscript entitled "Psychology of Prestidigitation" in which he foreshadowed many pieces of current research, including the role of joint attention in magic (which I'll discuss in a subsequent post) and the exploitation of inattentional blindness and perceptual set. He also pointed to a problem that researchers are still having a difficult time tackling: the reduction problem. Binet said:
The illusion of each trick is not merely the result of one single cause, but of many, so insignificant that to perceive them would be quite as difficult as to count with the naked eye the grains of sand on the seashore.

Indeed, the methods of magicians are often multi-modal, disallowing reduction in the lab. If any piece of the method is removed, the illusion fails. Oftentimes, we see this with video footage of magic. Social cues to attention are weakened when magic isn't performed live, so consequently, misdirection often fails on video. Binet recognized
this phenomenon in his footage of Raynaly, noting:
We have not for one moment the impression that the exchange has actually been made...If the photographic proof destroys so completely the illusion, it is because it does away with all the adjuncts necessary for the illusion which we have enumerated: The rapidity of the trick, the little discourse given by the artist, the maneuvers which cause a diversion or a diminution of attention, etc.

References:

Binet, A. (1894). Psychology of prestidigitation. Smithsonian Report for 1894 (pp. 555-571). Government Printing Office. Link

Wiseman, R. (2005, July 27). Trick and treat. Daily Telegraph. Link

Welcome!

Hello, friends. This is the first post to the new "Magic Tony's Grand Delusions" blog. The plan for this blog is currently quite vague. I'm expecting that it will contain links and commentary having to do with anything in the realm of psychology and magic (with the occasional snarky political rant). We're currently experiencing a renaissance in the study of magic from a psychological perspective, so I anticipate there will be lots to talk about.

A little about me: I'm a 3rd year graduate student in cognitive psychology at Arizona State University and a part-time professional magician with 20 years of experience. Although my primary area of research is in the processes underlying handwritten word recognition, I've also lectured on topics having to do with psychology and magic. To whet your whistle, here's a brief "lighting" talk I gave at the Ignite Phoenix event on the application of priming to magic. Enjoy!



References:

Hagmann, P., Cammoun, L., Gigandet, X., Meuli, R., Honey, C. J., Wedeen, V. J., & Sporns, O. (2008). Mapping the structural core of human cerebral cortex. PLoS Biology, 7, e159.

Kay, A. C., Wheeler, S. C., Bargh, J. A., & Ross, L. (2004). Material priming: The influence of mundane physical objects on situational construal and competitive behavioral choice. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 95, 83-96.

RATS ad: Subliminal conspiracy? (2000, September 13). BBC News. Retrieved October 20, 2008, from http://news.bbc.co.uk.

Weinberger, J. & Westen, D. (2008). RATS, we should have used Clinton: Subliminal priming in political campaigns. Political Psychology, 29, 631-651.