Everyone knows these are tricks and not “real”. It’s not as though we don’t know our senses are being deceived. But we still watch and wait for the reveal. So some clever bods at a university laboratory dedicated to understanding magic – the Magic Lab, and Dr Kuhn, part of the psychology department at Goldsmiths, University of London actually study this! Weird!
So there are several things that makes our brains tick and of course they say scientifically it can broken down it to several parts! Let look a the basics!
As the title suggests, the principles behind magic are rooted in areas that overlap with psychology – perception, attention and how we process information. We love to see what we don’t see, or perhaps we love the fact that we are being distracted! We essentially are presenting the brain with something its designed to be alert for. Deliberate distractions that keep the ol grey cells occupied essentially! A happy brain is a busy one!
“Nature of Perception”
Dr Kuhn says part of the fascination is trying to reconcile something that we’ve seen, with what we know is not really possible. Rabbits don’t suddenly appear in top hats from nowhere. People can’t get sawn in half and walk away.
He says it’s a sensation that produces a deep-rooted response, trying to reconcile this “cognitive conflict” and triggering part of the brain, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. (Obviously we all know about our dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and where it is, we all have one, you are probably scratching it right now!!)
From a very early age we are drawn to what we don’t understand, says Dr Kuhn, with an evolutionary incentive to try to make sense of what seems to be unexplained. “We learn to develop this way,” he says. Dr Kuhn likens the appeal of a magic trick to that of a horror film.
If such bloodshed was seen in real life, he says, it would be traumatic and awful, but when it’s shown in the safety of a movie, the fear becomes something that people can enjoy. Likewise, if we were confronted with something which disorientated and distorted our senses, it would be deeply disturbing, but when it’s put into the context of a magic trick, it becomes entertaining and amusing.
The fact that we know it’s not real is an essential part of making it an enjoyable sensation.
“It’s an exciting time to be researching magic,” says Dr Kuhn, showing how trickery can give “fresh insight into the strengths and weaknesses of our own minds”.
So obviously thats what makes us want to watch magic! As long as we tick those boxes we are ok easy!… Until we realise that once the brain susses out that its seen it before and it knows what’s coming then we will loose the magic. The magician becomes like the B-movie and no longer the latest in CGI technology that we thought we were watching.
So this is where the creative performer turns what the brain wants and keeps it wanting, being creative with the ways in which the alternative perception are presented and every time making them a surprise. We all know that that bit of rope will become one again or the car will burst into flames in that movie but when or how becomes the important thing that makes it grey cell interesting.
Us humans are social creatures, we love to interact communicate but of course we still have those monkey hang ups that create social boundaries and shyness etc. If one of us yawns we all pick up on this, even on a subconscious level we all start to want to yawn…you maybe just did…or you want to? (Ok i’ll stop playing with your mind now!)
Its the same with laughter and having fun. Laughter is actually scientifically proven to be contagious (Thank you again Prof Wiseman!) Laughter spreads, it also helps us to relax and generate endorphins. The more we laugh the better things get, we also start to be more receptive as to what is making us laugh and is happening in front of us. We hitch hike the imagination train a bit better as well and get excited about our new realities.
So what better than combining our two scientifically proven theories. This is what a good performer is all about. Naturally being able to spot the social surroundings when it is the right time break those barriers, add some laughter, get the happy feelings happening, get the monkey brain excited about what’s gonna happen and leading it in the right direction and then sneak up on you with a unexpected reality that will stretch our imagination to the limits of excitement.
Its very scientific but in reality just great fun!