Prestidigitation and psychology

Sometimes a news story can be like a magic trick.  You read it and think “wow, interesting” and at the same time can think “wow, that was bloody obvious”!

Now you see it – now you don’t from the Today programme‘s section of the BBC Website is just such an article.  Dr Gustav Kuhn has performed a study that has shown how the mind can fail to see something that is both obvious, and visible.  To prove his theory he showed subjects a film of him performing a magic trick in which he “vanishes” a cigarette and a cigarette lighter, and although eye tracking software showed that the subjects had seen the sleight of hand only a very small percentage actually saw and understood what had happened.  The article is fascinating stuff, and I suggest you read it… (link again Now you see it – now you don’t).

What surprised me was that so many people can not see the trick.  I’ve always been interested by special effects and magic, I read Tolkien and other fantasy works and love the exciting idea of powerful, fantastical magic.  I felt that the psychological concepts discussed in the Today programme’s article were very like the film “The Prestige“, in that the mechanism for the trick is astoundingly obvious but people want to believe the magic and so let their minds become blind to the trick itself.  I’ve seen this myself when I’ve performed magic tricks, and watched the video in the article with interest to see if I’d be fooled.

Unfortunately I’d guessed the solution before the action had started, just the starting pose gave it away which is the way it goes with some tricks!

Updates to the blog will be even more eratic than usual while we’re on vacation in England.  Back soon….


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