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Sleight of Mind

August 13, 2008

Nancy Rawlinson

There’s an interesting article about the art of magic in the New York Times. You can read it here. The article draws on another, more scholarly piece in the journal Nature Reviews Neuroscience, in which “…a team of brain scientists and prominent magicians described how magic tricks, both simple and spectacular, take advantage of glitches in how the brain constructs a model of the outside world from moment to moment, or what we think of as objective reality.”

I have long thought that writing is a kind of sleight of mind. The author plants images and emotions in the reader’s brain, giving just enough direction for them to be able to form a whole new reality, based on no more than a bunch of words on paper. All reading requires a certain suspension of disbelief which leaves us open and receptive to the world a writer creates. Great writing messes with people’s heads — it’s that powerful and that strange. The abstract for the original article says: “Magic shows are a manifestation of accomplished magic performers’ deep intuition for and understanding of human attention and awareness.” Substitute “novels” for “magic shows” and “novelists’” for “magic performers’” and that statement would be just as true.

Now, for some fun: though I still can’t figure out the embedding video thing, here’s a link to Apollo Robbins picking pockets. His analysis, at the end, of how he “slices attention” is as fascinating to me as the tricks themselves.

Crossposted from Boolah.

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