Howdy hello all! I hope your holiday weekend was a wonderful one! For this week’s blog post I want to revisit a past topic that needs a little more lime light. I want to talk a little about the science behind the prestidigitation of magicians.
In laymen’s terms it is called, sleight of hand. The magician shows you something in their hands and before you know it. Something disappears or even turns into something else. Granted, I won’t tell you how any illusion actually works. But what I will tell you, is why it works so effectively.
Most people that do not know much about the brain and how it actually works, are astounded and a bit argumentative when they are told that the human brain is only capable of processing one thing at a time. That it runs on the processing power of only 12 watts. Which is about one fifth of the power a standard lightbulb runs on. And the term multitasking, when used in conjunction with talking about how the brain works, is just a myth. You can obviously be doing multiple things at the same time, but your brain is only capable, as already stated, of doing just one thing at a time. It just does this process really fast. So it only makes it seem like it is processing multiple tasks at the same time.
So, all that being said, it is actually quite easy to trick the brain into seeing one thing, while something else is currently going on. This is done by taking advantage of the brain’s two forms of information observation. They are called, top down and bottom up attentions. Top down denotes the decision making process of the brain controlled by the prefrontal cortex. The bottom up denotes the primitive surprise attention process controlled by the sensory cortices.
Knowing this, the magician lulls the observer into a steady top down brain process. Midway through the presentation, the magician then shifts the observer into a brief bottom up process as a distraction. At this point, the mind becomes vulnerable for a brief second, which is more than enough time for the magician to change something important without the observer noticing. Then finally the magician lulls the observer back into the top down brain process. This seemingly complicated act the magician pulls off is usually only half a second, one at the most. But this is just a basic tactic employed by the illusionist. More complicated illusions require more controlled patterns of this process of back and forth. Some times a magician will distract the observer at a minimum of 20 times in under a minute.
“Pay attention. Are you watching? If you look closer, you will miss what is actually happening.”