Saturday, March 22, 2014

Sleights of Mind and a Reminder to Get a Ticket

Magic is about entertaining audiences. Young magicians should not focus on methodology at the expense of theatrics.

In Houdini's Right Way To Do Wrong the great escape artist gives attention to the matter of "performance" in the magic arts. It's not just technique, though technique has great value. Presentation is equally important. Though part of the magician's creed is to never share one's secrets with non-magicians, there is a second rule that is part of the creed. Never perform a trick badly. That's paraphrased, but is essentially the nut of it. Don't botch a trick so badly as to give it away.

So, I have been reading a fascinating book about magic, but from a different angle. It's called Sleights of Mind, by Stephen Macknik and Susana Martinez-Conde. The book is by scientists, not entertainers and its subtitle is What the Neuroscience of Magic Reveals About Our Everyday Deceptions.

It's a novel approach to brain science. Much of what neuroscientists are now learning has already been learned by magicians more than a century ago. The hand is quicker than the eye? It's much more than that. Now you see it, now you don't.

People who go to magic shows get a thrill from being deceived. But there are reasons the tricks fool us, and the master magicians get away with mental mayhem. Part of the reason is that our brain's ability to take in data has many flaws. Yes, it is a remarkable organ, but it has an amazing variety of shortcomings. The ways in which afterimages, perspective, inattentional blindness and viewers' expectations get manipulated are each demonstrated and spelled out.

In an early part of the book the authors share how scientists were fooled by Uri Geller and his spoon-bending, which they called the Geller Effect. The reason why scientists were so gullible is that scientists are honest people and not aware of how low magicians are willing to stoop to deceive them. The better the scientist, the more gullible.

I am immediately reminded of Houdini's efforts to unmask frauds and especially those who bought into the notion of communicating with the dead through mediums. But another historical moment comes to mind as well. When the duck-billed platypus was discovered, the scientists in England thought it such a bizarre creature that it had to be a hoax. The reason for this incredulity has to do with context. Some international travelers had come home with other strange creatures which indeed had been hoaxes. Sailors were sold miniature "mermaids" in which the upper half of a monkey would be sewn to the lower half of a fish. English scientists assumed the platypus was of similar "creative" origin.

If I were a better magician with words, this would not be such a sloppy segue, but alas, let's cut right to it.

I don't know anyone who doesn't like to be dazzled now and then. That's one reason I look forward to a great evening of entertainment on May 17 for Magic Marc's production of A Salute to the Music of Bob Dylan. Evidently Marc Percansky is a magician in addition to event promoter. Both he and professional magician John Bushey will keep us entertained while musicians change up their sets. A bit like a three ring circus, except it's magicans instead of clowns.

Percansky is an independent concert, music and event promoter based in the Minneapolis / Saint Paul, Minnesota area. His interest in the music of Bob Dylan isn't an isolated phenomenon. President Obama said, when awarding him the Medal of Freedom, "There is not a bigger giant in the history of American music,"  And though his cross generational fame has been cemented by means of his half century career as a performer, it was his songwriting that garnered him a Pulitzer Prize in 2008. (Was that really already six years ago?)

So Percansky has assembled a top-notch crew for another over-the-top kickoff of another North Country Dylan Fest Celebration. At the end of the week's events, on May 24, Bob Dylan will turn 73.

Like the great magicians of old, Magic Marc seems to be a master of entertaining audiences. It should be an event to remember.

Just a quick reminder that tickets are now on sale so join me in snapping them up. It should be another spectacular event.

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