Thursday, 6 October 2011

Review: Sleights of Mind

Sleights of Mind by Stephen Macknick and Susana Martinez-Conde is, to quote Mac King "A real close-up look at the true secrets of magic". (And Mac King, if you didn't know, is a very famous magician who headlines in Las Vegas). In a nutshell, it's an excellent way to begin learning about magic from a psychological perspective. In fact, Macknick and Martinez-Conde are the world's first neuromagicians, and are members of the Magic Cirle, Magic Castle and others, making them perfectly qualified to author such a text.

The aim of Sleights of Mind is to give the reader an overview of neuroscience experiments that study magic and what they can tell us about the brain. What I particularly love about it, is that it's written like a novel but a novel that delivers a whole lot of interesting information about the brain, details some excellents studies and some fantastic illusions. Macknick and Martinez-Conde also tell the reader about their own adventures in magic, beginning as novices and developing their skills and routine, giving an insiders view to a magician's experiences.

Let me give you an example. I'm paraphrasing a little, but here's a description of the Chameleon Dress Illusion, as performed by the Great Tomsoni (also know as Johnny). Johnny and his assistant - who is wearing a very small white dress - are on the stage with spotlights on them while all house lights are dimmed. He tells the audience he will turn his assistant's dress from white to red. They dutifully stare at the assistant and the light shining on her dims briefly before brightening in a dazzling shade of red. Of course, the audience are a little confused here - is the Great Tomsoni really telling them that's magic? Changing the colour of the spotlight? But Johnny laughs, telling the audience they had to admit her dress had gone red, then switches the lights back and asks you to watch again. Once again the lights dim before stage lights up in a blaze of white light. And this time, inexplicably, the assistant's dress really is red - crimson red! How on earth did he do that?!

I'm afraid that I won't tell you, but Slights of Mind is full of detailed descriptions of a number of illusions like this and how they are done. It's magic like this, and what it does to your brain, that gets me really excited about this subject. I can't give this book higher praise than to tell you that when I finished, I was even more excited and intrigued and passionate about my own research. If you're even remotely interested in magic, psychology, neuroscience or illusions, this book is a must. You can get it here and read more on the website here.

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