Just as vision scientists study visual art and illusions to elucidate the workings of the visual system, so too can cognitive scientists study cognitive illusions to elucidate the underpinnings of cognition. Magic shows are a manifestation of accomplished magic performers' deep intuition for and understanding of human attention and awareness. By studying magicians and their techniques, neuroscientists can learn powerful methods to manipulate attention and awareness in the laboratory. Such methods could be exploited to directly study the behavioural and neural basis of consciousness itself, for instance through the use of brain imaging and other neural recording techniques.
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We are grateful to the Mind Science Foundation (MSF) and its Executive Director, J. Dial, for sponsoring the filming of the Magic of Consciousness symposium and for kindly producing the supplementary movies for this paper. We thank M. Stewart for technical assistance and J. Otero-Millan for programming assistance. We are grateful to the Barrow Neurological Foundation for funding this study (S.L.M. and S.M.C.), in addition to grants from the Science Foundation Arizona to S.L.M. (CAA 0091-07), the National Science Foundation to S.L.M. (0726113) and S.M.C. (0643306), the Arizona Biomedical Research Commission to S.L.M. (06-083) and S.M.C. (07-102), and the Dana Foundation to S.M.C.
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
Johnny Thompson (aka The Great Tomsoni). “Closing all the doors.” The Magic of Consciousness Symposium. Courtesy of the Mind Science Foundation and the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness. (MOV 9847 kb)
James Randi (aka The Amaz!ng Randi). “Accepting assumptions not assertions.” The Magic of Consciousness Symposium. Courtesy of the Mind Science Foundation and the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness. (MOV 14787 kb)
Apollo Robbins. “Misdirection is the story that you make them remember.” The Magic of Consciousness Symposium. Courtesy of the Mind Science Foundation and the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness. (MOV 12145 kb)
Teller. “Disguising an action as another.” The Magic of Consciousness Symposium. Courtesy of the Mind Science Foundation and the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness. (MOV 10442 kb)
Mac King. “It's a bad idea to do the same trick twice.” The Magic of Consciousness Symposium. Courtesy of the Mind Science Foundation and the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness. (MOV 10278 kb)
James Randi (aka The Amaz!ng Randi). “The Amaz!ing Randi pulls a “fast one” on philosopher Dan Dennett.” The Magic of Consciousness Symposium. Courtesy of the Mind Science Foundation and the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness. (MOV 8404 kb)
A sensory neuron's response to the turning off of a stimulus.
A neurological condition in which a patient with damage in the primary visual cortex is unaware of visual events that occur in the corresponding portion of the visual field, despite exhibiting good performance on visual tasks conducted in that region.
- Change blindness
The failure to notice changes in an object or scene over a period of time.
- Inattentional blindness
The failure to notice a salient object or visible feature in a scene owing to misdirected attention or attention that is not engaged at a level sufficient to achieve awareness of the object.
- Magic palming technique
The technique used by magicians to hide items in the palms of their hands (which are turned away from the observer), so as to make it look like the hands are empty.
Small, involuntary saccades that are produced when subjects attempt to fixate their gaze on a visual target.
A fast, jerky eye movement that transports the fovea from one visual target to another in a straight-line trajectory.
- Smooth pursuit movement
A type of eye movement in which the retinal fovea smoothly tracks the position of a moving object.
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Macknik, S., King, M., Randi, J. et al. Attention and awareness in stage magic: turning tricks into research. Nat Rev Neurosci 9, 871–879 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1038/nrn2473
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