Attempted Philosophy

Why aren't there (again) more women in magic?

Sometimes ideas are just in the air and they keep bubbling up to the surface all a once. Following up on the spoken word piece I shared yesterday, Penn Jillette (of Penn & Teller) was recently interviewed in Vulture and part of their conversation was about women in magic and he shared the following:

Everybody that I know in magic got in before they were 10 and they have a huge affection for that scene of older men — it was always men — with cigars talking in the basement of a library about magic. I hated that. I didn’t get into magic in any real way until I was 19 and met TellerRaymond Joseph Teller met Jillette in 1974, and they began their trademark show in 1981. Teller normally does not speak in shows or in public, citing early magic shows at frat parties where bros paid closer attention when he was silent. . My whole life up that point was about dirty rock bands. And most of my friends in high school were girls. So the idea of a boys’ club that excluded them — which is what magic was — made me furious. Even now it fills me with rage that people ask if my son is into magic and don’t ask if my daughter is.

So the biggest trend I’m seeing in magic is what we saw in comedy 15 years ago, which is that the boys’ club is crumbling. Three years ago, it was maybe one girl every two years who would come up after a show and say she was interested in magic. Now it’s about three girls a week — 12-year-old girls with a deck of cards in their hands saying, “I’m going to be on
— Penn Jillette

You can read the full article at Vulture.

Asking Deep Questions

Most people think simple questions ought to have simple answers. But one of the things I learned studying math at the University of Toronto was that the longer the question, the easier it was to answer. But when the questions are short an simple, the answer is anything but. 

The late Richard Feynman, physics professor at Cal Tech and Nobel Laureate, exemplifies this perfectly when a journalist tries to ask him why magnets repel:

All about the Bayes

Bayes' Theorem, discovered by the Reverend Thomas Bayes in the eighteenth century. When you have something you're not sure of, it's the calculation you perform to update your belief when you encounter new evidence. It's essentially the mathematical underpinning of the scientific method and it's an incredibly valuable thing to understand.

All that coolness aside, this is still the most badass titles for a statistics lesson!

The Importance of Free Speech

Stephen Pinker is one of the most articulate defenders of.... well... whatever it is he feels like defending. I feel as though I've been out of University for just long enough to feel disconnected from the idealogical strife on many campuses. But when it comes to values like this, it's nice to be reminded of why they should be cherished. 

Here is Prof. Pinker speaking at Arizona State University some months back:

Are you having a good time?

When we put on events, we want everyone around us to be having a wonderful time. It turns out it's very hard to do and takes a lot of work. Or does it?

It turns out that for the cost of a payphone call you can dramatically improve someone's perception of how their live overall is going. One of my intellectual heroes, Professor Daniel Dennett of Tufts University explains;

(Yes, that is a rather prestigious group assembled around that table. This was a conference organized in 2012 and there are a few days worth of their conversations scattered around.)

But the lesson to take is that when it comes to making people happy in the moment (in the long term is much harder) a lot of it hinges on details which would seem from an outside observer to be insignificant and trivial. Putting on a successful event means extraordinary attention to detail. It does, in the end, turn out to be a lot of hard work. But when you pull it off, the results are magic.