The BBC on Why We Like Magic

The BBC takes a look at why we like magic.

The article is inspired by a recently released book by Dr. Gustav Kuhn from the University of London: Experiencing the Impossible: The Science of Magic. Using science to investigate magicians and how magic works has become rather popular lately. Magicians are, at their core, empiricists. A trick either fools people or it doesn’t. It generates astonishment and applause or it doesn’t. And psychologists are now excited to explore the why behind the how.

But why is magic exciting for us, even when the unexplainable can be deeply discomfiting? As Dr. Kuhn puts it:

Dr Kuhn likens the appeal of a magic trick to that of a horror film.

If such bloodshed was seen in real life, he says, it would be traumatic and awful, but when it’s shown in the safety of a movie, the fear becomes something that people can enjoy.

Likewise, if we were confronted with something which disorientated and distorted our senses, it would be deeply disturbing, but when it’s put into the context of a magic trick, it becomes entertaining and amusing.

The fact that we know it’s not real is an essential part of making it an enjoyable sensation.

Random Martini Trivia

The British quiz show QI remains one of my favourite programs to watch. They have redefined educational entertainment. Their name is short for Quite Interesting, and the main rule of the show is you get points "for being interesting."

After a year of Magic & Martini I get sent lovely clips like this. Here is some interesting background on Martinis in general, and how James Bond prefers them in particular:

If you're a fan of things British, you will recognize the original host of Whose Line Is It Anyway, Clive Anderson and one of the world's most delightful all around humans, Stephen Fry

Hidden Messages

Have you ever wondered if you could be persuaded to do things against your will by subliminal messaging (messages which are delivered so quickly that they sneak pass your conscious awareness and feel like thoughts that come from within your own mind.)

Here, a man with a British accent explores the history and science behind them. (Warning, video may contain subliminal messages.)

Tell me something I don't know

I posted recently about two episodes of Freakonomics Radio that I found particularly insightful. Now one of the hosts of the show, Stephen Dubner, has created a game show, Tell Me Something I don't know.

There is a wonderful new trend in entertainment (which, like most trends is really just a revival of an old trend) which celebrates curiosity and what Richard Feynman called The Pleasure of Finding Things Out. This game show challenges contestants to tell a panel of learned judges something they didn't know before. 

The latest episode, titled It's Alive, includes facts about killer snails, zombie jellyfish and poop. You can listen at and be entertained with your education.

This follows on the tradition of a UK show called QI (which stands for Quite Interesting) which was a game show with a similarly strange educational bent. Actually, if you listen through to the credits at the end, you'll hear that their "transatlantic consultant" is one of the "QI Elves" and co-hosts of the podcast No Such Thing as a Fish