Google Talks

The Science of Magic - Talk at Google

Recently, Gustav Kuhn gave a talk at Google about his book Experiencing the Impossible: The Science of Magic. The talk begins with a demonstration of one of my all-time favourite tricks, “The Cups & Balls” and goes into a discussion of perception, blindspots, memory and how the mind puts it all together.

There is one great comment he lets slip casually that pretty much sums it all up:

Intuitively we believe that if we’re looking at something, we should be able to see it.

The questions period at the end is remarkable with the audience offering some wonderfully insightful questions with great answers as well.

Gustav Kuhn is the director of the MAGIC lab at the Department of Psychology at the Goldsmith University of London, where he uses magic to study a wide range of psychological questions, around consciousness, attention, perception, magical beliefs, deception and free will.

Experiencing the Impossible is available from fine booksellers everywhere.

Thinking Fast & Slow

For me one of the most important books of the past decade, both as a magician and a person, is Daniel Kahneman's Thinking Fast and Slow. As a magician, it taught me how to take advantage of the natural ways in which the brain processes information to deliver magic in a more powerful and mystifying way.

As a person, it made me a better problem solver and, when I was tutoring, a better teacher. I knew that in order for my students to perform effectively, I had to make sure they were "thinking slow" in order to use the problem solving skills they had rather than just blurting out the first thing that popped into their heads and calling it a day.

Here is a tiny look into what was a truly life-changing book. Speaking at Google, Prof. Daniel Kaheman:

During his introduction, they mention that Kahneman is a Nobel Prize winner. I didn't know that when I started reading the book. Then, nearly exactly halfway through, it jumped off the page, "the research for which we won the Nobel prize." Talk about burying the lead.

Weaponized Lies

Readers of this blog will know by now that one of the topics most important to me is honesty. In this talk at Google, author Dan Levitin discusses his book Weaponized Lies: How to Think Critically in the Post-Truth Era. It's about how to get your facts straight or, more simply put, how to not be wrong. In its original hardcover form, the book was called A Field Guide to Lies, but was renamed for the paperback edition following a certain major election.

Critical thinking is now more important than ever as the sheer volume of information makes it difficult to distinguish between fact and fiction in what appears, on its surface, to be news. 

One thing that came out of the video was the often forgotten importance of asking the right questions. His example of the famous "Four out of five dentists recommend..." line in advertising is really illuminating.