eric mead

Sleight of Hand Without Hands

Toronto-born Mahdi Gilbert is, as far as I know, unique in the world of magic. He was born without hands and feet but created his own system to perform the kind of magic which would, under ordinary circumstances, be called "sleight-of-hand". 

He recently appeared at the EG Conference and you can watch is performance followed by an interview with another celebrated magician, Eric Mead. As far as I know, Eric is the first interviewer who's dared to ask about the specifics of his physical condition. (Heck, I've known Mahdi for about eight years and I've never asked.)

The trick you can see performed is a modern classic known as "Oil and Water" 

Mahdi's work is, in part, inspired by another differently abled magician from Argentina, René Lavand. Lavand lost his right arm in an accident at an early age.

He also worked primarily with cards. Most of his performances revolved around storytelling and even the occasional poetry reading. He described his own work as "Lentidigitation" which was the opposite of "Prestidigitation", roughly translated as "Fast Finger Action". 

If you watch it below, you'll repeatedly hear him say "No Se Pueder Hacer Más Lento" which translates to "It can't be done any slower."

Supernatural Causation

By a strange bit of synchronicity, this topic popped up twice in my various feeds in the same day. The first came from magician Eric Mead in a Facebook post.

Eric Mead Screenshot
Eric Mead Screenshot

The original comment that sparked the Facebook exchange was a comment made early in this video. The trick he performs is beside the point, although it is well worth watching through to the end for.

This second longer video is from Matt Dillahunty. Matt also know a fair amount of magic, though he works primarily in the freethought community. This video is part of the "Atheist Debates" project

Spoiler alert for those who don't want to sit through the full in-depth discussion: we are epistemologically blocked from actually inferring supernatural causation.

The discomforting corollary to this is that the entire field of magic is rooted in a logical fallacy. I'm not sure if that's a bad thing or not.

The Fallacy

There is a correct line of deductive reasoning that looks something like this:

  1. A or B
  2. Not A
  3. Therefore B

The problem arises when you try to use this line of reasoning to explain something. Because when you're trying to explain things in the real world, the first premise is false. It should be:

  1. A or B or X Where X is some explanation I haven't thought up yet.
  2. Not A
  3. Therefore B or X
  4. If (not X) then B

The validity of B depends entirely on your ability to exclude X; to demonstrate that there couldn't be any other explanation you haven't considered. (Depending whether it's Eric or Matt talking, B is either magic or god respectively.)

But your "not X" will always be tentative. The defences of "not X" typically take the form of "arguments from insufficient imagination" [1] or "arguments from incredulity" [2]. Which is essentially the argument that "I'm so smart, I couldn't possibly be wrong."

We have good historical support for this. Every paradigm shifting discovery in the history of the species has taken the form of things that not only no one had thought of, but no one before could have imagined them. Think of evolution (all of the complexity of life on the planet without a designer), relativity (the word "now" doesn't mean anything), quantum mechanics (sure you can be in two places at once given the right conditions), the germ theory of disease, even heliocentrism (you mean, the sun doesn't orbit the earth?).

Magic is the same way. There is no deductive argument that can possibly end with the conclusion "It was magic." That conclusion is simply a state of abandonment; I was more persistent in trying to deceive you than you were in trying to see through the deception.

I'm not sure if that's a good thing or not. I'm really not.

[1] Thank you Richard Dawkins for naming that one.

[2] I'm crediting this one to the Backstreet Boys unless anyone has a better citation.

Michael Weber's Zombie Workshop

A free bonus chapter that didn't make it in to Ninety-Nine Fabrications Volume 2. (So if you haven't read it - here's a taste of what you're missing. Special thanks to Canada's Magic for leaking this for us. Now you can have the unabridged version with photographic illustrations.

A Report from the P. Howard Lyons Ring of the International Brotherhood of Magicians, Ring 99, Toronto

While we may occasionally pretend to be men (and even women) of our word, our illustrious membership has less collective willpower than Augustus Gloop in a room full of Wonka Bars.

Earlier this year, as a result of a rather vague controversy, we vowed to send our beloved Ring to the grave and ne'er speak of it again. We thought we had succeeded. But when Michael Weber sent word that he would be in town (for reasons we are unable to relate here as they are so secret we have yet to determine them) and was interested in doing a workshop, we rose like zombies and gathered to feast on the contents of his magnificent and delicious brain.

Michael Weber

This was no small order as the weekend he has selected was not only the long weekend celebrating our country's founding (uncreatively named Canada Day - Max Maven and Allan Slaight could have done better), but also the glorious orgasmic climax to Pride Week, which is always enjoyed most enthusiastically in Toronto. Nevertheless, we forewent the excessive indulgence in alcohol, fireworks and public nudity and assembled at the usual place. We were not disappointed for our efforts.

The ex-president (James Alan) accompanied by another James (James Harrison), and Keith Brown (recently named Toronto's Best Magician in a silly little contest held outside of Toronto to save on parking and avoid both traffic and credibility) rushed over from their fabulous performance at the gay pride installment of Abracadabaret (Canada's only variety show dedicated to magic, mystery and to-die-for shoes) on the other side of town to not miss any of the mind-blowingness. Two underaged attendees even managed to secure fake IDs to gain entry to our secret speakeasy-cum-clubhouse for the event.

The Irritatingly Photogenic Keith Brown

Mr. Weber did not disappoint. He offered a marvelous assortment of practical, commercial and diabolically clever card magic, money magic, mentalism, and personal grooming accessories. We cannot divulge the contents of this super-secret workshop as we have all been sworn to secrecy. The penalty for violating this solemn oath is being forced to watch certain unnamed members of the city's other ring perform all of Ben Train's unpublished material. Twice. They would also be made to judge next year's Chasing Dovetails Bingo tournament. We are not permitted to  explain that he shared the stories  behind two of the long uncredited Vernon and Miller items from Kaplan and Expert Card Technique. We can say he taught his own mischievous and devious twists on three items hidden in the pages of the recent Graham-Diaconis book on math and magic. Weber closed out the night by demonstrating a small non-card treasure he unearthed in a letter written by Charles Jordan. Suffice it to say that we were all thoroughly delighted and will be keeping our yaps shut.

Michael Weber & Amit Neufeld

The special meeting room also features a VIP viewing gallery at the back to which the ex-president, Chicago's David Solomon and Aspen's Eric Mead were banished to prevent them from causing too much trouble. To keep the peanut gallery quiet, a second, younger more vertically-challenged Mr. Weber held court. Due to a strategically timed nap (and apparently a better fake ID than any of us had ever seen), young Master Weber was able to share the real work on several captivating iPad apps well past the point any sensible person would consider bedtime. The legumes on the periphery did manage to poke their heads up occasionally as Weber the senior got around to what we might call "the good bits" which happened what we may call "often".

Eric Mead hiding in the corner

Following the official programming there were additional things which cannot be explained and an informal session with Eric Mead which deteriorated rapidly into philosophical discussions of gastronomy, techniques for setting things on fire and looking at baby pictures.

So having had our fix, we put yet another silver bullet in the chamber and return the illustrious Ring 99 to oblivion... until the next guy comes through town.

To read more about the adventures of Ring 99, see Ninety Nine Fabrications Volume 1 and Volume 2.