Magic to understand the brain

There’s an interesting (but very long) article at Wired about psychologists’ efforts to use magic to better understand the brain.

It’s an awkward fact of human existence that much of the time we don’t see something that is literally happening in front of our eyes. But, says Kuhn, that isn’t because we are stupid, it’s because the brain is a brilliant economiser of resources. “It’s purely about efficiency,” he says. “We have to filter out information to save energy, otherwise we would get overwhelmed. Rather than just processing all the information, the brain selects the stuff that’s really important. So we can be looking at something right in front of our eyes, but the information doesn’t go any further and reach our conscious experience.”

You can try this by looking at the wall opposite you. Unless you have been thinking about redecorating, you will notice marks that, until now, you were unaware of. It’s not that photons from those marks never landed on your retina. They almost certainly did. It’s just that the brain discarded that data as unimportant.

As a practicing magician, I’m excited to see the world in general, and academia in particular, take a more serious interest in what we do. There’s a lot to read in the full article.

Getting Ready for the Holidays

Design by Kurt Firla

The end of the year is and we'd like to help you celebrate the magic of the holidays with some magic for grownups! If you're planning a party for your workplace, your friends or family, let's make your event truly unforgettable this year.

There are a few options to choose from. Find something perfect for you:

Go big with Magic For Grownups

Bring the wonder and astonishment with a full magic show after dinner. Fun, exciting, funny and extremely interactive. 

(Audiences of up to 500 guests, 30-75 minutes, additional staging requirements for audiences over 100 guests.)

Keep it casual with Magic Up Close

Break the ice with mingling close-up magic to kick the night off with energy and excitement. Perfect when you want to keep your night simple with cocktails and hors d'oeuvres and not have a big production.

(Any size audience, flexible length)

Let the night overflow with wonder with Magic & Martini 

A complete evening of magic: Enjoy apps and shreables and finely crafted cocktails. Get a mixology lesson from the cocktails wizards at Suite 114 (Toronto) or Grand Spirits (Orangeville). Plus a full evening of magic!

(Limited to 40 guests)

The Sky is the Limit

Use your imagination, pick your own format and we will craft something special specifically for your event. 

Dates at the end of the year are always in high demand and go quickly so availability may be limited. Don't miss out and contact us today for rates and availability.

On Practice

Before being a magician, I studied math at the University of Toronto and in those days, I also made most of my income as a martial arts instructor.

Suffering for art - Photo by Michael Kostiuk

Suffering for art - Photo by Michael Kostiuk

Through math I learned how to break down tasks into smaller manageable parts; to problem solve. Through martial arts, I learned how to practice.

In a recent article, master jazz musician Wynton Marsalis offered up twelve tips on practice to be employed by musicians, but also athletes or just about anyone. The list is fairly straightforward but the full article helps put it into perspective:

  1. Seek out instruction: A good teacher will help you understand the purpose of practicing and can teach you ways to make practicing easier and more productive.
  2. Write out a schedule: A schedule helps you organize your time. Be sure to allow time to review the fundamentals because they are the foundation of all the complicated things that come later.
  3. Set goals: Like a schedule, goals help you organize your time and chart your progress…. If a certain task turns out to be really difficult, relax your goals: practice doesnʼt have to be painful to achieve results.
  4. Concentrate: You can do more in 10 minutes of focused practice than in an hour of sighing and moaning. This means no video games, no television, no radio, just sitting still and working…. Concentrated effort takes practice too, especially for young people.
  5. Relax and practice slowly: Take your time; donʼt rush through things. Whenever you set out to learn something new – practicing scales, multiplication tables, verb tenses in Spanish – you need to start slowly and build up speed.
  6. Practice hard things longer: Donʼt be afraid of confronting your inadequacies; spend more time practicing what you canʼt do…. Successful practice means coming face to face with your shortcomings. Donʼt be discouraged; youʼll get it eventually.
  7. Practice with expression: Every day you walk around making yourself into “you,” so do everything with the proper attitude…. Express your “style” through how you do what you do.
  8. Learn from your mistakes: None of us are perfect, but donʼt be too hard on yourself. If you drop a touchdown pass, or strike out to end the game, itʼs not the end of the world. Pick yourself up, analyze what went wrong and keep going….
  9. Donʼt show off: Itʼs hard to resist showing off when you can do something well…. But my father told me, “Son, those who play for applause, thatʼs all they get.” When you get caught up in doing the tricky stuff, youʼre just cheating yourself and your audience.
  10. Think for yourself: Your success or failure at anything ultimately depends on your ability to solve problems, so donʼt become a robot…. Thinking for yourself helps develop your powers of judgment.
  11. Be optimistic: Optimism helps you get over your mistakes and go on to do better. It also gives you endurance because having a positive attitude makes you feel that something great is always about to happen.
  12. Look for connections: If you develop the discipline it takes to become good at something, that discipline will help you in whatever else you do…. The more you discover the relationships between things that at first seem different, the larger your world becomes. In other words, the woodshed can open up a whole world of possibilities.

On the Supernatural

Following on the last article I shared from Michael Shermer, a slightly older article from a skeptic with a slightly more philosophical bent, Michael Sherlock. Michael (the second one) writes primarily on issues having to do with skepticism, secularism and free speech. 

I mentioned at the end of this student talk, I asked them the question, If this were really accomplished by magic instead of trickery, how could you tell? And turned out you never could. Where "real" magic is concerned the best you can ever get to is "I don't know". 

At the root of the problem is the fact that magic and supernatural are not well defined terms. They tend to be placeholders for the as-yet-unexplained. In Magic and the Supernatural, Michael Sherlock explains:

Magic, as is the case with the supernatural, is a hasty way to explain that which has yet to be explained.
Magic and the supernatural are both psychological means by which our frightened and impatient species escapes two of its greatest fears: uncertainty and mortality.

It gets quite dense quite quickly after that, but Sherlock is a very articulate exponent of these ideas. 

Magic & Martini Returns to Oakville

After a break for the busy holiday season, my eccentric one-man magic show for grownups, Magic & Martini is back at O'Finn's Irish Temper last night for an evening of food, adult beverages and mystery. Even though it was cold and windy, we had a packed house. Thank you to everyone who attended.

Special thanks to the young gentleman who features somewhat prominently in these photos. He discovered that the fastest way to get on stage in a magic show is to come to be before the performance and say, "It's my girlfriend's birthday today. She's really shy. You should pick her." #PoeticJustice

Photos by Tyler Williams

Tickets are now available for upcoming performances of Magic & Martini in Toronto, Oakville and Hillsburgh. Readers of this blog can use the code secrets for a discount on the price of tickets when reserving online.