- Humans have a hardwired process of attention and awareness that is hackable.
- When people focus on one thing, their brains automatically suppress everything that happens around it. Magicians have devised many techniques that exploit this “tunnel vision.”
- People can pay attention in various ways. Magicians exploit “top-down,” or deliberate, attention by, say, asking a person to scan a book. They capture “bottom-up” attention with distracting displays such as doves fluttering out of a hat.
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Excerpted from Sleights of Mind: What the Neuroscience of Magic Reveals about Our Everyday Deceptions, by Stephen L. Macknik and Susana Martinez-Conde, with Sandra Blakeslee, by arrangement with Henry Holt and Company, LLC (US) and Profile Books (UK). Copyright © 2010 by Stephen L. Macknik and Susana Martinez-Conde.
Apollo Robbins, master pickpocket and celebrity magician, is sweeping his hands around the body of the fellow he has just chosen from the audience. “What I’m doing now is fanning you,” he informs his mark, “just checking to see what you have in your pockets.” Apollo’s hands move in a flurry of gentle strokes and pats over the man’s clothes. More than 200 scientists are watching him like hawks, trying to catch a glimpse of fingers trespassing into a pocket. But to all appearances this is a perfectly innocent and respectful frisking. “I have a lot of intel on you now,” Apollo continues. “You scientists carry a lot of things.”