See Inside November / December 2010

Mind over Magic? Conjuring Reveals How Our Neural Circuits Can Be Hacked

Magicians dazzle us by exploiting loopholes in the brain's circuitry for perceiving the world and paying attention

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.”

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