Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Tablecloths, Illusion and Telepathy: Why Scientists Make the Best Magicians

Image by: trialsanderrors

It’s magic, and science?
Ask most people what magic is and they’ll probably answer that it’s something ‘impossible’ or ‘unanswerable’ - anything that can’t be explained rationally.

Then, ask the same person what they understand by ‘science’ and they’ll answer completely differently, describing it as rational thought and reasoning- a way of understanding the world based on observation and research.

How could the two be compatible?

Interestingly, many of the world’s most iconic magic tricks are entirely based around science. Here’s how.

The Tablecloth Trick
Picture a banquet table laden with cutlery, bowls and candles. Could you whip out the tablecloth without disturbing the items on top?

Although it seems baffling, Newton’s First Law of Motion explains the whole trick.

It works according to the principle of ‘inertia’, described by Newton as the tendency for an object to remain at rest until a force acts directly upon it.

When a magician quickly yanks the tablecloth he is relying on the principle of inertia to keep the objects in place.

The swift motion is key to this trick; any slower and the items would move too far, causing them to fall over.
The tablecloth you use also makes a difference- slippery surfaces are best!

Why not try it yourself by experimenting with different tablecloths? (Plastic wipe clean tablecloths recommended!).

Understanding a Magician’s Illusions
In a recent interview, Teller, a famous magician, revealed how scientific research helps him to understand why people fall for visual illusions.      

He says that "at the core of every trick is a cold, cognitive experiment in perception."

Magic and illusion are based on a scientific understanding of the way people perceive things. By manipulating perception, we can alter people’s understanding of what’s ‘real’ and what’s not.

The popular Balducci Levitation trick is a prime example of this. When it comes down to it, this illusion is caused by two things: the magician’s angle in relation to the audience and the precise positioning of his feet.

It’s all about perception, angles and precision!

Telepathy and Hypnosis: The Scientific Study of the Mind
Derren Brown is well known for his mindreading and hypnotic capabilities.

When watching him, it is easy to assume that he possesses baffling psychic or paranormal abilities. But Brown himself has frequently reiterated how he has no such abilities. In fact, he is a complete sceptic.

Brown’s success is due to his deep knowledge of human psychology and understanding of how to predict and influence people’s thoughts via suggestion and manipulation. He has also studied how to read physical clues provided by body language to determine what someone is thinking.

Magic Explained
Rather than being impossible masters of the unexplainable, magicians draw on rational, scientific principles. They are thus scientists, but with a unique mission.

It’s not their aim to make the world clearer and simpler. Rather, magicians aim to captivate their audience’s imagination and to recreate a sense of wonder.

Think that there are certain magic tricks that can’t be explained by science? Challenge me below.

Amalia Dempsey writes for Wipe Easy Tablecloths, leading supplier of colourful and attractive wipe clean tablecloths. Interested in learning how to perform the perfect tablecloth trick? Oddly enough, just a little bit of science might make the whole thing a lot easier.

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