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I’m all for helping science. But after I share what I know, my neuroscientist friends thank me by showing me eye-tracking and MRI equipment, and promising that someday such machinery will help make me a better magician.
1. Exploit pattern recognition. I magically produce four silver dollars, one at a time, with the back of my hand toward you. Then I allow you to see the palm of my hand empty before a fifth coin appears. As Homo sapiens, you grasp the pattern, and take away the impression that I produced all five coins from a hand whose palm was empty.
2. Make the secret a lot more trouble than the trick seems worth. You will be fooled by a trick if it involves more time, money and practice than you (or any other sane onlooker) would be willing to invest. My partner, Penn, and I once produced 500 live cockroaches from a top hat on the desk of talk-show host David Letterman. To prepare this took weeks. We hired an entomologist who provided slow-moving, camera-friendly cockroaches (the kind from under your stove don’t hang around for close-ups) and taught us to pick the bugs up without screaming like preadolescent girls. Then we built a secret compartment out of foam-core (one of the few materials cockroaches can’t cling to) and worked out a devious routine for sneaking the compartment into the hat. More trouble than the trick was worth? To you, probably. But not to magicians.
Teller first became infatuated with magic around the age of 5, when he was bedridden with an illness and sent away for a magic set. “That toy became my obsession. I was magnetized to it. I worked these little gizmos till they frayed,” he says. “Nearly 60 years later, I’m still not cured.”
Most kids go through a magic phase when they’re somewhere between 8 and 12, and it usually happens about the time they learn that the Easter Bunny isn’t quite what they thought it was. They learn it’s possible for adults to lie, and that there’s power in lying. Magic is the perfect way to exercise that power safely and ethically. So instead of taking up shoplifting as a hobby, the proper child takes up magic for a few years, then drops it upon maturing out of adolescence.