Magic and the Mind


We hope you find these books, articles, websites, and other materials relating to the neuroscience and psychology of magic useful. Please stop back for updates to this page in the months ahead.

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Sleights of MindSleights of Mind: This book is by Stephen Macknik and Susana Martinez-Conde, the founders of the new discipline of “neuromagic” and whose work fueled the inspiration for Magic and the Mind. Teaming up with some of the world's greatest magicians, the authors study magic techniques for tricking the brain with the ultimate goal of devising new approaches for everything from the diagnosis of autism to marketing techniques and education. Learn more.

The Invisible GorillaThe Invisible Gorilla: Authors Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons, creators of one of psychology's most famous experiments, use stories and counterintuitive scientific findings to demonstrate that our minds don't work the way we think they do. Chabris and Simons combine the work of other researchers with their own findings on attention, perception, memory, and reasoning to reveal how faulty intuitions often get us into trouble. Learn more.

Magic in TheoryMagic in Theory: Magic in Theory: An introduction to the theoretical and psychological elements of conjuring, by Peter Lamont and Richard Wiseman, explores the ways in which human psychology plays into the methods of magic. The book centers on the use of misdirection, sleight of hand, and reconstruction and warns readers about the deceptive magic skills of so-called “psychics.” Learn more.

Magic and PerceptionMagic and Perception: This introduction to magic by Bob Friedhoffer includes illustrated instructions for a number of simple tricks and explains how optical illusions work and how the perception of depth, perspective, relative size, and people's expectations can help a magician fool an audience. Learn more.

Neuroscience for DummiesNeuroscience for Dummies: Neuroscience for Dummies, by Frank Amthor, introduces the brain's structure and function and examines the relationship between memory, learning, emotions, and the brain. The authors cite the most recent scientific discoveries and illustrate the book with helpful diagrams and engaging anecdotes. Learn more.

Mark Wilson's Complete Course in MagicMark Wilson's Complete Course in Magic: This classic book, written by Mark Wilson, a pioneer television magician and consultant on a number of magic-related Hollywood productions, contains clear, profusely illustrated, step-by-step instructions for hundreds of tricks and routines, from easy card tricks to advanced stage illusions. Learn more.

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Attention and Awareness in Stage MagicAttention and Awareness in Stage Magic: Stephen Macknik and Susana Martinez-Conde, authors of Sleights of Mind (see above), team with five famous magicians to coauthor Attention and awareness in stage magic: turning tricks into research (Nature Reviews, Nov. 2008). This article centers on using magicians' techniques in the laboratory to manipulate attention and awareness while studying the behavioral and neural basis of consciousness itself. Read the article (PDF).

Your Brain on MagicYour Brain on Magic: In this excerpt from Sleights of Mind (see above), titled Your Brain on Magic: How tricks hack your neural wiring (Scientific American Mind, Nov./Dec. 2010), the authors discuss how magicians exploit loopholes in the brain's circuitry for perceiving the world. Read the article (PDF).

Magic and the BrainMagic and the Brain: Here's another article by the authors of Sleights of Mind (Scientific American, Dec. 2008) discussing the science of misdirection, how neuroscientists are learning to incorporate magic tricks in experimental studies that probe aspects of consciousness, and how imaging shows that some regions of the brain are active during certain kinds of magic tricks. Read the article (PDF).

More than Meets the EyeMore than Meets the Eye: In this article, titled, There's more to magic than meets the eye (Current Biology, Nov. 21, 2006), the authors, Gustav Kuhn and Michael F. Land, use the vanishing-ball illusion to demonstrate how magicians distort the way people perceive things and to investigate the science behind that deception. Read the article (PDF).

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Brain GamesBrain Games: Brain Games is a television series on the National Geographic Channel. It features interactive experiments designed to fool your mind and reveal its inner workings. In Season 1, Episode 2 (2011), world-renowned illusionist David Copperfield and company use a series of tests to make it abundantly clear just how easy it is to fool the brain. You can view the teaser video on the Brain Games website or watch the entire episode on Amazon.

The Science of MagicThe Science of Magic: Hosted by actor and magician Harry Anderson, this TV special discusses magic principles relating to optical illusions, misdirection, the manipulation of geometry, and more. Magicians appearing on the show include Lance Burton, Criss Angel, Chappy Brazil, Franz Harary, Don Jones, and Joe Nickell. You can buy the DVD on Amazon.

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Neuroscience Meets MagicNeuroscience Meets Magic: Stephen Macknik and Susana Martinez-Conde, cognitive scientists and authors of Sleights of Mind (see above) explain the science behind the mental manipulations of magician and pickpocket Apollo Robbins. Topics include sensory afterimages, adaptation, misdirection, attention, and mirror neurons. Watch the video.

Dan SimonsDan Simons: Dan Simons is a professor in the Department of Psychology and the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois. You can watch some of his well-known cognitive tests, including those centering on attention and perception, on his YouTube channel.

Magic and NeuroscienceMagic and Neuroscience: Here's a short, yet informative, video featuring Luigi Anzivino, senior science content developer at the Exploratorium in San Francisco. In it he talks about magic, attention, and the visual system, and why those things are important to know about. Watch the video.

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Visual Illusions

Mighty Optical IllusionsMighty Optical Illusions: This is an ever-growing collection of thousands of optical illusions worth browsing. An alphabetical category list makes for easy navigation, or you can click “Random Illusion” if you're in a, well, random mood. Visit the website.

Powerful Visual IllusionsPowerful Visual Illusions: Cognitive neuroscientist Al Seckel talks at TED about experiencing joy through the violation of expectations as he shows some very strong optical illusions, including Jerry Andrus's “Crazy Nuts,” a cool model-train perceptual trick, Matheau Haemaker's cube, anamorphic images, and more. Watch the video.

Optical Illusions and Visual PhenomenaOptical Illusions and Visual Phenomena: Michael Bach, director of international communications at the International Society for Clinical Electrophysiology of Vision (ISCEV), shares a collection of more than 100 optical illusions, complete with scientific explanations. Visit the website.

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Audio Illusions

Diana DeutschDiana Deutsch: Diana Deutsch is a professor of psychology at the University of California, San Diego, and conducts research on perception and memory for sounds, particularly music. She has discovered a number of musical illusions and paradoxes, including the octave illusion, scale illusion, glissando illusion, tritone paradox, cambiata illusion, phantom words illusion, and speech-to-song illusion. Listen to the illusions.

Can You Trust Your Ears?Can You Trust Your Ears? The following video is a short but good introduction to audio illusions. It includes classics like the McGurk effect, perceived vision, the tritone paradox, and the Shepard tone illusion. Watch the video.

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