Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The World's Greatest Magician

This has nothing to do with anything, just caught my eye.  As a naturalist and a skeptic, nothing angers me more than the claims of so-called psychics, paranormals, alternative healers, new agers, and frankly most self-help gurus as well.  My dad spent a significant part of his career detecting fraud, so I guess I come by it honest:-)).

I do, however, appreciate watching good magicians.  Why?  Because although their performances involve fooling the audience, they are honest about their skills.  Note the use of the word skill--real working magicians don't claim to have 'supernatural' powers.   They have actual skills which they honed over thousands upon thousands of hours of practice--one hundred minutes of practice for every minute on stage, or so I've heard.  I enjoy watching magicians like Penn & Teller or James Randi who from time to time show you exactly how they did what they did--which astounds me all the more when they do it again and I *still* can't see them doing what they did.  It's the same pleasure I get from watching skilled ballroom or tap dancers or basketball players or opera singers.  It's just that, that kind of skill is natural--not supernatural.  I don't doubt that there are 'psychics' who are, in fact, very good at cold reading--that they have indeed mastered a skill which allows them to make on-target guesses about a person whom they've just met, using physical clues that most people simply overlook.  But that is a *natural* skill--and to claim otherwise is simply fraudulent.

The other day, though, over at Break.com, I watched, for the first time, a real magician.  This man has powers that all the psychics, paranormals, aura-aligners, homeopathers, chackra-openers, lucid dreamers, and astral projectors can only dream about....

Incredible Magician Performs Miracles - Watch more Funny Videos

You know, if you or I could travel back in time with nothing but a bottle of aspirin in our pockets, we'd be  Gods and Shamans, too ;-)).


  1. Or to put it another way, Arthur C Clarke's third law: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. It's almost the same point James Burke makes in the first episode of Connections, too.

    (Laws 1 & 2, if you're curious:
    1: When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right; when he states that something is impossible, he is probably wrong.
    2: The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.)

    On the subject of magic, I saw this on TED the other day.

  2. Precisely--shoulda put that in:-)) That's just what I was thinking of, though I didn't say so in so many words.

    Ooohh--just watched the James Burke Connections last night! Excellent--now I want to call my mom and ask her what she remembers about the '65 blackout (it was Nov, so my parents had only been married about 5 months, so they were still in Chicago, I think--so I don't think they experienced the blackout directly, but they sure would have heard about it). Really fascinating, in fact, I want to watch it again:-))

    Lennart Green--that's one of my *favorite* TED talks! Did I not give you that link yet? An oversight... I've watched that one several times. Simply *the* best card tricks. Ever. Wildly talented and wildly funny, too:-))

  3. Did you notice the number of the aeroplane involved? 911, spoken as nine-eleven. I know coincidences happen but it still seems odd hearing someone say those words in any context other than the obvious.

  4. I *jumped* when I heard it, and involuntarily clapped my hand over my mouth. And you can see the twin towers in the city shots if you watch carefully...

  5. Here's another one. The X-Files spin-off, The Lone Gunmen (about a bunch of conspiracy theorists, no less) had an episode where they foiled an attempt to fly an airliner into one of the twin towers — only six months before the actual attack. Needless to say, some conspiracy nuts actually claimed it inspired the attack... *sigh*

  6. Wow--how did I not know about that? Oh yeah--because I was living here and had just had a baby. Narrows one's vision a bit, that does. Ah--conspiracy nuts. I wonder whether they realize that confirmation bias is at the root of both extremist religion and conspiracy thinking...

  7. Where I find it gets scarier is when it's a slightly less fantastic scenario that could be true. Currently in this country we have more CCTV cameras, per capita, than any country on earth, a party in govt. that advocates compulsory ID cards with biometric data along with a national DNA database, a police force who have been shown to have kept personal data, including fingerprints, on people arrested but let go without charge, and records of anyone seen at any sort of protest and much more along those lines. Okay, I doubt there's an actual conspiracy, but given the laxity of security around official databases, the various cases of widespread corruption in high places etc, it's hard to see all that without worrying about what would be done with such data in the future. Added to the recent rise in extreme right-wing thought, including some very worrying racist tendencies, it's bleedin' scary.

    Sorry, rant over :-)

  8. Orwell was only off by a couple of decades kind of thing?

  9. Sometimes it seems that way. It's a hard subject to talk about without looking like a tin-foil hat wearer, though. :-|

    Off to look at origami now. Much more fun :-)