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Levitating magician: How magicians use science to deceive

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And skilled magicians are the ultimate Zerstreutheitmeisters. Gesturing hands, shiny props, dazzling spotlights, flying doves, "assistants" in sparkly outfits, and, in Dynamo's case, waggling feet and a smartphone are all expertly deployed to take your mind off of where the "magic" – usually a fairly straightforward mechanism – is really happening. And we fall for it almost every time.

We get fooled for two big reasons: The first is that we aren't able to take in all of the stimuli in our environment all at once. You might think that you're eyes are merely windows to the outside world, but the picture that you're seeing right now is mostly a simulation. As you focus your attention on these words, the rest your visual field is sketched out in only the barest detail. It only appears like a rich vista because your brain is constantly filling in the gaps, not with what it actually perceives, but with what it expects to perceive.  

Want proof? Place your left hand over your left eye. Extend your right arm forward, with your index finger raised. Now, staring at a point straight ahead, and not at your finger, slowly move your arm to the right. When your arm is at an angle of about 15 degrees, the tip of your finger will vanish. Presto!

This happens because of a human blind spot, the point at which the optic nerve attaches to the retina. There are no photoreceptors on that part of the eye. But most of us are never aware that we have a pair of empty spots hovering right in front of us. Your brain just fills in the gap with whatever is in the background. You see what you expect to see.

Magicians don't usually exploit this physiological blind spot, but they exploit our cognitive blind spots all the time. For instance, you watch as a conjurer appears to pass a coin from the right hand to the left. Your attention, honed by thousands of generations of your rock-throwing forbears, leads the target, missing the sleight. You're surprised when the magician reveals the left hand to be empty. Then, while you're looking at the left hand, you fail to notice the right hand slipping the coin into a pocket. The human mind naturally assumes that the background, that is, everything but the empty hand that you're staring at, remains static. 

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