the speaker ’ s mouth but also the meaning of preceding words , the topic of the conversation , as well as our lifelong knowledge of language . When driving , our brains fill in the blanks of road signs that are partially obscured by shrubbery . Likewise , walking through a store , we focus more on the items we are considering purchasing than the background hum of the lights . All this inferring can happen because our brains are pre-cognitively filtering , focusing , and interpreting the gargantuan amount of information we are able to sense at any given moment . This is both amazing – and dangerous .
Every observation we make goes through the blurry lens of perception shaped by a mix of our experiences , biases , mood , and social identity . We are particularly shaped by cognitive biases – systematic errors in thinking that occur when people are processing and interpreting information in the world around them , affecting the decisions and judgments they make . All of these factors lead to massive gaps in perception , observation , and reality . https :// youtu . be / TPoKXtVjwOs
How can magicians help ? Magicians are the world ’ s foremost experts in perception .
Magic exploits holes and idiosyncrasies in our perception that muggles , even scientist muggles , may not be aware of . I posit that these holes in our
24 perception are potentially crippling our scientific investigations and standing in the way of our effective search for answers .
Many people believe that magicians operate through a complex web of lies . Ironically , this is entirely untrue . Most magic succeeds ( fools the audience ) not because of a lie a magician tells or conveys to the audience , but instead because the magician-performer exploits the audience ’ s cognitive gaps , expectations , and biases that lead a person ’ s brain to deceive itself . The most powerful and effective lie is the one you tell yourself ! It is important to appreciate that these biases are normal and typically unconscious processes our brain uses to accelerate and improve the quality of decision making . There are literally hundreds of biases influencing us every day .
While it is challenging to overcome biases , through awareness one can attempt to examine conclusions to determine if they were the results of cognitive biases or are truly objective and logical conclusions from reliable evidence . From first-hand experience , I know that studying magic has helped me become more aware of common cognitive biases in others , and myself .
What magicians call misdirection is about encouraging the audience ’ s brain to focus on the wrong thing , the wrong place , or the wrong time . Our brains like to do that naturally . At a magic show , this is totally acceptable . Unfortunately , in the context of a scientific inquiry , misdirection can be catastrophic . The term “ inattentional blindness ” was coined by Arien Mack and Irvin Rock and is defined as the failure to notice unexpected objects when attention is focused elsewhere . While we might like to believe that we are able to infinitely multitask , the reality is that our perception of the world is limited , not by our sensory organs ( e . g ., eyes and ears ), but instead by our minds .
Perhaps my favorite example of inattentional blindness in a magic context is the classic card-under-glass trick . ( Doc Eason and Jamy Ian Swiss have card-under-glass routines that are masterful . If you haven ’ t seen them , I suggest seeking them out .) In this effect , a selected card routinely ends up under the magician ’ s cocktail glass ( that everyone is trying to focus on ), seemingly impossibly disappearing from plain sight .
In reality , the magician is directing the audience ’ s attention to the wrong place ( typically the mat or to themselves ) instead of where the action is happening . A related component of inattentional blindness is the common principle used in many magic effects that big movements obscure small movements . This is used extensively in tricks like ‘ Hot Rod ’ and other related paddle tricks .
Why do our brains do this ? Why do we have these sorts of biases ? I believe we have evolved to be as efficient as possible . We are constantly inundated with information . Just like our home computers , if we had to fully process every piece of input all the time , we would rapidly become paralyzed . Our brains do their best to focus on what we need and fill in the blanks with regards to missing information .
Inattentional blindness can readily occur in science ( and is often coupled with confirmation bias , which we discuss next ). For example , consider an experiment studying a gene that we believe is the driver of a given disease process . By focusing our attention on that gene , we may dedicate less of our awareness to the thousands of other genes that might actually be the drivers . Likewise , if we believe a process manifests on a time scale of weeks , we may overlook events that occur on a time-scale of seconds .
Combatting inattentional blindness is difficult . Modern ‘ discovery ’ science tools – like whole genome sequencing or broadscale proteomics profiling – can help because they effectively force us to take a wide lens on our experiments . Additionally , being critically aware of how much of a phenomena is not sufficiently explained by our hypothesis can also help us avoid the risks of inattentional blindness .
Occam ’ s Razor and Simplicity Bias
Occam ’ s razor 3 states , “ Non sunt multiplicanda entia sine necessitate ,” or “ entities must not be multiplied without necessity .” Attributed
3 . https :// science . howstuffworks . com / innovation / scientific-experiments / occams-razor . htm