The gulf between scientists and magicians is understandable . After all , a scientist ’ s mission is to expand the frontiers of knowledge by asking questions about the nature of our world and finding evidence that either supports or refutes a posited perspective or explanation . By expanding the frontiers of knowledge , scientists help to make the impossible possible . Magicians have an entirely different mission . At their core , magicians are entertainers focused on engendering astonishment by making the impossible appear to be possible . In putting the impossible on display , magicians help audiences believe – if even for a moment – that there is magic in the world and that the currently accepted laws of nature are merely suggestions not shackles . Among the most important tools in a magician ’ s toolbox is their understanding and awareness of cognitive deficits and biases . By exploiting these gaps in our perception , magicians make impossible phenomena appear possible .
Simply put , magicians help us believe that it is possible to challenge the impossible whereas scientists actually challenge the impossible .
While many may see the roles of magicians and scientists as irreconcilable , magic and science are historically interconnected . Below , I share examples of how closely intertwined the science and magic communities have been throughout history . I also discuss how much modern scientists have to learn from the deep investigation of perception and gaps therein that magicians have known about and exploited for centuries .
It is not our senses that
deceive us , it is our mind .”
- Alfred Binet , 1894
Editor ’ s Note : By day , Dr . Parag Mallick is a professor at Stanford who runs a lab that uses systems biology and big data to develop cancer diagnostics . He also serves as Chief Scientist at Nautilus Biotechnology , a publicly traded biotechnology company that he cofounded . By night , Parag wears a very different hat , that of a professional magician . He is a member of the Magic Castle in Hollywood and has performed all over the world for audiences of thousands . This essay was based upon a lecture / one-man show he first created for a scientific symposium at MIT .
Scientists and magicians both live in worlds full of unexplained phenomena and spend their days contemplating the impossible . Despite their mutual focus , modern scientists seldom look to magicians for inspiration or guidance .
I was motivated to share my perspective because I believe that NOW is the time to encourage more conversations and collaborations between scientists and magicians .
Magic was central to the emergence and popularization of modern science .
The story of magic and science is one of estranged siblings who were once extremely close , but then spent the last century drifting apart . In their younger days , the high-brow magic of the court and salons matured side-by-side with science , and each played a crucial role in shaping the other . Demonic and ceremonial magics , such as astrology and alchemy , ultimately evolved into astronomy and chemistry .
Additionally , there is evidence to suggest that another popular form of occult magic , necromancy , influenced modern medicine : the Court of Lorenzo de ’ Medici included noted necromancers like Giovanni Francesco Rustici alongside artists like Michelangelo who were pushing the boundaries of anatomy , and humanists like Lorenzo Marsilio Ficino who was the son of a surgeon and studied medicine .
From the 14th to the late 19th century , there was a close integration between magic and the sciences . Magic was not strictly the entertainment magic common today . Many of this period ’ s magicians also worked at the forefront of scientific advances .