of mathematics to the Duke of Burgundy and is quoted as saying , “ I want to both excite the curiosity of the people and extend the progress of physics .”
Nicolas-Philippe Ledru ( Comus ) – A “ Charlatan of Science ”
Nicolas-Philippe Ledru became one of his era ’ s most successful “ charlatans of science .” His show , billed as “ Experiences Physiques et Mathematiques ,” combined fortune-telling and sleight-of-hand with mental telepathy , electrical healing , and optical illusions . Catering to the popular taste for sound and light shows , his alter ego Comus produced lightning by discharging Leyden jars and thunder by lighting a mixture of saltpeter , sulfur , and tartar salt . He used electricity allegedly to extract powder from diamonds , and he claimed the ability to establish communication between two people separated by a barrier .
Despite all these theatrics , Ledru was also a serious purveyor of science . In 1783 his use of electrical shocks to cure people with epilepsy was so well regarded that he was able to establish a clinic for the treatment of nervous disorders . In 1784 Louis XVI conferred on him the title of Physician of the King and named him to the Faculty of Paris . With crown support , Ledru made the transition from street conjurer to
22 electrotherapist . He was hailed by Paris ’ Faculty of Medicine for
‘ his marvelous cures .’
At the time it was challenging to differentiate true science from pseudo-science from outright fraud , as a diversity of shows emerged in which magicians were both scientists – pushing the frontiers of physics and bringing it to the masses – as well as performers doing magic tricks and illusions for entertainment .
There are many more examples of magicians being at the forefront of science and engineering . Another scientist-magician whose primary medium was electricity was Professor Georg Matthias Bose of the University of Leipzig . One particularly notable effect of his ( shown in the image above ), debuted in 1737 , illustrating a process he termed beatification . A participant would be asked on stage and a crystal crown would be placed upon their head . And then , untouched , a ‘ fire ’ would appear inside the crystal crown , creating a halo around the person ’ s head .
This effect was created through electrical currents being transmitted from the metal disk into the crown that had been filled with a gas , and it may have been one of the first demonstrations of something akin to a neon light bulb .
Later , in the 1850s , Henry Dircks – an accomplished inventor , engineer , and scientist – created an effect known as the Dirksian Phantasmagoria that would enable the projection of a figure at a distance appearing like a hologram . A collaboration with John Henry Pepper , a lecturer and analytical chemist for the Royal Polytechnic 2 Institution , led to the Pepper ’ s Ghost illusion that debuted in 1862 at the Royal Polytechnic . As the underpinning of all modern translucent ghost effects , Pepper ’ s Ghost can now be found throughout the world and most famously at Disneyland ’ s Haunted Mansion .
What scientists can learn from magicians regarding observation and perception
At the root of all scientific investigation lies observation . The scientific method depends upon it . Unfortunately , despite scientists best efforts , it is not always possible to objectively observe the world or to objectively analyze the data collected in scientific experiments .
Are we scientists incapable of objective observation because the lens of our perception – warped by our cognitive biases and blind spots – is so powerful that much scientific observation is flawed ?
When looking through our microscopes and at our next-generation proteomics data , do we believe that we are looking at one thing – but is there really something completely different going on ?
If the answer to these questions is “ yes ,” a lot of science , as we currently know it , might require re-examining . As a scientist-magician , I can tell you that these holes in our perception prevent all of us , scientists and magicians alike , from seeing the world as it truly is .
The information our senses receive is often ambiguous , incomplete , or misleading . Nevertheless , our brains attempt to stitch together a complex morass into a simple ( but not always accurate ) picture . Additionally , our brains try to filter out the vast amount of incoming data to drive focus towards the ‘ relevant ’ information . Our brains achieve this using prior information .
For example , when talking to someone , we decipher each word by considering not only the sounds and movements coming from
2 . The Polytechnic Ghost Pepper ’ s Ghost , Metempsychosis and the Magic Lantern at the Royal Polytechnic Institution Jeremy Brooker
Pages 189-206 | Published online : 07 Dec 2009
Disney ’ s Pepper ’ s Ghost at Haunted Mansion