Science | Page 49

all the methods that might reasonably occur to you ( Minch , 1980 : 11 ). Only then are you likely to have the sort of experience the magician wants you to have . As Ortiz writes :
Magic can only be established by a process of elimination . There is no way that you can directly apprehend that you ’ re witnessing magic . You conclude that it ’ s magic because there is no alternative . Therefore , the primary task in giving someone the experience of witnessing magic is to eliminate every other possible cause . ( Ortiz , 2006 : 37 ; cf . Tamariz , 2014 : 3 – 19 )
It is very helpful to consider a concrete example . Imagine this . With my right hand , I take a silver coin from my pocket . I drop it into my left . I squeeze the coin tightly and , a moment later , I open my hand to show that silver coin has apparently been transformed into a green poker chip . Executed well , this performance should immediately occasion cognitive dissonance in a spectator by producing a belief-discordant alief that the coin was magically transformed . The automatic response is to try to mitigate the discord by devising a plausible explanation for the appearance of impossibility : “ Perhaps he used his sleeves or his pockets ? Perhaps he switched the coin when I wasn ’ t looking ? Perhaps it was a trick coin ?” This is the natural , immediate response to an effective magical illusion : the spectator struggles to minimize cognitive dissonance by explaining away appearances . The job of the magician — and the point of the strategy of canceling methods — is precisely to thwart this attempt , and so , to maximize the cognitive dissonance that spectators experience by depriving them of any means to mitigate it . And note that methods can be canceled before , during , and even after a performance . So , to begin , I might roll up my sleeves and ask you to inspect the coin ; then , while performing , I might keep my hands in front of and away from my body , move slowly ,
and be sure not to prevent you from watching closely ; finally , afterward , I might slowly and carefully show my hands otherwise empty as I hand you the poker chip for examination . 10
What ’ s the resulting experience like ? It ’ s not just that you don ’ t know how the trick was done . It ’ s much worse ( or better !) than this . Magician Simon Aronson captures the point nicely :
“ There is a world of difference between a spectator ’ s not knowing how something ’ s done versus his knowing that it can ’ t be done ” ( 1990 : 171 ; cf . Ortiz , 2006 : 32 – 33 ). More precisely , the idea is that , while you know it ’ s a trick , you don ’ t see how it could be . So , in a very important sense , you can ’ t make sense of what you ’ ve witnessed . This isn ’ t just puzzlement — it ’ s total bafflement , and it ’ s the experience of magic . Whit Haydn , another very thoughtful magician , writes :
The job of the magician is to trap the spectator in this logical conundrum . The result of this is a peculiar mental excitation — a burr under the saddle of the mind . If the operation is performed correctly , the patient will not be able to ignore the problem , but will keep coming back to it again and again . ( Haydn , 2009 : 6 )
Indeed , as any performing magician knows , a good magic trick can stay with someone — like a “ burr under the saddle of the mind ”— for a very long time ( decades , even ).


10 ) For a very clear example of canceling methods during a performance , see Copperfield ’ s flying illusion . At the time of this writing , video of the performance is available at https :// youtu . be / mYR-OyOP- AZw and on my website at www . jasonleddington . net /. I analyze the performance in some detail in Leddington ( 2016 ).
Juan Tamariz Tamar Szabó Gendler