is what this project has been so far. As I’ve said quite a few times via backer updates, emails, tweets, and, yes, Tumblr posts, the experiences Mikey and I have had so far interacting with our customers and the design community at large have been deeply fulfilling.
Which brings me to my point….
These two very different tricks have the same effect; they delight and astound, leaving the audience to ponder (usually unsuccessfully):
How did they do that?
How could such a seemingly innocuous form of entertainment affect such diverse areas?
Uncovering magic’s secrets
In 1893, French psychologist Alfred Binet managed to co-opt five of the country’s most prominent magicians to help him understand illusions.
His interest in the development of cinema led him to record and view their performances frame by frame.
He was able to analyse the movement of the magicians as an animated sequence with the hope of understanding how audiences could be deceived by the magic performed right in front of them.
In his 1894 article La Psychologie de la Prestidigitation, Binet concluded that magical illusions were created by so many little optical tricks that:
to perceive them could be quite as difficult as to count with the naked eye the grains of sand on the seashore.
A 2008 article by a group of research psychologists argued that it was time to acknowledge magic’s influence on the cognitive sciences, opening a new field called the “science of magic”.
In 2010, neuroscientists Stephen Macknik and Susana Martinez-Conde coined the term “neuromagic” in their book Sleights of Mind.
The pair published some of their research findings in Nature, co-authored with not one, but four of the world’s leading magicians.
Like Binet more than a century before, they saw the value of working directly with magicians.
Magic has finally emerged from the box labelled “entertainment” and now shines a light on one of the most perplexing areas of mind studies – perception.
Perception is key in many magic techniques. Audience members will follow a magician’s hand when he or she gestures in a curved line – but not when the line is straight, to give just one example.
Scientific attempts to understand perceptual processes have largely relied on functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) – medical imaging techniques that identify brain activity through changes in its blood flow.
Scientists also study eye movements using head-mounted eye trackers to ascertain objects of visual focus.
But much of our visual perception cannot be understood as a direct fit between seeing something and that thing registering in our attention.
Looking but not seeing
Our everyday perception is littered with episodes that psychologists call “inattentional blindness” and “change blindness”.
In other words, something happens in front of us but because our attention is elsewhere, we don’t register having seen it.
If the change occurs abruptly, it’s called inattentional blindness.
But while the colour card changing “trick” and Simons and Chabris’ experiment aren’t technically magic tricks, magic provides an arena for observing how our visual perception is often at odds with the objects and events happening before our very eyes.
Misdirection is a standard technique of the magician’s palette and demonstrates the perceptual rift between looking at something and attending to it and it is this rift that fascinates neuroscientists and neuropsychologists.
Commonly thought to be about speed – isn’t the hand quicker than the eye? – misdirection is actually more about leading us to focus only on a particular area.
When a magician throws a ball into the air and it seemingly vanishes, the trick works because the audience is following the magician’s gaze – not his hand.
After really throwing the ball into the air numerous times and then simply performing the same movement in every way but without the ball, most people will see a ball fly into the air and disappear.
The magician has misdirected your gaze into following his and deployed a combination of inattentional and change blindness.
A neurological perspective
What we also learn from this neurologically is that implied movement stimulates brain functioning in much the same way as watching an actual movement.
That your gaze can differ from your attention is something that magicians have long exploited.
So now neurologists are looking to magic to help answer questions such as:
Why don’t we see always something right in front of us?
Why do our eyes more easily follow curved rather than straight gestures across space?
Magic, which has exploited such aspects of the visual for centuries, offers us a framework to explore perception in an intriguing way, and the potential for understanding our perceptual system by investigating how magic exploits its blindness and gaps is enormous.
It has become a sophisticated research method and field helping to create more intuitive human-computer interface designs and advance rehabilitation techniques for people physically impaired by neurological conditions like strokes.
It is even being used to study problems in social responsiveness across the autism spectrum.
All we need to do now is convince more magicians to give up their secrets – but how easy that will be remains to be seen.
Think managing your finances has to be complicated? Wonkblog contributor (and UC Chicago social scientist) Harold Pollack doesn’t.
After a talk with personal finance expert Helaine Olen, Pollack managed to write down pretty much everything you need to know on a 4x6 index card. And it would probably fit on a 3x5 index card if you really crammed (that last point, for instance, is probably not strictly necessary for managing your money).
The card came out of an RBC chat I had with Helaine Olen regarding what I view as the financial industry’s basic dilemma: The best investment advice fits on an index card. A commenter, Alex M, asked for the actual index card. Although I was originally speaking in metaphor, I grabbed a pen and one of my daughter’s note cards, scribbled this out in maybe three minutes, snapped a picture with my iPhone, and the rest was history.
Pollack’s right. Follow these principles and you’ll be in much, much, much better shape than most Americans — or most anyone. And all it will cost you is $2.20 for a pack of index cards — and you’ll have 99 of them left over.
It’s really hard to be poor (see Pollack’s amazing interview on how being poor changes the way people think for more on that). But the lesson here is that once you have an income that you can live off of and save a little bit besides, managing your finances shouldn’t be all that hard.
The people making it complicated are often trying to make money off of you. This 4×6 index card has all the financial advice you’ll ever need
I’ve come up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to technologies:
1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.
In this game, your goal is to join powers of two into higher powers and get to the 2048 tile. Controls are very simple: move all tiles to the left, top, right or bottom, and whenever two tiles with the same number coincide, they merge. Sounds easy enough, but careful: this game is extremely addictive!
PS: Don’t follow this link, where optimal strategies and algorithms are discussed, if you don’t want to spoil the fun. Definitely give it a try first.
Brilliant game, sure to waste you hours!
Heidi Grant Halvorson talks about the difference between a Be Good vs Get Better mindset. It’s relevant to anyone who is trying to learn a new skills
When you’re constantly thinking, ‘this is a test of my ability, this is a test of my competence and my worth,’ then it’s extremely stressful. We know from decades of research that this kind of thinking really sets people up for failure. It makes them vulnerable as soon as things get difficult, and life is full of difficult things. People with this mindset are more depressed, they’re more anxious, they’re more likely to to be helpless in the face of a setback.
When they feel depressed, they do things like sit on the couch and eat chips and watch television, and don’t take any action to improve anything because they believe they can’t. That there’s something wrong with them and that’s why things aren’t going well in their lives. If you’ve ever gotten really upset with yourself because something went wrong in a project you were working on, then you were probably thinking this way - that somehow you screwed up, you lack something, you don’t have what it takes.
There is an alternative. Instead of focusing on proving, you focus on improving. When you use this framework to think about everything you do, a really dramatic shift happens. Instead of demonstrating our skills, we focus on developing them. Instead of thinking about your performance relative to other people, people with a Get Better mindset say, “am I performing better than I did in the past?”
She goes on to give results from a study on how this might play out in real life. Get Better people tend to persist and this tends to lead to better performance. They also tend to take action when things are going poorly - “because they thought the point was to improve, they found a way to improve.”
The one-line take away is always compare yourself to yourself, not to other people.