26 facts about magic

Originally published at: http://boingboing.net/2016/09/08/26-facts-about-magic.html

This JJ Abrams TED talk was mentioned in the video, and it’s also a good watch. It was filmed 9 years ago, so it’s interesting to hear him talk about the mysteries of Star Wars from before he was involved, among other things.

This is illusionism, not sorcery (yet again). And the host fidgets too much.


Sadly, there appears to be only one fact about sorcery.

It used to be the case that, if you can prove otherwise, Mr. Randi would make you a millionaire, but that has sadly been terminated.


Did you know three of the oldest tricks are actually ones we use today?

Well yea, there were older ones, but we don’t use them today, so you don’t know them. Magical tautology is magical!


Here’s one amazing fact about Futura: you must manually kern the numerals if you don’t want your typesetting to look like ass!

'tis a good thing they didn’t specify sorcery, then.

Wish he had given this talk before I started getting into Lost. Would have saved me a lot of frustration.

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Worth noting that Jasper Maskelyne probably mostly exaggerated his role in helping the British government fight the Nazis:

Not really, since they didn’t specify illusionism either. When a word splits to mean two very different things, it seems better (as in more clear, less prone to misunderstandings) to retire that word and instead use some which directly reference its disparate connotations. So, I propose that we use illusionism or sorcery, depending upon which meaning is intended.

Not really. His challenge was about demonstrating supernatural or paranormal ability, and the semantics could easily be argued that whatever one observes is always by definition “natural”. By “sorcery” I was referring to the radically subjective, which is no more amenable to scientific verification than isolating “art molecules”.

Let me see if I get this right. By sorcery through radical subjectivity, it seems that you are referring to the philosophical idea that since we can only experience the world through our own perception, then it follows that the only thing that we can guarantee exists is our own perspective of the world, and not the world itself. Sorcery, in this context, would be extending this idea to say that since all that we know of the world is what we perceive, then changing your perspective of the world is exactly the same (at least to you) as changing the world.

If that’s what you’re getting at, it’s an interesting philosophical perspective. I have some problems with it, but I’m not going to get into those now. Instead, I’m just going to make the obvious joke:

If you’re looking for people creating real effects on the world around them simply by the power of their belief in imperceptible things, you’d be better off looking for the words “banking,” “news reporting,” or “politics” than the word “magic.”


That’s not quite what I am getting at. There is no reason to presume solipsism. It seems quite probable that there is some underlying objective reality, despite it appearing that it cannot be directly perceived. Instead, most people settle for iterative refinements of a model abstracted from it. But other than that, yes, what people ultimately have some degree of direct control over are their perceptions and cognition.

I think that belief is mostly irrelevant to anything. What is involved is simply a framework for systematic action. So I can use money even if I do not believe that it is truly worth anything, or play chess even if I don’t believe that the pieces represent people.

Besides that, I more or less agree that the term “magic” is equivalent to the others, but is simply more generalized. Yes - banking, news reporting, and politics are “magic”, but it doesn’t follow to me that those are generally better terms. It’s like pejoration of the word “science” just because we now have more specialized examples such as physics, chemistry, and biology. Or “art” because we have painting, sculpture, and music. Since they are disciplines refined from a generalized method, it makes perfect sense to retain the word referring to this method, either despite or because of its generality.

Also, I see this methodology as not usually involving “real effects in the world”, but rather a means for the modification of self, of one’s own subjective bases for the construction of a sense of self. How one relates disparate sensory impressions, memories, and goals into a persistent frame of reference which can interact with self and society, noumenon and phenomenon.

That’s as may be, and you’re welcome to come up with a new word and try to convince the world to use it.

But I’ll be over here with the authors, using the word that traditionally covers both meanings just fine…

(I suppose there’s stuff like “prestidigitation” or “illusion” or so forth, but they’re usually loaded with meaning towards the kind of magic being done, and more unwieldy to boot.)

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