Penn and Teller show how magic is done, via Teller simply lighting a cigarette and putting it out.
Via this fascinating article in Wired.
For Teller (that’s his full legal name), magic is more than entertainment. He wants his tricks to reveal the everyday fraud of perception so that people become aware of the tension between what is and what seems to be. Our brains don’t see everything—the world is too big, too full of stimuli. So the brain takes shortcuts, constructing a picture of reality with relatively simple algorithms for what things are supposed to look like. Magicians capitalize on those rules. “Every time you perform a magic trick, you’re engaging in experimental psychology,” Teller says. “If the audience asks, ‘How the hell did he do that?’ then the experiment was successful. I’ve exploited the efficiencies of your mind.”
What they’ve done is to center their act around revealing the tricks:
After their first Renaissance gig, where Teller performed in tights and Penn in leather, they were headed back to New Jersey. To kill some time in a diner, Teller was practicing his version of Cups and Balls, a classic sleight-of-hand trick popularized by ancient Roman conjurers. It involves a series of “vanishes” and “transpositions” as the balls appear and disappear underneath the cups. Teller hadn’t brought any props, so he used wadded-up napkins and clear water glasses.
Penn & Teller demonstrate their version of Cups and Balls.
Somehow, this made the trick even better. Although it was now possible to follow the crumpled napkins as Teller variously palmed them, squished them, and moved them from cup to cup, the illusion persisted. “The eye could see the moves, but the mind could not comprehend them,” he says. “Giving the trick away gave nothing away, because you still couldn’t grasp it.” They eventually worked this version of Cups and Balls into their show, and audiences loved it. But the magic community—whose cardinal rule is “Don’t tell ‘em how it’s done”—reacted with outrage and even threats of physical violence. Penn and Teller were exposing an ancient secret! Two arty geeks were destroying the mystery!
The video for the Transparent Cups and Balls must be seen, but you’ll have to go the article to get it.
Read the whole thing while you’re there, and watch all the videos.
I’m going to leave the application of these principles to politics as an exercise for the reader, but let me give you a few hints: Waterboarding. Global Warming. TSA.
Tags: Penn and Teller