How Neuroscientists and Magicians Are Conjuring Brain Insights

Mariette DiChristina in Scientific American:

ScreenHunter_09 May. 19 21.13We were at the Neuromagic 2012 conference held May 7 to 10, 2012, on San Simón, also appropriately named the Island of Thought, on the north Atlantic coast near Vigo, Spain. Organized by Susana Martinez-Conde and Stephen Macknik of the Barrow Neurological Institute, the talks were intended to advance an intriguing area of brain study that encompasses attention and awareness, aspects of perception, and, ultimately, consciousness research. More about this research area is in their book,Sleights of Mind, which came out in 2010. (An excerpt, “Mind Over Magic?“, by Martinez-Conde and Macknik, who are advisors for Scientific American Mind, appeared in that magazine’s November/December 2010 issue. They also wrote “Magic and the Brain: How Magicians ‘Trick’ the Mind” for Scientific American.)

Why are scientists working with sleight-of-hand artists? Their tricks, honed through the decades, have revealed that people respond to certain situations in specific ways. Like detectives looking for new leads to solve a mystery, scientists can mine magicians’ knowledge for ideas to test in the lab. And for the magicians, understanding principles about the brain—that is, why a trick works the way it does—can suggest new ways to advance their art as they develop new tricks or improve existing ones. (The article, “What Can Magicians Teach Us about the Brain?”, provides some more background and a November 2008 Nature Reviews Neuroscience paper coauthored by neuroscientists and magicians.)

More here.