Very Telling

Magic and the Brain: Teller Reveals the Neuroscience of Illusion

“Tricks work only because magicians know, at an intuitive level, how we look at the world,” says Macknik, lead author of the paper. “Even when we know we’re going to be tricked, we still can’t see it, which suggests that magicians are fooling the mind at a very deep level.” By reverse-engineering these deceptions, Macknik hopes to illuminate the mental loopholes that make us see a woman get sawed in half or a rabbit appear out of thin air even when we know such stuff is impossible. “Magicians were taking advantage of these cognitive illusions long before any scientist identified them,” Martinez-Conde says.

There are some quotes from Teller, though these are obviously illusions, because Teller is the one who doesn’t talk.

Before long, they were performing Cups and Balls on Letterman. The trick became a centerpiece of their first off-Broadway show. “It was so liberating to be able to treat the audience like intelligent adults,” Teller says. Instead of engaging in the “usual hocus-pocus clichés,” the clear cups forced the crowd to confront the real source of the illusion: the hard-wired limitations of their own brains. Because people were literally incapable of perceiving the sleight of hand—Teller’s fingers just moved too fast—it didn’t matter that the glasses were transparent.