Where magic, mathematics, and neuroscience meet !

I admit that some eyes glaze over when I start talking about this, and I also confess that I do not have the dexterity or the patience to become a sleight of hand artist.

Having said that, I was fascinated enough to acquire Fooling Houdini by Alex Stone . I found this a real fun and interesting read, as it combines an interesting personal narrative (with themes of failure and redemption), a lot of history of magic, some math, and a lot of psychology. The description of how Three Card Monte gangs operate to select, engage, fool and then cool out their victims is gripping. The explanation of optical illusions, in-attentional blindness and other cognitive processes is highly relevant to health promotion and communications, and while respectful to the academic sources, is told in a more interesting manner than most journal articles.

There is also controversy! Right or wrong, Stone does reveal secrets. Among other critics, sleight of hand artist, actor and author Ricky Jay wrote a blistering review in the Wall Street Journal.

After reading the review, I did end up reading “Magical Mathematics” by Persi Diaconis and Ron Graham. This book is also wonderful, full of tricks, history, and all sorts of non-magical applications (cryptology,  cable paths, etc), but the math is pretty demanding.

I also noted that Alex Stone does include respectful description of the work of Diaconis, who is one of a number of mathematician magicians (as was the late Dr. Nathan Mendelsohn who taught  “Basic Concepts in Mathematics” and ended our class with a show of stunning tricks which I vividly remember from over 40 years ago).

As for secrecy, Stone claims that most tricks have been revealed on the Internet among other sources. One proof test: finding out how David Copperfield made the Statue of Liberty is one Google click away. Take my word (sadly) for it. He’s right.

About larryhershfield
I have been developing innovative services and products for the public health community since 1975.

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