“A magician is an actor playing the part of a magician.”
(Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin, considered the father of modern conjuring, 1805-1871) .
The human brain is extraordinary, and it does not always work the way we think it should. For example, I have yet to meet someone who can rotate their right foot in a clockwise direction and simultaneously and repeatedly draw in the air with their right index finger a large ‘6’. (I know you are trying it right now, and I also guess that may be laughing that your foot inadvertently turns anti-clockwise).
As someone fascinated with how the brain does (and doesn’t always) work – which in my case incorporates a fascination for behavioural economics, psychology and neuroscience – I like very much optical illusions, and I love magic…both watching and performing it.
My favourite sort of magic is what is described as ‘mentalism’ which might more simply be called “Tricks of the Mind,” and it is always fun incorporating this sort of material into my business talks to make a deadly serious point about cognitive processes.
Magic’s overlap with psychology is extraordinary. Watch one of the world’s greatest living exponents of this, Derren Brown perform live, and you are in for some truly amazing psychological illusions!
When performing magic, my intention is to use some of our hard-wired human reactions and biases by using physical or psychological misdirection. Performing magic is one thing, but I also enjoy creating tricks. Better still, I adore watching and learning from the masters of the art, people like Jeff McBride, James Randi and Eugene Burger.
The Magic Circle
I was fortunate enough to join the exclusive Magic Circle in 2007, and cannot speak highly enough of the organisation. It is fun to be with the large numbers of magicians there on a Monday club night, and watching lectures or chatting in the bar is, for me, a real pleasure and a privilege.
My examination for membership was covered on a financial website, Pensions & Investment Online:
Paul Craven, head of U.K. business development for Pacific Investment Management Co. in London, last month became a member of the Magic Circle — a prestigious group of about 1,500 magicians worldwide that counts Prince Charles as a member.
Mr. Craven endured a grueling audition in front 16 professional magicians who judged him on factors such as presentation, technique, technical ability and entertainment value. He performed four magic tricks, all involving playing cards and photographs.
In one trick, Mr. Craven said, the audience is asked to select three cards from a full deck, each numbered randomly from 1 to 52 on the back. The three cards are placed on a table face up, next to a photograph that’s sealed in an envelope. Mr. Craven then opens the envelope and reveals a photograph depicting his three children, each holding a number identical to those on the back of the cards selected by the audience.
Mr. Craven’s interest stems from a meeting six years ago with Peter Mehtab, a top U.K. magician and Magic Circle member. Mr. Craven said he has been refining his skills ever since, often performing for his peers in the asset management industry, “outside of working hours, of course.”
“What I like about magic is that at least for a brief period of time, you get a chance to turn grown adults into wide-eyed children,” he said.
Thao Hua |
One of the joys about magic is that it is an HONEST contract between performer and audience (though I tend to think of my audiences as participants because I want them involved and interacting, not just watching – the same principle applies to my public speaking. The honesty behind the contact is this: you know I am trying to fool you, and I know you know. So let’s have fun. That’s the contract.
I therefore don’t have much time for pseudosciences in particular or people posing as genuine ‘psychics’ claiming to be able to channel spirits and talk to bereaved loved ones. To me that’s exploiting the vulnerable. I should also add that I would be genuinely happy if people did have real paranormal abilities, but my knowledge of magic and science makes me sceptical, and as Derren Brown puts it “as a sceptic, I am open to evidence, unlike a cynic who refuses to believe regardless of the evidence.”
If you think you have paranormal abilities, there is no point telling me as you can soon be a $1,000,000 dollars richer – and your journey starts here… even before you predict this week’s lottery numbers.
As Carl Sagan said, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” something echoing an old Latin proverb quod gratis asseritur, gratis negatur, and popularised by Christopher Hitchens a few years later when he said “What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence”.
As an open minded sceptic, it is a delicious irony that I featured, aged 7, in the background of a book cover about the paranormal!
The magic of reality
Magic has opened up so many wonderful doors for me, both within my mind and in the world and I feel very grateful to the man who started as my original mentor, Peter Mehtab, one of the top magicians in the land.
If not through magic, how else could I have been fortunate to have found myself in the company of people like Tom Jones, Rory Bremner, Paul Weller and Paolo Nutini? And also found myself enjoying Sunday summer afternoons in the company of the Bunbury Cricket team, performing magic and playing alongside international and county cricketers as well as stars of stage, screen and music? The Bunburys have raised over £16 million for charity since David English and Eric Clapton founded the team nearly 30 years ago, and as the Bunbury Magician, it is a privilege to play a small part in it.
Life can be fun. How lucky I am.