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How magicians have used psychology to deceive their audiences through the ages

rabbit-hatI’ve been having a great time reading about magic.  A friend has a research project on the psychology of magic, and the methods conjurers and stage magicians use to achieve their effects.  There’ll be a book at the end of it, and I’ve enjoyed reading and commenting on small sections of it.  It isn’t so much about the mechanics of how tricks are done as about the psychology they employ, diverting their audience’s attention, and persuading them to see things other than they really are.

There’s a whole section on “Magic at War,” dealing with the ways in which the methods of stage magic have been used to deceive enemies in wartime.  They include simple things like Rommel reviewing his forces in North Africa and having them come round repeatedly so that observers would report back far greater numbers than he actually had at his disposal, and be less ready to attack.  Allied machine gun nests could be hidden by cleverly placed mirrors, much as stage assistants were concealed in cabinets on stage.  But there have also been more complex operations in which stage magicians were recruited by different armed forces to manage large-scale illusions that deceived the enemy.  The D-Day preparations famously included a phantom army with rubber tanks and cardboard trucks to persuade the Germans that the invasion would come at the Pas de Calais instead of the Normandy beaches.

There is an eternal fascination with conjuring and stage magic, and people have always loved to be entertained by it.  I used to dabble in it myself when I was a boy, and once entertained the school scientific society with a display of ‘chemical magic’ that mixed chemistry with sleight of hand. I rather think the book will strike a popular chord when it is published.  It promises to be a fascinating read.

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One Response

  1. Fascinating, I’ll read it too. Recall the Goon Show segment on Salisbury Plain’s cardboard tanks to fool the Luftwaffe. Over the wireless, Bluebottle reports “It must be working! They’re dropping cardboard bombs!”

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