The Spectacle of Illusion. Deception. Magic and the Paranormal Review by Nicola Clayton and Clive Wilkins Department of Psychology, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge, UK. ‘The Spectacle of Illusion’1 published to coincide with the Wellcome Collection’s exhibition ‘Smoke and Mirrors: The Psychology of Magic’, is a delightful and informative roller coaster of information and intertwined images that explore our fascination for magic, the paranormal and the psychology of cognitive illusions. The book makes a detailed analysis of the perpetrators of the efects described and their unsuspecting spectators’ response, with some intriguing thoughts about why magic has been so closely aligned with the paranormal and the fascination that psychologists have had with psychical research. It is worthy of note that William James, the American father of psychology, was an exponent and President of the Society for Psychical Research. As both a psychologist and a magician, Matt Tompkins, argues that, although psychologists are trained in harnessing evidence based on empirical observations, they are not trained in deception. Interestingly, the author was the frst member of the Magic Circle to be admitted through a peer-greviewed scientifc publication. Jean Eugène Robert-gHoudin, the father of modern magic, famously argued that the professional magician is not a performer of juggling tricks, but an actor playing the role of someone with supernatural powers. In French, ‘magicien’ refers to the supernatural and ‘prestidigateur’ is used to describe the magician with nimble fngers, a descriptor for the choreography of hands. Tompkins’ book is laid out in the manner of a play or a ballet; a series of acts that explore the transformation from early mesmeric and spiritualist phenomena and master magicians, to psychical research and parapsychological investigators, culminating in Act Five: The Psychology of Illusion. Although a short chapter, it is the highlight, providing a coherent analysis exploring how the mind is tricked when asked to see, to reason and remember; with all the attendant ramifcations of cognitive road blocks and biases and our propensity to believe in more than we actually perceive. It is interesting to note that from a scientifc perspective, both magic efects and other violations of expectancy activate regions of the pre-gfrontal cortex and have the potential to explore the subjective experience of what we see, when we remember and how we reason. This poses the question, how does the brain generate feelings of belief and disbelief? Magicians discovered a number of key features of cognition long before they were studied by psychologists. Richard Hodgson and Samuel John Davey would not have considered themselves to be experimental psychologists, yet their paper ‘The Possibilities of Mal-gObservation and Lapse of Memory from a Practical Point of View’2 discovered what was later to become known as ‘The Reconstructive Nature of Memory’3. The Princess Card Trick, frst described by Thomas Nelson Downes4, was invented by fellow magician Henry Hardin. This is an efect in which spectators fail to detect changes across scenes when alterations are accompanied by visual disruption. Yet the term ‘change blindness’ was not introduced into psychology until 1997 by Ronald Rensink5. What have psychologists contributed to our understanding of magic? We might turn to the work of Alfred Binet on the psychology of prestidigitation6. Although best known for his work on the development of IQ tests, in the paper to which Tompkins’ alludes, Binet demonstrates that photography can efectively destroy the psychological power of a magic efect by stripping away the artifce and other elements that normally maintain the cognitive illusion. For this reason close-gup magicians often feel the need to request that their audiences do not flm their performances. We might ask why? In the words of the eminent, late visual cognitive neuroscientist, Richard Gregory ‘The visual brain does not receive objects, but only bits and pieces of evidence for inferring or guessing what might be out there’7. What is particularly efective is the way the book elegantly interweaves the expertise and perspectives of both psychologists and magicians to ofer a powerful account of how metacognitive paradoxes work through illusions of omission (hidden by a lack of expectation) and commission (seeing something that doesn’t exist e.g. amodal completion and boundary exten

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