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Sleights of Mind: What the Neuroscience of Magic Reveals about Our Everyday Deceptions Hardcover – November 9, 2010

4.4 out of 5 stars 83 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“Magic is the place where our senses and beliefs fail us in magnificent ways. In this exciting book Stephen, Susana, and Sandra explore what magic and illusions can teach us about our fallible human nature--coming up with novel and fascinating observations.” ―Dan Ariely, author of Predictability Irrational

“Steve and Susana are two of the most innovative scientists I know. They aren't content to just conduct elegant experiments (although they do plenty of those, too). Instead, they're determined to explore those places where neuroscience intersects the mysterious and the magical, from visual illusions to Vegas card tricks. This book doesn't just change the way you think about sleight of hand and David Copperfield - it will also change the way you think about the mind.” ―Jonah Lehrer, author of How We Decide and Proust Was A Neuroscientist.

“I've long wished that there was a book that explained the art of magic from the point of view of cognitive neuroscience. Magic is a goldmine of information about the brain, as well as a source of fascination to laypeople. This is the book we've all been waiting for.” ―Steven Pinker PhD, author of The Stuff of Thought

“This is a highly original book. Science and magic have much in common. They both take seemingly inexplicable events and provide elegantly simple answers that enthrall the observer. The authors have done an admirable job in exploring this idea and also suggest ways in which the two disciplines can cross fertilize each other.” ―VS Ramachandran MD PhD, author of Phantoms in the Brain

“Stephen Macknik and Susana Martinez-Conde's Sleights of Mind gives non-magicians a real up-close look at the true secrets of magic. They are revealing the real knowledge jealously guarded by all great performers...I know my fellow magicians are all going to be as jazzed as I am to read about how sophisticated magical techniques and state-of-the-art brain science combine.” ―Mac King, headliner, Harrah's Las Vegas

“In Sleights of Mind, authors Stephen Macknik and Susana Martinez-Conde persistently remind us that the human mind is a bad data-taking device. And it's this fact that enables the science of magic to exist at all.” ―Neil deGrasse Tyson, author of The Pluto Files

“The authors make easily comprehensible the effects of neural adaptation, afterimages, occlusion, perspective, saccades, inattentional blindness, expectations and the pliability of memory...Entertaining.” ―Kirkus

“In their illuminating book, brain experts Martinez-Conde and Macknik make their case that magicians are some of the most skilled neuroscientists around...By tricking readers into having fun learning neuroscience, the authors bring the newly minted field of "neuromagic" to center stage.” ―Laura Sanders, Science News

“This book offers 'a revolutionary look a the science behind magic--what leads the mind to believe tricks are real and how magicians actually use the brain's own logic to acheive this.'” ―Phillip Manning, Science Book News

Sleights of Mind makes brain science so much fun, you'll swear the authors are as clever as Houdini.” ―Scientific American Book Club

“If you want to learn more about "neuromagic," take a peek at Macknik and Martinez-Conde's most recent book. It explains how they've investigated the tricks of some of the world's greatest magicians to find out how the brain works in everyday situations. It's a great read whether you're passionate about brain science, magic, or both!” ―Odyssey Magazine (Editor's Choice)

About the Author

Stephen L. Macknik, Ph.D., is Director of the Laboratory of Behavioral Neurophysiology at the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, Arizona. Susana Martinez-Conde, Ph.D., is Director of the Laboratory of Visual Neuroscience at BNI. Sandra Blakeslee is a regular contributor to "Science Times" at The New York Times who specializes in the brain sciences, and the author of several books.


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.; 1 edition (November 9, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805092811
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805092813
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (83 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #758,746 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on December 16, 2010
Format: Hardcover
It is hard not to pay attention to optical illusions, and wonder how can it be that one line is _not_ really longer than the other or one circle is _not_ really darker than the other or all the other varieties that tell us our eyes lie to us. It was only a few decades ago that neuroscientists realized that the mistakes in visual processing were tools to examine how the eyes and brain process information. (It was also a reminder of the wonderful and mysterious lesson that our brains do not make perfect inner models of reality, but only use the tricks and shortcuts descended from their evolution to make useful, rather than exact, models.) In a way, magicians perform optical illusions and even behavioral illusions. You enjoy a magician's performance because although it looks as if he makes coins manifest from the air or makes a ball vanish when he throws it up, you know that such things cannot really be and yet you cannot figure out how the impression the magician makes is so strong. If we can get neurological understanding of the visual system from optical illusions, perhaps the illusions performed by magicians would offer an even broader range of tools to evaluate brain function. This was the insight of Stephen L. Macknik and Susana Martinez-Conde. They are both directors of neuroscience labs and they are married. Because they had done research on visual illusions, they hosted a conference in 2005 in Las Vegas, and were reminded that it was headquarters for some of the best magicians in the world. They got the insight that magic could be studied to gain understanding of perception and even consciousness. They even became certified magicians.Read more ›
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If you are the type who is interested in how the mind perceives its world, this is an essential book. It was written by two psychologists who venture to find out how magic works from a neurological point of view. Through the explanation of several artful magic illusions, it describes how our brains process our sensory information, and how those senses can be deceived by very simple artifices. As one who both professionally and personally has great interest in our ability to properly perceive what is going on around us, I was fascinated. If epistimology is your interest, then this book is a Must Have.

It was as paradigm changing as Umberto Ecco's Foucault's Pendulum, albeit in a more direct and to the point fashion.

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If you are familiar with the prior writings of Sandra Blakeslee and her son Michael, who provided the writing talent for "Sleights of Mind" and co wrote her last book "The Body Has a Mind of Its Own" you will love this latest product of a very talented mother and son science writing team.

Though dated, her prior book "On Intelligence" with Jeff Hawkins, was a quick and concise read that is still one of the best sources on the topic of reverse engineering of the neocortex. I was hoping that this latest project would stand up to the standards of her two prior books, and I wasn't disappointed with the quality of this project - it's just as good. Major insights are offered from a fresh perspective, and it's a speedy read that you can recommend to others.

The contributions of Macknik and Martinez-Conde are far from stuffy. They obviously have had a great time as a couple exploring their areas of expertise through the lens of magic performance, and with the kind help of experts who bring a powerful sense of depth and history to the presentation.

The material is original and it's been presented in a clear and easy to follow format with illustrations provided when needed. This book overcomes one of the objections that I had to Blakeslee's last book, which was the lack of references.

I find it interesting to see that Blakeslee has returned to the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix for this new project, which was also the source of some of the best materials in The Body Has a Mind of Its Own. For more on this back story, you may wish to refer to two interviews of Blakeslee by Ginger Campbell see brainsciencepodcast.com episodes 21 and 23 for more on that project.
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By apilot on January 11, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I'm an amateur magician and a scientist and found this book to be fascinating from both perspectives. It is fun to read and interesting and informative for both magicians and non-magicians. Much of the discussion about perception, attention, memory etc. magicians have learned to exploit as have salespeople, con artists etc. (as pointed out in this book). Besides being a very interesting and entertaining book to read, the observations and insights are important and useful in many non-magical contexts. I've recommended this book to many of my friends whether or not they are magicians or scientists.
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While this book is not simple simply put this book is about how our mind perceives (underscore perceives) the physical world around us primarily through the integration of our visual system in combination with other systems. The primary way that this is explored is, voila! through the art and spectacle of magic (but strictly defined as those practitioners who deal in illusions, sleights, and memory and expectational manipulations; this is not to be confused by the hucksters who claim supernatural power or innate abilities to seemingly defy reality).

I was tempted to end my review at that summary sentence but...nah, I'll go on. "Sleights of Mind" was researched and written by a scientific husband and wife duo (Susana Martinez-Conde, Ph.D., director of the Laboratory of Visual Neuroscience at BNI and her husband, Stephen Macknik, Ph.D., is the director of the Laboratory of Behavioral Neurophysiology at Barrow Neurological Institute) and, while many of the concepts are clear if not completely concise and the writing flows (if you don't stop and read shadowed blocks that are interesting asides about applications or examples of what they're currently talking about), the technical jargon is kept to a minimum and much of what is said could have been said in shorter or condensed form. But here we have what the duo no doubt experienced repeatedly and highlight and that is that magic and illusions are just as much about showmanship and misdirection as they are about the tricks of the trades themselves. As such Macknik and Conde include healthy portions of schtick, describing in detail quite a few illusionists from the way that they dress and present themselves to their audiences visually as well as mannerisms that they employ and jokes that they use.
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