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Showing 1-10 of 73 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 88 reviews
on March 11, 2016
You'd think magicians could learn a thing or two from neuroscientists, but this book is all about how two neuroscientists are learning what to study and why from professional magicians. Sleights of Mind is a fun layman's read of how our vision works and how our minds interpret what we see. I wasn't a magic fan nor a neuroscience fan when I started this book, but I am now! I learned why, when I edit my writing, I miss so many errors. I don't see them! My mind is conjuring up what the words are supposed to be, because that's how our minds have evolved to be more efficient. We have a limited range of focus when we see, too, and surrounding neurons are "turned off."

I finished this book with a greater respect for magicians not only for their skill, but also for what they've known for ages about the human mind, things neuroscientists are just discovering. I also learned, if I'm ever on a jury, not to put too much weight into eye witnesses' testimonies. Nothing can deceive us like our own minds!
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on February 1, 2016
A well-presented treatise on how neuro-science is revealing the how and why we perceive our surroundings as we do. If you are interested in Psychology, Neurology, and Psychiatry, you will find this book interesting. This is not a medical text, so, the average student of the mind-sciences should be able to comprehend it without difficulty. For example, I have a Master's Degree in Clinical Social Work and I had no difficulty with the concepts. The useful novelty of this book is that the authors recognized how the profession of magical-entertainment is all about tricking the perceptions of the audience. So, by bringing together what neuro-science shows us about the how and why we perceive as we do and contrasting it with magical techniques, we gain a clearer picture of how our minds work. Fascinating!
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on October 6, 2015
Sleights of Mind explains magic tricks by telling one about the shortcuts, limits, and programming of brain (and attendant sensory systems) that facilitate such tricks. The reader needn’t be concerned that the book will spoil all the illusionists’ secrets for one. The authors carefully demarcate the beginnings and endings of spoiler sections that explicitly explain tricks. This allows a reader to skip over such sections if one doesn’t want to know the trick. I suspect few readers do skip the spoiler sections because that’s where the rubber meets the road in terms of the neuroscientific concepts being discussed. The spoiler sections are an attempt to comply with the magician’s code (the neuroscientist authors became magicians themselves) and to maintain a good relationships with the many magicians (some, like Teller or the Amaz!ng Randi, quite famous) who cooperated in the writing of the book.

Over 12 chapters, the authors explain the neuroscience of how various classes of illusion work. Most of the chapters address a specific class or subclass of illusion. The first few chapters deal with visual illusions. We look at the world in what seems like crystal clarity (at least with glasses on or contacts in), but there are many limitations and gaps in our visual processing system. While it seems like we are directly seeing the world around us, in point of fact, our visual experience is a product of the brain reconstructing information that the eyes take in—and it doesn’t do it as perfectly as our brain tricks us into believing. As the authors state it, “The spooky truth is that your brain constructs reality, visual and otherwise.” Chapter 3, deals with illusion in art, which is little outside the theme of the book, but it offers an opportunity to explain some intriguing facts about how the brain and eyes work in concert.

The next couple chapters (Ch. 4 and 5) deal with cognitive illusions. Just like our visual system, our conscious minds save energy by engaging in short-cuts that disguise the mind’s limits while offering the possibility of manipulation. The brain also works hard to reconcile what appear to be inconsistencies, and often this reconciliation leads us astray. Misdirection is discussed in detail. Our minds are primed to let certain actions and sensory inputs draw its attention, and humans are awful at paying attention to more than one input stream at a time. Teller explains that, “Action is motion with a purpose.” So, if one can give one’s movement a purpose (even scratching one’s chin) it will be ignored while movements seemingly without purpose are anomalous and draw attention. The authors introduce the reader to mirror neurons—the part of our brains that take observations of another’s actions and makes forecasts about that person’s intent. This system is highly hackable by magicians.

Chapter 5 informs us that we aren’t as good at multitasking as we think—which is to say we completely stink at it but tend to think we are awesome multitaskers. The gorilla experiment is offered as a prime example of this situation. In the gorilla experiment, about half-a-dozen people, moving around randomly, pass a ball / balls among themselves. The subject is asked to count the number of passes. In the middle of this activity a man in a gorilla suit walks through the middle of the rapidly moving passers. When asked whether they saw the gorilla, most people say they didn’t (and those who do see the gorilla invariably offer a count of passes that is vastly off the mark.) [If this is either unclear or unbelievable, you can YouTube it.]

Chapter 6 examines multisensory illusions. The quintessential example is how our brains lead us believe that the sound of a ventriloquist’s voice is coming from the moving lips of a dummy. (Also, it seems like voices are coming from the lips of actors on screen in the movies, even though the speakers are probably off to the side in the walls or ceiling.) Synesthesia (cross-wiring between senses and brain such that some people may always see the number 5 in red or hear a C-sharp in green) is introduced to the reader.

Chapter 7 explores the illusions of memory. Just as with our vision and attention, our memories aren’t as indelible as they seem to be. We think we’re calling up a transcription of the events of our lives, but really we’re remembering the last remembrance of said event. This can lead to a migration / distortion of events in the same manner as the kid’s experiment whereby one whispers a phrase into the ear of the kid in the next chair and it traverses the classroom. The original sentence “The cat is on the windowsill” invariably becomes something like “Lenny Kravitz steals puppies from the till.” (Have you ever experienced a situation in which a person remembers the details of an event substantially differently from yourself even if the broad brushstrokes are the same?) Some entertainers use pneumonic tricks to convince audiences that they have supernatural mental abilities when—in fact—they have merely turned understanding of memory to their advantage.

Chapter 8 considers how in-built expectations and assumptions are exploited by magicians and mentalists. Again, these methods work because our brains employ all sorts of energy-saving shortcuts. For example, our brains often do the same thing as Google’s search engine—filling in the blanks by taking advantage of one’s experience to avoid the need for costly cognitive processing.

Chapter 9 explains that our “free choices” are often not so “free” as we think. One of the most disconcerting, yet intriguing, facts to come from the onslaught of brain imaging studies since the 1990’s is that our decisions are made on a subconscious level before our conscious minds are even aware the decision has been made. Prior to this, we’d always been under the misapprehension that we are consciously making all these decisions--big and small--because the conscious mind is just a big credit stealer (to be fair, the conscious mind doesn’t recognize that it’s so out of the loop in decision making.) So many of our decisions are made in predictable ways by emotional / automated responses, and mentalists use that fact to their advantage.

Chapter 10 is a catchall for topics that didn’t fit into earlier chapters, including hypnosis, superstitions, and the gambler’s fallacy (i.e. the idea that a roulette number that hasn’t come up in a while [or slot machine that hasn’t paid off recently] is bound to pay soon—regardless of the probability distribution that actually rules the outcome.)

The remainder of the book tells the story of the author’s try-out for a magic society and discusses the question of whether knowing the neurological and psychological roots of magic tricks will kill magic as a source of entertainment. I found the latter to be the more interesting discussion. The authors are optimistic about magic’s survival, and offer good reasons. After all, almost nobody believes that magicians are conducting supernatural activities [not even people who take some wildly unsubstantiated beliefs as givens.] Even knowing how the tricks work doesn’t create the ability to see through the tricks because so many of the factors that magicians exploit operate on a subconsciously programmed level, and such proclivities would have to be trained away. People who want to enjoy the spectacle of magic aren’t likely to go to the trouble of training themselves in that way.

I enjoyed this book even though I’m not particularly a fan of magic—though I did find myself watching quite a few YouTube clips of the magicians mentioned in the book. If you’re interested in how one’s mind and sensory systems work, and the limitations of those systems, you’ll find this book worthwhile. If you’re into magic, you’ll like it all the more so.
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on June 8, 2013
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. While I was expecting that the most interesting part of the book would be finding out about how our brain works it turns out that the discussions of the magicians/ illusionists was for me the most interesting.

Conde & Macknik also go to lengths to describe how the magic is accomplished, giving many "spoiler alerts". Perhaps it was just me but I couldn't wrap my head around many of the tricks that they were describing as I couldn't adequately visually picture them based on the descriptions. I wonder if other people had the same experience?

Overall I was very glad to have purchased this book. I work in the field of psychology with adolescents and some of the information herein has been helpful in that it can help me point out more concrete ways in which their information systems can foul them (and others) up and how we can possibly avoid this sometimes by increasing our awareness of such phenomena. But I didn't come away having learned anything really substantially new about neuroscience (now about magic, I did) and in that I was a little disappointed. Still, an enjoyable read, not overly technical, and fairly highly recommended.

* One last note: Though not their primary purpose in writing this book Macknik & Conde present themselves not just as skeptics of the highest order, demythologizing "magic", but as worshippers of the material sciences and devout believers that there are no actual supernatural or spiritual (as in suggesting another realm or reality outside of the material world); they believe that through dedicated study and practice the secrets of the universe can be unlocked and that there are no secrets outside of the material universe. They don't state this outright anywhere but these assumptions are presented clearly enough in a number of ways and are taken for granted by the authors. This is not surprising. But if you are a believer (you have a religious worldview of some sort, such as being Muslim or Buddhist or Christian, or if you simply believe in a non-materialistic spiritual realm and are strongly influenced by horoscopes or psychics) you might be set back or bothered a little by some of their presentations or assertions.
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on March 26, 2011
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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on January 9, 2012
I'm about halfway through the book right now, so you can take my review for what it's worth. Overall, the writing is clear and interesting--not over the heads of non-scientist types, but not so elementary as to gloss over the nuances that scientific discovery have brought to light. The book necessarily spoils some of the secrets of many tricks in order to illustrate how the magicians' efforts align with neuroscientific and psychological concepts and principles. To be sure, the authors provide fair warning to readers with "spoiler alerts" each time they reveal a trick's secret, and they offer the reader the chance to skip these parts. However, to skip these parts is to skip reading two-thirds of the book's content, and this might not be acceptable to readers who are interested in getting their money's worth from the books they purchase. So long as the reader is okay with learning some magic secrets and some very well-documented research that explains how these secrets make the tricks so effective, then by all means give it a read. The authors are highly acclaimed neuroscientists who have solid grounding in neuro- and social scientific research. Moreover, the authors are magic enthusiasts themselves, and in the course of preparing the book they have rubbed elbows with many of the world's finest magicians (who happily lend the authors perspective and instruction). Audiences who would enjoy this book include social scientists, anyone interested in persuasion and compliance gaining (especially learning how others can exploit the brain's natural tendencies for entertainment and/or personal gain), and, of course, anyone interested in magic.
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on February 10, 2016
I am a professional magician. I have been for over 30 years. I found this book fascinating and engaging. Some of the more personal sections (auditioning at The Magic Castle) were not interesting to me and a few conclusions they reached (why magicians try to keep trick secrets from non-magicians) were off base, but I still found it a very enjoyable and enlightening read. I'd recommend it.
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VINE VOICEon October 29, 2014
Magicians put to use in a practical way the workings of the human mind. We play of magic game in the spaces between regular human consciousness. One principle we engage is that the large movement hides the small. I can make a huge sweeping movement with my right hand following the movement with my eyes and head and at the same time make a small movement with my left that no one will notice at all. One way to get some insight into what is happening inside a human mind is to watch a magician without listening to him. He will use his voice and words to distract you so you cannot see what just happened before you. An oft used phrase by magicians makes no sense and is perfect . . . we say to our audience "trust me, I'm a magician."
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on October 14, 2013
This is a truly delightful book to read for those interested in magic, but also for those of us who wonder about why we do some of the dumb things that we're all prone to do! It gives an account of an experiment (or series of experiments) in the psychology of magic, in which the authors, researchers in neurophysiology, have enlisted many of the world's top magicians to explain how they do some of their trick, yes, but even more about how they use our psychological weaknesses to do those tricks. One learns about how so many of our daily actions become so programed in our brains that we continue to believe the program is working properly even though the magician, or psychologist, or con artist, or glib politician has quietly exploited our senses to pull off something totally unexpected. I'm just finishing my second reading of it and I anticipate returning to selected passages many times.
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on September 23, 2015
This book gives an very entertaining look into the neurobiology of magic. I would highly recommend this. An "artsy fartsy" person once denigrated science as taking away the beauty of things. I thought this was quite short sighted. When I see the a flower I see a beautiful thing but I also know the beauty of its design. Thus the same with magic. Even though I now know a few of their tricks, I have a greater appreciation. I even told my wife that I now want to go to Las Vegas to see some magic shows and see the deceptions that city has to offer.
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