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Experiencing the Impossible: The Science of Magic

Experiencing the Impossible: The Science of Magic

Current price: $27.95
Publication Date: March 12th, 2019
The MIT Press
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This thought-provoking tour through the science of magic will make you question what you know about your brain and your reality.

A psychologist and magician shows how the scientific study of magic reveals intriguing—and often unsettling—insights into the mysteries of the human mind.

What do we see when we watch a magician pull a rabbit out of a hat or read a person’s mind? We are captivated by an illusion; we applaud the fact that we have been fooled. Why do we enjoy experiencing what seems clearly impossible, or at least beyond our powers of explanation? In Experiencing the Impossible, Gustav Kuhn examines the psychological processes that underpin our experience of magic.
Kuhn, a psychologist and a magician, reveals the intriguing—and often unsettling—insights into the human mind that the scientific study of magic provides. Magic, Kuhn explains, creates a cognitive conflict between what we believe to be true (for example, a rabbit could not be in that hat) and what we experience (a rabbit has just come out of that hat!). Drawing on the latest psychological, neurological, and philosophical research, he suggests that misdirection is at the heart of all magic tricks, and he offers a scientific theory of misdirection. He explores, among other topics, our propensity for magical thinking, the malleability of our perceptual experiences, forgetting and misremembering, free will and mind control, and how magic is applied outside entertainment—the use of illusion in human-computer interaction, politics, warfare, and elsewhere.

We may be surprised to learn how little of the world we actually perceive, how little we can trust what we see and remember, and how little we are in charge of our thoughts and actions. Exploring magic, Kuhn illuminates the complex—and almost magical—mechanisms underlying our daily activities.

About the Author

Gustav Kuhn is Reader in Psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London, and a member of the Magic Circle.

Praise for Experiencing the Impossible: The Science of Magic

"Experiencing the Impossible is a cogently argued, persuasive and often enthralling account of the pleasures he experienced while researching what he calls 'one of the most captivating and enduring forms of entertainment.'"
Times Higher Education

"A fascinating foray into the subtle mechanics of creating wonder."

"Research suggests that even when the audience knows how a magic trick works, it still has the power to amaze and intrigue, much like this book did for me. I recommend it to the curious."
Chemistry World

"An engaging and accessible read focusing on an unusual, yet surprisingly interesting connection, the one between magic and cognitive sciences."

"With Experiencing the Impossible, Kuhn manages to both contextualize the experience of wonder, while also taking an in-depth look at the scientific principles at work within our confused brains as we try to make sense of the inexplicable."
Spectrum Culture

"An engaging and informative work."