R. Paul Wilson On: The Benefits Of Magical Thinking

R. Paul Wilson On: The Benefits Of Magical Thinking

One of the peculiarities of being a magician is that we often find solutions to problems no one else would notice or we look at objects, locations and situations with a curious eye that can often detect opportunities for impossible effects that might baffle or confuse a future audience.

Con artists, cheaters and advantage players enjoy a similar perspective from entirely different but related motivations where the result is a form of deception that (unlike a magic trick) hopefully goes unnoticed.

Magic, mentalism and conjuring offer many ingenious ideas that can help us to understand or illustrate simple solutions for seemingly impossible outcomes and draw parallels to other pursuits where thinking or imagination might be narrowed and could benefit from a little creative magic.

Everyone Should Know A Magic Trick

In a way, I disagree with this statement since magic is most effective on the uninitiated, who we in the conjuring fraternity like to call ‘laymen’.

I once performed for a group of professors at Cambridge University; physicists, psychologists, mathematicians – and I told them that they are technically referred to as laymen which amused me since I was the least educated person in the room, but it failed to amuse them at all so my next miracle fell relatively flat as a result!

Certainly, knowing nothing about magic can make even the simplest trick miraculous in the right hands but a little knowledge can also be a dangerous thing.

When a relative newcomer to the art sees a professional using a secret he or she might now know, there’s an excellent chance they might be even more fooled than a lay audience when something happens or there is a particular outcome that baffles more deeply because their knowledge has led them down the garden path.

Magicians do this to each other all the time, deliberately designing methods to fool fellow prestidigitators and a handful of expert sleight of hand artists employ ‘feints’ to mislead audiences based on what the performer knows they might already suspect.

For example, when a coin is taken in the right hand, the left might cramp slightly to convince observant onlookers that it has been palmed there but when the right hand proves to be empty, and the left is also shown empty the result is a deeper effect on those who thought they might be ahead of the performer.

I could relate this to how con artists seed convincers for the most suspicious marks to find on their own to seemingly verify a false story but that’s for another time.

My goal here is to prove to you that this kind of correlation can be drawn between a magic effect and many aspects of life or business so magic can therefore be a powerful form of communication between yourself and your clients or colleagues.

By learning just one magic trick, you won’t be spoiling the fun of watching magic in the future so much as developing your own appreciation of the art while being the magic maker for friends, family and colleagues.

Used well, you might have an unusual communication tool to illustrate all kinds of ideas, and as most experienced magicians have learned, it’s these ideas and stories that make magic tricks truly compelling or miraculous.

So let’s examine a brilliant little effect you can find in your local magic shop.

Magic shop
Image: John Keogh/Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0

Selling Wonder

First, I strongly encourage you to search for a real bricks-and-mortar magic shop that you can visit because they’re both a lot of fun and a treasure trove of ideas beyond your first magic purchase.

Websites can also be excellent but cater for a wide audience of (mostly) amateurs and professionals with varying levels of ability.

They also aim to constantly upsell you and can quickly draw you into a rabbit hole of expensive props and gimmicks that promise incredible effects that are often extremely difficult to do well despite their claims of being “self-working” or “easy”.

If you do become hooked on magic, there’s plenty of time for those websites though your bank account will be much poorer for it unless you take the higher road and learn to read magic books, which is where the real secrets lie.

In a magic shop, you might be shown several great effects, but I always recommend buying what you came in for and coming back for anything that stayed with you after seeing it the week before.

Your first visit to that magic shop (or Amazon) is to buy something called “Crazy Cube” and if you’re really lucky, the person behind the counter might be able to demonstrate it for you before buying the secret.

Image: Toys Central

Here’s what happens:

  • The performer has two opaque canisters with lids that nest inside one another and in the smallest canister is an ordinary six-sided die.
  • A spectator is asked to set the die to any number and place it into the small canister with their number up (or down for expert performers) then replace the lid, sealing the die inside.
  • The small canister is then placed inside the bigger one and that too is sealed and when examined, there is absolutely no way anyone could see inside to determine which number was being thought of.
  • Yet, despite these conditions, the performer can name that number immediately.

How this is possible will not be revealed here, though a handful of fellow magicians will still frown upon me even recommending such a fantastic trick despite the fact it is one of the first tricks sold to newcomers, is in billions of cheap magic sets and has even been tossed out in their hundreds to crowds at corporate events and trade shows.

Despite all that, it remains a FANTASTIC effect and can be used in countless ways to illustrate ideas or present concepts; particularly about revealing secrets like passwords or key codes or even mere thoughts or ideas.

It can be presented as mind-reading or x-ray vision or even as a prediction made before the number was selected.

Once you know the secret of the trick, it absolutely needs some kind of story to make it more than a mildly curious puzzle and by doing so, you shape reality around that secret to create something that seems impossible. 

It can be a betcha (free beer!) or it can be a miracle depending on how it is perceived by the audience – and this is where you can shape that experience.

Not bad for less than 10 bucks.

Shaping Reality

‘Crazy Cube’ is such a familiar trick to magicians that it’s quickly dismissed as a beginner’s trick until they see it presented in such a way that it revives their enthusiasm for the effect and the method.

I developed my own presentation as part of a poker demonstration where the selected number is not only revealed by a card pulled from the deck, when the other cards are dealt, the hand nominated by that number proves to be a Royal Flush.

I was both pleased and amazed to find audiences made up entirely of magicians were fooled not by the trick but by the context.

And here’s a lesson I can share with you now that you can experience for yourself and perhaps share with others in the future.

Secret knowledge and hidden information can be used to great effect when weaved into a story, whether for entertainment, deception or to manipulate how and what people perceive.

Con artists do this with feasible lies mixed with verifiable truths; politicians do this by framing facts and statistics to mislead or distort; online fraudsters do this when they emulate familiar procedures or create incentives to overshare private information, and ordinary people do this in countless scenarios to convince themselves or others of things they want to believe.

It’s a lot to learn from such a simple magic trick but almost any form of deception can be re-tooled and applied to situations people might never suspect and any trick you might buy or learn might prove equally adaptive to countless presentations.

So learn a magic trick, tell a story and share an important lesson: not everything in life is as it seems and when one party has access to secret information or knowledge, deception can be the result for good purposes (magic) or bad (most everything else).