As magicians have long known and musicians are increasingly discovering, human perception is a jury-rigged apparatus, full of gaps and easily manipulated.
A great deal of the success of a piece of magic is simply getting the audience’s attention and sending it to the wrong place – to a right hand flourishing a wand while the left secrets a ball away in a pocket or plucks a card from a sleeve.
|Excerpt from String Quartet. "Explorer, Producer, Stoic After Your Fashion"|
Magic shows are masterpieces of misdirection: they assault us with bright colors and shiny things, with puffs of smoke and with the constant obfuscatory patter that many magicians keep up as they perform.
The vanishing ball illusion is one of the most basic tricks a magician can learn: a ball is thrown repeatedly into the air and caught. Then, on the final throw, it disappears in midair. In fact, the magician has merely mimed the last throw, following the ball’s imagined upward trajectory with his eyes while keeping it hidden in his hand.
But if the technique is easily explained, the phenomenon itself is not.
If done right, the trick actually makes observers see the ball rising into the air on the last toss and vanishing at its apex. This is something more powerful than merely getting someone to look in the wrong direction – it’s a demonstration of how easy it is to nudge the brain into the realm of actual hallucination.
And cognitive scientists still don’t know exactly what’s causing it to happen.
The question is…are composers?