Magicians have been studying the human brain for much longer than psychologists and over the centuries have developed tricks that make use of that knowledge, maybe knowing more about what makes us tick than we do. Believe it or not, there are endless possibilities for using magic in order to understand more about how we function on a day-to-day basis.
So go ahead, choose a card:
Focus on it. Concentrate really hard. Now scroll to the end of the article to see if your card has disappeared.
Manipulating our attention is one of the core skills of the magician. They might bring some jugglers on stage and ask you to count how many times the red club is thrown. You sit there, paying close attention to the juggling, and after a few minutes, when the magician tells you the answer, you pat yourself on the back for getting it right. But your glow of cleverness doesn’t last long when the magician asks if you saw the gorilla that just walked across the stage. ‘What gorilla?’ you ask.
You gasp in disbelief. How did you miss it? It’s all down to something called ‘conscious awareness’. There is a constant stream of information coming in through the senses and the brain filters through it all. Only a small amount then gets fed into our conscious awareness – but that doesn’t mean the rest has been deleted.
The ‘invisible gorilla’ is a brilliant example of how limited our conscious awareness is.
Pause a moment.
Read the next paragraph then close your eyes and follow the instructions:
In your mind’s eye, in real time, imagine there’s a chopping board and a knife on a table in front of you. Imagine a bowl of lemons on the table as well. Choose one of the lemons, pick up the knife and cut the lemon into quarters. Bring it up to your mouth, bite into the lemon, chew it and swallow it. Then open your eyes.
Now you’ve imagined chewing and swallowing the lemon, what did you experience?
Could you taste the lemon? Did you salivate? All you were doing was imagining eating a lemon. There was no real lemon. For many, just thinking about a lemon creates the same physiological changes in their salivary glands as if the lemon were real. What you imagine can be as powerful as reality.
Only 0.1% of the human retina offers high-resolution vision. This is because the brain would struggle to cope with processing everything in our visual field.
Fascinating research has been carried out with people who are cortically blind. This is a condition whereby the eyes function normally, but the visual part of the brain is damaged, thus causing partial or full blindness. Studies show that even those who cannot see anything in front of them will reach out with their hand orientated correctly to catch a stick, whether it is dropped at a horizontal or vertical position.
How is this possible? Despite having no conscious awareness of ‘seeing’ the stick, they are irrefutably aware of it. Part of the brain has witnessed it.
This is called blindsight. It shows that our behaviour can be guided by sensory information of which we have no conscious awareness. We think what we see is the whole picture but we filter everything. Therefore, our reality is a drastically edited version of what is actually going on.
It’s not only our visual senses that illustrate how little of our world reaches our consciousness.
Imagine you are at a party chatting to a friend. You’re also aware of the general background chat but can’t hear anything specific. But if someone in the background says your name, you are very likely to hear it. It will grab your attention. All along, a part of you was making decisions about what you needed to pay attention to and what you could discard. Without this ability to filter the conversation in the room, your brain would suffer from severe information overload.
This does not mean we are operating on an unconscious level – we are fully awake. But much of what we say, do, think and feel happens below the level of active consciousness.
For example, we are not typically aware of the positioning of our hands and feet (until you just read the last few words, which will have turned your attention to them). When learning to drive we give all our conscious attention to it, then the skill of driving becomes an automatic one, brought to our awareness when we need to pay attention.
Eating falls into the same category. Sometimes, all the chocolate has gone and we don’t remember finishing the bar because we were paying attention to something else. This is a lose-lose situation, as our mindless eating means we fail to savour the delicious flavours while
still gaining calories.
Being mindful is important.
It helps us to separate ourselves from those emotions that can drive unhelpful actions before we even know it.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) helps people to become more self-aware. Gaining such knowledge of ourselves is vital in changing behaviours and helps to prevent unforeseen self sabotage.
Ultimately, magic shows us how easily we can be fooled. Similarly, once you learn to witness your own tricks and subconscious patterns of behaviour around food, you will become more self-aware and better equipped to make choices that serve you far better.
"The route to our stomach is not through our mouths, it is through our minds. Pulling lettuce leaves out of the hat is not going to sort the obesity epidemic."
Did we get it right?
Of course we did.
This trick works because ALL of the cards change, not just the one that you were focusing on. Because you were asked to focus really hard, most people don’t even notice the other cards around it and so it seems that only your card is missing. Of course, now you’re reading this, you’ll be scrolling up to check!