The Role of Imagination in Magic

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By Eric Walton

Eric Walton in Esoterica

This is the second in our ongoing series of Guest Blogger entries.

It is no secret that magic is an art-form based largely upon secrets—secret moves, secret apparatus, secret intentions. If the presentation of magic is to be successful, the magician must know something that the spectator does not and he must keep that something a secret for as long as he can.

But a secret isn’t the same as a lie.

A lie is the deliberate misrepresentation of the truth, perpetrated in order to gain some advantage, generally a malicious one. A lie is always told with the intent to deceive, whereas a secret is merely the concealment of the truth or some aspect of it and may or may not involve the will to mislead. I may have a secret tattoo of Genghis Khan on the sole of my foot, but you are unlikely to consider yourself deceived if I fail to disclose the fact when we first meet.

And while we magicians must sometimes resort to overt lying in order to present our tricks successfully, most of the deception on which we rely is not in the form of lies that we tell our audiences, but in the fabrications and confabulations that take place within the minds of the spectators themselves. The magician orchestrates a series of “experiential voids” which audience members consciously and unconsciously fill with their own expectations, assumptions and interpretations. Thus, audience members are not so much the victims of the magician’s deception, as they are both witting and unwitting accomplices in it. Continue reading

Stop Making Sense

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Image by Dan Nevill*

Adult human beings are chronic sense-makers. Surrounded by dizzying ideas and sensations, we work to make them manageable: we classify things so that when we encounter something new, we can drop it conveniently into a folder in our mental file cabinet. When we’re working on a project, we focus on that exclusively and block out all “distractions.” This narrowing and organizing is necessary, of course; without it, we’d too be confused to ever get anything done. But might such confusion also be an asset?

For years I was an avid spelunker—that is, I liked to explore caves. My experiences visiting them have taught me a valuable lesson about imagination. Let me explain. When you enter a cave, you turn off your everyday sensory expectations; you step into a dark, mysterious world different from the one to which you’re accustomed. But as you spend six, eight, ten hours underground, you adapt to your environment and acquire an alternate way of seeing. When you finally emerge, however, the real shock comes: after hours of blackness, the colorful aboveground world is more vivid than ever. It stimulates your visual receptors. But in that moment you’re too overwhelmed for your usual organizational mechanisms to kick in. Instead of defined objects, you see floating blurs of color and texture. This may be disorienting, but it’s also liberating and, literally, eye-opening! Continue reading