How to see things that aren’t there

Hallucinations in Trainspotting. Who knew this harmless hobby could have such devastating effects?

Ever seen something that wasn’t there? As a magician I’m always thinking about how the senses can deceive, so I couldn’t help but notice there are a few new books out at the moment about hallucinations (like this one by Oliver Sacks, which looks really good).

It’s not just people who are mentally disturbed or on mind-altering drugs who have these experiences. People who are losing their sight can get Charles Bonnet syndrome, where the brain concocts elaborate visions (usually faces). Hallucinations are a really interesting reminder that our senses are all we have to go on! Cut off sight and sound and the brain starts to amuse itself.

Check out this amazing clip from Horizon. Volunteers stayed in totally dark rooms without any sensory input, for 48 hours. What do you think happened? It includes an interview with former hostage Brian Keenan, who had some very scary experiences indeed: Continue reading

The best ways to die

Keep dancing. Not always the best advice.

Ever get that thing where you can’t stop laughing? In 1962 in Tanganyika, hundreds of people were afflicted by the giggles. It started with some schoolgirls and quickly spread through the town. Months later, schools were closed, and people were experiencing pain and fainting as a result of these ‘laughter attacks’. As a magician I want people to enjoy my gags but not get ill from them! It did make me think of this, though:

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Test your memory

Jason Bourne never let a spot of amnesia stand in his way.

Can you touch-type, snowboard, or play an instrument without really thinking about it? Most people who repeat the same movements regularly in their work will know about slightly spooky ‘muscle memory’.

As a magician, I spend a lot of time practicing tricks until certain muscle movements feel natural.

Even when people forget everything else, they can often remember things they’ve ‘burned into’ their bodies through repetition.

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How to control your dreams

Lucid dreaming techniques will help you fight back when Leonardo DiCaprio comes to steal your dreams

Have you ever gone through the whole process of getting ready for school or work only to realise you weren’t even awake?! If you want to check if you’re dreaming or even control what happens, you need to learn how to dream lucidly. Here’s how to improve your chances of having this amazing experience… Continue reading

How to perform surgery on your friends

It certainly looks gruesome, but remember folks: it’s NOT REAL!

Would you let someone operate on you with their bare hands, even if you were totally relaxed and told you wouldn’t feel a thing? Nor me – but weirdly, some people believe ‘psychic surgery’ is real. It’s one of the few daft practices that is genuinely dangerous; if the patient believed the practitioner really had removed a tumour, for example, they could miss out on life-saving surgery and get very ill indeed.

It can look quite convincing. But as realistic as the blood and guts might seem when the ‘surgeon’ apparently plunges their hand deep into the subject’s abdomen, I can assure you it’s all sleight of hand!

And it can make a powerful impression even if you know it’s faked. Watch the effect I had on some of the onlookers in this video:
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The easy way to read minds

Little Britain’s resident psychic could have benefitted from some of these tips

In some ways, people are quite predictable. A recent study found that one in 10 people are using the PIN ‘1234’! If your PIN is 1234, 1111, or 0000, you’re in good company – nearly one in five people have chosen those numbers. Don’t feel too bad if you choose terrible passwords and codes though: during the Cold War,  the “secret unlocking code” for America’s nuclear missiles was 00000000!

More and more things seem to demand new passwords from us all the time. Most of the Linkedin passwords leaked earlier this year were “Link” and “work”. It’s always a bad idea to include personal, publicly-available details like birthdates and home addresses in your passwords.

OK, let’s see how predictable you are. Think of these three things: a number between 1 and 10; a country starting with ‘D’; an animal starting with ‘E’. Got them? OK, let’s see if I can guess them…

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Could you be a psychopath?

A really good book came out last year called The Psychopath Test. It’s the journalist Jon Ronson‘s investigation into madness. You learn loads about personality disorders, but it’s quite difficult to come away from it without diagnosing yourself with a few of them!

The book talks about Bob Hare’s checklist, the criteria that psychopaths usually meet. They tend to be cunning, manipulative, lacking in guilt or empathy, narcissistic, abusive – and very charming. So it’s obvious why you tend to find these people at the top of professions. Ronson suspects there are lots of psychopaths in positions of power (but then by the end of the book, he does start to see them everywhere. And so will you.)

Before Dexter, the amazing US series about “the serial killer with a heart” there was a show called Profit, about a psychopath who manipulated his way to the top in a big corporation. Have a look at how deviously he cheats the lie detector in this clip!

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