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 power of the Labyrinth

I’ve just been reading about Labyrinths and it turns out they are quite amazing (aMAZEing – geddit!). I’m not talking about the awesome David Bowie film (although I do love that film).

Nor am I actually talking about the kind of mazes made of hedge with numerous paths designed to make you lose your way. I’m referring to the  labyrinths that are a spiral leading to and from a central point along one single path:

“In colloquial English labyrinth is generally synonymous with maze, but many contemporary scholars observe a distinction between the two: maze refers to a complex branching puzzle with choices of path and direction; while a single-path (unicursal) labyrinth has only a single, non-branching path, which leads to the center. A labyrinth in this sense has an unambiguous route to the center and back and is not designed to be difficult to navigate.[2]

A labyrinth

Anyways these kinds of labyrinths have been found to have therapeutic powers. Apparently just watching someone walk the spiral path into the centre and back again can release emotions and clear worries from our mind.

Research has shown that this is because the action of following the path forces us to use the right side of our brain rather than the left side (The right side is the creative intuitive side and the left is the analytical side – the one we use to worry with).

I’m thinking of constructing a crude labyrinth on my bedroom floor using socks (shouldn’t be that difficult). I’m hoping that a few turns round my sock labyrinth will clear my mind of worries and help inspire some writing magic. We’ll see.

The Body-Brain Connection

It is normal to think that our brains do all the thinking for us; however, the last couple posts have shown that our eyes have influence over how our brain works.

Adding to this knowledge I found that our bodies can also do some of the thinking for our brains. What we see and do with our limbs have control over our choice in situations. This is because in childhood we are hard-wired to know that up is more and down is less, and that right is more and left is less. It is a key trigger button for achieving the illusion of mind reading for mentalists, and politicians even use it as a light form of mind control / persuasion!

This is because how we think is essentially linked in with our ability to remember. If a politician taps into our memory cues using physical actions and motions, they can make us think more positively or negatively in light of a situation. It is a little trickier for mentalists because they need to reverse engineer the process by looking at motion and connecting it to thought and memory.

Synapse and Proteins

An interesting thing to note is that memories are made by forming new proteins around the synapses, essentially this is the glue that seals the connection between a memory and our brain.

Ali x

New Scientist: Mind Over Matter? How Your Body Does the Thinking