(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘illusion

“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places”*…


The visual system’s tendency to fill in the invisible parts of the objects we see before us can be exploited to create a wide range of compelling magical illusions: spoons bending, knives cutting through flesh, and solid rings magically linking and unlinking. The principle underlying all these tricks, as well as many others, is that the visual system convinces you that something is there, whereas in fact there is just a gap or a missing piece.

But our visual system doesn’t just fill in the gaps. It can also create a compelling impression that the space hidden behind an object in the foreground is empty. In most situations, this impression is correct, but in some cases, it is illusory and misleading. To magicians, this perceptually empty space is the perfect hiding place for the things they don’t want you to know about. It is a no-brainer that hiding things behind something else makes them invisible, but the illusion of perceptually empty space entails more than just invisibility: it makes you ‘see’ that that there’s nothing there, although there sometimes is – particularly when you are watching a magician at work.

The philosopher Jason Leddington at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania says the experience of magic results from a failure of imagination. Our failure to figure out what the magician does results from the fact that we are unable to imagine it. This view neatly captures the essence of the illusion of empty space: it makes it difficult for us to even imagine that there is anything hidden behind the object in the foreground – be it the magician’s thumb, hand or anything else…

What magic can teach us about what we do– and don’t– perceive: “Now you see it, now you…

* Roald Dahl


As we confirm that there’s nothing up our sleeves, we might recall that it was this date in 1693 that is traditionally ascribed to Benedictine friar Dom Pérignon’s invention of Champagne.

In fact, the the good father didn’t actually invent sparkling wine:  The oldest recorded sparkling wine is Blanquette de Limoux, which was apparently invented by a different bunch of Benedictines in the Abbey of Saint Hilaire near Carcassonne in 1531.  Then, over a century later, the English scientist and physician Christopher Merret documented the addition of sugar to a finished wine to create a second fermentation– six years before Dom Perignon set foot in the Abbey of Hautvillers (where he did, in fact, make several improvements to the process of making bubbly) and almost 40 years before it was claimed that the famed Benedictine monk invented Champagne.  Merret presented the Royal Society with a paper in which he detailed what is now called “méthode champenoise” in 1662.

Still, today’s a good day to raise a glass in thanks.

Statue of Dom Pérignon at Moët et Chandon



Written by (Roughly) Daily

August 5, 2017 at 1:01 am

“It would be lovely if a magician was fooled as well”*…


William Frederick Pinchbeck was a forerunner of Ricky Jay and the Masked Magician.  His 1805 book, The Expositor, was a demystification of the tricks and illusions of the day…

… taking place via the medium of a series of letters between W.F.P (the author William Frederick Pinchbeck) and a mysterious A.B., the recipient of the former’s knowledge. The epistolary unveiling begins with arguably the most enigmatic of the tricks listed, that of the “Learned Pig”, or as the excellent frontispiece refers to it “The Pig of Knowledge”. In this trick, which took London by storm in the 1780s, a pig is taught to respond to commands in such a way that it appears to be able to answer questions through picking up cards in its mouth. Several years before the publication of his Expositor, Pinchbeck had himself toured his own “Pig of Knowledge” to all the major towns of the U.S. Union including, so he claims, once introducing the pig to President John Adams to “universal applause”. In addition to the pig trick, as the brilliantly lengthy title of the book declares, other tricks unravelled by Pinchbeck in subsequent letters include “invisible lady and acoustic temple”, “penetrating spy glasses” and the rather marvelous sounding “philosophical swan.”

The Expositor or, Many Mysteries Unravelled. Delineated in a series of letters, between a friend and his correspondent, comprising the learned pig, invisible lady and acoustic temple, philosophical swan, penetrating spy glasses, optical and magnetic, and various other curiosities on similar principles: also, a few of the most wonderful feats as performed by the art of legerdemain, with some reflections on ventriloquism; 1805; Boston

Read more at Public Domain Review; find the full text at the Internet Archive; and download the pdf here.

* Ricky Jay


As we say “shazam,” we might recall that it was on this date in 1972 that John Wojtowicz attempted (with Salvatore Naturale and Robert Westenberg) to rob a Brooklyn branch of the Chase Manhattan Bank.  The heist, meant to pay for Wojtowicz’s lover’s (Ernest Aron’s) sex reassignment surgery, went sideways; Wojtowicz and Naturale ended up holding seven bank employees hostage for 14 hours (Westenberg had fled before police swarmed).  Wolfowicz was arrested; Naturale, killed.  The episode was the basis of Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon (for which screenwriter Frank Pierson won an Oscar), in which Wolfowicz was played by Al Pacino.  (The real) Wolfowicz made $7,500 selling the movie rights to the story and 1% of its net profit– which he used to finance Aron’s surgery.

Elizabeth Debbie Eden– nee, Ernest Aron– post-op


John Wolfowicz, in the midst of the stand-off



Written by (Roughly) Daily

August 22, 2014 at 1:01 am

“There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs”*…


Berlin-based Erik Johansson doesn’t so much “take” photographs; he “makes” them…

See more of his wonderful work here.

* Ansel Adams


As we recommit to learning Photoshop, we might send delightfully-drawn birthday greetings to Paul Gustave Doré; he was born on this date in 1832.  An engraver, illustrator, and sculptor, Dore is probably best-remembered as the man who showed us Heaven and Hell: the canonical illustrator of works by Rabelais, Balzac, Milton, Cervantes, and Dante.

Don Quixote, his horse Rocinante, and his squire Sancho Panza after an unsuccessful attack on a windmill.


The Tempest of Hell in THE DIVINE COMEDY




Written by (Roughly) Daily

January 6, 2013 at 1:01 am


In this month’s Smithsonian, Penn’s silent partner Teller spills the beans on magic… and in so doing shares a top hat full of lessons applicable to life-at-large.

… let’s take what magicians call a force, where the magician gives you a false sense of free action by giving you an extremely controlled choice… I compared that to choosing between two political candidates. But I see it everywhere. When I go to the supermarket, I have a choice of dozens of kinds of cereals—all made by the same manufacturer of essentially the same ingredients. I have the gut impression of variety and freedom, but in the end, the only real choice I have is not to buy…

In typical theater, an actor holds up a stick, and you make believe it’s a sword. In magic, that sword has to seem absolutely 100 percent real, even when it’s 100 percent fake. It has to draw blood. Theater is “willing suspension of disbelief.” Magic is unwilling suspension of disbelief…

Misdirection is a huge term that means whatever you use to make it impossible to draw a straight line from the illusion to the method. It’s an interruption, a reframing. It comes in so many varieties and is so fundamental, it’s quite hard to formulate in a neat definition—rather like the term “noun” or “verb” in grammar. We all know what these are, but only after seeing lots of examples…

Read Teller’s own piece here, and the companion interview here.

As we practice our reveals, we might recall that it was on this date in 1901 that Andrew Carnegie, recently retired from his role as one of the world’s foremost industrialists, offered the city of New York $5.2 million for the construction of sixty-five branch libraries… and began a philanthropic campaign that founded 2,509 libraries in the English-speaking world, established the educators’ retirement fund that has become TIAA-CREF, endowed Tuskegee Institute under Booker T. Washington, helped Washington found the National Negro Business League, established the Carnegie Endowment for Peace (among other foundations), and of course, built Carnegie Hall.  It’s believed that Carnegie gave away over $350 million before his death in 1919, when his last $30 million was distributed to foundations he’d started and charities he’d supported.


Written by (Roughly) Daily

March 12, 2012 at 1:01 am

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