Magic and Martini at SpiritHouse

We’ve just had the first very well attended show at SpiritHouse in Toronto. Thank you to everyone who came out to enjoy an evening of magic (and fought their way through all of the traffic from the Toronto International Film Festival.)

Photos by David Fulde

Magic and Martini continues through November in Toronto and Oakville. Readers of this blog can use the code secrets for a discount on the prices of tickets when purchasing online.

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The Science of Gambling

When you’re a magician, the question comes up often, “Can I take you with me to the casino?” Never mind that there are no casinos in Toronto, my background in math means I’m fascinated by gambling but know enough about the odds to not want to do it in casinos.

The Royal Institute in London offers up its public talks for free online and I thought I’d share this really interesting talk about the intersection between science and gambling including using computers to cheat at the roulette and blackjack tables, the mathematics of shuffling applied to card tricks and strange ways to win at the lottery.

And the Q&A to follow up:

RPF10

I’m a strange enough person that when I was young I had a favourite physicist. This was in the days before YouTube when if you wanted to learn about someone you had to have a book, or happen upon something on TV live.

Since Richard Feynman passed away when I was three, there was not really any new material on him coming out. By the time I finished university, I had read all of the published books and listened to the audio lectures. Shortly after that, Bill Gates released Project Tuva [which now seems to be a deal link – the videos are now hosted by Cornell].

But now all the little snippets of interviews and documentaries have managed to make their way online so I was able to enjoy this wonderful collection of quotable and insightful Feynman:

Magic and Neuroscience

In recent years, researchers in psychology and neuroscience have taken an interest in magic, and for good reason. Science advances by exploring areas where predictions are experience don’t match (think of Einstein and the strange precession in the orbit of Mercury). Magic is exactly one of those circumstances.

When you experience a piece of magic, then later reflect back after learning the secret, it’s often difficult to understand how you could have been fooled by something so simple — and the secrets behind magic tricks are often unbelievably simple. That means by the light of science there should be something interesting at work.

However most often when researchers try to tackle these issues, they miss the mark. After a superficial interview with a magician or a mentalist, they offer up their best guest at a just-so story. The most blatant example is the 2010 book Sleights of Mind written by two perfectly competent neuroscientists but whose explanations of tricks is downright goofy.

This recent article by Steven Novella at NeuroLogica is refreshingly astute and well worth reading.

Magicians have learned to use various cues to enhance such illusions. They may verbally create an expectation. They also use social cues, like where they direct their vision. Their eyes will follow the non-existent ball, encouraging our brains to top-down perceive it. Further, the entire act can create a meta-expectation that something fantastic will occur. Everyone knows that magic is not real, but the magician creates the impression that they have fantastic skill, and are doing something very complex. The astonishment of those around us may also encourage us to be astonished.

 

Messages of Hope from a Juggler and a Magician

Magician Penn Jillette explains in this video how he converted to Christianity:

And then after a suitable awkward pause and the gotcha moment, he goes on to share a very sincere message of hope explaining what’s wrong with the term islamophobia and how to go about helping people you disagree with.

Maybe we’re doing this all wrong, trying to listen to politicians and academics. Maybe the way to a better tomorrow is by listening to magicians and jugglers.

Cheap Tricks with Dear Friends

On Thursday, September 15, I’ll be involved in a most unusual show in Toronto:

Cheap Tricks
(it’s not what you think it is… I swear)

Many performers dread the thought of arriving at an event to discover that part or all of their show is missing (or more likely, that some airline personnel have skilfully redirected it to the wrong city as part of their mission to increase the amount of entropy in the universe.) This is a show where we make this happen on purpose.

A few hours before the show, seven magicians will be given a limited budget and a destination store (like a convenience store) and have to generate an act based on what they can acquire in a limited amount of time. It’s a test of ingenuity, creativity and audacity. I’ll be one of the judges, which I suspect may be a more difficult job that what awaits the performers.

The show details for the show are:

Cheap Tricks
Thursday, September 15 @ 8:00 PM
Revival (783 College Street)

Advance tickets are $20 and are available online now. If you’re able to make it out I’m sure it will be a most exciting and unique evening.

The Non-Conference

This coming weekend, I’ll be performing at a rather unusual event — The Non-Conference. Contrary to its name, it is a conference. It’s a one-day conference for non-believers in Niagara Falls, Saturday, August 13.

Non Con 2016

Speakers at the conference include Maajid Nawaz (who recently co-wrote a book with one of my favourite authors), Catherine Dunphy (a former executive director of The Clergy Project, Scott Clifton (I’ll let you figure out on your own why they invited a three-time Emmy winner General Hospital cast member) and several more. If you’re free to attend, it will be a terrific event. Tickets are $159 for the day.

My part comes in at the special sit down VIP dinner on Friday, August 12 where guests have a chance to sit down with the speakers. I’ll be doing some good old fashioned magic with a skeptical bent. I believe there are still a few tickets left for the dinner.

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Photo by Irina Popova (with Godel’s ontological proof of the existence of God in the background)

 

The American Election

The Simpsons have weighed in on the upcoming US Presidential Election. As someone who embraces habit and tradition, I still watch the Simpsons regularly even though they are well (well) past their prime. But this is fairly astute.

As you may recall, the Simpsons actually predicted a Trump presidency in an episode several years ago.

Hiding up here in Canada, I’m watching this election coverage with a strange fascination. The Trump nomination defies all reason and yet here it is. I don’t want to get bogged down discussing politics for the wrong country, so I’ll just take a moment now to congratulate our neighbours to the south on electing their first female President and we son’t have to talk about it anymore.