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The Psychology of Magic - Th Melbourne Magic Festival 2017

Home > Melbourne > Festivals | Fun for Children | Magic | Public Lectures
by Donna Sue Robson (subscribe)
Donna Sue Robson specialises in the communication- and healing-arts. Jamie Natural Health and Healing is her energy-healing consultancy. Her modalities, workshops and boutique natural products can be viewed and purchased from
Learn to expect the unexpected- and the illusion shatters
The Psychology of Magic, The Melbourne Magic Festival, Swinburne Psychology Association, Lawrence Leung, Nicholas J. Johnson, Dr. Ben Williams, Anthony DeMasi, Melbourne magicians, How illusion and magic work
Known comedian Lawrence Leung kick-started the night with his 20-minute, highly entertaining seminar-presentation. His own show 'Very Strange Things' was one of the festival's most popular because he is an accomplished magician and a likable, charismatic performer.

The Psychology of Magic, one of the last shows from The Melbourne Magic Festival, was a joint seminar-style presentation by Victorian magicians Lawrence Leung and Nicholas J. Johnson, and Dr Ben Williams, Psychology Lecturer from Swinburne University. The evening consisted of a one-hour seminar followed by a light supper and 'roving magic show'. Combining psychological science with magician craft was a departure from the festival-norm illusionist shows, affirming the educative component and broad-based market-appeal of the 2017 magician's fare. The Psychology of Magic placed magic within the education sector itself which may help professional magicians create new shows, products and income-revenues. It was great to see so many teachers at this show excited about including magic tasks as learning tools, and chat to magicians about excursions, pantomimes and workshops for the classroom.

The Psychology of Magic was all about angle and perspective. Lawrence Leung was the first speaker, who was charismatic, reflective and extremely well-organised. His fluid presentation struck a perfect balance between well-chosen magic tricks to explain key concepts such as: 'effect and method'; 'multiple methods'; 'the overwhelm principle'; 'cognitive scheming' and 'perceptive psychology'. Magic is often summarised as 'misdirection': Lawrence gave a lot more detail which naturally led into Dr. Ben Williams's more elaborate explanation of 'how the science actually works given our perceptual physiological limitations as human beings'. The content-co-ordination between speakers was excellent.

The Psychology of Magic, The Melbourne Magic Festival, Swinburne Psychology Association, Lawrence Leung, Nicholas J. Johnson, Dr. Ben Williams, Anthony DeMasi, Melbourne magicians, How illusion and magic work
Anthony DeMasi entertained audiences after 'The Psychology of Magic' seminar-presentation. If you or your child are interested in learning magic, Anthony teaches at The Magic School of Confidence in East Malvern.
Lawrence's 20-minute speech combined audience participation, the key-note lecture, magic tricks and an overhead projector presentation. It was very clear: illusion is achieved through several methods, often layered, sequenced or even simultaneously delivered, theatrically. Lawrence inspired a measure of self-reflection on our human cognitive limitations (e.g., how much we can observe and remember) which carries so many life lessons in terms of how easily we can be deceived.

It's Time to Wise-up

Dr. Ben Williams highlighted themes: how does humour work; misdirection; as well as cognitive, visual and auditory illusions. Within magic, he explained, is 'the resolution of something that is incongruous, that is not harmful. In magic, you know that you are 'being fooled' which is OK. Magic illusion 'amuses us' - we want to be amazed and even bewildered.' He spoke about the willingness of the audience to engage and our desire to be entertained. Illusion was also deconstructed as 'science': in a power point presentation, he documented what our eyes can actually see- and by linking expectation and the perceptual flaw of 'seeing is believing', the illusion and success of magic begins to 'make sense'. Magic, in essence, is believing in something that may not have actually happened.

There are blind-spots in our visual range and our peripheral vision has constraints (although it varies from person to person). The psychology behind magic rests upon our very 'humanness' as well as our real physical limitations. Dr Williams concluded: 'The world is not what we think it is and magic takes advantage of this'.

A Liar and a Cheat

Nicholas J. Johnson combines science and magic in Deceptology, a show that he presents to secondary school students. He has self-titled himself 'a liar and a cheat' because 'teenage boys are much more excited to learn how to 'swindle and deceive' rather than to 'sit through a magic show'. Indeed he revealed after the show that the magician's underworld tie goes back to the card-room and gambling halls: 'many a card tricks came from magicians studying how card sharks 'place and even count cards, and their ploys of misdirection, sleight-of-hand and manipulating information that is not salient'. In the seminar, Nicholas demonstrated card-swift swindle to a 'T'. He said, requoting Lawrence, 'a magician always stays one-step-ahead'.

With humorous reference to ventriloquism, Nicholas elaborated upon one of Ben's themes: auditory illusion and the misconception that all your senses talk to one other and deliver a consistent message. As we watch 'a slightly freaky doll' move its mouth, we assume or are tricked into the believing that the sound or voice is coming from the doll itself. Auditory illusion is such that our ears cannot easily detect sound direction. We had no real way of knowing if the 'sound of the frog' was coming from a squeaky toy in front Nicholas or his own throat. We all wanted to believe that the toy frogs were squeaking 'because he said they were' (even though he had introduced himself as a liar and a cheat).

The Psychology of Magic, The Melbourne Magic Festival, Swinburne Psychology Association, Lawrence Leung, Nicholas J. Johnson, Dr. Ben Williams, Anthony DeMasi, Melbourne magicians, How illusion and magic work
'The Psychology of Magic', also noted as 'The Neuroscience of Illusion' in the festival program guide, featured magicians Lawrence Leung and Nicholas J. Johnson and psychologist Dr. Ben Williams. By linking magic to human psychology and physical science, 'illusions' became clearer.
Nicholas J. Johnson was one of the festival's busiest performers: a key-note speaker at this gig, he also hosted The Best of The Magic Fest, and contributed two solo shows, The Confidence Artist and Tricky Nick Is A Super Bad Guy. His workload and commitment to magic theatre is prolific. He is an entertainer who is making a great effort to appeal to a cross-section of 'the bold and the curious'.

The roving magic show in the Swinburne foyer was a little scanty, but the style was laid-back and audiences were free to wonder, engage, ask questions or just enjoy the great supper that organisers had provided. The light supper, seminar series and aftermath pop-up show was amazing value for $10 per head. Anthony DeMasi, known for I Love Magic at the Northcote Town Hall, was not cagey about 'revealing his tricks'. He eloquently broke-down card tricks, which having listened to the psychology of magic for the previous hour, made sense. Anthony has created The Magic School of Confidence where he runs classes for children and budding magicians.

I thoroughly enjoyed this year's magic festival because it presented variety in terms of styles, skills and angles. The Psychology of Magic was unique because it specifically made the connection between human vulnerability, our need for entertainment and our 'need-to-know' that understanding science may satisfy. This Swinburne show encapsulated the user-friendly nature of the festival and its commitment to audience involvement and education. As Nicholas J. Johnson concluded: 'you are whoever you want to be'. That's the magic.
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*Donna Sue Robson was invited as a guest
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Why? information and future events
When: 6.30-8.30pm Thursday 13th July
Phone: 9481 9500
Where: Swinburne University, Hawthorn Campus
Cost: $10
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