Abracadabra! Prestidigitation! We know that these words hold no intrinsic power, but when we hear them, we are instantly transported away to a land of magic and wonder; where the impossible becomes reality right before our eyes.
So why, as rational human beings, are we instantly drawn to magic, and what makes us delight in seeing a rabbit pulled from a hat, despite knowing full well that we are being fooled into thinking it was never already there in the first place?
Those are the sort of questions expert in cognitive psychology, magician, and author of Experiencing the Impossible: The Science of Magic (£20.00, MIT Press), Gustav Kuhn, is currently trying to solve at his Magic Lab at Goldsmith’s University.
In this week’s Science Focus Podcast, he talks to sciencefocus.com editor Alexander McNamara about why we believe in magic, what actually happens in our brain when we watch tricks, and how understanding magic can help us make sense of a world filled with fake news and misinformation.
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