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Topic: Philosophical Question: Why do people like being deceived?
Message: Posted by: purplecat (Feb 18, 2012 03:32PM)
Hi all,

I am not a magician, but I love magic and I am currently writing a book about magicians. I am trying to better understand-- from the people on the front lines of performance-- why do you believe magic has such enduring popularity? Why is it that humans like being decieved (or at least like being decieived in the context of knowing thy are being decieved)? I am really curious about the experience of magicians: what have you learned about the nature of human psychlogy that makes magic so timeless and cross so many cultural bounds?

Thank you for any thoughtful-- and thought provoking-- answers you can provide! Currently this is all background research, so I won't be using any direct quotes. But I am also quite interested in hearing about how your own first expereince with magic made you feel... What made the first performance or trick you saw so compelling that you have chosen magic as an enduring part of your life?

Thanks again. I really, truly appreciate the insights!

--R.
Message: Posted by: Evan Jay (Feb 18, 2012 03:59PM)
When I first started 'doing' magic, it was for friends at school. As I gained more experience/knowledge in the arts in general (Music, theatre, magic, etc.) I started to get away from the mindset of trying to 'fool' people and simply 'doing' magic. It was now my goal to treat magic with the same respect as any other performing art. I no longer wanted to simply do magic but wanted to actually 'perform'. For me, I don't want it to come down to people being deceived. When I perform, I'm telling a story (At times with music). The first bit of magic, the audience is trying to catch me. Typically by the 2nd piece, they are more relaxed and just enjoying the magic/story.
Message: Posted by: MagicDr (Feb 18, 2012 04:31PM)
The question you pose is incorrect. I don't deceive, I perform REAL magic ; )
Message: Posted by: AGMagic (Feb 18, 2012 05:06PM)
I too believe that your question as stated is incorrect. I don't believe that people like to be deceived or even fooled. What they like is the sense of wonder that magic can produce. Much like film or the theatre, magic calls on a willing suspension of disbelief. You know, at least at some level, that what you are watching is not real but you want to believe it anyway. It takes the audience back to a time in their lives when anything was possible and every day was an adventure. It is pure escapeism and people just want to get away from reality for a while.

Magic presented as a deception or to fool you becomes a puzzle which has the opposite affect. Trying to solve the puzzle brings you back to reality. You are either smart enough to figure it out or you are not.

Rather than impose a framework on your research why not ask "Why do audiences find magic entertaining or enjoyable?"
Message: Posted by: purplecat (Feb 18, 2012 08:31PM)
Thank you for the interesting feedback so far. I think this is a great observation-- that the focus on "deception" is potentially flawed. I suppose what I am trying to (awkwardly) get at is that if magic is a fundementally different sort of entertainment than music, cinema, theater, literature, how can we describe what is uniquely occuring in the mind of the spectator that makes the entertainment experience both: pleasurable and foundationally distinct from experiencing these other forms of entertainment.

I have started with this idea that what seperates magic from other sorts of entertainments is "deception" because I am so taken with the Karl Germain quote on what makes a magician unique: "The magician is the most honest of all professionals. He first promises to deceive you, and then he does."

Of course, I am open to the notion that my assertion that magic is different, that magic produces a phenomenologically different sort of experience in the spectator (different than music, cinema, theater, literature) is false. But I do believe that the sense of wonder AGMagic mentions is essentially what seperates magic from other arts/perfoming arts. I am really trying to understand more richly how the potent mix of the mechanical and the narrative in mind-blowing magic both: (i) produces this wonder and (ii) other ways of articulating and understanding-- really of unpacking-- the idea of "wonder."

Thanks for the comments! I am already learning so much!
Message: Posted by: Spellbinder (Feb 18, 2012 09:18PM)
People don't like being deceived. They do like being happily surprised and entertained.
Message: Posted by: 55john55 (Feb 18, 2012 09:20PM)
It is certainly a fundamental question but I don't think it is unique to magic in that I think it has comparable examples in other areas. In humor there are jokes that are funny because they have a surprise punch line, and some situation humor is funny because it is shocking or unexpected. Most of us remember certain films that we found humorous the first time we saw them, but not nearly as funny on the second viewing because the "shock humor" was gone. I easily could be wrong, but I think these things are connected. We expect a particular result of cause and effect and it doesn't happen the way we expect and we get a certain pleasure from that. It doesn't answer your question, but I think it shows it is a phenomena not limited to magic. Well, it is just a thought.
Message: Posted by: AGMagic (Feb 18, 2012 10:50PM)
I like the concepts of surprised, amazed and entertained. We all know that if we remove the ball from under the cup that it can't be there...but it is. Solids don't really penetrate solids but somehow in magic that is what appears to happen. There is no way 5 balls the size of the cups can fit into the cups, but they somehow came out of those cups. it is the unexpected that catches us off guard and is entertaining.

Then too every magic performance is different, much like live theatre, but often more so. The interaction with the audience often colors or shapes the performance so that each one is unique. The subtle differences often make watching the same performer do the same routine more enjoyable because we see their interaction with the audience.

Purplecat, you may have a better insight to this that the average magician does (if there is such a thing as an average magician). We often look for very different things in a performance than the average lay audience does.

I asked my wife about this and she said she does not even like the idea that she can be deceived. She went with me to a magic convention last year and she loved the competitions, shows and even the dealer showcase performances. She enjoyed walking the dealer room, talking with the various magic dealers and watching the demonstrations. However, she never wants to see another lecture. Although she really loves watching magic, she has absolutely no interest in how we accomplish our miracles. She would rather be amazed, surprised, entertained and feel that sense of wonder.
Message: Posted by: motown (Feb 19, 2012 12:24AM)
I like to think people enjoy the wonder that comes with the entertainment.
Message: Posted by: Bob1Dog (Feb 19, 2012 12:39AM)
As others have said, it's not the deception that calls to us but the love of magic, the desire to perform and to entertain. Many magicians who do childrens magic (like me) use props that many of the kids in the audience have at home in a magic kit. It's the personality that each of us put into our performance and the applause at the end of that performance that drives us. It's intoxicating when I have kids interacting with me during my show and having such a great time. That's as much fun for me as it is for the kids. No different from other forms of entertainment really.
Message: Posted by: Bob1Dog (Feb 19, 2012 12:49AM)
I'll add to that.

I'd be less than honest if I didn't admit that what got me started was, "How'd he do that?"

I'd expect every magician, hobbyist, collector or what have you, to say the same thing. Magicians have a fundemental curiosity that feeds upon itself.
Message: Posted by: Bob1Dog (Feb 19, 2012 12:49AM)
Sorry, fundamental......
Message: Posted by: AGMagic (Feb 19, 2012 03:58AM)
[quote]
On 2012-02-19 01:49, Bob1Dog wrote:
I'll add to that.

I'd be less than honest if I didn't admit that what got me started was, "How'd he do that?"

I'd expect every magician, hobbyist, collector or what have you, to say the same thing. Magicians have a fundemental curiosity that feeds upon itself.
[/quote]

Thanks Bob. That is the point I was trying to make with my "magicians are different from the average Lay audience" comment. I don't want to speak for the OP but I assumed he was asking about Lay audiences becaused he asked about being deceived. These days I am occasionally still mystified but more often I don't even care about the method used. I am more interested in the performance.
Message: Posted by: Big Sam (Feb 19, 2012 06:33AM)
Purplecat

I also study deception and this is a question I've pondered for years. My interest started in the late seventies after the Jonestown massacre when I was fascinated and horrified how people could be so manipulated to take their own lives. One clear truth is that it takes two to tango - almost everyone can willingly participate in deception, so your question isn't off base.

Deception as entertainment serves a valuable function for a society. It reminds us that our reality is filtered through our perceptions and those perceptions can be wrong. Jokes work on the same principle - the set-up leads us to think one thing and the punchline shows the opposite to be true. Subconsciousness we learn that our language is flawed in the same way that magic shows us that our senses and leaps of logic and be manipulated. It's a valuable lesson that teaches without negative consequences.

Personally, I think one of the best gifts to give a child is a magic set. It teaches early on that things are not always as they appear and how easy it is to be deceived. The recent ponzi schemes are a perfect example of why this is a necessary skill.

Sam
Message: Posted by: Bob1Dog (Feb 19, 2012 11:58AM)
[quote]
On 2012-02-19 04:58, AGMagic wrote:
[quote]
On 2012-02-19 01:49, Bob1Dog wrote:
I'll add to that.

I'd be less than honest if I didn't admit that what got me started was, "How'd he do that?"

I'd expect every magician, hobbyist, collector or what have you, to say the same thing. Magicians have a fundemental curiosity that feeds upon itself.
[/quote]

Thanks Bob. That is the point I was trying to make with my "magicians are different from the average Lay audience" comment. I don't want to speak for the OP but I assumed he was asking about Lay audiences becaused he asked about being deceived. These days I am occasionally still mystified but more often I don't even care about the method used. I am more interested in the performance.
[/quote]

Tim, that's one of the reasons we all love cups and balls and linking rings. We know how these classics are done yet each performer brings a new vitality to it if he/she is very good. I think many in the lay audience knows how they're done, yet the performance can be magical; which blows the deception theory.
Message: Posted by: SmithMagicMan (Feb 19, 2012 04:21PM)
My sister hates magic.
Don't know if that's just because I do it, or if she geniunely doesn't like being decieved.

I don't know what it is, but people who are incredibly intelligent and clever dislike magic, as it is something they can't explain. Not sure though,
Message: Posted by: Bob1Dog (Feb 19, 2012 04:31PM)
[quote]
On 2012-02-19 17:21, SmithMagicMan wrote:
My sister hates magic.
Don't know if that's just because I do it, or if she geniunely doesn't like being decieved.

I don't know what it is, but people who are incredibly intelligent and clever dislike magic, as it is something they can't explain. Not sure though,
[/quote]
I'd go for your final thought, as in they can't explain it and, once again, getting back to my original thought, she might even be curious about it but can't figure it out, and so is frustrated by it. Possible?
Message: Posted by: Evan Jay (Feb 19, 2012 05:00PM)
[quote]
On 2012-02-19 17:21, SmithMagicMan wrote:
I don't know what it is, but people who are incredibly intelligent and clever dislike magic, as it is something they can't explain. Not sure though,
[/quote]

This hasn't been my experience but I could see it being true for some. My teaching internship (music) was at an IB high school with some very bright kids. We had evening rehearsals, so a lot of kids would just stay at school. I would often entertain them during this dead time. Simply put, I couldn't do enough magic for them. They always wanted more.

Going back to the op's point, I'm sure for some of them, it was a puzzle. With that said, most of the stuff I did was close-up in nature and the magic often happened right in their hands. I would always use different students too, so they were enjoying the magic as it took place in each of their friend's hands too. There was constant interaction and laughter. Often, questions would pop up like, "Wow, did you feel it happen?" They were enjoying the experience together.

I'm not so sure you can narrow it down to an exact science. Why do you go to an art gallery? How about that Chicago Symphony Orchestra concert? Ultimately, you probably go for the experience. At the end of the day, I think that's why people still enjoy magic, for the unique experience.
Message: Posted by: AGMagic (Feb 19, 2012 05:10PM)
[quote]
On 2012-02-19 07:33, Big Sam wrote:

One clear truth is that it takes two to tango - almost everyone can willingly participate in deception, so your question isn't off base.

[/quote]

Sam, I quite agree the almost everyone can and often they do participate in their own deception. However, it doesn't follow that they want to be deceived. I highley doubt that the folks in Jonestown wanted to be deceived into taking their own lives. More likely they were desperately looking for something to believe in and that made them easily manipulated. Likewise, those who want something for nothing are easy marks for scam artists and politicians but again I doubt that they want to be deceived. All they can see is the prize and don't consider the cost.
Message: Posted by: AGMagic (Feb 19, 2012 05:15PM)
[quote]
On 2012-02-19 17:21, SmithMagicMan wrote:

I don't know what it is, but people who are incredibly intelligent and clever dislike magic, as it is something they can't explain. Not sure though,
[/quote]

Actually I have found the that more intelligent my friends are the more they like magic, both as magicians as as lay audiences. I think the key is more personality type that intelligence. Type A personalities do not like it when they are not in control.
Message: Posted by: Bob1Dog (Feb 19, 2012 07:27PM)
So.

Let's hear from the OP!
Message: Posted by: Bob1Dog (Feb 19, 2012 07:45PM)
Sorry, I just realized OP is a newcomer to the Caf and may not understand that OP is original post-er of topic.

So. R- or purplecat, do you have any thoughts about any of this?

By the way, welcome to the Magic Caf; it's a great place! :)
Message: Posted by: volto (Feb 20, 2012 03:14AM)
"why do people like being deceived?"
People sometimes enjoy a demonstration of a scam, or an explanation of a con. Explanations of real-world criminal techniques are always interesting and exciting - you can use that to protect yourself. Then there's just the joy of a puzzle. Heist movies often take this form - you see the heist from the victim's point of view, then the film 'rewinds' and you see what they really did (e.g. the Ocean's 11 series). Murder mysteries can work the same way - but there are some (like "Colombo") where the "whodunnit" part is resolved in the first minute, and then the rest of the plot is taken up by following our hero as he works out who did it and how. All of this is enjoyable for lots of reasons - mostly because it's a puzzle, but also because you get a resolution - it's all explained to you at the end. On a different tack, kids like riddles, mostly because the first thing they do when they work it out or get told the answer is to immediately challenge another kid with it. So knowing the secret is satisfying because it gives you status. Adolescent boys compete with one another on facts and figures, for instance - any kind of fact and figures - it could be the statistics of cars, it might be batting averages or fooball stats, it might be the space program or the AD&D monster manual. There are people who like to know lots of jokes, and who insist on telling them. Most people like to know stuff that other people don't. Magicians are especially prone to this. :)

So - people like being deceived when they learn something from it - a secret, whodunnit, how a con works. Some people view attempts to deceive them as a puzzle, which they enjoy working out. On the other hand, some people have a passionate dislike of puzzles and deception. You could argue that this is an insecurity, but I'm not sure it's that simple. I just think some people feel very uncomfortable with deception of any kind. Some people have religious reasons for it. I don't think it has anything to do with how smart someone is.

Your second question - which I'll paraphrase as "what makes magic different to other forms of entertainment?" - one big difference is the personal nature of it. Quite often, the audience is directly involved in magic, either up on stage or in a close-up performance. Magicians pay a lot of attention to effects that take place in the audience's hands, for instance. This personal connection with the performance tends not to happen in any other performance art. People respond to magic in a range of ways. Some people view it as a puzzle, which might be a good or a bad thing. Some people view it as a remarkable event - a spectacle, something you don't see every day - and enjoy it on that level. Some people view it as an opportunity to have a laugh and be part of a performance, in a similar way to stand-up comedy. Being part of a crowd responding to a performance is a very warm, bonding thing.

I think magic has an enduring popularity because people enjoy comedy, mystery and spectacle, and magic can be all of those.
Message: Posted by: Bob1Dog (Feb 20, 2012 11:59AM)
Wxcellent analysis volto!

Would still like to hear from OP about all this though.

Is it helping?

Though in re reading the posts, it appears we haven't answered the last question posed yet regarding the first trick we learned that had an impact on us. For me it was two things. When I was twelve or so a friend of mine had an older brother who would show us a magic trick every now and again. He wasn't a magician, he was just having fun with us little kids. I was hooked after the stripper deck and the dime and penny shell.
Message: Posted by: AGMagic (Feb 20, 2012 02:44PM)
Good catch Bob. The first magic performance that I remember seeing was at an Adopted Children's Association picnic when I was proably 5 or 6 years old. This was back in the mid 1950's and the performer (clown) did a lot of standard tricks but the one that impressed me the most was the sucker die box. I bought my first magic book when I was in 2nd grade and never looked back. I was given a magic set and some small tricks for Christmas and birthdays but my first "professional" trick was a Homer Hudson die box purchased from Joe Berg.

Mark Wilson had a profound affect on me and my magic. I have since had the opportunity to meet with Mark and Nani several times. Unfortunately the first few meetings I was so star struck that I could hardly say more than hello and mumble something about their influence over my early magic.
Message: Posted by: borderjs (Feb 20, 2012 03:22PM)
As for the first trick I saw that inspired me was Bill Malone's, Sam the Bellhop. And really all of Bill Malone's performances.
Message: Posted by: 55john55 (Feb 20, 2012 04:49PM)
The first trick I remember producing awe in me was the linking rings in the 1950s on TV. Then there was a gap until I went to a skeptics convention in Eugene Oregon in the 1990s. Jerry Andress was one of the conference leaders. What a talent he had for creating amazing illusions! I left the convention with the discovery that I might be able to do magic as well as enjoy watching it being done.
Message: Posted by: volto (Feb 22, 2012 03:46AM)
My inspiration was definitely Paul Daniels (and all his many guests) and later, Simon Drake (of "The Secret Cabaret"). I had a whole bunch of trick decks and would inflict them on anyone who stood still for long enough.

How things change. These days, they don't even have to be standing still. :)
Message: Posted by: magictvlv1 (Feb 23, 2012 02:18PM)
I got out of magic for many years because it wasn't satisfying me emotionally. I think the magic moment is when the spectator stops asking "how did he do that" and starts asking "how can I do that." It's about the emotional interaction with the work. It's about desire.

Is there something different about magic? I don't really think so. When I left magic I got involved in circus and film for the same reasons I was involved in magic. Directing TV or editing video or doing trapeze work all feel like magic when they are done right. I love the moment when it just happens. there aren't enough of those in life.
Message: Posted by: Bugatti (Feb 24, 2012 10:16AM)
“For those who believe, no explanation is necessary; for those who do not believe, no explanation will suffice.”

Dunninger knew a whole lot about how different people will differently percept magic...
Message: Posted by: ibraa (Feb 24, 2012 05:36PM)
I like psychology mixed with magic.
Message: Posted by: AGMagic (Feb 27, 2012 01:16PM)
Purplecat - are you out there? Did you get the answers you wanted?