NEUROSCIENCE AND PICKPOCKETS. I have posted several times on Jonah Lehrer’s book PROUST WAS A NEUROSCIENTIST and linked to his blog The Frontal Cortex (for example, here and here). I have posted on Penn and Teller as well, especially on how much I enjoy their explanations of how a magic trick is done. Now, Jonah Lehrer has an article on how Teller has contributed as an author to a study by neuroscientists of how magicians fool audiences (link via Arts and Letters Daily). Apollo Robbins, one of the other authors of the study, is a pickpocket, one of whose tricks is to steal a wallet from a mark who is told that his pocket is going to be picked. A phenomenon the neuroscientists want to explain is this: “Robbins said the trick worked only when he moved his free hand in an arc instead of a straight line. According to the thief, these arcs distract the eyes of his victims for a matter of milliseconds, just enough time for his other hand to pilfer their belongings.” An explanation is “saccades”, movements of the eyes, which occur before conscious changes of gaze. The theory is that for a straight line movement, the eyes leap to the end point; with a sweeping motion, the “arc doesn’t tell our eyes where the hand is going, so we fixate on the hand itself—and fail to notice the other hand reaching into our pocket.”

This entry was posted in Science. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.