Welcome back to our series on magic, magicians, and the world of illusion!
Our next installment will take a look at the relationship between science and magic.
Yes, we know that there is a lot to magic regarding sleight-of-hand, trickery, misdirection, and the like…but is there actually any scientific component to the world of magic?
Let’s dive in!
Is Magic Science? Magic as such can’t be considered as science but there is a lot of magic tricks that use science, such as chemistry or psychology, to achieve the magical effect.
Table of Contents
Science Has Made Some “Magic” a Reality
One interesting way to potentially look at the relationship between science and magic is to look at things that society once considered to be “magic” or in the realm of impossibility, but are now commonplace.
For instance, if you were to go back 150-200 years or so, if you were to tell people that a person would be able to fly through the air, they’d probably think you were talking about magic powers, right?
But think about it: people fly through the air every day.
Not like Superman or a witch, however; people fly on planes and helicopters all the time!
As noted in the article linked above, we do things now all the time that once would have been considered “magic” by old standards.
We see things that are smaller than the eye can see using microscopes; we can communicate with people that aren’t there, not via telepathy but instead via talking on the phone, sending emails, and the like.
Also, there have been times throughout history when sick people would be “healed” by religious leaders or other “magical” properties; now, we have doctors and modern medicine!
Magic and Science: Using Chemistry to Make Magic
Of course, aside from the fact that a lot of what we have historically seen as “magical” may now just be commonplace or at least a modern invention, there is some scientific backing with regards to magic tricks.
Now of course, this isn’t referring to using science to create things out of nothing – even though in magic there are tricks that mimic teleportation and pulling the proverbial rabbit or dove out of a hat, a magician isn’t really pulling a rabbit out of the ether and willing it into existence.
That is more is based on trickery, sleight-of-hand, and misdirection, as you can see in video below:
However, that isn’t to say that there aren’t elements of science that can’t be used to make magic tricks more believable and “realistic” in nature.
The main way that this can be done is with chemistry, since chemical reactions can sometimes mimic what might be otherwise seen as magic.
For instance, there are tricks that can make it seem like you are turning water into wine into beer and other liquids, as noted in the link.
The article takes you step by step, but in short: by secretly adding discreet chemicals (and often invisible-looking additives or ones that are at least not visible to someone a distance away), you can change the chemical properties of liquids to make them change color and perhaps even fizz (like beer).
Now, the magic trick part of this comes from making sure your audience members don’t try to drink the liquids you create: obviously, you’re not really turning water into wine or other liquids, and trying to drink them would cause some serious health risks… although it’s certainly possible that some magicians might put the liquid in the mouth and pretend to “drink” it (though that taps into the sleight-of-hand and misdirection nature of magic).
There are many other examples (linked in the article at the beginning of the last paragraph) of using basic chemistry to make magic tricks look more convincing, such as the “traveling flame” trick (the smoke from the one flame burning out causes a second candle to be lit), the “bending water” trick (it’s the static electricity that causes the water’s path to bend), and many others.
By using a little science, magic tricks can become all the more effective!
Magic and Science: Psychology and Optical Illusions
While naturally there are chemical ways to enhance magic tricks, there is another type of science that is used in a large majority of all magic tricks, one that we’ve been talking about on a consistent basis throughout these series of articles!
That type of science is the field of social science, most specifically psychology.
As I have discussed in previous articles, the brain is a very powerful organ and can do some amazing things when used correctly, but it is also very easy to trick and to deceive.
Therefore, magicians use psychology, and to some degree sociology (studying how people tend to react in groups and typical societal expectations), to “read” audience members when performing tricks.
Indeed, reading people in order to guide/predict their reactions or to get them to say or do certain things is a key element of many magicians, especially mentalists.
In addition, many magicians utilize the fact that your brain can be tricked via optical illusions, much like the cheese trick mentioned in the linked article.
By taking advantage of the fact that our minds can be tricked by certain visuals, a magician can use this to his advantage when performing for a crowd.
The Science of Magic Association
Indeed, the connection between science and magic has become such a popular field of study in recent years that there is even an association dedicated to it: the Science of Magic Association (aka SOMA).
This group spends its time researching the many connections between science and magic, and how specifically magic is performed, and the way that magic tricks are created using the expertise and research from different fields of study (i.e. chemistry, technology, psychology, etc.).
One of the main areas that this group looks at it is how magic tricks can be related to applied psychology and how it affects the mind; indeed, among other things, in addition to being performance-based and being meant to amaze/astonish, there have been studies that have linked watching magic shows to relieving stress in the minds of sick patients in the hospital.
How exactly does it do that? Well, I guess you’ll have to look up some research from the workers at SOMA!
TIP: If you’d like to learn magic tricks, don’t forget to check the following lists:
Science and Magic: a Summary
Even though magic tends to be more mysterious and secretive and science is more empirical, open, and fact-driven, as noted in this article there are many different links between science and magic performance.
From applying the scientific method and using concepts from hard science (i.e. chemistry) to using psychology to misdirect and trick the minds of audience members, science and magic have actually gone hand-in-hand throughout history.
Thanks for reading!