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James Randi

James Randi is the founder of the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF). Randi began his career as a magician, but when he retired at age 60, he switched to investigating[…]

What makes the famous skeptic feel awe? Great magic tricks, of course. And sunsets.

Question: Have you ever personally been tricked or duped?

rnJames Randi: Well, there’s this one girl, and I don’t want to getrn into the details.  No, you know, the interesting thing is, that since Irn started this about the age of 12 to 14, I’ve got to know more and more rnabout how people are fooled and how they fool themselves—the two things rnthat magicians must know—I don’t think I’ve ever been fooled by an rnillusion... although sometimes when I first see it on stage, I’ll say, rn“Whoa, how about that.”  Oh yeah... and I’ll think about it and I’ll rnsay, okay, yes, right.  There you go.  I will come up with the solution rneventually.  As a matter of fact, when sitting at a Copperfield show, rnfor example, and he always puts me in the fourth row or so, and I alwaysrn move a little bit further back if I don’t want to be looking straight rnup his nose, you see.  And what happens is, I’ll sit with a magician rnfriend and we’ll nudge one another at a certain point and say, "Oh wow, rnhow about that!"  And people around me will say, how about what?  They rndidn’t see anything happen, see.  But we saw the moment of truth you rnknow, when he might have done something like this, or it looks rninnocuous, but that’s when the thing happened.  You see?  And we rnrecognize that.  That moment of truth is something we spot and the rnpeople around don’t.  And then when the girl jumps out of the box, rnthey’re all surprised and we knew it all along.
What makes you feel wonder or awe?

rnJames Randi: Well, magic performances in many cases, and rnparticularly some of the young folks that are sort of coming along thesern days are... particularly in Asia.  Oh my goodness.  Asia has pretty rnwell taken over the magic business as far as numbers of people.  Very, rnvery competent people who are in the business, male and female.  They rnreally do a wonderful job. 
rnBut I am an old fashioned fuddy-duddy, you see. I stand outside my home rnin Fort Lauderdale, Florida and I could watch a sunset, and my eyes willrn fill up with tears.  They can because that’s nature.  And I see... oh, Irn see a raccoon cross the lawn and stop and look at me and I say hello.  rnAnd he doesn’t know what I am saying, but he goes on his way and he doesrn his thing.  That’s wonderful.  These are little things that I still rntake great joy... and I like seeing the world and how it works.  That’s rnwhy... one reason why these people who try to sell us a false bill of rngoods about how the world really works, and how really wonderful it is. rn Oh my, I can’t stand that.  I just find myself repelled by that idea rnand I want to drag kids out into the sunset and say, take a look at rnthat, or a sunrise even better.  At my age, you appreciate sunrises morern than sunsets.  You see? 
rnBut I’ve had... I have a very good quality of telescope, for example, atrn my home in Plantation, Florida.  And I’ll get out the tripod to show rnsome guest, oh if Jupiter is up there, or whatever, or the Moon, or rnAndromeda if it happens to be in a good aspect.  I’ll show them that.  rnAnd kids come back on bicycles and stop and say, “Whatcha doin?” And rnthey look in there and they... "What’s that."  "That’s the planet rnJupiter.  And you know how far away it is?"  And they’ll say, "Oh yeah, rnreally?"  And then I’ll show them Andromeda and I’ll say, "Now that’s rnnot the way it looks now.  No?  No, that’s the way it looked quite a fewrn million years ago.  The light is just reaching us now."  And when you rnsee them go, "Oh," you know you’ve made a hit.  That’s important.  And rnif that kid comes by with a girlfriend the next day on another bike, rn"Can we see your telescope?"  I’ve won a battle right there.  That’s rnimportant.  You’ve got to get the kids, you’ve got to get to them and rnsay, “Take a look at this.  This may surprise you.”  And if you can do rnthat and be successful at it, oh that makes my day, if not a week.
rnRecorded April 16, 2010
rnInterviewed by Austin Allen