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Why We Fall for Magic Tricks

Question: Why do audiences fall for—and want to fall for—magic\r\n tricks?
\r\n

\r\nJames Randi: Well, I don’t know that we fall for them.  We accept\r\n them.  But let’s not put it quite that way.  People like fantasy, they \r\nlike to believe that there is a supernatural world out there, and devils\r\n and angels, and all kinds of things like that.  They like to believe in\r\n that kind of mythology.  And if they can be part of it, if they can be \r\npart of the action, or witness something to that effect, they like to do\r\n it.  A legitimate magician, as myself, a conjurer that is, will always \r\ntell his audience is that what you’re seeing is simple tricks.  They are\r\n illusions.  They don’t really happen.  Or at least you try to get that \r\nidea across to them.  After all, I think very few people thing that \r\nDavid Copperfield actually uses a buzz saw to cut a girl in two pieces \r\nbecause that would be a waste of beautiful girls for one thing, and the \r\ncostumes would be all torn up and everything.  That would be a terrible \r\nwaste.  So, it’s actually a trick.  It’s an illusion.  These are very \r\ngood illusions in most cases, or they don’t work at all.  So, you’ve \r\neither got to be good at the thing, or you’re not in the business any \r\nlonger. 
\r\n
\r\nBut people do enjoy seeing this kind of fantasy happen.  Now, mind you, \r\nin the days of computerized movies now where you can perform miracles on\r\n the screen, on the silver screen, as they say—and in 3D, remember \r\nthat—the magician is sort of challenged to do something just a bit \r\nbigger than what he or she did the last time.  And it’s getting more and\r\n more challenging for the conjuring profession.  But you’ve got Penn and\r\n Teller, you’ve got Lance Burton, you’ve got Matt King, you’ve got \r\npeople in Las Vegas like that who carry on every day. 
\r\n
\r\nNow, Matt King has been doing the same act for like 16 or 18 years now. \r\n And why?  Because he’s pretty damn good at it; highly entertaining. He \r\ndoesn’t have to be a mystical character.  He’s a magician and he’s funny\r\n and he’s entertaining, he’s quick.  He’s got great wit and such, as \r\ndoes Penn and Teller and Lance Burton, of course.  But they’re pros.  \r\nThey’re dyed in the wool pros, and they are great examples of the \r\nconjuring art. 
\r\n
\r\nOn the other hand, we have the so-called psychics out there who say they\r\n can bend spoons with their minds.  Duh.  You know, do ESP and various \r\nthings like that.  And these are people who are lying to the public.  \r\nThey’re not playing fair with them at all and they are leading them \r\nastray and are taking away, in my estimation, their emotional security, \r\nas well as their money.

Recorded April 16, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen

Real magicians don’t pretend to be mystical characters. By telling us they’re just performing tricks, they make their feats all the more breathtaking.

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