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Sleights of Mind: What the Neuroscience of Magic Reveals about Our Everyday Deceptions

3.92  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,449 Ratings  ·  131 Reviews
"This book doesn't just promise to change the way you think about sleight of hand and David Copperfield—it will also change the way you think about the mind." —Jonah Lehrer, author of How We Decide and Proust Was A Neuroscientist

Stephen Macknik and Susana Martinez-Conde, the founders of the exciting new discipline of neuromagic, have convinced some of the world's greatest
ebook, 304 pages
Published November 9th 2010 by Henry Holt and Co. (first published November 2nd 2010)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Jason Kittredge
Feb 19, 2012 Jason Kittredge rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jason by: Dan Hayden
I really enjoyed this book. It was a combination of two interests that I've had for a long time, but haven't really focused on: Magic and neuroscience.

My degree is in cognitive science, which is really what this book focuses on. I'm fascinated to see many of the concepts that I studied in school illustrated with examples of how magicians exploit these concepts in real life. Stephen and Susana don't so much explain *how* tricks work (though there is a certain amount of that - all with an indicati
May 26, 2013 Peter rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in neuroscience or cognitive science
Wow - entertaining and fascinating coverage of human perception and how easily we're deceived by ourselves and others, even when we're expecting it!

The authors collaborated with magicians (Penn and Teller, among others) and master pickpocket, Apollo Robbins, to study and explain how and why their tricks work. The authors discovered along the way that many magicians have had a better intuitive understanding of how the mind works than many neuroscientists, and they train to become magicians thems
Apr 18, 2016 Xing rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The authors do a service to the neuroscientific community with this comprehensive and insightful dive into our perceptual and psychological makeup. They dissect multiple and varied aspects of illusions- from 'gaps' in our awareness that are readily exploited by magicians and tricksters, to our social and behavioural patterns and beliefs when we interact with others. Magicians are, in a sense,exceptionally skilled and practiced psychologists,whoperfectly blendtruth with fiction, making it difficu ...more
Peter Meyers
Mar 26, 2011 Peter Meyers rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great book on how the mind perceives the world around it. We are constantly filling in the gaps. Making the pictures into movies. Whatever you call them "Magicians" have been tricking our brains into filling in the the gaps they want by directing our attention to to create the intended illusions.
Understanding these gaps can give you a new appreciation for everything you see. As well as understanding how much of the world you don't see.

I heard about this book from a friend in the transmedia business (many of whom seem to fancy themselves as modern-day magicians, or even alchemists), and thought I'd dive into it. Two neuroscientists take on the task of explaining how our mind, especially the information processing aspects of our visual and cerebral equipment, actually get used by A-list magicians to achieve their sleights of hand, hence the title. We learn a lot about where and how the receptors and processing occurs, and many ...more
Greg Stoll
Feb 13, 2013 Greg Stoll rated it liked it
The bits about how tricks are done were interesting, but the book seemed a bit padded out.
Emma Sea
Excessive prestidigitation, insufficient neuroscience. meh.
1.5 stars
As far as pop science books this is way light, the authors are neuroscientists, but the book could be easily written by an amateur. Ok, theoretically one could say that about most books for non-specialists but there's something in many popular science books, perhaps the clarity of language and thought, that suggests the author is indeed an expert. Not here.

Practically, to describe the book, it goes more or less like this in every section:

a) Brief self-referential story about the authors, sometim
This book was awesome, amazing, fantastical, & magical! Magicology? Yes, please! Neuromagic? Yes, please? The husband & wife team of authors essentially explain in scientific facts the secrets behind the magic we see everyday. Appearing coins, a psychic, the magician whom can predict whichever card me choose at "random" (note the ""), a floating assistant.

What is the secret? Ourselves. Optical illusions, sleight of hand, attention receptors in our brains, etcetera. The most interesting
Jan 10, 2011 Richard rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Richard by: Cognitive Science reading group
An excellent if — obviously — idiosyncratic addition to the Popular Cognition genre.

Macknik and Martinez-Conde, spouses and neuroscientists, began to examine how magic works for the insights into cognition, and were seduced by the craft, which after all has been implicitly accumulating knowledge about how our minds work for centuries. In hindsight, the attraction in obvious: as they describe, magicians are artists whose manipulate not form and color, but attention and cognition. Just as a painte
Tulpesh Patel
Sleights of Mind is a book about two neuroscientists (a husband and wife research team) and their attempts to learn and use magic tricks to further the ways that we can understand how the brain works, culminating in their attempt to join the Magic Circle. The authors stake the claim to be the first ‘neuromagicians’, but in truth all magicians are neuromagicians as all of them are using thousands of years of folk psychology to perform tricks that take advantage of our less-than-perfect, short-cut ...more
Jun 07, 2016 Gigi rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, magic
One of the most fascinating books I've read in a long time. I love classic stage magic an am interested in how mystery fiction and magic use misdirection in similar ways. But I'd never before thought about the science of why we're able to be fooled by stage magic. Since I'm not a scientist, I appreciated the conversational style of writing to give readers an eye-opening look at how magicians *really* fool us.
Sarah Clement
Magic is one of those popular topics amongst skeptics that I just haven't been able to get that excited about. I thought perhaps this book would change that, but it didn't. Whilst I found a lot of the neuroscience aspects really interesting, and found the simplicity of most magic tricks stunning, in the end I just couldn't really engage in this book like I do with other popular skeptical books. I thought the authors both had excellent writing voices that made the book far more interesting than i ...more
Alicia Cañamero
Feb 05, 2016 Alicia Cañamero rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Una pasada de libro. Comprender como funciona nuestro cerebro a partir de los trucos que los magos utilizan para engañarlo.
Todd Wright
One of the best books that I have read that I would not widely recommend, it deals more with the secret of illusions than with brain function but is still enjoyable. Some parts were very interesting, but the writing is often corny, much like the patter you would hear at a magic show.
Mi Camino Blanco
Un libro que une ciencia y magia. Nos desvela los mecanismos de nuestro cerebro gracias a los cuáles la magia puede engañar a los sentidos, ¡incluso conociendo el truco!, y que puede hacernos dudar de la perfección de nuestra mente. Pero es el pequeño tributo a pagar por poseer un cerebro evolutivamente tan desarrollado. Los mismos procesos que nos han hecho triunfar agilizando la manera en la que aprehendemos la realidad pueden jugarnos a veces malas pasadas.

Me ha parecido tremendamente intere
Now magic can reveal how our brains work in everyday situations. For instance, if you’ve ever bought an expensive item you’d sworn you’d never buy, the salesperson was probably a master at creating the “illusion of choice,” a core technique of magic. The implications of neuromagic go beyond illuminating our behavior; early research points to new approaches for everything from the diagnosis of autism to marketing techniques and education. Sleights of Mind makes neuroscience fun and accessible by ...more
Aug 18, 2015 TomF rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book directs your attention not just to the ingenuity behind many a magic trick, but also to the foibles of our own minds, and how they are gleefully exploited by magicians. From breakdowns of how a master pickpocket makes a mug of you, to mentalism mind-readings, via presentational flourishes, they cover a lot of ground, and dirt-dishing from luminaries such as Randi & Teller abounds.

As Teller said recently though, the psychologists got a wealth of behind the scenes info & intuite
Feb 20, 2015 Raven rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book really did live up to its description -- despite being familiar with the majority of the studies it references, I hadn't thought to apply their lessons to sleight of hand the way that the authors did. That's got some creepy implications for society and our susceptibility to fraudsters looking to either be better pickpockets, better confidence men, or better fake supernatural phenomena pushers. I remember some of the cited phenomena from the press during my childhood, and I think it doe ...more
Emily Evans
Very interesting, if a little dry and at times repetitive. I'd long since intuited many of the conclusions about attention but the explanations of the forces and some of the other mentalist tricks were nonetheless interesting. I also found a lot of the information on the visual system enlightening, though if anything it only deepens my personal mysteries of why very, very few optical illusions seem to work on me.

Definitely worth a read, and I suspect others might get more out of it than I did. I
Bernie Gourley
Sep 30, 2015 Bernie Gourley rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sleights of Mind explains magic tricks by telling one about the shortcuts, limits, and programming of brain (and attendant sensory systems) that facilitate such tricks. The reader needn’t be concerned that the book will spoil all the illusionists’ secrets for one. The authors carefully demarcate the beginnings and endings of spoiler sections that explicitly explain tricks. This allows a reader to skip over such sections if one doesn’t want to know the trick. I suspect few readers do skip the spo ...more
David Dinaburg
Feb 12, 2013 David Dinaburg rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Magic is one of those hobbies that is shrouded in such an incredibly dorky modern history that people with even a modicum of concern for social hierarchy may struggle to understand the appeal. The white gloves, the top-hats, the red bowties: they’re all so lame. Shove some science in there, and, well, you run the risk of alienating the magic fans with complex or confusing neuroscientific jargon. Sitting there on the bookshelf, Sleights of Mind: What the Neuroscience of Magic reveals about our Ev ...more
Dec 04, 2013 Mangoo rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Books on neuroscience are easily ponderous, academic and/or boring to a fair extent. This is the contrasting with the absolute interest and fascination of the huge topic. Writing style can make a difference, so that one can prefer Pinker to Damasio or viceversa because of literary ease; or content phrasing in, say, a biographical framework may add a noticeable human touch to the text to make it easier to dig through. As far as rationale and motivation, this book is far better than all of the abo ...more
Todd Martin
Feb 14, 2012 Todd Martin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As you might suppose from the subtitle, Sleights of Mind examines the ways in which magic fools our feeble brains and what this tells us about how the mind works. In a nutshell … people can only focus on one thing at a time, which makes us easy to trick through misdirection. As much as we might like to think ourselves sophisticated and intelligent, humans have the attentional capacity of crows. Wave something shiny in front of our faces and we can’t help but follow it with our eyes (giving the m ...more
Have you ever wondered why magic works? How magicians can show you something which you know can't be real, but you do see it just the same.

Long before the term "cognitive science" existed, magicians employed it to create the illusions which the audience sees. In most cases they were unscientific in their approach - they didn't know why the audience sees what doesn't exist (or doesn't see something which does exist) but it's enough for the magician to know that 'the trick' works. Much the same wa
Jan 07, 2013 Pedro rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Matt McCormick
This book really makes you wonder about how easily you can be deceived in everyday life. I liked how the authors used magic to get their point across. It was an interesting idea to combine magic with neuroscience. Throughout the book they identified sections where they would be revealing magician's secrets so you could choose to not read them if you like the idea of being deceived (but if that's the case, why are you reading a book that reveals their deception?)

A couple days after finishing this
One of the librarians recommended this book when I checked out Hiding the Elephant: How Magicians Invented the Impossible and Learned to Disappear & I'm quite glad she did!

Authors Stephen L. Macknik & Susana Martinez-Conde work with contemporary magicians like Penn Jillette, The Amaz!ng Randi and others to figure out how magic tricks work in terms of neuroscience and also how concepts like "illusion of choice" and "change blindness" translate to real life.

Along the way, they audition at
Jan 17, 2011 Sarah rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I didn’t mean to actually read this book. I had checked a totally different book out from the library, but apparently somebody is slacking off on the job, because the book in the case was not the book on the cover. Sounded interesting enough, though, so I figured I’d give it a shot. I didn’t initially get off to a great start since I’m just not that into magic. Sitting around having someone pull one over on me just isn’t all that appealing...especially since I know I’m being duped the whole time ...more
May 09, 2013 Sdluvingit rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a very fun and interesting way to introduce the latest discoveries in neuroscience. From card tricks to reading your mind to picking your pocket the authors demonstrate, in a very vivid manner, how magicians exploit our ability to perceive and remember. They deconstruct some major tricks and use them to illustrate the underlying perceptual systems of the body/mind that make these tricks seem magical. They take care to warn you when they are explaining a trick so if you do not want to kno ...more
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“Magicians are well aware of these little brain foibles, and they pump them like a lab rat on a cocaine lever.” 1 likes
“A decade of research clearly shows that multitasking—the ability to do several things at once, efficiently and well—is a myth. Your brain is not designed to attend to two or three things at a time. It is configured to respond to one thing at a time.” 1 likes
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