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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » The Science of Magic » » Lighting up the MRI with magic (0 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

Led Heflin
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Just found a very interesting article on the physical responses of the brain to magic.

http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn16......=dn16407

Enjoy!
Let him borrow and return his handkerchief like a man, and trust to his sleight of hand.
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Enzo
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Very interesting article indeed! Thanks for sharing. Magic is being used more and more in neuroscience research because magicians are experts in tricking the (adult human) brain. Unfortunately the other way around is less plausible:

Quote:
As for the prospects of birthday-party magicians turning to an fMRI to hone their next trick, Martinez-Conde is sceptical – at least for the time being. "The costs would be quite prohibitive."


Would be cool to be able to test every trick with an fMRI scanner though.
Jonathan Townsend
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There are plenty of other stimuli besides performing magic tricks (way too many variables to confound) which can get you that response. There are plenty of readily available and impressive setups already waiting in the psychology of perception lab in your nearest university.

A far less costly way to get a clue about audience response is to put a camera facing the audience and record a few shows then watch what was going on. If you can can afford two cameras, use a second one from the back of the room to catch their perspective so you can match what you do (stimulus) to how they are behaving (response). As long as you keep these videos PRIVATE you should be okay using them for your studies.
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Enzo
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There are plenty of readily available and impressive setups already waiting in the psychology of perception lab in your nearest university.


As a matter of fact, I am actually at "the nearest university" and I can tell you that this is not so much the case. The "setup" is invariably a video (of a magician performing coin vanishes in this example) mounted in the fMRI machine. As for stimuli, the stimulus necessary to elicit the response in question is a (physically) "impossible event", but you would have to choose a fairly subtle event to prevent "noise" from other reactions like surprise, excitement etc.. Taping a magician's performance is actually a cost- and time-effective solution and quite a few important research groups are now using magic in combination with different techniques. The recent Nature Rev. Neuroscience paper by Macknik et al. (incidentally probably the first scientific paper co-authored by professional magicians) gives a nice overview of the possibilities of using magic in neuroscience research.

But maybe this interest in magic is just because of the prospect of a free magic show...

Wouldn't you have to inform your audience that they are being taped, even if you keep the videos private?
Jonathan Townsend
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Quote:
On 2009-02-09 04:56, Enzo wrote:... using magic in neuroscience research.


Wouldn't you have to inform your audience that they are being taped, even if you keep the videos private?


Let's see - if doing a study - yes that's called informed consent. At a show if used for PRIVATE work - likely not the case.

Consider WHY they are using magic performances on video instead of films made using technology to accomplish the results per Georges Melees or those who followed.

They get to bring a new "dog and pony" show into the lab which is a trendy thing to do and the magicians who participate in such studies get to imagine themselves somehow collaborating in science research. Sad. Funny if you recall the Monty Python "confuse a cat" service.

Have a look at what's readily available in the perception lab as regards rotating images, foreground/background image recognition and also those black and white photos where a dog or cow appear. There's your "amazement" etc.

My position stands as "there are better stimuli to use than repeated magic performances for perception/cognition studies".
...to all the coins I've dropped here
Enzo
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At a show if used for PRIVATE work - likely not the case.


Interesting. Thanks for the info.

Quote:
They get to bring a new "dog and pony" show into the lab which is a trendy thing to do and the magicians who participate in such studies get to imagine themselves somehow collaborating in science research. Sad. Funny if you recall the Monty Python "confuse a cat" service.


Sadly enough, I think you have a point there. Often a lot of money is wasted on resources that are not essential for the experiment, this is especially the case in neuroscience, where it is still far from clear what we are supposed to observe and therefore it is easy to justify the use of yet another method in funding proposals.

Nevertheless, I am somewhat reluctant to completely agree with your position. First of all these people that now study the possibilities of using magic in their research and claim that "cognitive neuroscience could have advanced faster had investigators probed magicians' intuitions earlier" (Stephen L. Macknik) are amongst the most famous cognitive neuroscientists. Second of all, some quite serious media have recently covered their research (The New York Times (2x), The Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, New Scientist, Scientific American, Nature, Der Spiegel). Now some of this might be because of the "new dog and pony show" effect, but these are all serious publications and the scientific journals where the work has been published are the ones with amongst the most strict peer reviewing in science and are notoriously difficult to publish in. I like to believe you need more than just a new dog and pony show to pass this process and that if there were a doubt in the neuroscience community about the usefulness of these techniques, the results could not have been published in PNAS, Nature and Neuron.

I think the future has to show if magic will give new results in cognitive neuroscience which could not have been obtained otherwise.
Jonathan Townsend
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You might be surprised at what was explored and tested regarding attention, mental imagery, internal audiences, memory formation ... back in 1990.

My basic concerns with magic tricks as stimuli stand. Using them as repeated stimuli... well that's just plain wrong for both magic and research.

Confounded variables - or just denial.
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Enzo
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Quote:
You might be surprised at what was explored and tested regarding attention, mental imagery, internal audiences, memory formation ... back in 1990.

Perhaps, but back then it was not possible to image brain activity in the detail it is now. The research you refer to was mainly in psychology. I'm sure that research is used as a starting point such as not to repeat things. If not any reviewer who has been in the domain for more than ten years will immediately kill the paper.

Quote:
Using them as repeated stimuli... well that's just plain wrong for both magic and research.

I agree. I'm not sure the stimuli were repeated though, since that would "kill the surprise".
Nosretep
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I agree there are some interesting studies--both in psychology and neuroscience that might explore issues of interest to magicians as well as scientists. I am interested in belief formation as well as social perception and have learned from my study of magic. In psych, I've found the work of G. Kuhn interesting in exploring attention and visual processing. However, I also feel the hype about magic tricks can be problematic in that it clouds the issue as to the scientific objectives of such research and CAN become more show and little science. In the area of studying how the brain responds to puzzles, impossibilities, illusions, etc., perhaps some magic effects might be examined, but if they are found to be informative then the research should advance from there. Time will tell if this will be the case. There are other ways to present contradictions and puzzles to subjects (children for example) rather than do magic tricks. Then again, there are some effects in psychology---attentional blindness, spiral after effects, Gestalt perceptual principles, misinformation memory effects,etc. that magicians have found useful in their own work. Right now I think magicians benefit more from studying these areas than the scientists benefit from studying magic tricks. However, as a psych person, I do enjoy seeing all the psych involved in good magic and that was partly the reason I fell in love with this art. Gary
smith83
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Haha, I thought this would be about using an MRI as a magic prop. Whow, out of it
Enzo
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Well, then the topic would have been "Lighting up the magic with MRI", wouldn't it?
smith83
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Not really
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