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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » The September 2003 entrée: Whit Haydn » » Magic as a logical argument » » TOPIC IS LOCKED (0 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

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carlb
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Awsome thread, I have nothing really to add except to express express my appreciation for all of the thinking put forth above. This is great stuff.

I feel humbled and blessed to be able to access this level of thought on the art of magic.
dorbolo
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Whit,

If magic works on logic principles as you assert, then it may be capable of doing more than producing sophistry for entertainment. Good magic accomplishes what reasoned argument often cannot: it stops and opens the mind of the person with a fixed belief system. Magicians call it "surprise." Educators call it "a teachable moment." Socrates used verbal tricks in his method and was called a "wizard" because of the effects.

Question: how far do you think that magic can go as a tool for learning and understanding? That is, as a vehicle of truth?

In good spirit,

Jon

PS: Matt's point about Descartes is interesting. Reading Descartes' First Meditation would be useful to many magicians, since it creates a story where all of reality is deception. He was exploring whether it is possible for all of our premises to be false. That connects back to Whit's point. As Descartes discovered that we have to have some true and certain premises in order to think at all, it follows that magic effects require true premises as well as false ones.
mattpuglisi
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UPDATE:

Since there seems to be interest in the full project, I've decided not to post an excerpt of my paper, "Descartes, Evil Demons, and the Logic of Deception". Instead I will make this paper available to anyone interested. This is the least technical paper I have written on the subject of deception, and thus it makes a great "opener". I have removed all traces of formalism from the version I will send out, so that no background knowledge of philosophical logic or decision theory is required to follow my argument. PM me if you're interested.

Those of you who have already PM'ed me should recieve your copy soon.

Thanks to all for your interest. Smile
Lack of invention is the mother of necessity - Robert Nozick

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mattpuglisi
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Let me just mention that the paper I am sending out was written for an audience of philsophers, not magicians. This will serve to explain the tone of some of the sections. Smile
Lack of invention is the mother of necessity - Robert Nozick

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Whit Haydn
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I want a copy for sure. I will PM you. What a fun discussion this has been.

I think that the "logical argument" model for magic is a great starting point for a theory of magic, since it describes the essential thing about magic that makes it unique among the performing arts. Most of the theories of magic I have read seem to suffer from a lack of a basic understanding of what magic is, how it works, and what it does to the mind.

I would love to put together a discussion group with magicians, philosophers, psychologists, and theater and acting people to help shape a full blown theory.

Some of the problems in magical theory occur because the different writers had different vocabularies. Maskelyne and Devant wrote about "effect" as a theatrical effect (of surprise, transformation, transposition, etc.) where Fitzkee wrote about "effect" as the the particular violation of natural law that the trick represented (levitation-breaking the law of gravity, etc.) Jennings wrote of "effect" as if he meant "Effect:" the description of the plot that precedes most magic trick explanations. Finding a common language would be a big help in the world of magic.
Whit Haydn
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Jon: Thanks for your interesting observations. I tend to agree with you. I sometimes think that magic is in some modest way like a Zen koan.

It brings the rational deductive mind to a halt, and opens up the spectator's mind to the imaginative, the inductive, the intuitive.
mattpuglisi
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Copies of the paper have been sent out to the e-mail addresses I have been given. (If anyone else becomes interested, PM me.)

I'd love some feedback, as soon as you have it.

I agree with Mr.Haydn. We should form a group (perhaps here on the Café) devoted to developing this model.

Best to all,
Matt
Lack of invention is the mother of necessity - Robert Nozick

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Bill Hallahan
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I was reading this topic again and struggling through Matt’s excellent posts, and I realized I missed the point of this topic entirely earlier.

Setting the arguments in the audience's mind, and ensuring that they think the right thing at the right time is critical for an effect to work. Without understanding each of the arguments, you can’t optimize an effect.

Did I miss the point again?

By the way, here is a quote that helped me read Matt’s posts.

Quote:
An argument is valid whenever the conclusion follows—according to certain norms and standards—from what is stated in the premises. But not every valid argument leads to a conclusion that is true. For a conclusion to be true of necessity, the premise of the argument must be both valid and true.
- “Logic For Undergraduates”, by Robert J. Kreyche
Humans make life so interesting. Do you know that in a universe so full of wonders, they have managed to create boredom. Quite astonishing.
- The character of ‘Death’ in the movie "Hogswatch"
Whit Haydn
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Bill:

I think that is basically it. The point of the whole thing is that this is a very good way to describe what magic at root is, how it works. Every trick that fools people must do this, set up an argument that appears "valid and sound" but has a conclusion that is obviously "impossible."

This is what makes magic distinct and different from all other art forms. Although magic shares so much in common with joke-telling, theater, story telling, and other forms, the need to set up an inscrutable and impenetrable logical argument that appears "valid and sound" but is in fact unsound is unique to magic.

It is common in deceitful persuasive argument, or sophistry, but not an essential quality in the arts.

Because this description is unique to magic, and describes all magic tricks, it makes a good starting point for any theory of magic.

The question then arises, what does this do to the head of the spectator? What is the effect of creating this kind of sophistry? What good purposes can it serve? How are the best ways to go about doing this in practice? What makes this entertaining? How are theater and magic related?

In the answer to these and many other such questions lies the theory or "philosophy" of magic.

What I wanted to accomplish with this, was to find the basic, underlying description of magic so that we have a foundation upon which to build a theory of magic.

Theories of magic that have been proposed so far, never developed an essential foundation, and so often wandered off into subjective or vague answers to these questions, which even when experience tells us they are true, are not as helpful as they could be because we did not understand what the underpinnings were.

Even in Maskelyne and Devant, there is no real underlying definition of magic, of what separates magic from the other art forms.

Even though their immense practical experience in creating magic and theater gave them terrific insight into the workings of both, their theory suffers from not having a clear definition of the essential nature of magic.
Musashi
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Just an observation from the outskirts.....perhaps the lack of a good theoretical foundation in magic has to do with the "Nature" of how magic has traditionally been taught and discussed?

The "tomes" of magic that I have had an opportunity to read are terse, prose like and suggestive of immposibilites in and of themselves. I think this is a perpetuated historical obsticle. Prevent laypeople from easy acces to the "secrets".

Just an aside.....


I applaud and am enthusiastic about participating in any discussion and creation of magical theory.

Cheers,

Josh
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Whit Haydn
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Musashi:

Josh, I am glad that you find these conversations useful. Hopefully, we can continue such discussions after this week in Food for Thought.

Actually, the first serious attempt to create a comprehensive theory of magic was Maskelyne and Devant's "Our Magic" published in 1911. It is still considered by most serious magicians as the greatest book on magic ever written.

It was hardly terse, but rather beautifully and clearly written with deep insights into the art, and which clearly delineated 22 "rules" of art in magic which are still invaluable to any magician, and page after page defending and explaining the position of magic as an art form in and of itself that deserved to be given the title of one of the "Fine Arts"

Ellis Stanyon in his monthly journal, Magic, wrote:

"Beyond doubt, the most important conjuring book ever written."

This is from the first chapter of Our Magic:

"Our immediate aim is the elucidation of those fundamental principles which, being reduced to practice, justify the claim of magic to be classed among the Arts--not, of course, among the mechanical arts, but among the Fine Arts--the Arts with a big A. We wish to demonstrate the causes which, irrespective of technical skill and knowledge, determine the relative success or failure of individual aspirants to fame in pursuit of our art. It is evident that such matters are well worthy of consideration by every magician--even one of the most practical, or most commercial type. Indeed, it may be said, whith some show of reason, that the man who cannot explain the principles involved in such questions as these, cannot claim to understand the inwardness of the magic art. It is that inwardness which governs a performer's ultimate success or failure."
sleightly
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Since I managed to kill the Magic and Popularity thread (they do call me the thread-killer)...

In my opinion, the "logical argument" is *part* of the necessary technique, without which there can be no magic. The strongest magic happens in our audience's heads to be confirmed by the physical reality eventually perceived. As a presentational approach it has a great history. It is one approach but I would not necessarily agree that it is the fundamental distinction between magic and the other performance arts.

I would argue that most formal theatre is about establishing an argument supported with an internal logical (within the context of performance) framework intended to transport the audience to a personal revelation. In magic we are looking for a shared revelation (in my "Evening with the Spirits" theatrical seance I strive for unique individual perceptions in addition to the group experience).

This is accomplished through such techniques (overt & implied) as story, character, context, setting. These techniques are a willing distortion meant to be perceived and shared by audiences (through a "willing suspension of disbelief", a technique Samuel Taylor Coleridge identified in relation to the process of reading poetry). The strength and type of reaction are dictated by the individual's personal background. Deception is implied and accepted as a necessary component of telling a story.

In theatre, this deception is accepted, in a performance of magic it is greeted with wanted skepticism (we want audiences to be skeptical so that when they convince themselves they experience a much stronger, as Whit would say, cognitive dissonance. They must arrive at the conclusion themselves.

As any salesman can tell you, you can't convince anyone of anything, only they can convince themselves. We can nudge in particular directions, but is up to the audience to invest of themselves in the performance to ensure the most satisfactory experience. Anything we do as performers to enhance this symbiotic relationship benefits all parties. We can help them see the magic by conditiong them, but we the more we "control" the process, the less conviction and audience will feel. If the magic springs up organically from the situation, all concerned (performer included) must experience a stronger reaction.

Ultimately all good theater (magic included) comes down to conflict and character. One of the core tenets of my work on the "Shared Experience" is that in a performance of magic, unlike most of the other performance arts, we are not telling a story, rather *creating one* that will be told again and again by the participants. This, I believe, is the most important distinction that sets magic apart from the other performing arts.

Audience and performer all take part in the experience. The performer acts as the catalyst but is just as involved in the "circle of fun" that is created. The key is in reacting, responding and believing in the unique moment that is happening and fully taking part on all levels, emotional, intellectual and spiritual.

To put it simply, magic is about creating a story in which the performer and audience are participants.

More anon.

Andrew J. Pinard
Musashi
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[quote]On 2003-09-07 02:33, whithaydn wrote:
Actually, the first serious attempt to create a comprehensive theory of magic was Maskelyne and Devant's "Our Magic" published in 1911. It is still considered by most serious magicians as the greatest book on magic ever written.
[quote]
I am sorry I have not had a chance to read this book. I look forward to doing so...is it still readily available? Also, are there other "great" books about the theory of magic that you would reccomend?

Josh
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Whit Haydn
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Easy ones first.

Josh: Yes, it is still available, I think even in paperback now.

Yes, and I have done so on some of the other threads on here. See How Important is Magic Theory. Thanks for your interest in this most important topic.



Sleightly:

Andrew, my friend. Don't worry too much about thread-killing. These threads are turning into pumpkins tonite at midnight anyway. Smile

You said:

"I would argue that most formal theatre is about establishing an argument supported with an internal logical (within the context of performance) framework intended to transport the audience to a personal revelation."

This is very different from the kind of argument I have been claiming as being the basis of all magic. The argument behind the magic is a deliberate sophistry, an argument that appears "valid and sound" when in fact it is deliberately created to deceive one into thinking that. In fact, it is unsound because some of it's premises are not true.

In theater, there is deceit, perhaps, but it is one in which the audience willingly participates by suspending disbelief. They are not really fooled, they accept the conventions of theater, the character the actor is portraying, etc.

All of this is also used in magic, and that is where the confusion arises. I am not against the use of theater in magic, I am for it. I want not to put the cart before the horse. Everything in magic is subsumed to the goal, constructing the argument. This is what Maskelyne and Devant recognized 100 years ago. Magic when used by theater, must be subservient to the goals of theater. Theater used by magic must be subservient to the goals of magic. There is a distinction between the two forms.

Theater helps to decorate the building, and make it attractive and livable. But the goal of magic is something else.

The "magic" part of magic is something different. It does not rely on the willing suspension of disbelief, but rather on constructing a sophistic argument that the audience attempts to pick apart but cannot.

I believe that every magic trick must contain this kind of argument and that is what separates it from the other arts. The argument is not a technique, it is the skeleton of the building we want to construct using our various techniques. We don't use a premise in an argument to aid in a French Drop. We use the French Drop to create a false premise in an argument.


You said:

"Ultimately all good theater (magic included) comes down to conflict and character. One of the core tenets of my work on the "Shared Experience" is that in a performance of magic, unlike most of the other performance arts, we are not telling a story, rather *creating one* that will be told again and again by the participants. This, I believe, is the most important distinction that sets magic apart from the other performing arts...

To put it simply, magic is about creating a story in which the performer and audience are participants."

I can agree with this concept. In fact, here I think you are right on the money. I have said something very similar in the thread on Magic and Theater.

Thanks for the input, Andrew. This has been a most challenging and interesting discussion this week.
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