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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » Food for thought » » Impossible vs. Improbable, Part 1 (0 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

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Profile of Hushai
Someone has no doubt long ago published an idea like the following. Nevertheless, I have often thought that there are two kinds of effects in magic/mentalism: Improbable and Impossible. Note: it should be obvious that I am discussing effects only here, that is, what seems to happen, not the methods by which effects are actually produced. The effect, that is, seems improbable or impossible, though it is not really.

Improbable effects are just that, things that are surprising, but that could conceivably (though not plausibly) be coincidences or good luck. If I ask you to think of a card and then I tell you correctly what that card is, it could simply be a lucky guess on my part. It is a one in 52 chance, after all. Even what seems to happen in a trick like Out of This World is, strictly speaking, not impossible, just enormously improbable. A sufficiently improbable event may seem impossible to an onlooker, though it is in fact possible, just not likely. I am not saying that any magicians or mentalists do in fact produce their effects entirely by luck or coincidence; any performer who depended on those would not be in business long! But, theoretically though implausibly, many effects could be chalked up by an onlooker to luck or coincidence.

Impossible effects, by contrast, could not without absurdity be attributed to chance or coincidence. If you ask me how that stage magician levitated his assistant and I answer (perhaps dismissively) that it was just a coincidence or that he was just lucky that she happened to levitate when he wanted her to do so, you will laugh or stare at me uncomprehendingly. Levitations are not merely improbable, they are impossible. That is, the laws of nature forbid such things. It is not merely implausible to say that a levitation happens by coincidence or chance; it is nonsense, that is, without any meaning at all. Other Impossible effects are productions, vanishes, transpositions, penetrations, and so on. All of these involve events in which reality seems to behave in a way it never does in ordinary experience.

More (if you are interested) in Part 2 of this post.
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Eternal Order
Devil’s Island
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Certainty and Impossibility are the nonsensical extremes that lie at either end of reality and reality is the myriad of possibilities in between them. Take no nonsense, as the bookies cry out on the English race courses, and in the world of betting there are accumulative odds and in the world of magic, there are accumulative effects. Doing something once is one thing, doing it, again and again, is another. How many times must an ambitious card rise before they call it a certainty or an impossibility?
If there is a single truth about Magic, it is that nothing on earth so efficiently evades it.

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