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Cause and Effect

Penn & Teller

Lesson time 10:22 min

Magic oversimplifies and distorts the principles of cause and effect. In this chapter, Penn & Teller discuss the philosophical aspects of cause and effect in relation to magic and the human psyche.

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Topics include: Causality: The Red Ball


[MUSIC PLAYING] - I've bridled against the cause and effect in magic a lot. And every time I have, I've failed. It really seems like you need to punctuate the story and you need to have something for them to ride onto. It always seems to me on paper, and it always seems to me when I'm spending time thinking about tricks that there's something kind of profound about there not being cause and effect because it probably isn't cause and effect in the real world. There's no compelling argument for the being any free will whatsoever. The idea of cause and effect is no more real than my appearance here. We're clouds of molecules, and we're making an image in our heads. None of that has any sort of bearing on what's happening in the real world. But the thrust of the way we live our lives, the way we are forced to have the illusion of free will-- Christopher Hitchens was not the first to say it. Sartre said it. And it goes back much farther than that. But do you believe in free will? I have no choice. We need to believe in free will to live. And part of that, part of built into the way we live in order to remain sane is cause and effect. And in magic, you have separated cause and effect. You have a false cause and an unrelated effect, very often. - If we do a magic trick and we don't give the audience some sense of what the make-believe cause is, or what the real cause is, or what any kind of cause is, the magic trick fails, whether it's pure poetry-- there's a trick that that I've done for a long time in which I cut a rose apart by slashing its shadow. Now, that certainly isn't the way things work in real life. But it is a poetic idea that's kind of cool. And when you see the petals of the rose going and slashing and then, later on, me cutting my fingertip, and now my shadow bleeds, that cause and effect is a kind of beautiful, cool thing. We've turned that a little bit inside out many, many, many times. - If you try to say this is something that just happens, it becomes incredibly unsatisfying. The one that broke my heart, really broke my heart, was you do a thing where you vanish a cell phone, and it appears inside a fish, a borrowed cell phone. And I was in love with the idea that the vanish of the phone would just be a vanish of the phone. It would just vanish. So you've got an audience member and the two of us on stage. You've got six hands. You got people moving. You hold the phone, you hold the phone, you hold the phone, you hold the phone. The phone is in plain sight with the whole audience all the time, and then all of a sudden it isn't. And you don't know if the audience member had it last, or I had it last, or Teller had it last, where it went. Just it's gone. It was terrible. It was terrible. The audience couldn't perceive that the phone was gone. They couldn't perceive it as a trick. They didn't have a moment for it. It was just terrible. I do not like when the wand hits and there's the moment it's gon...

About the Instructor

With more than 40 years performing together, Penn & Teller have sold out shows around the world, earned a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, and created the longest-running headline act in Las Vegas. Now the legendary magicians are taking you behind the curtain. Learn fundamental magic tricks and the psychological tools that create amazement, at home or on stage. Expand your perception of the possible.

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Penn & Teller

In their first-ever MasterClass, Teller breaks his silence as he and Penn teach their approach to creating moments of wonder and astonishment.

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