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Exploiting the Best of the Human Brain

Penn & Teller

Lesson time 05:37 min

How are magicians able to fool audiences? They take advantage of the brain's vulnerabilities. Penn & Teller dive into some of the physiological aspects of the human brain and how it relates to magic.

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Topics include: Exploiting the Best of the Human Brain


[MUSIC PLAYING] - Magic is often presented as pointing out mistakes in our reasoning. You know, scientists will do these totally jive-ass things on magic, where they talk about how we're exploiting mistakes in human reasoning. We're not doing that. We are celebrating actual techniques that have to be employed all the time. In order to be able to think or to make sense out of the cloud that's around us, we have to streamline things tremendously. We have to cut down the way we see the world around us into really small chunks. And chunks is the really important thing. You know, we are all experts in our own life. We know putting our shoes on. We know putting our socks on. We know starting our car. We clump them and we understand them. We know putting something from one hand to the other. We can't think of those every time. So with magic, you are taking these beautiful, wonderful things that allow us to live and just showing how those clump things are. - We learned the term-- I learned it from Johnny Thompson. The term is "closing the doors." That means recapping in a way that someone wouldn't argue with. I've shuffled the cards. I say to this person, cut the cards. Would you like to cut the cards? You'd like to cut the cards? Thank you very much. And then three minutes later, in recounting it, I'd say, well, we've all shuffled and cut the cards. That's taking the audience's memory and altering it in such a way that when they try to think back on the trick and say, could the deck have been stacked, for example? When they think about that, they go, oh, no. No. I shuffled the cards. The term "closing the doors" means giving you the bad parts of the memory that you want them not to remember and not allowing them to go back that way. - And it's mixed in. We have to do most of our life on automatic pilot. We're very, very aware of it. We can drive to work without ever remembering one turn we've made. We can put that all on automatic pilot. It's why eyewitness testimony is the worst testimony you can get. It's useless. We have this kind of sense that circumstantial evidence is the weaker kind of evidence. Actually, we have so much evidence that eyewitness testimony-- it probably should never be allowed. It should probably never be allowed for someone who's been involved in a crime to recognize someone in a courtroom. They're usually wrong. What's interesting is that every time we bring up a story, we never go back to the original memory. It is impossible for a human being to go back to the memory. You cannot do it. You cannot do it. I listen to Teller. He tells stories about things that I was there for, every second of. And he's wrong in every particular. And I also know that he's absolutely not lying. And because I keep a rather elaborate journal, I go back and check. And it's true that he's wrong. But it's also true that he wasn't wrong in the ways I thought. And that my remembering of it is entirely wrong. And everybo...

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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