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Arts & Entertainment

Exploiting the Best of the Human Brain

Penn & Teller

Lesson time 5:37 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.

Penn & Teller
Teach the Art of Magic
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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[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...

Open your mind with magic

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.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

What was most gripping for me was the philosophy of magic, the psychology of the audience and the art of performance shared. Thank you thank you!

I missed the class explaining the ball and the string. But besides that, I loved it. 4 stars!

Magic is great. Learning magic is great. Learning magic from people who really enjoy the process and think hard about the meat of what magic means is perhaps the best you can hope for, in this sad and weary world. A joy. A useful joy, which is the best kind.

Penn and Teller are always fun to watch. Their class does not disappoint. They are good teachers. Well worth watching.


A fellow student

These kind of "theory behind magic" videos are an interesting variation between the videos about the tricks themselves. This one in particular was quite fascinating.

Lucrecia Sarita R.

Some people do remember the details. It's the state of mind that oftentimes affects an individual's ability to recall accurately... Reply

Kevin W.

Most of us have a perfect example of brain schemas right in front of us: the keyboard. Think how fast you can pound out WPMs without even thinking, then imagine a blank keyboard and try to put all the letters on it. It probably gives you more pause to think about typing than it does to actually type. Your brain is wired for such shortcuts.

Stephanie B.

This particular lesson was interesting. I don’t think it was deep enough for any magician that is studied more than 10 years. I really believe that this topic could have been explored further. Let’s take a look at the book slight of minds as an example

Margaret M.

Penn mentions his journals here. I just read "Presto," where he talks about his journaling system. I've started doing it myself.