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A morning with Jordi Camí

The illusionist brain

Debate + Education

How do magicians make us see the impossible? In this talk, we’ll be looking at the latest discoveries in neuroscience and showing how magic “hacks” our mind and reveals its automatic functioning.

Professor and specialist in neurosciences Jordi Camí will be talking with students about his latest book, written jointly with researcher Luis M. Martínez, The Illusionist Brain: The Neuroscience of Magic (Princeton University Press, 2022). Magicians, they tell us, know all about our minds. They use a wide variety of methods and technologies, but most of all they know how to take advantage of the most basic cognitive mechanisms of the normal functioning of our brain.

Our minds construct our perception of reality by creating meanings and continuities where we have only partial and incomplete information. This strategy has obvious benefits for coexistence, but there are also some blind spots. One example is what Camí calls “change blindness”: with evolution, our brain has learned a whole series of strategies for dealing with visual and informational challenges. When it comes to sight, for example, in each retina we receive the equivalent of 70 gigabytes of information—that is, 70 films!

In order to process this wave of information, the brain only retains details. On the basis of these details, recognized thanks to our personal library, our memory, we are able to recognize what we see. The problem is that the brain is slow, so what it does is anticipate and predict what it will see. Magicians are very familiar with our brain’s automatic anticipation and take advantage of it to make us see or hide what suits them. With this look at different magic tricks, we’ll discover both the strengths and the physical and metabolic limitations of our brain.

Participants: Jordi Camí

This activity is part of Brain(s), Lectures for secondary students

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Lectures for secondary students

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