A message from magic to science: seeing how the brain can be tricked may strengthen our thinking
Henrik Ísterblom, Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University
Marten Scheffer, Aquatic Ecology and Water Quality Management, Wageningen University
Frances R Westley, Waterloo Institute for Social Innovation and Resilience, University of Waterloo
Miguel L. van Esso, College of Agriculture, Buenos Aires University
John Miller, Gray Jay Graphics, Wisconsin
Jordi Bascompte, Institute of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies, University of Zurich
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Scientific discoveries rely on creative thinking, and several authors have explored similarities in and differences between creativity in the sciences and that in the arts. Here we explore possible ways in which science can learn from the arts, focusing specifically on experiences derived from the art of magic and on the limitations of human cognition. Generations of stage magicians or “illusionists” have made sophisticated use of the weaknesses in human systems of perception and interpretation. We highlight three important principles of magic tricks, including: (1) the audience see what it expects, (2) it is blind to all but the focus of attention, and (3) ideas spring predictably from a primed mind. These principles highlight a number of important tendencies, which we argue are shortcomings in the ability of scientists to perceive the world, and which scientists need to be aware of. Consciously addressing these shortcomings may help scientists improve their creativity, and will strengthen their capacity to address complex and global challenges.
art; cognitive capacity; cognitive limitations; conclusion errors; confirmation bias; creative thinking; illusion; illusionist; inattentive blindness; magic; magician; priming; science; scientific discovery; selective attention
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