The Magic Of Extraordinary Objects
The first thing I can remember wanting to invent as a child was a machine that would record my dreams so I could experience them again and again.
In high school, I started thinking practically about how this could be done. I imagined a contraption full of electrodes that you would wear to bed that would detect different types of brain activity in certain regions and know what I was seeing. I thought the images would be very blurry at first—rendering a dream about a sunset as just a large gradient of yellow and red—but with time would come an increase in resolution, and we could begin to see more and more detail. When I learned about fMRI in college, my first thought was that this was the beginning of my dream machine. (The future of mentalism was only a tertiary thought.)
Today, fMRI has matured to the point where it can recreate a blurry image of what you have seen, and it can tell you which object or word you are thinking of among a short list. It shouldn't be long before it recreates an image you have imagined, i.e., a dream. Apparently, I wasn't the only kid on the block with this idea. Here's a quick video of this technology in action, and here's another:
You can imagine what another five or ten years will bring. Which brings me to the point—are mentalists going to be able to produce something more amazing and more engaging than what this will be doing five years down the road? Or is it more likely that mind reading will be seen as neat while things like this will be seen as truly astonishing?
Will mentalists be seen as the imposters while technologies are seen as the real mind readers?
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Let's look at another example. Recently, a video was released showing the magnetic levitation of a disc around a track. Here's a video—
Imagine if this video had not been uploaded to the Internet, and the spectator in the video was a magician. It is highly likely that the magician would try to disguise this technology and instead frame it as magic.
This is nothing new. Magicians love to take something relatively unknown and use it as a method before everyone tastes the secret sauce. In the 19th Century, Robert-Houdin played off of the public's ignorance of the properties of ether to effect his suspension; more recently, you bought a Frixion pen. The difference between then and now is largely a matter of the shelf life of the acquired secret. In the 1800's, magicians had years or even decades to work with, while presently you'd be lucky to get a a few months or a year at most without furthering the deceptive effort.
Let's think about this deception a little longer. We see something in the world that is amazing on its own and recognize that we are not connected to or responsible for the astonishment that the technology produces. But, if we hide the true nature of the breakthrough, we can satisfy our ego by presenting ourselves as the effector of the amazing phenomenon. (It is a short term gain, however, for we will always be exposed, and this goes for the overwhelming majority of magic secrets, too. Eventual and inevitable exposure.)
I am conflicted about this practice. On the one hand, every method we could possibly create can be reduced to the fact that we are not telling you everything. Today's audiences know this, so they enter the deception of their own volition. On the other hand, I want to encourage others to have real knowledge and apprehend these new technologies for what they truly are.
I don't want to feel like I am standing in the way of knowledge in the name of entertainment. This might be an unfounded concern, I don't know. Perhaps I am framing the issue incorrectly. Or perhaps these reassurances are rationalizations that I want to put into place to allow myself to continue.
Another emerging technology with magical impact is sonic projection, or tactile holography. With this, you can see an object (a holograph) in a space and you can touch it. Have a look—
Think about this. Imagine a small object appearing in your outstretched hand and instantly transporting itself to your spectator's hand before it vanishes while they are holding it. Once these technologies mature and people begin to have common knowledge of them, a lot of tricks become far less mysterious.
Actually, that's a gross understatement.
Most productions, vanishes, teleportations, transformations, restorations, penetrations, or demonstrations of telekinesis with a small object will be known to be completely possible with this technology. Combined with fMRI technology, we can include mind reading phenomena too. The magician's greatest feat at this point, if he can even accomplish it, will be proving this technology is not at work. Think of how much convincing magicians already do an imagine an exponential increase. It may not be worth it.
Furthermore, card games will continue to be digitized until we reach the point where a pack of playing cards is no longer an ordinary object and seems rather antiquated. Even if they stay common for longer than expected, digital ink technologies will exist that will be able to change the "printed" appearance of words and shapes on special paper. People will likely be paying for things with the smart device they carry with them, pushing coins and bills (and wallets) into the realm of objects that may be thought of as odd to carry around. A newspaper that is printed and delivered will be a thing of the past. It will be more difficult to continue to supply them, and the audience will find them foreign.
Magicians are used to objects becoming extinct. After all, you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who has a thimble in their house that isn't part of the board game Monopoly; most men under 50 don't carry a handkerchief anymore; and we've been seeing the trend away from cigarettes for decades. Heck, even plain rope is far less common than it was.
What I am suggesting here is the real possibility of an extinction burst where many things become anachronistic in a very short period of time, and magnifying the impact of this is the fact that the items marked for extinction will be the objects that are fundamental to most close-up magic, e.g., cards, coins, and bills.
Granted, this will take some time, but I believe this is an important consideration for those who are thinking about making magic their full time pastime or occupation, specifically, those who are planning to be involved in magic 20, 30, or 50 years from now. This may be an uncomfortable thought, and the initial reaction may be to seek reassurance with cliché phrases about how magicians will always survive and magic will continue to evolve. Well, no fire burns forever. Yes, magicians will be able to construct new effects, but not with the objects they once relied upon. It is possible that entire genres of magic become largely obsolete.
We aren't looking at the death of magic, but we are going to see a major disruptive transformation on an unprecedented scale within the next couple of decades. Then again, it's very easy to underestimate how long it actually takes for things to get to where we know they are aimed. I mean, how's that cure for cancer coming along?
I wrote this post primarily for those who are relatively new to magic. Magicians tend to be intelligent and passionate about exercising their creative abilities. They are inquisitive, persistent, and willing to do tedious and monotonous work for a very long time in exchange for a brief reward. These qualities are perfect for entering into physics, chemistry, biology, engineering, mathematics, and a whole host of other disciplines. (Each of them even have their own conventions with their own celebrities!)
Ask yourself what you really want. Do you want to be the creator of new technologies where you have nothing to hide, or if you want to invent new ways of deceptive practice for the entertainment of others? Do you want to move people with your character and your story or if you want to affect people with your research and discoveries? Perhaps you do both. There is no objectively correct answer, but maybe your inherent abilities and talents can shine in far more places than you once imagined.