Real magic

IMG_1433I have been interested in magic since I was 8 years old.  Early on, I became fascinated with the history of this strange performing art, and when I was 13 years old I wrote a school project entitled ‘The Art And History Of Conjuring’.

One section of this 34-page extravaganza was devoted to contemporary magicians and included the cover of a magic magazine featuring the legendary David Copperfield.

A few years ago, I was in Las Vegas with my friend and fellow magician, Massimo Polidoro. We went to see David Copperfield’s amazing show and he kindly invited us to his secret museum of magic. This stunning collection is housed is a large building on the outskirts of Vegas and contains a jaw dropping collection of apparatus, posters and books. It is the Smithsonian of magic and explores how magic shapes society, inspires technology, and creates a sense of wonder.

IMG_1435Due to the nature of the exhibits, David is only able to show a few people around the museum at any one time. Afterwards, David and I spoke about producing a book that provides readers with a personal tour of this magical space. Excited by the idea, we enlisted the help of brilliant magician David Britland and amazing photographer (and co-director of David Copperfield’s shows) Homer Liwag. Together, we put together a pitch document and were delighted when Simon and Schuster agreed to publish the book. Not only that, but the wonderful Priscilla Painton agreed to act as our editor.

IMG_1409Three years on and our vision has become a reality. This 270-page glossy book is our love letter to magic. Filled with Homer’s stunning photographs, it celebrates a group of outsiders who bring a much-needed sense of magic into the world, including the man who fooled Houdini, the woman who caught bullets in her bare hands, and the illusionist who made himself vanish. Along the way we encounter a sixteenth-century manual on sleight of hand, stunning French automata, and even some coins that are said to have magically passed through the hands of Abraham Lincoln.

Over forty years ago, 13 year-old Wiseman write a school project on magic and referenced David Copperfield. Today, I am honoured to have worked with this legendary performer and co-authored a beautiful book on the topic. To me, that feels like real magic.

For information on how to purchase in the USA, click here and for the UK, click here.

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Hocus Pocus!

I am delighted to announce that Issue 4 of our magic comic, Hocus Pocus, is out now. This one is all about whether it’s possible to predict the future. As ever, it contains 28 full colour pages about magic, mystery and the mind. This issue also has lots of interactive demonstrations and illusions. Mother Shipton predicts your future , Nostradamus uncovers the secret of publishing profitable predictions and Paul The Psychic Octopus reveals all.Amazing work by Jordan Collver, Rik Worth and Owen Watts. Enjoy! Available now from Prop Dog

NEW PAPER ON CREATIVITY

papers2I have just co-authored a new research paper suggesting that learning to perform magic tricks makes children more creative.

During the experiment, a group 10 to 11-year-old children completed a creativity test that involved coming up with multiple uses for an everyday object. They were then taught how to perform a simple trick in which they showed someone a cube with different coloured sides, asked the person to secretly choose a colour, and then magically revealed their person’s choice. Finally, they all completed the creativity test a second time. Compared to another group of children who took part in an art lesson, learning the trick significantly boosted the children’s creativity scores.

Magic tricks often involve lateral thinking and we suspect that learning to perform the illusions encouraged children to think outside of the box.  There is a  need to enhance creative thinking from a young age. Learning magic tricks would be a cost effective, practical, and fun way of teachers and parents boosting children’s creativity. Maybe in the future, magic will become part of the school curriculum!

The peer-reviewed work was carried out in collaboration with  Amy Wiles and Professor Caroline Watt (Edinburgh University), and published in the academic journal PeerJ.

You can read the paper for free here, and a general review on magic and education here.

New MAGic BOOK

cover2I am delighted to announce that I have co-authored a new book – David Copperfield’s History of Magic.

It’s written by David Copperfield, David Britland and myself, with photographs by Homer Liwag.

The book presents a personal tour of David’s amazing secret museum of magic in Las Vegas. Containing over 100 full colour photographs, the book takes you on a journey into a clandestine world of psychology, history and magic.  The book is released on October 26th and is now available for pre-order.
USA: Click here
UK: Amazon UK

Good Magic Award

Last year I collaborated with The Good Thinking Society to set up the Good Magic Awards.

Our first award focused on performers who use magic tricks to improve the lives of others, including work with disadvantaged groups, hospital patients, and schools. The judges selected two great winners: Megan Swann (who presents a magic show that promotes environmental issues) and Breathe Magic (who support children with hemiplegia by helping them to learn tricks that improve physical and psychological wellbeing).

This year, the award will provide £2,000 to support a new and innovative project that promotes the art of magic. This might, for example, include developing a live or virtual performance, writing a magic-related book or essay, creating a podcast, devising a new form of illusion or presentation, or undertaking research into the history of magic.

Applicants need to be over 18 years old and currently residing in the UK, and nominations will close at 5pm (GMT) on 20th February 2021.

To enter, please head over to The Good Thinking Society now!

Science magic

A few years ago I produced three videos containing ten magic-based science stunts. I thought that they might help educate and entertain children during lockdown, or indeed anyone with a curious disposition. Here they are…..

The science of Ghosts

I am delighted to announce that the third issue of Hocus Pocus is out now!

This colourful comic explores magic and mystery, and this time we enter the spooky world of ghosts.

Discover the truth about Britain’s most haunted house, see a Victorian spirit manifest right before your eyes and encounter the ‘Ghost at 19Hz’.

As ever, Jordan Collver, Rik Worth and Owen Watts have done a wonderful job, and I am especially impressed with their optical illusion cover.

You can purchase the issue from PropDog (they ship anywhere in the world) and find out more on the Hocus Pocus website.

Enjoy!

Magic and Science

I am delighted to launch a new series of videos that use magic to celebrate science. Fab sleight of hand artist Will Houstoun and I produced them, supported by The Royal Society of Chemistry and chemist Dr Suzanne Fergus (University of Hertfordshire). The three videos use sleight of hand techniques to celebrate a different scientist, and do not involve any CGI or camera trickery.

We are excited about this new story telling technique and recently conducted an experiment that showed that it significantly boosted people’s engagement (details here).

I hope that you enjoy them!

How parapsychology changed psychology

I recently co-authored a paper on how a little-known parapsychology journal was years ahead of its time.

Our story starts in 2011, when psychologist Daryl Bem reported several experiments that appeared to support the existence of psychic ability. Soon after, Stuart Ritchie, Chris French and I tried to replicate the studies but obtained null results. Several other academics also criticised Bem’s statistics and procedures. This type of ‘I have evidence for psychic ability – Oh no you don’t’ back and forth has occurred many times over the years. However, this time, something odd happened.

Several researchers noted that the criticisms aimed at Bem’s work also applied to many studies from mainstream psychology. Many of the problems surrounded researchers changing their statistics and hypotheses after they had looked at their data, and so commentators urged researchers to submit a detailed description of their plans prior to running their studies. In 2013, psychologist Chris Chambers played a key role in getting the academic journal Cortex to adopt the procedure (known as a Registered Report), and many other journals quickly followed suit.

However, many academics are unaware that a little-known parapsychology journal – The European Journal of Parapsychology – implemented an early version of this concept in the 1970s. For 17 years, around half of the studies in the paper were registered in advance. If the critics were right, these papers should be less likely to contain problems with their statistics and methods, and so be more likely to report spurious positive results. To find out if this was the case, I recently teamed up with Caroline Watt and Diana Kornbrot to examine the studies. The results were as expected – around 8% of the analyses from the studies that had been registered in advance were positive, compared to around 28% from the other papers. Other academics are now conducting the same sort of analyses in psychology and medicine, and finding the same pattern.

Academics often criticise parapsychology, but this episode is a good example of how the field is sometimes ahead of the game and can help to improve mainstream psychology. 

The full paper describing this work is here.

And Diana is now looking more broadly at openness in science. If you are a researcher with an interest in the area, you can take part in her survey here.

It’s Competition Time!

Psychology at The University of Hertfordshire is turning 50 this year. To help celebrate, we’re holding two competitions, which could see you win Amazon vouchers worth up to £100.  

The first competition involves completing the statement, “Why I love psychology….” in a maximum of 10 words. In the second competition, we are inviting everyone to help shape the field over the next 50 years by completing the statement  ‘In the next 50 years, I hope that psychology …’ using a maximum of 20 words.

There will be 5 winners in each category, so come over to the competition website and send us your entries!

Hocus Pocus Issue 2

#2 Front Cover FINALI am delighted to announce the arrival of the second issue of Hocus Pocus!

And this time we have created a comic that communes with the dead!

This issue delves into the strange world of spirit communication! Join Houdini’s chief investigator, Rose Mackenberg, as she uncovers the secrets of the seance room. Travel through time to discover the trickery used by Fox sisters and the Davenport brothers to fool the world. Uncover the scientists and scoundrels behind the strange history of the Ouija Board.

Beautifully illustrated, printed in full colour on heavy card stock, and limited edition.

Illustrated by Jordan Collver, written by Rik Worth and coloured by Owen Watts.

You can get a copy from PropDog here or from Travelling Man here

And the magazine website is here.

Praise for Issue One:
‘An utterly magical read ….. one of the most inventive and gorgeous comics we have read this year.’ – Pipedream Comics

Festival of Ideas

The University of Hertfordshire have just launched a great online Festival of Ideas. There’s lots of amazing and wonderful content focusing around how the arts and sciences can help to tackle Covid-19, and thoughts about how the world will change post-virus.

I have contributed a talk about the making of a free online computer game that encourages social distancing. The game was created with Martin Jacob and can be played here.  The game received lots of media coverage, made the BBC national news and went viral. We have now had over 75,000 people play it and the feedback has been amazing!

10 tips to Improve your sleep

A report out today suggests that many people are struggling to sleep right now.  A few years ago I wrote a book about the science of sleep called Night School, and here are ten top tips.

Avoid the blues: When your eyes are exposed to light, your brain produces less of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin. Some research suggests that light towards the blue end of the spectrum is especially stimulating and computer screens, tablets, smartphones and LED lighting all emit a lot of blue light. Try not to use these devices in the two hours before you go to bed. If you must use them, turn down the brightness or wear amber-tinted glasses designed to block blue light.

Avoid nightcaps: Although a small amount of alcohol helps you get to sleep more quickly, it also gives you a more disturbed night, increases the chances of snoring and disrupts dreaming. Don’t drink alcohol in the hours before bed.

Remember the 90-minute rule: Every night your brain goes through several 90-minute sleep cycles. You feel good if you wake up towards the end of a cycle because then you are closest to your normal waking state. To increase the chances of this, decide when you want to wake up and then count back in 90 minutes blocks to discover the best time to fall asleep. For instance, if you want to wake up at 8am, you should aim to fall asleep around either 11pm or 12.30am.

Distract yourself: Research suggests that you will fall asleep quickly if you tire your mind. Try counting backwards from 100 in threes. Or, if you’re not good with numbers, think of a category (countries or fruit and vegetables) and then come up with an example of that category for each letter of the alphabet. A is for Albania, B is for Bulgaria, or A is for apple, B is for banana, etc.

Condition yourself: Russian psychologist Ivan Pavlov famously rang a bell each time he presented a dog with food, and eventually found that the sound of the bell alone was enough to make the dog salivate. The same concept can help you to fall asleep. Choose a soporific piece of music that you like, and fall asleep with it quietly playing. Over time, your brain will associate the music with sleep, and simply listening to it will help you nod off.

Get up!: If you’re awake for more than about 20 minutes during the night, get out of bed and do some form of non-stimulating activity, such as working on a jigsaw or a colouring book. This helps to prevent you associating your bed with sleeplessness. And if the problem arises later in the night, climb back out of bed and distract yourself again.

Relax: Lying awake makes many people feel anxious, and this anxiety disrupts their sleep even more, creating a vicious cycle. If you are struggling to sleep, remember that you are probably getting more sleep than you think (research shows that we all underestimate how much of the night we spend sleeping) and that just relaxing in bed is good for you.

Relaxing music: A few years ago I worked with composer Cameron Watt to use scientific principles to create a very relaxing piece of music. Lots of people have reported finding it helpful and it is free to listen to here:

A version of these tips originally appeared in an article that I wrote for The Guardian, and in a previous blogpost. I hope they help!

Can you save the world?

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I am delighted to launch the first social distancing computer game! Called ‘Can you save the world?’, the game is designed to get children (and adults!) to socially distance, and to also appreciate how this helps to save lives.

I have been working on this with the very talented game designer, Martin Jacob, and you can play it on your laptop or desktop computer (running Chrome or Safari) for free here.

Enjoy!

 

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The future of live events

This post was jointly written by Richard Wiseman and Simon Gage (Director, Edinburgh International Science Festival).

The Coronavirus has made large gatherings impossible at the moment, leading to the cancelling and postponement of lots of live events (including concerts, festivals, shows and talks). Obviously, right now it is vital that everyone observes the lockdown and stays indoors. However, even when restrictions are lifted, large gatherings are likely to prove problematic. Given that this situation may continue for many months, we thought that it would be good to start to brainstorm innovative ways of delivering live content. Live performances will inevitably have to change and so this can be seen as an opportunity to develop new and innovative approaches.  Our background is in science communication, and so the ideas are grounded in that area, but the same general approaches would work for a broad spectrum of live events.

Virtual performances: One obvious approach is to move online, and many performers and speakers have already started to do this. Although this has the advantage of scalability, it’s quickly becoming a crowded marketplace, risking screen fatigue. In addition, digital delivery can be challenging when it comes to generating a genuine sense of connection and engagement.

Streets and gardens: Performers could head onto streets and into gardens, and have audiences watching at a distance and/or through their windows.  Two-way chat could happen via the performer using a hands-free headset and a mobile phone to call people indoors (perhaps with the spectators placing their phone to speaker mode).

Drive-ins: In drive-ins cinemas, people watch films from inside their cars. Exactly the same could happen with live events. People could listen via large speakers, the radio, Bluetooth or a mobile device.

Floats: In some towns, Santa Claus is driven around on a float and everyone watches from their window or doorstep. The same idea could be used to provide live entertainment. Audiences receive a leaflet letting them know when the float will be coming down their street. The event could be made interactive in all sorts of ways, including the use of technology, advance input, etc..

Hands-on activities: Screen time is dominating our lives at the moment, but research shows that hands on activities are vital for learning, plus promote wellbeing. Material could be delivered to audiences and they could use it to build, create art etc.. Maybe have them watch a live, or pre-recorded, show and follow along? Could the same approach allow them to contribute to these shows in some way (for instance, by carrying out some kind of experiment and submit their data. Or send in their examples of art).

Live spaces: Re-design performance spaces, such that audiences can arrive and enjoy a performance in a safe way. Maybe they sit 2 meters apart? What sorts of immersive experiences could grow from the idea?

So, those are our initial ideas. Any other thoughts?