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Welcome to The Hungry Imagination. Every month I write an article about perceptual engineering and post it here — for free. Part art, part science, and for anyone fascinated by the peculiarities of the mind.
— Armando Lucero
Cognitive Capture Managing Attention by Armando Lucero
Imagine a circle that encompasses your full range of viewing. Inside of this circle is an evident and novel dot, which pulls attention. If the dot moves, then wherever the dot goes, you follow. The dot is the cognitive-capture. Everything not “dot,” is the “peripheral;” seen and absorbed by the mind but not scrutinized so intensely as the dot. However, viewers remember the experience as if all was thoroughly examined; such is the nature of heuristics.
If we perform magic without giving viewers direction, then they cannot easily anticipate what is next, which can be to our benefit. But then they are also left to their own devices while they wander about and may guess correctly. However, by providing guidance, we can better shade our subterfuges and give more clarity to an effect. Offer a point of focus and the task expected occupies their attention while taxing the perceived incidentals just outside and around. The more enticing and demanding is the subject then the apter all peripheral actions will fade from scrutiny.
If that emphasis is too demanding though, then focus is lost, and all things peripheral come back into the light. It is a balancing act between a perceived task and what lay in the outer. Give too much to handle, and we lose them to wandering. Give too little to focus on, and the peripheral incidentals come out of the shadows. Push too hard, and spectators feel guided but push too softly, and they veer off track to scrutinize the incidentals. Compounded by the fact that each person possesses different capabilities our job is further complicated.
To keep them away from the deception it behooves us to occupy them with a task. Give direction verbally or by gesturing cues. Seed their imagination with ideas which tax their attention and nurture the belief it was theirs. Each “task” can be linked to another by tagging to remove time in between where they could gather their composure or wits about them. Point the way to the next task either verbally or by a gesture as a mark of distinction that sets them up to anticipate the next job (“while spectators remain unaware of being directed or misdirected”). Viewers guided cannot easily wander. Continued tagging of tasks (cognitive-captures) will keep viewers on the path of focus while the perceived peripheral incidental actions remain within the shadows of their attention.
Concepts can be a bit esoteric, therefore this is an example of managing focus while shading the secret move with another move. 📺 Cognitive Capture and the Pass
I have yet to witness an “invisible” pass; however, I have perceived one. What we see with our eyes versus what we think are two wholly different things. Executing a pass requires the top and bottom half to move, and movement is difficult to cover depending on the grip. All action perceived, is novel and therefore pulls attention. Instead, wrap the hidden purpose (secret-move), with another intent (overt-move) — hence, the psychology of delivery over brute force technique.
❝We walk the crooked line while viewers' seek the straight. We do not follow the path of least resistance, but rather the way of most deceptive.” – Armando Lucero
Rather than having the right hand placed above, as traditionally done, it is set below as if hugging, which offers more cover. Curiously, I asked a few people why they preferred holding their right hand above instead of below since below offers better shade. I usually got a surprised look, as if I should know better. And then this answer “because it’s more natural” However, what is natural? Here is an excerpt I wrote in the Coin Menagerie Studies about “natural”:
❝We tend to find the path of least resistance when learning to use our bodies according to our physical restrictions, conveniences, and freedoms. And the operable word is 'assume.' After we find our way, we assume it to be natural. However, we defy this when we dance, play the piano, fly, mountain climb, go to the moon, etc. We often challenge the path of least resistance.
Once we assimilate what is odd or new and understand it, we become accustomed to it until we consider what was not natural before as perfectly natural now. Natural is not absolute but assimilated. Natural is a point of view determined by what we learn. Instead of trying to figure out what natural or unnatural is, consider what is familiar or different.
'Is this natural or not?' can change to 'Is this familiar or different?' Much more discernible but still ambiguous because the distinction depends on a persons experience or lack thereof, so is therefore intellectually or culturally centric. And therein lies the potential to change it by way of influence. Control the view; Skew the experience.”  – Armando Lucero
For better shading, I wondered how I could get into the position of hugging below the deck without bringing about suspicion. The answer was to wrap one purpose; my real goal, with another; one delivered to keep viewers focused elsewhere — a cognitive capture by way of choreographing a subtext.
Regarding the example on the video, the context is to show one card in the middle and have the viewer remember it, then magically bring it to the top. The subtext is to casually affirm it is not yet on the top or the bottom, incidental to the context. By experimentation I arrived at a choreography that got my right hand into the position I needed, using a truthful impulse.
If viewers see intent in a move, then it could become novel and therefore suspicious, so the choreography is structured to convert the ‘intent’ into a response and thereby reduce it to banal. I position my hand with something reasonable; to turn the card over which is the subtext constructed to shade the hidden-text of hand positioning for the pass.
Showing the top and bottom cards may seem incidental, but it is the exact choreography required to achieve maximum cover strategically. Not just visually but psychologically. The choreography forces a cognitive-capture upon the viewer. People will focus on what they think essential while unaware of outside influence.
The top and bottom maneuver taxes their attention, so focused on the task that all else, within their peripheral, drop to the default mode of assumption. And by peripheral, I mean thoughts and not necessarily what they see. They scrutinize upon the ideas they deem essential. And this is of great benefit to us because they assume everything examined.
A cognitive-capture is a tool easily underestimated. A move can be executed while viewers are not looking, which is a common ruse; but some viewers may remember they were distracted. I would rather a viewer know with absolute certainty that they missed nothing than to suspect they missed something. Viewers occupied with a cognitive capture will see it but not perceive it, right under their noses.
We are different
The way a person perceives is dependent on their personal experiences and biological potentials to process the information. That most people function similarly is part of our delusion we tend to surmise that we think the same. Ironically, our heuristics to make sense of it can force us to assume overgeneralized conclusions. What happens then when we meet someone uniquely different? They would be the anomaly to our generalizations, so our descriptions would not fit them. It could either be their physical gifts and challenges, or a vastly fascinating past of experiences that force them to respond to the world differently. Or both of these.
Having performed magic around the world, I have experienced differences in the way people analyze within each culture. Some starkly different than others but there have been subtle differences at the very least. Now and then I have also met the few who do not fit any criteria I have experienced before. The occupational hazard of a magician, for example, is to be burdened with the knowledge of deception. We not only react differently to seeing magic but are forever changed to perceive the world according to these influences. We have learned to be this way. We often forget this when we achieve unconscious competence. Then what was once amazing now seems mundane; however, only because of our burden of knowledge.
The more we understand how a particular individual thinks then, the better prepared we are to guide them. Generalizations are useful, but if we could adjust accordingly to the unique case individuals as well, then we could do a better job of securing the deception for all. Particular cultures have greater attention skills to differentiate what they see; see related study Müller-Lyer illusion. There are also individuals, within specific jobs, that have become finely attuned to see things others do not; like detectives or scientist. It is easy to assume shared perceptions because when something works on us, we often discover it works on others; it generally does, but not always. “Perception” is a subjective matter, and we can become complacent assuming others perceive the same when we are judging within similar groups of a given culture, but it’s a trap. Not everyone responds the same. We all have different biological potentials and life experiences to influence our perceptions of the world around us.
Examples: I once jokingly asked a person to memorize a deck of cards. What I discovered afterward was that she did remember every card and its order, amazing! It did not look effortful at all, and she just seemed to glance at the cards casually. She was an anomaly by having learned to do this. Someone witnessed an Elmsley count, and the response was “why is there two of the same cards?” That person happened to be a detective, so his visual alertness for subtle detail was better than most. He was an anomaly. Autism will cause one to perceive differently (Kuhn et al., 2010); hence an anomaly. Trauma can change one’s view. It is possible to prepare and adapt once we learn more about those who think slightly or substantially different. I tend to work for the two to five percent who have extreme powers of analysis to back engineer and problem solve. Then fix the delivery for the rest later. In this way, my success rate is not dependent on the aim for most, but all.
The Artful Approach
And "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts" (may have been paraphrased from an Aristotle quote, as shown below.)
❝Concerning the challenge we just faced about how to describe things in numbers and definitions, What is the reason for a unity/oneness? For however many things have a plurality of parts and are not merely a complete aggregate but instead some kind of a whole beyond its parts, there is some cause of it since even in bodies, for some the fact that the there is contact is the cause of a unity/oneness while for others there is viscosity or some other characteristic of this sort. But a definition [which is an] explanation is one [thing] not because it is bound-together, like the Iliad, but because it is a definition of a single thing. ” – Aristotle, Metaphysics 8.6 [=1045a]
Unlike science which is bounded by rules, artfully approaching a problem more readily allows for play and discovery along the way. Not being strictly bound by regulations gives freedom to see things differently — a way of thinking sometimes lacking in the scientific approach. Real science then, at least for me, is about using all tools available to seek the truth which includes the artist way. Perceptual engineering (magic), has advantages to study the mind with an increased feedback loop for testing as compared to a laboratory experiment. However, this is not disregarding logic or critical thinking but about freedoms gained when we permit ourselves to ponder things beyond self-inflicted constraints; hence, a productive balance between creativity and critical thinking. Scientists are often preoccupied with the parts of the whole while I find artists do the reverse, seeing the function of the whole rather than the individual components alone. Merely a difference in attitude but a valuable tool nonetheless. Exercising an artful-approach can help thwart off potential biases when we become too comfortable with our knowledge.
Consider a Bach fugue where all the parts work in tandem and support of one another to yield such beautiful music when the listener experiences the whole. Studying a specific part isolated from the rest cannot reveal solutions with accuracy or reliability. I dare say it must be experienced in its entirety to know it. A compositional piece of perceptual engineering is no different. Magic by perceptual engineering does seem to mystify anyone attempting to unravel it with scientific methodology, isolating the parts, looking too closely, and then find – nothing. Trying to test a bit of magic this way is not possible by traditional isolation and repetition. It is not that magic fails scientific rigor, but rather that scientists may not be so prepared for the rigors of magic. Anyone interested in making a scientific study of magic should become a “magician” first. One needs to immerse themselves fully before it can be understood deeply from the inside out, learn the language. The traditional academic viewpoint is not enough, or else the intricate but complex nuances will never be noticed let alone understood. We then become proficient in the language until it becomes second nature. It can appear mystical to the uninitiated, but it is something that can be learned. Beauty is natures hint for truth, and by honing our artful skills to recognize it, are we not better scientist?
Sincerely, Armando Lucero
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Arturo Ascanio and Juan Tamariz defined a place in the pad as ‘Twilight Zone’ (Zona de Penumbra) an area to place the objects we don’t want to capture attention such as a box, jokers, or secret actions.
Control The view; Skew the experience: Information can influence with or without a viewers awareness depending on how it is delivered or received. We experience the universe peeking through a tiny hole of vision with our limited capacity to perceive it, so If we can control the view, then we can skew the experience. ” – Armando Lucero
Awh, E., Armstrong, K. M., & Moore, T. (2006). Visual and oculomotor selection: Links, causes and implications for spatial attention. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 10(3), 124–130. - Kuhn, G., & Tatler, B. W. (2005). Magic and fixation: Now you don’t see it, now you do. Perception, 34(9), 1155–1161. - Kuhn, G., Amlani, A. A., & Rensink, R. A. (2008). Towards a science of magic. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 12(9), 349–354. - Kuhn, G., & Rensink, R. A. (2016). The vanishing ball illusion: A new perspective on the perception of dynamic events. Cognition, 148, 64–70. -Mack, A., & Rock, I. (1998). Inattentional blindness MIT press Cambridge, MA.
-Kuhn, G., Kourkoulou, A., & Leekam, S. R. (2010) how magic changes our expectations about autism. Psychological Science, 21(10), 1487–1493.
Rensink, R. A., & Kuhn, G. (2015a). A framework for using magic to study the mind. - Danek et al. (2013) Aha! Experiences leave a mark: facilitated recall of insight solutions; - Daneck et al. (2014). Working Wonders? Investigating insight with magic tricks’
Euclidean geometry once dominated as the tool of choice for describing the universe until it became clear to Albert Einstein that space was curved and therefore a different method was needed. This recount is an example of a productive balance between creativity and critical thinking.
Parris, B. A., Kuhn, G., Mizon, G. A., Benattayallah, A., & Hodgson, T. L. (2009). Imaging the impossible: An fMRI study of impossible causal relationships in magic tricks. NeuroImage, 45(3), 1033–1039. - Caffaratti, H., Navajas, J., Rey, H. G., & Quian Quiroga, R. (2016). Where is the ball? Behavioral and neural responses elicited by a magic trick. Psychophysiology, 53(9), 1441–1448. - Danek, A. H., Öllinger, M., Fraps, T., Grothe, B., & Flanagin, V. L. (2015). An fMRI investigation of expectation violation in magic tricks. Frontiers in Psychology, 6 - Kuhn, G., & Land, M. F. (2006a). There’s more to magic than meets the eye. Current Biology, 16(22), R950-R951. - Kuhn, G., & Rensink, R. A. (2016). The vanishing ball illusion: A new perspective on the perception of dynamic events. Cognition, 148, 64–70. - Kuhn, G., Tatler, B. W., Findlay, J. M., & Cole, G. G. (2008). Misdirection in magic: Implications for the relationship between eye gaze and attention. Visual Cognition, 16(2–3), 391–405. - Kuhn, G., & Findlay, J. M. (2010). Misdirection, attention, and awareness: Inattentional blindness reveals a temporal relationship between eye movements and visual awareness. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology (2006), 63(1), 136–146. - Kuhn, G., & Land, M. F. (2006b). There’s more to magic than meets the eye. Current Biology : CB, 16(22), R950–1. - Rensink, R. A., & Kuhn, G. (2015a). A framework for using magic to study the mind.
“ Often a specific design typically used in EEG experiments and some eye trackers. One particular example is the ”Oddball“ design. The repetitions allow avoiding noise in the signal when averaging several trials of the same stimulus. However, there are mathematical tools used to observe an effect in a single test; this process is called ‘Single Trial Analyses.’ This design allows scientists to study EEG signals of just one trial or few, a good approach to study the ingredients or parts of magic more realistically. Again, it depends which is the initial question, what do you want to consider? Is it perception? Is it attention? And what about them? Repeating an effect is just one method, useful to study only some effects, but many others don’t need repetitions, so it depends. ” – Hugo Cafferatti (Neuroscientist)
“What are scientists looking for is the question? In my opinion, magic has many interesting ‘ingredients’ that when isolated become new paradigms to study details of a particular phenomenon or brain process. In this sense, there are fascinating results already found when ‘isolating the parts’ of magic REF (all references) — new paradigms to study attention, memory, perception, etc. As always in science the problem is the initial question, if this is wrong then the conclusions are wrong of course, and then we affirm we found nothing. ” — Hugo Caffaratti (Neuroscientist)
The articles cover many subjects related to perceptual engineering and I am honored that you took valuable time to read them, and so for all of you who contributed and supported me, here is a very big...