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Magic and Illusions

Roanoke College was honored to have Art Benjamin on campus for a week in March, 2009. Art is an award-winning mathematics professor at Harvey Mudd College, a professional magician who performs regularly at the Magic Castle in Hollywood, and a great guy. Visit Art's web page here. Art did a couple of outstanding shows for the public. Link here for pictures. He showed us several magic tricks based on college level mathematics. We have been enlivening our classes with these "borrowed" tricks ever since. While at Roanoke, Art prepared to tape his video course on Discrete Mathematics for the Great Courses series. You can link to his course here. There are some magic tricks embedded in the series!
Art's visit and a longstanding interest in cognitive illusions and how the brain works put magic tricks on my radar. So I was very interested in the 2010 release of the book Sleights of Mind: What the Neuroscience of Magic Reveals About Our Everyday Deceptions by Macknik and Martinez-Conde. I highly recommend this book! Link to Sleights of Mind web site here. Check out the Illusion of the Year contest finalists! This is a required book in my freshman seminar "Science, Myths, Magic and Chaos."

The book Magical Mathematics by Persi Diaconis and Ron Graham is fantastic! There are some amazing card tricks described and explained, using strong mathematical results from a variety of fields. Link to an article about Persi Diaconis. Other recommended books include Inevitable Illusions by Piattelli-Palmarini, Phantoms in the Brain by Ramachandran and Blakeslee, How We Know What Isn't So by Gilovich and Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior by Brafman and Brafman.

Given an interest in magic and cognitive illusions, it should not be surprising that I also enjoy optical illusions. Of course, that statement may be backwards since I first enjoyed M.C. Escher's illusions (like the "Waterfall" in the background) years ago. There are a number of books of optical illusions. Among the good web sites are:
Grand Illusions Check out the Einstein illusion! Link to video.
Michael Bach
Ball and Shadow Illusion
Curve Ball Illusion

Have you ever noticed that some people are very laid back about getting to the next destination?

By contrast, some people just can't wait to get on with the next activity.

Actually, these pictures are both optical illusions. The picture below left seems to show both laid back and forward-looking people. The unrotated picture to the right shows the real scene.