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The Science Behind Magic From The World According To Jeff Goldblum

Jeff Goldblum is back — and he’s as curious as ever. In this season of The World According to Jeff Goldblum, Jeff uncovers surprising secrets behind a whole new host of topics — including Dogs, Magic, Fireworks, Monsters and Motorcycles. While meeting a new cast of fantastic characters, from passionate fans to experts unveiling life-changing new technology, Jeff discovers just how these topics have shaped the world we live in.

In the second episode of the second season, prepare to be amazed as Jeff Goldblum investigates the ancient secrets of MAGIC. Jeff learns some mind-bending tricks from Las Vegas icons Penn & Teller and has his perception of reality destroyed by viral superstar Zach King. But MAGIC isn’t all about big names and crazy illusions — for some modern covens, MAGIC can be a celebration of nature, a connection to our cultural heritage and a means to explore our deepest selves.

To learn more about the science behind magic, The Koalition spoke to Neuroscientists Stephen Macknik and Susana Martinez-Conde, the founders of NeuroMagic — who are also members of the Magic Castle, Magic Circle, International Brotherhood of Magicians, and the Society of American Magicians. Together they have worked with the world’s best magicians and Jeff Goldblum to study and explain how magicians trick the brain.

Magic tricks work because humans have an already established process of distraction magicians tap into — using our mind’s own ingrained properties. By understanding how magicians uses our brain against us, scientists can better understand how the brain develops, functions and ages.

“The most important thing we learned from studying Jeff [Goldblum] was that where he’s looking is where he is tending to pay attention. Where you pay attention and where you look aren’t necessarily the same place and you can only actually process consciously those places you’re paying attention. What’s interesting about human beings is we can only see well in the very center of our vision. So if we pay attention in the periphery we’re actually paying attention to somewhere where we’re blind. So one of the things magicians can do is get us to pay attention where we literally have lower than 20/20 vision and that’s the only thing we can see. Where we actually have 20/20 vision we’re not paying attention so we miss what’s going on” Stephen said.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a way to trick the brain so we can see more than what we would just normally would pay attention to because of the how the brain is hardwired to function. “We wouldn’t want to, so the short answer is no. This is intrinsic of our neural wiring. We’re hardwired to only pay attention to a very small portion of reality but if that was not the case it would be impossible to do science or art or anything that required focusing on something. This is actually it’s not a bug [in our brain], it’s a feature we’re built with,” Susana said.

Despite our hard wiring and inability to trick the brain, there is a way to strengthen the brain by focusing on one thing at a time but even that can have its drawbacks.

“It’s interesting because education itself is basically kind of exercise for your mind. You learn how to focus on things for longer and longer periods as you go higher up in the academic ladder. One of our great mentors James Randy taught us that the some of the people who are easiest to fool have a PHD after their name. The PHDs have learned to pay attention really hard to something, so a magician can get them to pay attention to something over here and while they’re doing that they can’t see [what’s going on over here] even more than people who who have less education because they’ve learned to concentrate so hard on thing. They can pay attention for a long time [but] they miss what’s happening [in other places]. It seems like practicing in education actually makes you focus for longer and that’s what the power of education is but that also means that you actually just lower the noise level and other things and that’s what magicians can take advantage of,” Susana finished.

[Therefore], it’s pretty hopeless to try and train yourself to multitask. What you want to do is to make it easier for your brain to single task and that means to eliminate distractions. In the era we live we’re constantly interrupted by alarms from our social media, emails and notifications of all types [which are] very hard for our brain to function with that constant interruption. [It] forces [us to] task switch and we’re notoriously bad at that because every time we switch our attention, we lose time and it makes it harder to focus. Multitasking is not the answer, it’s more efficient [to do] single tasking,” Stephen added.

In The World According To Jeff Goldblum‘s Magic episode, Jeff seeks out answers to how children’s brain function, how they see the world and why they have an advantage to magic tricks adults that brains slowly loses as it ages.

“When you’re a a child, you haven’t actually learned how to pay attention very well yet and that’s [why they’re always looking around] because they can’t focus in on anything for any long period of time. They haven’t exercised the attention parts of their brain to be able to do that. So by learning and becoming expert in things and and by growing up we learn how to focus in on things. This is [how] the attentional mechanism is different between children and adults. it’s very hard for magicians to practice the same kind of magic they do for adults because children will actually see some of the methods better than adults will because they will not pay attention where they’re supposed to or where the magician wants them to in order for the magician to get away with magical murder over here. So children’s magicians have different kinds of tricks,” said Stephen.

“A couple of other things that are different between children and adults is for one, children are much more plastic in terms of their brain. It is easier for children to learn that’s why children can learn a second language much more easily than adults do. The other thing children don’t have that adults do is, and this is both an advantage and a disadvantage in terms of magic, but what children don’t have is very rigid expectations about the way the world works. They don’t have such rigid notions of what’s magical versus what’s possible according to the laws of physics. So they’re going to be surprised more or less depending on these expectations or lack of expectations whereas as adults we are more rigid in our thinking because we have more life experience and that makes us more susceptible to being full in some ways but in other ways we can be more efficient in the way that we process information,” Susana added.

To learn more about the brain, the aging process involving focus and more, watch the full interview in the video above. The World According To Jeff Goldblum season 2 premieres November 12th on Disney Plus Day.

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