I love magic – real magic done by slight of hand and misdirection, not camera tricks. There have been several TV shows recently that revealed some of the tricks of the magic trade. Penn & Teller are well known for this, and for their dislike of bullshit.
Now there’s a documentary coming out about the Amazing (James) Randi, a venerable magician who, like the famous magician Houdini, has been debunking psychics and frauds for decades. There’s a challenge on his site randi.org offering a million dollars to anyone who can prove something paranormal. Randi’s team has evaluated claims of psychic powers, ESP, dowsing, magnetic humans, astrology, faith healing, and more. He says that scientists are ill-prepared to evaluate such claims – you need a magician to catch a magician; or a well-meaning person who has fooled themselves. As Richard Feynman said, “the first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.” So far no one has claimed the prize, but it will truly be amazing if someone does – a breath-taking surprise to science. I’d love to see that, but sadly, so far, the paranormal is home to superstition.
It may be harmless entertainment to read your horoscope every day, but superstition can cause harm, can even kill. What intentional frauds do is immoral, sometimes illegal, so I applaud Randi. But I do disagree with him on one point. He says, people don’t really want to know how a magic trick is done, it bums them out. Not me – I am even more amazed when I see how I have been tricked (I’m always tricked – I can never figure out magic), and still enjoy seeing the trick again. I can love magic, science fiction, and fantasy, and yet live in the real world. Reality, after all, is pretty amazing. Besides, no matter how hard you believe, reality always wins.
I don’t see the release details yet, but watch for the documentary. StrictlyDocs.com
BTW – Penn and Teller have a new TV show on the SyFy channel: Wizard Wars which promises to take “viewers behind the scenes of magic by challenging a new team of magicians each week to create the most jaw-dropping illusions.” The episodes I’ve seen so far make me realize that magicians spend a lot of time perfecting their routines – and the show doesn’t allow them that time. But I’ll keep watching.