Thursday, August 07, 2008

Magic and the Mind

Magic is the air. It was in The New Yorker in April, Harper's in July and in Nature Neuroscience in July as well, as all you Boing Boing readers already know. It is now official common knowledge: magic is based on exploiting the limits of how we are neurologically wired.

I have watching the TED Talks as of late and there are a couple of the talks that are performances of magic. Keith Barry is impressive in his cunning and Arthur Benjamin is impressive in his mathematical abilities even when he openly articulates his memory aids. But the best example that I have seen from TED that illustrates the limits to our perceptions comes from the videos near the end of presentation by philosopher Daniel Dennett.

While the above talks are entertaining, they aren't my favourite two brain related TED Talks. Those are Vilayanur Ramachandran's discussion of how he treated the pain in the phantom limbs of patients and Jill Bolte Taylor's account our her stroke. I have come away from Vilayanur's talk with a feeling that we grossly underestimate how the body reacts to what it sees. I can't help but think that should be much more mindful about making our surroundings more beautiful and we should express a little bit of rage - just like James Howard Kunstler brilliant takedown on suburbia - over the largly ugly concrete world that others have built for us to live in.

Jill Bolte Taylor's story of her stroke is the most viewed TED Talk because she gives herself up completely in telling her story. She describes the experience of being wholly right brained as pure nirvanna and its made me wonder if Buddhaism, which has been descibed as a form of mind training, could be understood as the purposeful sublimation of the left brain. Is religion and all its magical thinking also just a result of how we are wired?

1 comment:

art said...

I have read that one of the explanations for shamanistic drumming is that the beat subdues the left side of the brain. There seems to be a lot of questionable drum healing offerings on the net but one intriguing aspect of shamanism is that the drum could be much more accessible than the mediation techniques and training required in other approaches. I'm not sure how magic fits into it all but I have always wondered if any magicians exploit the color phi phenomenon. Great post, Jill Bolte Taylor's talk is one of the most amazing projections I have ever seen, and an easy winner of the "best use of a prop in a presentation ever".