Chapter Three Causality

"For that ontlie is woonderfull to the beholder, whereof he can conceive no cause..,

Walter Scot,

"The Discoverie of Witchcraft


To create the illusion of impossibility we must first understand how the mind concludes that something is impossible. This raises what may be the single most important question in magic. Amazingly, it's one I've never heard a magician ask. What leads a spectator to conclude that something is impossible: Hie question matters because, ultimately, effect design is about how laypeople think. How laypeople think is the most important subject in magic.

I'm going to approach this question by an indirect route. Lets start With Atturo de Ascanio's brilliantly simple definition of a magic effect. The effect is the difference brhveett the initial condition and the final condition. At the beginning of the trick the aces are in four piles. There is nothing amazing about thac. At the end of the trick the aces are in one pile. In itself, there's nothing amazing about that either.

Suppose a spectator is watching a magician perform. He sees Kim deal the four aces Ln a row and place three cards on each. Tien his cell phone rings and he his to leave the room to rake the call, 'that spectator didn't see a magic effect. He saw only the initial condition. Suppose another specta tor arrives late. He comes in as the performer shows that all four aces arc in OIK pile. Everybody applauds. He thinks, "So what's the big deal!* He didn't sec a magic effect either. He saw only the final condition. To experience a magic effect, the spectator would have to see the four-ace trick Irora beginning ro end so that his mind could compare the difference between A) the initial condition (four aces separated) and B) the final condition (four aces together). The magic is in the difference.

It's like those beibrc-ind-after weight-loss ads. If you see only the photo of the fat guy or only the photo of the thin guy, it doesn't mean much. You have to see both so you can compare. It's only then thai you can conclude, "Wow, that guy lost a lot of weight!"

This fact is at the core of the claim that the magic happens in tutor's mind. Irs the spectators mind that compares A to B and Co' V^" that the difference constitutes magic. What forces him to that cone"-the lack of anv causal link—even any possibility of a causal link-J^'0"'5 A and B. ' ***

Any magician who performs strong magic has had Iaype0ple ten as much countless rimes. "There's no way those aces could have under her hand." "There's no way that card could have gotten into ^ wallet." "There's no way you could have known what card I was thi of" Spectators may also communicate this message nonverbally. At the of a strong trick, you will often see people shake their heads as if sav' C ^ Sometimes the spectator will simply exclaim, "No way!" Those r\vo "j say it all. There is no way—literally, no path—leading from A to B 7/ * is no causal link.

Tlius, the magical experience is an intellectual process that produces an emotional impact. The moment your intellect concludes that there ' no possible causal link between A and B, the trapdoor opens beneath vcm Your mind goes into free fell. That free fall is the emotional experience of magic, the feeling of being overwhelmed by something incomprehen s.ble What your body feels when you plummet in a roller coaster your mrnd feels when you experience magic. Both come from the realization that youre no longer on firm ground. In the first case, this is literally true In the second case, it's the firm ground of everything you thought you could beheve about reality that has just disappeared. The coaster and the mag.aan both allow you to experience something potentially scary in a safe environment.

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