Making ausal Connections

only unrelated perceptions. It is the condition of all experience."

Immanuel Kant,

Critique of Pure Reason

Cornell Woolrich, Deadline at Dawn

^m&^TT^ who pioncercd the **<«e mental f,nfanrs and -voun§ children, has concluded that the search 36 1 Chapter 3: Causality for causal connections is one of the perceptual patterns that automatically evolve as a child's mind develops. Its not learned. It's not culture-based. The drive to organize experience in terms of cause and effect is built into the human brain. Causality is how humans make sense of reality.

We magicians refer to magic tricks as "effects." In nature, cause and effect always go hand in hand. But not in magic. Magic is the presence of an effect with no cause. More precisely, it's an effect with no possible cause within nature. This forces the conclusion that the cause lies outside nature. The cause is iw/Jfrnatural, which is to say, magic.

This leads to a vital insight. Magic can only be established by a process of elimination. There is no way that you can directly apprehend that you're witnessing magic. You conclude that it's magic because there is no alternative. Therefore, the primary task in giving someone the experience of witnessing magic is to eliminate every other possible cause. "There is simply no other way to establish that a given phenomenon is the result of magic. If it can't have been caused by anything else, it must be magic!

Causality, therefore, is the key to answering our earlier question: What leads a spectator to conclude that something is impossible? A spectator has the magical experience when he senses a suspension of the laws of cause and effect. To create magic, we must eliminate any possibility of a causal link between the initial condition and the final condition. (To relate this to our earlier discussion, we might say that if we disguise the cause, we achieve deception. If we eliminate any possibility of a cause, we achieve illusion.)

To eliminate any possibility of a causal link in the spectator's mind we need to understand how the mind searches for causality. If you analyze the way you yourself search for causes whenever you're stumped, I think you'll find that you rely on four elements:

1) Antecedence. Experience teaches that cause always precedes effect. If you want to know how your child got an upset stomach, you'll ask him what he ate before he got sick. You won't ask what he ate after he got sick.

2) Correlation. Experience teaches that whenever an effect is present, the cause must also be present. If a doctor is called to an outbreak of stomach problems among the patrons of a restaurant, he'll try to find out what they all ate in order to identify the one ingredient that was present in every case. This pattern may reveal the cause.

1) Temp»™' 1'roximi.y (These next two arc the real biggie Q in timeandplacetrip up magicians again and again.) When pe > an efar, thev expect thai whatever caused it occurred shortly if you want to know how your child got an upset stomach, you-,,0*; what he ate immediately before he go. sick, not what he ate tw„ ^ ago.

4) Contiguiry. Experience teaches that, in some sense, there must be contact between cause and effect If you want to figure out f,0 whom your child caught a stomach -virus, you look to the pe0p|f ™ came close to, not to people in other parts of the world. [I'm not suggesting these as sound philosophical or scientific pritni. pies, but as insights into how people think. Hume and Heisenberg i10r withstanding, we all instincrively rely on these guidelines bccause, as ont physicist pur it, "they remain valid ar the level of human experience,"]

Hits analysis sheds light on why a move rhar deceives in one conte« fails in another. Audiences don't see moves—if they're well executed. They do, however, see the handling, actions, and gestures accompanying die moves. They see any correlations and proximities that such handling, ;LC. dons, and gestures produce. In one context, these may suggest causal connections. In another context, they may not.

If you tell a magician that a certain effect is flawed because it providts dues to causal connections, he may respond, "Do you really think that laypeople give that much thought to a magic trick;" Well, actually, some do. But, more importantly, it may not require a lot of thought, If the clues to causality ire there, people will connect rhe dots in a nanosccond. They'll doit without breaking a sweat. They'l I do it without consciously tryi ng and without even realizing how they did it. People make causal connections so well and so fast because they've had a lifetime of practice and because it comes naturally. It's something they do every day and it's something their brains are programmed to do.

As magicians, we may need a lot of time, effort, and analysis to figure out why an efcet fails to create the desired illusion. This does not mean that we re assuming rhat the spectators will exert the same amount of time, «tort and analysis „ figUrc k out. j,., simp|y [hai ^ ^ ^ a ^

0 understand how they can figure something out in such a short rime. Hk spectators mind and figure out how to derail it next time.

Remember also that the spectator doesn't have to figure out how tt'f done for a" effect to as a maBic illusion. Some effects just don't seem a|] that impossible. If it doesn't intuitively seem impossible, it won't have a trong impact even if the spectator has no idea how you did it. If he sniffs he merest whiff of causality, the spectator knows that it's not magic. If "its solution manifestly lies -within the actions that have been shown," it's just a zzle. And laypeople have no interest in puzzles, only in miracles "outside of normal cause and effect."

The four principles I've listed are amazingly reliable as indicators of causality. They're damnably difficult to avoid when trying to fashion a secret cause to achieve a magical effect. That's precisely why humankind ha* relied on these principles for determining causality since time immemorial. It's also why magicians are generally easier to fool than laypeople. Magicians rely on their technical knowledge of magic. Laypeople rely on their commonsense grasp of how cause and effect work. Magical techniques are far easier to disguise than are basic causal connections.

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