Good Magicians are Masters at Attention Choreography: So are Good Mediators

Neuroscience and Conflict Resolution Blog by Stephanie West Allen

Why are neuroscientists interested in the skills of magicians? Because magicians have long known traits and states of the brain that brain scientists are just now learning. Why am I so interested in what magicians do to so masterfully simulate magic? Because they know the value of paying attention to attention, a critical skill in the my approach to conflict resolution. That’s why I often—in programs, presentations, and with clients—use this phrase to describe my approach to mediation: Attention choreography™.

Because of the topic’s importance to my professional (and personal) interests, I have blogged about magic many times in the past here and here. (Scroll down at each of these links to see many posts.) Today I point your way to still another piece on magic.

From "How Neuroscientists and Magicians Are Conjuring Brain Insights" (Scientific American blogs):

Why are scientists working with sleight-of-hand artists? Their tricks, honed through the decades, have revealed that people respond to certain situations in specific ways. Like detectives looking for new leads to solve a mystery, scientists can mine magicians’ knowledge for ideas to test in the lab. And for the magicians, understanding principles about the brain—that is, why a trick works the way it does—can suggest new ways to advance their art as they develop new tricks or improve existing ones. (The article, “What Can Magicians Teach Us about the Brain?”, provides some more background and a November 2008 Nature Reviews Neuroscience paper coauthored by neuroscientists and magicians.)

The conference explored several aspects of attention. [Stephen] Macknik started things off by explaining how the brain constructs our experience of reality from a truly imperfect set of biophysical tools, resulting in a “grand simulation of everything around you.” For instance, “You have one megapixel eyeballs compared with your eight megapixel camera,” he said. In addition to collecting a relatively small amount of information from a scene, the eye itself has a large blind spot, where the optic nerve that ferries information to the brain pierces the light-collecting retina at the back of the eye; the brain fills in the visual gap to create the illusion of your vision acting like a seamless movie camera.

Our internally produced picture of reality is subjective—and subject to influence. “Magicians are the performance artists of attention and awareness,” Macknick said. …

Click to read the rest. Wouldn’t you like to go to one of those Neuromagic conferences? For me, it would be a magical trip, a dream. Maybe I can learn to conjure myself to the next one?


Stephanie West Allen

Stephanie West Allen, JD, practiced law in California for several years, held offices in local bar associations, and wrote chapters for California Continuing Education of the Bar. While in CA, Stephanie completed several five-day mediation training programs with the Center for Mediation in Law, as well as a two-year intensive… MORE >

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