Came across an interesting piece from Smithsonian Magazine from 2012 (Teller Reveals His Secrets). In it Teller, of Penn & Teller fame, writes about magic and psychology. Teller writes, of course, because Teller is the silent half of Penn & Teller. (I first saw them perform when they were the hot ticket Off-Broadway in 1985.) Teller’s argument is that
Magicians have done controlled testing in human perception for thousands of years….Neuroscientists—well intentioned as they are—are gathering soil samples from the foot of a mountain that magicians have mapped and mined for centuries.
One element of that understanding sheds light on contrasting efficiency and effectiveness. It’s a safe bet to assume that our cognitive and perceptual systems are fundamentally lazy. Our senses and our brains work efficiently by taking shortcuts whenever they can. The field of behavioral economics grew out of the work of people like Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky exploring what those shortcuts were and why they worked.
Magic works by understanding and exploiting that laziness. Often, by investing a degree of effort well beyond any efficiency calculus.
Teller is an artist, not a scientist. He, and Penn, are prepared to obsess if that’s what it takes to achieve an effect. This is an element of effectiveness I hadn’t considered until now.
One thought on “Efficiency ignores obsession”
I recently read your blog post about how efficiency can sometimes overshadow the importance of obsession, and I found it to be incredibly thought-provoking.