The Vijay Times: Science and Magic – Strange Bedfellows

By Vineeth S. November 19, 2003.
‘Science & Technology’, The Vijay Times

NAKUL SHENOY saw his first magic show when he was five, and a life-long journey began from there. He perfected the art, and gave his first public show when he was 15. Now a well-known magician who has explored various facets of magic, he is a member of the International Broitherhood of Magicians, International Magicians’ Society and the World Alliance of Magicians.

His interests now lie in Mental Magic, also known as Mentalism, which are demonstrations of seemingly psychic abilities. He also performs with the renowned illusionist Prahlad Acharya.

He spoke to Vineeth S on how much a role science plays in magic.

VS: In a show what per cent of the tricks are science-based, and what per cent rely on sleight of hand?

NS: Every magic show is an attempt at appearing to prove some law of science wrong. For example, levitations is against the laws of gravity, and a man coming out of a very small box is against the laws of geometry, but a magician makes these happen. And to an audience, this seems like the impossiblebeing possible, and draws them to it. In a demonstration, to disprove one law of science another law of science is used. So, whatever trick it may be, whether a card trick of levitation, a magic show is science all the way. To answer that question in a word, 100 per cent.

VS: Do explicitly science-driven tricks, like the burning of a coconut by sprinkling water, attract an audience more or do tricks like the card tricks attract an audience more?

NS: Whether it is a scientific trick, or a trick by sleight of hand, it is the presentation of the magician which counts. It depends on how much the magician can get the audience involved, and control their attention. I could show you how to do a trick, but then if you try it on a audience, it might not be as impressive as a professional magician doing it. So even a simple trick can become the most impressive in a good performance. For example, in the hands of David Blaine, even the simplest of tricks seem like amazing wonders. Magic to a large degree is about perceptions, and the onus is on the magician to play with how things are perceived.

VS: Since you say science and magic are inextricably linked how has their history together been?

NS: I would venture as far as to say science has its origin in magic. The most important example is that of chemistry. In the medieval world, there was something known as Alchemy, which was an effort to turn lead into gold, and in fact any metal into gold. The science of chemistry began from the efforts in thisbart of magic, and then grew into a full-fledged science. Physics for example had a major presence in ancient Egypt at the Temple of Memphis, where voices spoke to pople who thronged to the temple, the doors seemed to open and close by themselves when people came or left. So, they have had quite a long journey together.

VS: People explain any complicated magic trick as hypnosis or mass hypnosis. Is this true? How much of a show relies on hypnotism, like cutting a person in two?

NS: There is absolutely no hypnotism in a magic performance. I am a practising hypnotist, and so I can say this with authority that mass hypnotism cannot be guaranteed. And so hypnotism per se cannot be used in a magic show. Even the cutting of a person example that you cite is not by hypnotism but by other methods. Yes, hypnotism can be done, and there are shows to demonstrate that. All hypnotists are not magicians, and no magician relies on hypnotism in a magic show.

VS: There seems to a rising group of people whose aim aim is to explain illusions. They demonstrate and describe an illusion. What do you think of this group of people?

NS: Rationalists, you mean. You have to realise their aim is not to expose magic tricks and eat into the livelihood of magicians. Their aim is to pull people away from false blind beliefs in babas because of the tricks they perform. They do not teach people how to perform the trick but demonstrate that it is possible. Consider the act of producing vibhuti which is quitea hit with most babas. A rationalist just shows that any person can do this, that it is possible. A magician on the other hand has studied and experimented for years, and knows at least 30 different ways to produce ash.

VS: Magicians don’t seem too intent on letting the world in on their tricks…

NS: If I were to explain to you how a person is cut ion half, the next time you see a person cut in half, I have deproved you of the entertainment that results form the shock value. We magicians have put in years of effort to perfect our art, and yes we keep our trade secrets. The World Alliance of Magicians, of which I am a part, was established to ensure this. So that the entertainment and “magic” of magic remains for all time to come.

VS: Could you explain one trick which actively uses a scientific principle?

NS: here are my palms. I ask you to place a pen between my palms. And I rub my palms across each other holding the pen in place in between. When I rub my hands, there is friction, which generates heat. Now the heat is supoosed to melt (the pen). Now watch. See the pen has become soft and is squiggling. I will blow on it and give it to you. See it has become hard. This works not because the pen has melted, but because of the play of optical illusion. Persistence of vision comes into play, and the pen seems like it has become soft.

Note: Article reproduced from Strange Bedfellows – Science & Magic — Vijay Times; Science & Technology Supplement. (November 19, 2003)


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