21 Dec Why did you do that?! Reactions and Assumptions at Martha & V’s Wedding
As someone who does magic for a living, it’s probably not a big surprise that my professional and personal lives occasionally overlap.
That was certainly the case when I recently got to not only attend the wedding of two of my favorite people, but also perform a bit of magic at the reception. I performed a short show for all the guests, then later did some impromptu magic for some guests and a few of the event staff.
Whether I’m at a social event or I’m hired to present at a conference or meeting, I often perform magic informally for a few people. Even though I usually perform the same few tricks (some of which I’ve been performing for over 15 years), I never get bored because I get to see people’s reactions to the magic.
At its core, magic challenges your assumptions and expectations (and really, an expectation is nothing more than an assumption about the future.) We assume that it’s impossible for a coin to appear in our closed hand. We assume that a playing card laying on the table can’t transform from the 2 of clubs to the queen of hearts. We assume that no one can know what we are thinking.
So, when a magician comes along and does something that you think is impossible, you are forced to question your assumptions. Not only your assumptions about the tricks taking place in front of your eyes, but your assumptions about everything.
People have a huge range of reactions when they experience magic. From loud to quiet; skeptical to open-minded; serious to boisterous laughter… a person’s reaction to magic can be a little glimpse into their personality and their own personal worldview.
I’ve seen an entire audience of engineers go completely silent at the end of one of my tricks. It wasn‘t that they didn’t enjoy it – their minds were simply fully engaged in trying to work out how it was done. The exact same trick performed for a less technically minded group can get a very different (and much louder) reaction.
One of the most common reactions people have when they witness magic is to say, “how did you do that?!” The prevalence of that question hints at the fact that we humans don’t like it when we don’t understand. Our minds are problem solving machines with a deep desire to understand the world around us. When we see something that goes against our assumptions about how the world works, we immediately jump to try to solve the mystery.
Often, we are so uncomfortable with mysteries that we will create truly crazy explanations, just to make us feel better. Once, I had someone watch me make a coin disappear, then tell to me that I must have a secret flap of skin that hid the coin on my palm. And they were serious!
As the wedding reception was winding down, I got one of the most memorable reactions of my career when I did a mind-reading trick for one of the event staff. I asked her to just look at any card in the deck and think of it. After a moment, I named the card she had thought of.
She immediately said, “ Oh! Why did you do that?!” I nearly fell down. Her reaction was so unexpected because it went against my 17 year experience of hearing “how did you do that?”
My magic caused her to question her assumptions. Her reaction caused me to question mine. It has left me thinking the about impact magic can have on each person. There are countless ways that we can shift our perceptions and challenge our assumptions. And at the end of the day, having my own assumptions challenged is even better than watching people react to my magic.