Deception Explained By The Science Of Psychology

The object [of this passage] is to enable the reader to see, more

easily, how it is that the watchful observer is deceived into

believing that a thing is so, when in reality it is not, and vice

versa; and also to give an idea of the various methods employed by

the medium in order to accomplish his results.

I must first of all call the reader's attention to one or two rules

which every conjurer learns at t
e commencement of his study, and

which he learns to apply so constantly that it becomes second

nature to him. The first is: Never let the eyes rest on the hand

that is performing the "sleight," but always on the other hand, or

on some object on the table or elsewhere, as this will have a

tendency to draw the eyes of the audience to that point also. The

sitters or audience will always look at the point closely watched

by the magician--their eyes have a tendency to follow his, and

wherever he looks, there will the onlooker look also. Needless to

say, the magician makes use of this fact, and many tricks and

illusions are dependent upon it for their successful ac-

complishment. Whenever the magician or medium looks intently at

one hand, therefore, the OTHER hand should be watched, as it is a

sure sign that THAT is the hand which is performing the trick.

Another fundamental rule that is observed by all sleight-of-hand

performers is: Never to let an audience know beforehand what is to

be done; i. e., the nature of the trick that it is intended to

perform. If the spectator knew what was forthcoming, he would be

on the lookout for movements of the performer at certain critical

times--just at the periods when close observation is least wanted--

and would quite possibly detect the performer in the act of

executing certain movements which would show how the trick was

performed. But not knowing what is coming, the spectator is unable

to watch closely at the critical moment--not knowing what that

moment is--and so is unable to detect the trick, his attention

being diverted by the performer, just before this movement is made,

to some other object or movement.

The methods of diverting the spectator's attention are various.

There is the use of the eyes, as before shown. Then there is the

spoken word, the performer telling the onlookers to observe some

certain object or action, and the effect is to cause them to watch

it, as they are told. They follow the line of least resistance.

The combined effect upon the spectator of the spoken word and the

eyes together is generally irresistible.

Another important factor is this: A performer should always let any

suggestion, right or wrong, soak well into the spectator's mind

before attempting to change it. This is for two reasons. In the

first place, if the suggestion is correct, if, e. g., the performer

really DOES place an object in his left hand, and it is shortly

found to have vanished from that hand, he is annoyed by hearing

some one say that he was not really sure it was there in the first

place, as "it was covered up so quickly." If, on the other hand,

the suggestion given was a false one, if, e. g., the performer says

he has placed an object in his left hand, when, in reality, he has

not done so but has palmed it in the right, then it is still

necessary to allow a certain time-interval to elapse between the

performing of the action which apparently placed the object in the

hand, and the showing of the hand empty, for this reason. If the

hand into which the object is supposedly placed is IMMEDIATELY

shown empty, the natural conclusion of the sitter is that the

object was not in reality placed there at all, but was retained in

the other hand, which would be the fact. If, however, the

performer allowed some time to elapse, between the action of

placing the object in that hand (supposedly) and the showing of the

hand empty, he, meanwhile, keeping his eyes fixed on the hand,

suggesting to the sitters that the object IS there, and in every

way acting as if it WERE there, the idea will gradually gain a firm

hold on the minds of the spectators that the object is there, in

reality, and they are correspondingly surprised to find it

ultimately vanished. It is just such a knowledge of "the way

people's minds work," as a friend once said to me, which enables

the conjurer to deceive the public; and it is precisely the same

cast of mind that the medium possesses. He is, in fact, a good

judge of human nature.

Another fact that must be borne in mind is that, when once a

spectator has seen a movement made two or three times in the same

manner, he frequently "sees" the performer make that movement on

another occasion, when the performer had, in reality, only STARTED

to make the movement, and suggested the rest. Thus, if the

performer throws a ball up into the air two or three times in

succession, and on the fourth occasion merely pretends to throw it

up, really retaining it in the other hand, the great majority of

the spectators will really "see" the ball ascend into the air on

the fourth occasion, and will so state, on being asked. We here

depend upon association and habit.[1]

[1] A very similar illusion is mentioned by Professor Hyslop, v.

Borderland of Psychical Research, Pp. 228-9, in which pellets were

apparently placed in a box, really being palmed in the medium's