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Magic and the Brain, October 9

By Patty Housman

Magic and the Brain

On October 9, magic meets mental jujitsu at American University. 

Renowned neuroscientists Stephen Macknik and Susana Martinez-Conde will present Magic and the Brain, an exciting evening exploring how magic tricks work and how our brains are led to believe the impossible. 

Macknik and Martinez-Conde are the authors of Sleights of Mind and leaders in the new field of neuromagic, the study of how magicians’ techniques can help neurologists better understand brain functions. Early neuromagic research points to new approaches in a wide range of disciplines, from the diagnosis of autism to marketing techniques and education. 

“The speakers, Susana Martinez-Conde and Stephen Macknik, have worked with the best magicians in the world in order to understand how our brains are susceptible to the tricks that the magicians perform,” said psychology professor Art Shapiro. “The result is a fascinating story about magic and about the capacities and limitations of our perception. This show should be spectacular.” 

After the presentation, a dessert reception will follow in the Katzen Arts Center, featuring interactive demonstrations of cutting-edge AU research that blends scientific research, art, and experimental technology. 

Among them, Shapiro will present three interactive visual illusions, showing how our perceptions can be radically altered by small changes in color, contrast, or image complexity. Performing arts professor William Brent will focus on sound: visitors can control the brightness, loudness, and richness of sounds with basic hand movements—and create drawings on a whiteboard that are translated into music sequences. In physicist Jonathan Newport's demonstrations, visitors can explore auditory illusions and create laser light shows using their voices. 

The Details

Magic and the Brain takes place on October 9, from 7–8 p.m., in the Abramson Family Recital Hall. A dessert reception and interactive demonstrations follow. Admission is free, and the event is open to people of all ages.


Magic and the Brain is the first event hosted by the new Collaborative for Applied Perceptual Research and Innovation (CAPRI). CAPRI is an interdisciplinary research hub at AU where science, art, and experimental technology meet. CAPRI provides opportunities for faculty in different fields to collaborate with like-minded innovators to create new virtual experiences in multimedia art, scientific research, and advanced data representation.