You cannot believe your eyes: Magic for the vision impaired.

Breathe in, breathe out aaaaand relax.  The Christmas season has finished and my rapid fire of end-of-year corporate functions is now over.  Each year I perform magic at Christmas parties, bringing cheer, joy and other forms of mania to the corporate scene.  Fun.  Coincidently I experience some memorable moments of my own, all while making people gasp at the coin that just disappeared into my eyeball.

Firstly, one of the highlights of the season was fuelling my love for terrible, terrible Christmas cracker jokes.  After reading over a dozen parties’ worth, my personal favourite this year was:

How does Jack Frost get to work?

By icicle

*Lets out a groan that turns into a pain-filled chuckle* Oh. Oh dear that was good.  Puns are such a sadistic pleasure.

But aside from the jokes, giggles and gleeful cheers at magic, I came across quite a touching insight into the human experience from my gig at Vision Australia.

I was asked to perform close-up magic at the Christmas lunch gathering for the Seeing Eye Dogs sector of the organisation.  There were to be only a couple of people with vision impairments, but all the same, I decided to only do magic that would be appropriate for all attendees.  This began as quite a challenge.

I had a couple of weeks to find and come up with tricks I felt were strong enough and that didn’t rely on the visual sense.  My first step, being the irrefutable GenY stereotype that I am, was a trusty old Google search.  It was no help.   A search for “magic for blind people” only got me a couple of forum discussions on the topic, which didn’t provide much insight.  This said to me that I’m possibly a pioneer of this unique little endeavour.  How Christopher Columbus of me.

The next approach I had was to close my eyes and think about a whole range of magic tricks I knew.  If I imagined them being done to me with my eyes closed, I could work out if the magic would be experienced without vision.  For the most part it can’t.  I did find hope, however, in prediction style tricks.  A common example is where a participant is given a sealed envelope to hold.  They are then asked to select a playing card from a deck.  Let’s say they choose the Four of Hearts.  Once this has been done, they are asked to open the envelope that they have been holding since the start of the trick.  Inside they find a note with the writing “You Will Pick the Four of Hears”. OMG! WTF!?! BAM MAGIC!  So for the vision impaired participant, I decided this prediction could be recorded on a voice recorder and given to them beforehand.  Now the only issue would be the card selection.  If a magician merely tells you that you just picked the Four of Hears, the revelation doesn’t have the same impact.  No surprise there (in either sense).

So I needed to find an alternative to gaining the emotional trust of the participant.  The old tag line “you won’t believe your eyes” points to a very fair assumption; that vision is trusted.  Is it fair to say, that of all our senses, vision is trusted most?  I then wonder if it is possible to gain the same amount of ‘perceptual trust’ from other senses.  This may be a question less about the quantitative nature of trust and perhaps more about its different forms.  Or maybe trust isn’t just dependant on our senses, but also to the context in which you perceive.  Either way, that may be a question I can only answer while on a foggy mountain, humming mystical chants…or in a psych lab.

But to push on, I decided to design the prediction trick thus:  the vision impaired person is given a voice recorder to hold.  They are then asked to choose a friend to select a card from the pack, which the friend openly names for all to hear.  Once this is done, our first participant plays the voice recorded prediction where the correct card is named and I appear to be Nostradamus, in young Melbourne city boy form.  Pretty good progress.

One of the reasons I think this works is because the reaction of the sighted friend is essentially social proof that magic took place.  In turn this validates the emotion of magic experience that, I hope, the vision impaired participant is feeling.  On the day this appeared to be effective, so it was a decent start.

Yet as I was devising this and tricks just like it, I was still concerned about the amount of trust that can be invested in magic just by hearing others experience it.  I wanted something more direct; something irrefutable to the human senses.

It wasn’t until a couple of days before the gig that I worked out what to do.  A pulse stop. Yes, it sounds pretty morbid but I assure you it is a neat little piece of trickery.  On the day I sat with a lady with severe vision impairment and asked her to take my pulse from my wrist.  Once she could feel it I requested that she count out loud starting from ‘one’ as she felt each pulse.  She got to about ‘ten’ then started giggling and exclaimed “You’re changing it!  Oh wait, now it’s gone!!”  When I saw the beaming smile of bemusement on her face I felt I had achieved my goal.  Magic was had and darn it felt good to have shared it.

This thought-provoking experience has made me reconsider my assumptions about vision being a ‘primary’ sense.

I think perception is constructive, rather than just a linear stream of information.  For this reason, and since this experience, I contest the argument that having Braille at an aquarium or museum or art gallery is redundant.  Vision is merely one input of data that our mind uses to generate an experience.  If we take the art gallery, for example, the context in why you are there, the names of the paintings, their history, the music playing on the PA, the reactions of others, the heat of the room, the length you have to walk between pieces, your personal memories relative to the art and a myriad of other more subtle cognitive mechanisms, are all involved in building the world inside your mind.  How can we presume that the world inside the mind of the vision impaired is any less vivid?

So this Christmas I feel a little older, a little more magical with a pulse stop in my repertoire and I little closer to my fellow human beings – of all sensory abilities.

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4 thoughts on “You cannot believe your eyes: Magic for the vision impaired.

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Magic for the #blind blog post. #psychology #science //cc to -- Topsy.com

  2. Nice one Dan. You can also record predictions (like of card selections ect.) and let the participant hold the device throughout the trick, then ask them to play it at the end. Works if one of their friends picks the card.

  3. Book verbal magic by Tamariz might also prove useful. Much of the material was used over the radio which might mean the listeners have see the result but perhaps it will give you some thoughts. Cheers Daniel

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