Close Encounters with People Apt to Believe in Close Encounters

winthecrowd.jpgIn my first post here as a guest blogger, I mentioned a New York Times op-ed that quite straightforwardly accepted the existence of ghosts. As my guest blogging stint draws to a close, I thought I’d relay my own “Close Encounter with People Apt to Believe in Close Encounters”.

A few weeks ago, I saw a performance of sleight-of-hand and mentalism by Steve Cohen, “The Millionaire’s Magician.” Magicians fall on a spectrum from those like Uri Geller, who purport to have genuine psychic powers, to those like Penn & Teller, who make quite clear that they are performing illusions (and sometimes even reveal their methods). Cohen fell into the middle of this spectrum. Before moving into a mind-reading portion of the program, he would say something like, “Now, you’ve seen me do some sleight-of-hand. But what you will see next is very mysterious and powerful.” As he acknowledges in his book, Cohen tries to create the illusion that he has mystical powers without actually saying so. Perhaps, it’s classic magician misdirection. Perhaps, it’s beneficent deception. Or, perhaps, it just pulls the wool over some people’s eyes.

After the show, I was in an elevator with some other spectators. We all expressed agreement that it was a fine show and a very entertaining evening. One spectator seemed particularly impressed. I asked her if she thought that Cohen had real magic powers or was just creating the illusion that he did. She said she believed he had real magic powers. Zoinks! Now have I restored your confidence in the jury system?

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3 Responses

  1. Chris Bell says:

    Well then you’ll love this article, which notes that more people believe in the Devil than Darwin.

    82 percent of those surveyed believed in God

    79 percent believed in miracles

    75 percent in heaven

    72 percent believed that Jesus is God or the Son of God.

    42 percent of those surveyed said they believed in Darwin’s theory

    35 percent of the respondents believed in UFOs and 31 percent in witches.

  2. greglas says:


    O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!


    And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.

    There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,

    Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

    I do think it’s very odd, though, to think a stage magician would possess magical powers. Presumably there would have to be two classes of stage magicians, then: one class that deceives people with illusions and another that simply uses actual magical powers. It would be much harder to do the work of the former!

  3. greglas says:

    Adam — You also may be interested in the law and magic blog.