Many times, people who have seen magic remember differently the performance. Often their memory exaggerates and attests to a hyped-up version of the event. They become false witnesses, who will swear on a stack of Bibles that what they saw was accurate.
If the magician has done his job correctly in frying the audience’s mind with amazing feats of magic, these false witnesses will be his ardent fans. They will give testimonies, under the crucible of cross-examination, that will add luster to his name.
I once performed the Card on the Ceiling to a group of grown-ups. And what do you know? One member of the audience told his friends back home that I stuck his card on a branch of a tree.
Of course, this was not true, but the last thing I’d do was to go to this person and tell him, “Stop telling people that I stuck your card on the branch of a tree. I stuck it on the ceiling of your house, not on the branch of a tree.”
Do you think I would say that? Not in a million years! Those are the stuff that make legends, and I have no intention of stopping people from painting a legendary picture of me.
At another time, I performed the Card in the Wallet. Over the next few days, the person who chose the card began telling his friends and relatives a bloated version of the magic trick. In effect, this was how he described it: “I chose a card and signed it. The chosen signed card disappeared from the deck and ended in MY WALLET which was inside my pocket!”
Accurate description? Nope, not by a mile. The card ended in my wallet not in HIS. And the wallet was on the table. It was not inside his pocket.
Again, I choose not to disclaim the exaggerated description of my feat. On the contrary I encourage it every chance I get. When the card-up-the-tree story is told, I’d usually point to a tree nearby and say, “Isn’t that the tree where you found your card stuck on a branch?”. For some inexplicable reasons, the person’s eyes would glow, and he would say excitedly, “Yes, that’s the tree!”
All I need to do is remember which tree it was, so that the next time the story comes up and I have to point to a tree again, I should be able to point to the same tree.
To the person who found the signed card in HIS WALLET (?), I’d say, “And I was not even anywhere near you when you discovered your card in your wallet.” And he’d say, “I swear under penalty of perjury you’re across the table when you did it.”
All this makes me wonder about the psychology underlying the phenomenon of false memory. What innate attributes does a trick have that turn spectators into false witnesses? What power does a magic performance have to implant in spectators’ minds extraordinary pictures of a magician’s feats?
I have no intention of dissecting the inner workings of a trick to discover why it affects people’s minds and their memories in a distorted but sweet way. I’m satisfied with basking in my own exaggerated reputation as a wonder worker.
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