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Neuroscience and Magic: The Science of Stealing a Watch

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Apollo Robbins, a.k.a the “Gentleman Thief,” explains his technique of managing attentional spotlight during the Neuromagic 2012conference on the Island of Thought, San Simón, near Vigo, Spain, while demonstrating on neuroscientist Flip Phillips of Skidmore College. Attentional spotlight is the focus of consciousness at any given moment, and it can be directed–or, as in magic, misdirected–if you understand some of its principles. As conference co-organizer Steve Macknik, with Susana Martinez-Conde, of the Barrow Neurological Institute, put it: “Magicians use the spotlight of attention to perform a kind of mental jujitsu.” For more on the interface of magic and neuroscience, read my post, “How Neuroscientists and Magicians Are Conjuring Brain Insights.”

Mariette DiChristina About the Author: Editor in Chief, Mariette DiChristina, oversees Scientific American,, Scientific American MIND and all newsstand special editions. Follow on Twitter @mdichristina.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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