The Burnaby Kid writes:
Figured I'd toss this out there, since SN was asking for interesting story submissions. I'm a professional magician working abroad, and I've been indulging in this incredibly geeky performing art for almost two decades. One problem that happens a lot when it comes to magic is that the nature of secrecy means that we don't get open dialogue with the muggles we perform for, and that leads to us getting into this weird sort of insular and incestuous discussion with other magicians, which ends up warping our minds to the extent that we start doing moronic things like... oh, I don't know... referring to our audience members as "muggles". We get into some pretty weird debates, and I've been trying my best to argue for raising the bar, such as by suggesting that we need to be more sensitive about what you guys like, such as by making sure that if we pull out a deck of cards, we've got something to perform that can compete with Card Through Window. And yet... Maybe I've got it wrong? What DO you guys like? If you like watching magicians perform, what do you like about it? If you don't, why not?
Actually, this stuff is rather interesting so I'll lay out why I think magic tricks work in general without going into specifics of a particular trick.
The magician has an effect they want to produce. e.g. You choose a card, you return it to the middle of the deck, the magician shuffles the deck, you name a number from 1 to 10, the magician counts that many cards down and your card is revealed at the spot you stated. The audience thinks they want to catch out the magician so they will ask themselves "how did he get my card into the position I stated?" They sit there and try to figure out how that was done. What clever trick did the magician use to get the card there? Is the deck "fake"? Once they're down that path, they're lost: they've been misdirected. The question they should actually be asking is "how did the magician make me think my card was where I said it would be?" In other words: how did the magician create the effect you saw? You have remember that what you thought you saw (the effect) isn't what really happened. So you have to forget about explaining what you thought you saw (because often what you thought you saw isn't possible) and start explaining how you may create something that looks like what you saw.
That's the trick to magic: people ultimately want to be fooled and play along with the magician without realising it. They ask the wrong questions, because those questions are more fun. If you choose not play along, and accept that you've been hoodwinked, then you can start to figure out what the performer is really doing. But once you go down that path you're no longer a spectator at a performance because you've exposed the performance as a facade for simple trickery.