Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Books I Wish Everybody Would Read: The Series

See, it's not that people are stupid. At least, that's not their natural stateā€”in general, that is. Some people are born stupid, and some people achieve stupidity by defending their ignorance against all comers. But mostly people are surprisingly smart, considering that all we are essentially is glorified apes with car keys.

People only seem stupid because all most without exception they are easy to deceive. I don't think that's related to stupidity, I think it's just a matter of the way people are wired up and the consequences of making our way through the world based mostly on our skills at pattern-matching.

Teller said once on a TV show that the interesting thing about magic is that it's possible to fool people even when you tell them ahead of time that you're trying to fool them. Think how much easier it is if you're careful not to plant the idea that you might be up to something.

Cut to the book, probably the most universally relevant magic book ever, and one I didn't even know existed until a week ago: Abracadabra!: Secret Methods Magicians and Others Use to Deceive Their Audience by Nathaniel Schiffman.

Here's how the publisher describes it.
Magicians use more than just mirrors, string, and sleight of hand to deceive their audience. Those who are masters at this trade have developed an arsenal of techniques to manipulate people. Every action and utterance on stage and off is precisely planned to achieve a specific effect. Abracadabra! is an insider's look at what goes on at a magic show, behind-the-scenes, and in the mind of the magician. Nathaniel Schiffman explains the principles of deception, exposing those seemingly innocent motions that conceal vital actions from onlookers. Also explored in detail is the world of offstage "magic" as practiced by advertisers, politicians faith healers, psychics, and others. These "magicians" work every day to make you buy their product, believe in their cause, and influence your thinking. Lighthearted and informal, Abracadabra! will fascinate anyone interested in knowing how one person can control many. Included are hands-on experiments, magic tricks, and reader-participation segments.
I can think of a lot of problems we all have in common right now that either would not exist or wouldn't be as bad as they are, if only people would pay a little more attention to all the ways we're exposed to deception every day. I know that goes against the popular notion that we should assume the best about other people, but I don't much like other people, so at least I'm being consistent.


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