We see objects because of light. How it bounces off things gives us a sense of angle. How it shadows gives us a sense of placement. How it distorts gives us a sense of motion. How it absorbs gives us a sense of color.
Magicians are one group of people who understand what most of us don’t. The primary talent of a magician — or a propaganda artist — is to make us notice what they want us to notice, by manipulating what our brain tells us, so we miss what is not being illuminated at the same time.
David Copperfield explained magic this way: “With some skill and misdirection, we can get an audience to focus its attention in the right place and at the right time so that we can create the illusion of magic. In fact, these illusions are created not on the stage but in the brain… If the brain knew what to look for, the eye would see it… If I can gather your attention and fix it on something specific, there’s a very good chance that you won’t notice things that are happening right in front of you.” (National Geographic’s “Brain Works: The Mind-Bending Science of How You See, What You Think, and Who You Are,” by Michael Sweeney, 2011)
Magic tricks are illusions that toy with our mind. We manipulate the variables that give our brain clues. The irony is that our world of solid, measurable matter is more malleable than the natural world of darkness, where matter does not seem to exist.
When our tiny balls of atoms and our rays of light waves interact, it seems we can create any picture we want. Manipulate light to shine here, not there. Throw shadows.
The trickery in our world of matter and sight seems to be largely because we rely on our brains to tell us the truth. Yet our brains, we tend to forget, are not reliable. They can make us see things very differently from the person next to us.