The way our senses play us false.
(originally published in The Crest Magician, December 1907)
Our senses deceive us curiously at times. A flash of lightning lights up the ground for only one-millionth of a second, yet it seems to us to last ever so much longer. What happens is that the impression remains in the eye or the retina for about one-eighth of a second, or 124,000 times as long as the flash lasts. If on a dark night a train speeding along at sixty miles an hour is lit up by lightning flash it appears stationary, yet in the eighth of a second during which we seem to see it the train travels eleven feet. But we really only see it during one-millionth of a second, and in that time it travels only one-hundredth of an inch.
When a man’s leg is cut off, if the stump be irritated he feels the pain in his toes. This curious deception is the same as any one can practice on himself by striking his elbow on the table, when he feels the pain in his fingers. Of course in both cases the pain is felt in the brain.
We do not actually perceive different distances with the eye, but judge them from various indications. When our judgment is at fault we are deceived. If you see a person in a fog, for instance, he seems to be much bigger than usual. The same thing happens when you see men or cattle on the top of a hill against the horizon in twilight. In both cases you judge them to be farther away than they really are, and consequently they appear uncommonly large.
Really our senses are deceived by suggestions, and the successful magician understands and appreciates this fact; otherwise he would not be a successful magician.
A slight movement of the hand, or a glance of the eyes in an opposite direction, suggests to the audience that they (to catch the magician) must gaze in the direction thus suggested. Just what the performer wants, for he can then make the desired passes while the audience is deceived into imagining that they are closely watching him.