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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 34.djvu/164

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

ishes, tossing an object up in the air, "ruffling" or "springing" a pack of cards, a little joke—all these create a favorable opportunity, a "temp," when the attention is diverted and the other hand can reach behind the table or into the "pocket." These points would lead us too far, and perhaps it will suffice to analyze the points of interest in the "chest and ring trick" described above. Here the moment for the exchange of the rings is the one which is least suggestive of being a part of the performance, and therefore least attended to. The preparations for the shooting absorb the attention and allow the introduction of the small table at the rear to pass unnoticed; while the series of drawings of the chests so entirely prepare the spectator for the appearance of the last chest from the one preceding, that he actually sees the chest emerge from where it never was.

There is, however, one important factor lacking in the conjurer's performance to completely illustrate the psychology of deception. It is that the mental attitude of the observer is too definite. He knows that he is being deceived by skill and adroitness, and rather enjoys it the more he is deceived. He has nothing at stake, and his mind rests easy without any detailed or complete explanation of how it was done. Quite different must have been the feeling of the spectator before the necromancer of old, in whose performance was seen the evidence of secret powers that could at a moment's notice be turned against any one to take away good luck, bring on disease, or even transform one into a beast. When magic spells and wonder-working potions were believed in, what we would now speak of as a trick was surrounded with a halo of awe and mystery by the sympathetic attitude of the spectators. The most complete parallel to this in modern times is presented by the physical phenomena of spiritualism.[1] This is a perfect mine for illustrations of the psychology of deception, and it is this that I will consider as the final topic in this cursory view.

The first general principle to be borne in mind is that the medium performs to spectators in doubt as to the interpretation to be placed upon what they see, or more or less determined to see in everything the evidence of the supernatural. This mental attitude on the part of the spectators is worth more to the medium than any facts in the performance. The difference between such a presentation and one addressed to persons cognizant of the conjuring element in the performance, and bent upon its detection,

  1. For the present purpose it is necessary to select only such spiritualistic phenomena as have conclusively been proved to be producible by trickery, and to have been accepted as evidences of spiritual agency, without disposing of the problems of spiritualism in the least. Personally, I believe all the phenomena explicable by the same physical and psychological principles that have divested so many of them of their mystery.