Magical deception explored by Penn and Teller, Ray Hyman, Jamy Ian Swiss and James Randi

A discussion on skepticism and magic

The video below is from a panel discussion at The Amazing Meeting 7, a conference on critical thinking held in Las Vegas during the summer of 2009, sponsored by the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF). This panel, chaired by DJ Grothe, includes magicians Penn and Teller, Jamy Ian Swiss, Ray Hyman and James Randi, who discuss magic, deception, skepticism, and lying.

The video is a little over an hour long. (1:13 to be exact.) Skip ahead to 5:20 if you need no introductions to the panel members. And note that Penn Jillette (and others) do not always use tame language, so don't turn the sound up if bad words might offend.

Topics of discussion:
  • Does learning magic actually help promote critical thinking?
  • The problem of being "half-smart" is when someone knows a little bit about how he can be fooled but not enough to not be fooled. (As Randi says, "Be all smart or forget it.")
  • Should the art of "cold reading" (a verbal method for pretending to be psychic) be completely exposed? Is "cold reading" even a performing art?
  • Does lying always cause harm? Penn says his moral compass is this: "One stranger for money lying to someone else - that person is as moral as someone who robs a Seven-Eleven."
  • If you're a magician who believes that lying causes harm, but as a magician you lie in your shows by pretending that, say, "psychology" is being used when it isn't, are you being ethical?
  • The difference between mentalism (mindreading tricks) and magic.
  • Do magic secrets really matter at all, or are magicians just "guarding an empty safe"?
  • If you don't say that your psychic phenomena is fake, is that an "invited inference" that what you're doing is real?
  • James Randi says it's all right to lie as long as nothing is lost.
  • What is the power and meaning of the proscenium arch?

Magic and Skepticism at TAM7

Magic & Skepticism at TAM7 from JREF on Vimeo.

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