If illusions and magic tricks seem passé to you, a throwback to when sawing a swimsuit-clad assistant in half still seemed fresh, think again. Just last year, the best ratings the ABC television network earned for any program in its 9:30 to 11 p.m. time slot were for illusionist David Blaine’s magic special. We are just as fascinated as ever.
And why not? Illusions give us the thrill of realizing, even briefly, that we are actively interpreting and constructing our world, and that we can err in doing so. We can watch our own assumptions harden into fact and be broken, and learn about ourselves in the process.
Take the simple classic, the duck-rabbit illusion. In his article for Nautilus, Tom Vanderbilt uses it to open a window onto how we form beliefs, and how we get along with each other. In this and other stories from this issue, we learn that our perceptions are sometimes produced by our own brains and corrected by the world, not the other way around. In other words, that reality can be the greatest illusion of all.
Welcome to “Illusions.”