PERFORMANCE magic is entertaining and mystifying, but could it also be a valuable learning tool for exploring complex philosophical concepts? A new article from a Visiting Professor at the University of Huddersfield – who is both a magician and an academic – argues that it has enormous educational potential.
Todd Landman describes how he has developed performances that use mind-reading techniques to introduce and discuss the ideas of famous philosophers, such as Plato, and to explain political and economic ideas, including differing tax regimes.
He describes magic as “a perfect medium for communicating fundamental ideas and probing fundamental questions” and it can “create a learning moment for an audience that they are unlikely to forget”.
Professor Landman’s latest article appears in The Journal of Performance Magic, published by the University of Huddersfield, home to a Magic Research Group, which brings together both researchers and practitioners.
The article – available online and titled Academic Magic: Performance and the Communication of Fundamental Ideas – provides a historical account of the development of mentalism as a sub-genre of performance magic and analyses the impact of leading contemporary performers such as Derren Brown and influential figures such as David Berglas, whose 1980s TV shows brought mentalism to huge audiences.
There is analysis of “the pledge”, “the turn” and “the prestige” that form the structure of a magic routine, and Professor Landman writes that he has combined these ideas to create “a series of thematic stage shows that are grounded in the exploration of a linked set of ideas and concerns that have hitherto been far removed from the world of magic”.
He relates how he developed his own “gentleman magician” performance style, and how he has been influenced by some of the lecturers he has encountered in his academic career, teaching social sciences.
The Journal of Performance Magic article outlines several of the performances that Professor Landman has devised that incorporate ideas from political philosophy, such as a routine combining mind-reading and mentalism based on the mythical Ring of Gyges from Plato’s Republic.
There is also a performance titled The Veil of Ignorance that introduces various choices a country faces over tax policy.
“Yes, it seems odd to introduce tax policy in magic show, but the presentation is engaging and involves everyone in the audience having a say.”
Also described are performances that explore famous philosophers and their attitudes towards human rights and free will, culminating in Professor Landman correctly divining the choices made by audience members.
Professor Landman – who is Pro Vice-Chancellor in the Faculty of Social Sciences at Nottingham University – concludes his article by stating that magic is “a perfect medium for communicating fundamental ideas and probing fundamental questions”.