I love magic, and the neuroscience of magic, and I especially love the idea of the “attentional spotlight.” It’s fun to think about how we are these weird, sensitive mammals with semi-uncontrollable focus beams shooting out of the front of our heads (unscientifically speaking). And it’s even cooler that magicians can misdirect these focus beams, slip in under the radar and screw with our reality without us even realising it. We freak me out sometimes.
I’m pretty sure the attentional spotlight is the same thing writers manipulate to make their art, except in a virtual world. What else are you doing when you weave a story? You take months or years to craft this massive faux-reality “show” — which is essentially a lot of surface description and plot threads designed to entertain and misdirect your audience’s attentional spotlights — while you do a bit of sleight-of-hand to layer in sub-plots, secrets and subtext for the finale.
I think writers and magicians have pretty much the same goal: create a convincing virtual reality so the audience can suspend their disbelief and anticipate the big reveal without figuring out what’s really going on, how you’re doing it, or what’s about to hit them. Magic.
More on the neuroscience of magic at the Scientific American.