Duality Of Perception

Posted on by Brian Hertzog

As a kid, I loved magic. I’d ask my parents to take me to the local costume shop on Sundays so I could go to the magic section at the back of the store. Most of the time I got to see a few illusions and then I’d see one that I absolutely had to figure out, I’d spend my allowance and buy the trick. The man behind the counter would take the next fifteen minutes to show me each step. By the time we got home, I was halfway there.

As an adult, I still enjoy magic. David Blaine, Copperfield, Houdini, these guys are awesome. Obviously, it’s a different relationship now. The “magic” I believed when I was younger is actually carefully designed “illusions” pretending to be magic. No matter, the mystery remains when I see something truly unique.  

Illusions make me think about this idea of “perception duality”. You might’ve heard someone say “there are two sides to every story”. It’s true. There may even be more. Each person has his or her own perspective and the story changes relative to that person. In the 2006 movie The Prestige Michael Caine’s character explains how every magic trick has three parts:

  1. The pledge
  2. The turn
  3. The prestige

From the perspective of the audience, it appears to be magic. But from the magician's perspective, it's well-executed deception. No variables change. The magician is dong the same thing, but from one person’s point of view there’s a totally different experience. Of course, magic is designed to make us feel this way, but I often wonder what other events we experience that evoke such trickery.

Communication for example, is frequently misinterpreted. I can’t count the number of times I hear about emails gone horribly wrong. Emotions can be deceiving. Sometimes we cry when we’re happy, but out of context, you might perceive the person as upset.

As we blaze into a technologically-dominated world, it's increasingly difficult to discern objects like iPads from "magic". Imagine telling someone 100 years ago that you have access to nearly every book ever published in your pocket. We laugh at Siri now, but as artificial intelligence capitalizes on perception duality, the difference between "artificial" and "real" will be indistinguishable.

The next time you see a magic trick, think about the magician. When you check your phone (maybe you're reading this on your phone now) think about the engineers designing the chip, screen, and software. This is the world as I see it, what do you see?