Bending spoons with your mind

How should we think about weird things?
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landrew
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Bending spoons with your mind

Post by landrew » Tue Dec 18, 2018 1:37 am

I read a book in high school about how to perform magic. Looking back, I'd have to say that it played a large part in informing my skepticism. It helped teach me how to think in such a way that even though something may look absolutely impossible, it's probably just a trick that you wouldn't have thought of. The same can be said for our beliefs which are based on our belief that something is "unexplainable" therefore it must be supernatural. It's the Argument from ignorance fallacy, (argumentum ad ignorantiam) that fools us into an irrational conclusion based on our own lack of imagination.

An example is "mental spoon-bending," made popular by Uri Geller. When I first saw this demonstrated, I nearly concluded that there could be no other explanation other than it was being done mentally. I was wrong of course, the spoons are made of gallium, a metal with a very low melting point, just below body temperature. Handling the spoon with warm hands causes the metal to begin to melt, and the spoon bends.

I apply this principle to many other strange subjects that often engage skeptics in discussion. It's a bit too easy to just apply a blanket denial and assume an easy explanation to everything. I prefer to try to figure out the "trick" because I find it more enjoyable than direct denial in a pejorative way. Some say skepticism is the root of all new knowledge, but the knowledge gained is greater with explanation than without.
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Re: Bending spoons with your mind

Post by Matthew Ellard » Tue Dec 18, 2018 1:55 am

landrew wrote:I read a book in high school about how to perform magic. Looking back, I'd have to say that it played a large part in informing my skepticism.
I'm exactly the same. I know lots of magic tricks.

Mysterio was a 1930's magician. He would secretly get a silver coin from his pocket and hold it, poking out the top of his left hand, so it looked like the top of the handle of a spoon. He would hold the real spoon in his other hand. By moving quickly he would move his hands so it looked like he was bending the spoon and then he would drop the real spoon "fixed" on the table and quickly palm back the silver coin. It is a fantastic trick.

You can see the trick here if you fast forward to 1.50 minutes. ( Practice practice practice)


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Re: Bending spoons with your mind

Post by bobbo_the_Pragmatist » Tue Dec 18, 2018 3:09 am

I doubt "Magic Tricks" inform a skeptic. The lazy acceptance of what we are told, or moreso by whatever method now believe, is very much part of our dna.

Rumage through your brain: can you, do you, rank order how firmly you hold to any set of beliefs? Fatherhood? Raising Kiddies. ..... there are lots of them.

Fun stuff. ((I know its all "palming" but how they get car keys into a sealed glass jar always amazes me...........unless, its all camera tricks which that Angel guy or the other one actually does employ..................his walking in air is done with an off camera crane. Not so much a trick....as a lie.
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Re: Bending spoons with your mind

Post by Matthew Ellard » Tue Dec 18, 2018 4:24 am

bobbo_the_Pragmatist wrote: I doubt "Magic Tricks" inform a skeptic.
James Randi / JREF / Skeptic Society Russia = Magician
Johnny Carson / Debunker Uri Gellar / = Magician
Harry Houdini / Seance debunker for Scientific American = Magician
Penn & Teller / Debunkers on B***{!#%@} TV Show = Magicians
Martin Gardner / Founder of the Skeptic movement = Magician
Derren Brown / UK Debunking TV show = Magician


It takes skill and practice to look at the hand that appears not to be doing anything

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Re: Bending spoons with your mind

Post by landrew » Tue Dec 18, 2018 4:39 am

Matthew Ellard wrote:
Tue Dec 18, 2018 4:24 am
bobbo_the_Pragmatist wrote: I doubt "Magic Tricks" inform a skeptic.
James Randi / JREF / Skeptic Society Russia = Magician
Johnny Carson / Debunker Uri Gellar / = Magician
Harry Houdini / Seance debunker for Scientific American = Magician
Penn & Teller / Debunkers on B***{!#%@} TV Show = Magicians
Martin Gardner / Founder of the Skeptic movement = Magician
Derren Brown / UK Debunking TV show = Magician


It takes skill and practice to look at the hand that appears not to be doing anything
Anything that truly confounds explanation is indistinguishable from magic.
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Re: Bending spoons with your mind

Post by Matthew Ellard » Tue Dec 18, 2018 4:48 am

landrew wrote: Anything that truly confounds explanation is indistinguishable from magic.
I think the biggest use of magic trickery has been the military. Sun Zu, the Chinese military author, states trickery is a fundamental skill for a general and we still use military expressions like feint, demonstration, lure, false withdraw and so on.

For auditing we had a text book on all the scams firms used to trick auditors. Most of them were just variations of old magic tricks. :D

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Re: Bending spoons with your mind

Post by bobbo_the_Pragmatist » Tue Dec 18, 2018 6:03 am

Whats most likely is a concomitant relationship rather than cause and effect. Those who are inclined towards skepticism are also interested in magic. If its cause and effect, what is the mechanism?

BUT my larger more relevant point is that being skeptical about tricks, the occult, or claims without evidence doesn't mean the same skeptic is skeptical about other issues in his belief system.
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Re: Bending spoons with your mind

Post by Matthew Ellard » Tue Dec 18, 2018 6:12 am

bobbo_the_Pragmatist wrote:Whats most likely is a concomitant relationship rather than cause and effect. Those who are inclined towards skepticism are also interested in magic. If its cause and effect, what is the mechanism?


Harry Houdini was a magician. He was engaged by Scientific American to debunk 1920's seances for Scientific American as he knew their tricks. Martin Gardner, the father of the skeptic movement, was a monthly columnist for Scientific American for the same reason.

Here is James Randi in Australia, forty years ago, debunking paranormal claims for Australia's ACA., where I met him.


Scientific American is the world's oldest magazine (1845) and started off debunking "Snake oil" medicine


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Re: Bending spoons with your mind

Post by TJrandom » Tue Dec 18, 2018 9:41 am

Matthew Ellard wrote:
Tue Dec 18, 2018 4:48 am
... For auditing we had a text book on all the scams firms used to trick auditors. Most of them were just variations of old magic tricks.
I never needed to trick the auditors - instead I played by the rules. Their rules said that requested items needed to be provided within 24 hours, or a legitimate reason given along with the expected delivery time. So even if I had the item fully prepared and sitting on my desk, I noted the time of the request, and delivered the item exactly 24 hours later. They were traveling auditors who were only there for two weeks, so by playing by the rules I was able to limit the number of follow-up requests received. I never failed an audit.

I also ensured that they were supplied with copious amounts of tea, thus increasing the time they spent going to toilet and therefor not reviewing documents.

Were these in your text book?

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Re: Bending spoons with your mind

Post by landrew » Tue Dec 18, 2018 2:25 pm

For every honest magician, there's at least another fraudster who employs the same tricks of deception to selfish ends.
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Re: Bending spoons with your mind

Post by Matthew Ellard » Wed Dec 19, 2018 2:38 am

TJrandom wrote: Were these in your text book?
There were some interesting scams related to the introduction of computing and printing technology. A USA insurance firm was being audited in the 60's. The auditor used a mechanical random number generator to randomly select policies to review them. The insurance firm simply compiled 100 "good" policies together. As the auditor demanded to see a random selection of policy numbers, the firm simply reprinted the cover page and added the randomly selected policy number. These were shown to the auditor.

The scam became unstuck because statistically the firm appeared to be in a much better financial position than any other insurance firm.

I never got my audit certificate, but I did do reviews on entertainment companies for my own clients. I learned that if you applied a variety of financial ratios calculations simultaneously, the firm being reviewed could not fake one aspect of its business without pushing another aspect out of whack.

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Re: Bending spoons with your mind

Post by landrew » Wed Dec 19, 2018 2:54 am

I remember reading somewhere that tax auditors can run statistical analysis on numbers to determine whether they are real or made up. Apparently, naturally-occurring have certain distribution patterns that aren't reflected in numbers that are made up. For example, when an asset changes in value from year to year, the first digit is likely to remain a "1" for much longer than it will be a "9." I'm sure they have a large suite of other tricks they don't tell us about.
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Re: Bending spoons with your mind

Post by TJrandom » Wed Dec 19, 2018 3:16 am

I once taught an internal course to sister companies in Asian countries - on How to Pass Audit. Of course the basics were on being compliant with policies and regulations, and simply being well managed - but there were a number of points that the auditors didn't like, including the two I mentioned above. As our audits were generally announced at least a week or two in advance, so we could compile the initial sets of materials to be reviewed, there was ample time to obtain the most recent audit reports from sister affiliates, and these were good for preparation since their recent findings, and hence primary focus, became known. In essence, we were able to audit ourselves and make any necessary corrections before they arrived.

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Re: Bending spoons with your mind

Post by Matthew Ellard » Wed Dec 19, 2018 3:17 am

landrew wrote: I remember reading somewhere that tax auditors can run statistical analysis on numbers to determine whether they are real or made up. Apparently, naturally-occurring have certain distribution patterns that aren't reflected in numbers that are made up. For example, when an asset changes in value from year to year, the first digit is likely to remain a "1" for much longer than it will be a "9." I'm sure they have a large suite of other tricks they don't tell us about.
That is absolutely true. There are thirty or so "financial ratios" that an auditor can quickly apply to a firm's financial statements without looking at any supporting documents. Things like "Number of times stock on hand turns over in year" and "dividends issued as a percentage of borrowed current liabilities" and so on. All these different ratios should match. If they don't match, the auditor will spend more time on that area of the review and there is increased inherent risk.

I produced financial accounts for movies and TV shows, which had to be audited, as they were funded by investors. The audit firm had audited so many other production companies, that it had internal "comparative statistics" for the industry as a whole.

It is all fair and sensible to protect investors.

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Re: Bending spoons with your mind

Post by bobbo_the_Pragmatist » Wed Dec 19, 2018 8:41 pm

TJrandom wrote:
Wed Dec 19, 2018 3:16 am
In essence, we were able to audit ourselves and make any necessary corrections before they arrived.
One thing about ingrained long running frauds is that it is SO ingrained that even on notice of an audit the firm has no mechanism to fake a response....other than cover pages being switched and other "surface" type frauds.

Fraud is fun.......the discovery of. Its an intellectual challenge with the answer "there" if you can just find it.

My most fun audit: March of Dimes. Typical charity: the need for the response having been met in the past, they choose new targets to keep the fund raising going. Over paid executives at the National Level chosen from retired Politicians is extremely odious to me...while accepted as general practice by most folks. ANYWAY: the local MOD office, after paying its skim to the National Office, never had profit to spend locally. The director made good salary and near the same to his wife and son for their duties. No time cards. I recommended to my Board that we do not contribute to this Charity. I think, but don't know, this ultimately was part of why I got fired a year or so later. Good auditors often get fired.................
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Re: Bending spoons with your mind

Post by landrew » Wed Dec 19, 2018 8:49 pm

Yes, no one likes a critic. Even if you are right on the mark. Eventually everyone gets tired of being reminded of their mistakes.
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Re: Bending spoons with your mind

Post by bobbo_the_Pragmatist » Wed Dec 19, 2018 9:37 pm

Good People: learn from their mistakes, get better over time.
Bad People: make excuses, blame everyone else.

Fraudulent People: fire the auditor.
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Re: Bending spoons with your mind

Post by landrew » Wed Dec 19, 2018 10:41 pm

I think most people would agree that Uri Geller was an excellent magician and mentalist, but I think he crossed the line when he allowed or encouraged people to believe that he was able to accomplish supernatural acts as a psychic. Another great mentalist, The Amazing Kreskin, was always careful to declare that all his effects were "accomplished by purely natural means," even though the essence of good magic is to induce belief in the supernatural (magic). I have to say, I admire Kreskin's integrity over Uri Geller's.
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Re: Bending spoons with your mind

Post by Matthew Ellard » Wed Dec 19, 2018 10:51 pm

landrew wrote:I think most people would agree that Uri Geller was an excellent magician and mentalist, but I think he crossed the line when he allowed or encouraged people to believe that he was able to accomplish supernatural acts as a psychic.
Geller was also an excellent con-artist. He became best friends with Michael Jackson, and stripped Jackson before realising that Jackson wasn't that rich in reality.
geller Jackson.jpg
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Re: Bending spoons with your mind

Post by landrew » Wed Dec 19, 2018 11:07 pm

Matthew Ellard wrote:
Wed Dec 19, 2018 10:51 pm
landrew wrote:I think most people would agree that Uri Geller was an excellent magician and mentalist, but I think he crossed the line when he allowed or encouraged people to believe that he was able to accomplish supernatural acts as a psychic.
Geller was also an excellent con-artist. He became best friends with Michael Jackson, and stripped Jackson before realising that Jackson wasn't that rich in reality.geller Jackson.jpg
I don't know Geller's biography, but I'm not inclined to think of him as a crook. I don't know if he stripped Michael Jackson, or just had an unproductive business relationship. I gather that Geller has had some lucrative contracts in oil exploration. I couldn't say if he was very successful otherwise.
The job of a skeptic is to investigate the unexplained; not to explain the uninvestigated.