After every 6 interviews I’m going to write a blog post on some of the highlights, contradictions and questions that have come out of the interviews. A chance for me to pause, take stock, centre and move on. A sabbath.
- “We all knew it wasn’t real, but it was SO real.” Steve Price. Illusion and reality. One of the ingredients that makes magic so potent is the cognitive dissonance between experiencing something being true and false at the same time. Or trying to stitch together two competing realities.
- “It made me feel like a child again” Steve Price. Time and again in these interviews my guests link the sense of wonder to being a child. A positive experience.
- I’ve recently been reading The Secret History of Magic by Peter Lamont and Jim Steinmeyer. In the introduction they make the point that in order to experience the impossible we need to first comprehend what’s possible. In order to experience the extraordinary we need to know ordinary. Somewhat flippantly they say there was no wonder in the Bible’s account of creation in Genesis as Adam and Eve had nothing to judge these wondrous acts against.
- (Tangent: Any magician who has performed to children will know that the choice of trick depends upon the age of the audience. For a spectator below about 3 years old a magic show is fairly pointless as they’re still forming a set of rules about the physical world. Only simple tricks like vanishes, appearances and transformations make an impact. As a dad to two young daughters I can attest to this. In fact it’s easier to fool my 4 year old than my 2 year old as the older one knows more about the physical world AND is better at following psychological cues that misdirect her focus.)
- Wonder is relative. This is something I’m pondering: To experience wonder you need the contrast between the marvel and the mundane.
“The world will never starve for want of wonders; but only for want of wonder.”
G K Chesterton
- A massive challenge we face today is the sheer amount of marvels competing for our attention. I believe we’ve become numb to them. Either from overexposure or just not having the capacity to cope with constant change and challenge.
- In answer to the question “how do we cultivate wonder?” Steve Price says “Make time to be amazed.” Simple and profound.
- Magicians often hold the monopoly on amazement as their audiences have actively chosen to devote some time to be amazed. How can we make more time in our lives for wonder? Can it be an active discipline to carve out quality time for this?
- I was struck by Prof. Akiyoshi Kitaoka’s statement that us humans are the only creatures that seem to be able to appreciate optical illusions. A question that often perplexes me is are humans as distinct as we’d like to think? What makes our ability to wonder and what drives our thirst for discovery? Why am I better than my two cats?
- He also said, from the work of Kaoru Noguchi, that the best optical illusions are also the most aesthetically pleasing.
- Is curiosity a personality trait, a natural part of our humanness (that is often suppressed) or a learned mindset?
- “Curiosity is a drive, a need to find out more, something which comes from you whereas wonder is something which happens to you.” AND “I think our sense of wonder comes from our need to find connections between things.” James Piercy. There is an element of compulsion to curiosity. In a later interview Wendy Sadler describes it as a “brain itch”. It’s not entirely comfortable , there’s a darker side to it, a consuming part.
- For me personally I’d describe wonder and worry as two sides of the same coin. The same questioning and what ifs? projecting into the future can be deeply satisfying or gut wrenching (literally). My curiosity can be my blessing and my curse. Like riding on the back of a hungry tiger on the hunt. Sometimes it’s exhilarating leaping from thought to thought; finding new connections. Other times the beast turns on you the rider.
- Is there a way to flip from worrying to wondering?
- The main thing that prompted this project was the question of defining awe, wonder and curiosity. As you’ll see there are a range of views put forward in these interviews. I think I’ll have to write a dedicated blog post summarising different thinking.
- “My eyes will light up, I will get excited about the discovery.” James Piercy. The main things that struck me from James’ interview were that when you discover something there’s a drive to share it with others (like it’s wanting to burst out of you) and how infectious that can be to an audience. The best communicators are explorers themselves and not regurgitators of information. When they forget how they felt in the moment of discovery, their impact diminishes.
- “It’s the desire to see more than the surface detail.” Marty Jopson. And when you scratch deep enough you then discover wonder and awe. I Like this. He’s saying that it requires effort to search out and that most people miss out because they don’t look hard enough. This though is a challenge to communicators/teachers who want to enthuse their students. Where is the balance between the digging work for the student and teacher?
- What inspires you to be creative? “Other people being inspired.” There’s a cyclic nature; inspiration leads to inspiration. The flipside is an uninspired audience can rapidly drain creativity. How can we protect this?
- Having visited Tim Hunkin’s Southwold pier exhibition of automaton, most of which are dripping with whimsy, I wanted to know if laughter and wonder were linked. “Not intrinsically. There are wonderful things that aren’t funny and funny things that aren’t wonderful.” Play and the Aha! moment often bring laughter though. There’s joy in finding new connections.
- Neil Monteiro describes the involuntarily response of a new discovery. Literally a mouth dropping experience. He makes the observation that amazement and wonder have similar descriptions to love; a strong emotion! There’s an emotional as well as intellectual element to wonder.
- “Awe … strikes me as a wholly negative concept.” Something to be feared. Is that true? I’d say there’s an overwhelming otherworldly element to being in awe. I’m in awe of thunderstorms and crocodiles, but I’m also in awe of sunsets and cathedrals. With awe you are an observer (or a victim) but with wonder you are a playful participant.
- “A magic trick is specifically designed to shutdown curiosity.” By creating the ‘no possible way’ reaction of a magic trick the magician is attempting to stop an audience from thinking about methods. To stop asking questions about the trick. Is magic a curiosity stopper? Or can an audience experience wonder without wondering how it’s done?
- What message do magicians convey? In most cases of magic it’s an air of ugly smugness. ‘Ha I fooled you!’ A game of statuses – the magician is better than the spectator. Whether it’s by being cleverer or by abusing the audience with insults or compromising the volunteer’s dignity. (A recent show I attended by some of the UK’s best magicians only reinforced my view – 75% of the acts featured audience put downs, embarrassing situations or invasion of personal space/property.) Magic can and should be better than this!
- How do we put wonder back into a magic performance?
- “Developing a conscious sense of wonder would not necessarily be positive.” I’d love to experience more wonder in my life but by being aware and reflecting on it, do I lose it?
- “Mystery and wonder are wrapped tightly together in a mobius strip of knowledge … Mystery creates wonder which leads to curiosity, which in turns discovers more mystery.” – What a glorious observation! It’s futile asking what side you’re on with a mobius strip as the answer is ‘yes’. Maybe that’s the same with mystery and wonder. One can’t exist without the other. And one leads to the other with leads back to the beginning.
- Mysteries are the seeds of curiosity.