Spent a great day on Saturday at a workshop on ‘Ideomotor Responses, Uncommon Coding, Wobbly Interfaces, and Mind Reading Birds’, run by Stuart Nolan. The aim was to build on the history and science of the ideomotor response to explore new approaches to performance, physical interaction, game design, and the development of new technologies for interaction.

The event was organised by Nik Taylor and David Wainwright of The Magic Research Group, part of the Department of Drama at The University of Huddersfield. It was attended by a small but interestingly mixed group: from magic there was Ashton Carter, Mark Elsdon and myself, and two students from the University Drama Department’s magic group, a theatre director, and a research engineer. I must say I was surprised that there weren’t more magicians there! I don’t know if Stuart intends to do more of these, but if the workshop comes your way, be there.

Ideomotor response has, of course, played an important role in ritual and performance, from early Roman divination, Victorian spirit theatre and dowsing to mindreading, Ouija boards and the sexing of chickens. Cognitive science is now revealing the fundamental role such responses play in learning, communication and physical development.

For those of you who don’t know, Stuart Nolan is a Magician in Residence at Pervasive Media Studio and The University of Bristol Computer Science Department where he has developed the friendly mindreading robots, IdeoBird and OuijaBird.

As a former NESTA Fellow in Applied Magic he is credited with bringing the study of deception out of the lab and into the everyday world. He combines his skills in traditional disciplines of deception with original research into how we are deceived by language and physical gesture. He recently deceived over 700 organisations just to prove a point. (Essentially updating the well-known Bertram Forer personality test and applying it to organisations rather than people.)

Stuart is co-editor of The Magic Research Group’s Journal of Performance Magic.

The workshop was very much hands on and offered much useful background information and food for thought for performers (not just ‘mind magicians’) as well as artists, designers, psychologists, educators and scientists.

It’s impossible here to give more than a brief flavour of what was covered. During the day we touched on story-telling, Dada and Surrealism, Bob Burns’ The Swan, Raymond Tallis’ The Hand, Saccadic vision versus ‘soft looking’, hypnosis, deceit in sport, tau perception (guidance of body movements through perception by the organism acting as a whole in a dynamic relationship with its environment), affordancy (the property of an object which facilitates action), Alva Noë, common coding (perception and action being directly linked, as opposed to perception, cognition and then action), the Phenomenological Bump (as a reaction to a magical moment), and mirror neuron response (a mirror neuron fires both when we perform an action and when we see someone else perform an action).

I hope I’ve got all that right; it’s taken from my scribbled notes taken on the day. It might all sound a bit daunting listed like that, but believe me, it wasn’t. Stuart has way of talking, explaining and demonstrating which made the workshop both entertaining and easy to follow. I certainly learnt a lot… things which I can apply to mind magic performance, and understanding what works and why, and even to other areas of interest such as dance!

If you’d like to know more go here.

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