How does magic work? How is it that a magician can make you see something that isn’t real?
Master magicians are masters at controlling attention.
Take the disappearing quarter trick. Here’s how it works:
The magician shows you a quarter, perched between their thumb and the pointer finger. They must make sure you see the quarter, so they go out of their way to display it to you. Once they have you concentrating on the quarter, in whichever hand they are holding it (lets say it’s in their left hand) they now keep it in display while they pass their right hand over it, temporarily blocking your view, which peaks your interest, causing you to focus more intensely on the left hand, which is holding the quarter. They may even add a verbal cue, such as, “now concentrate on the quarter.”
Now the magician appears to grab the quarter out of their left hand, with their right hand, with a slow, deliberate motion. While the fingers close over, and around the quarter, in fact while it is covered, being shielded from your view, they let the quarter drop into the palm of their left hand. It is important at this point for the magician to finish closing the fingers of their right hand around the space wherein the quarter used to reside –between the thumb and pointer finger of their left hand.
With the quarter now resting in the palm of the magician’s left hand, they must now “palm” the quarter. This is a trick using the muscles of the palm to pinch the quarter in place. While this is done, and the magician’s right hand completes the motion of grabbing the now missing quarter, the two hands deliberately move apart, with the left hand, quarter successfully “palmed,” now dropping gently to the magician’s side.
The right hand is a closed fist, with the quarter appearing to be held within it. It is displayed in place of the left hand, and the magician now makes sure you are concentrating on it, instead of the left hand, which is dangling at their side, “palming” the quarter. At this point, a new prop could be brought into the illusion, such as a brown paper bag. The magician might pick up the bag with the left hand, quarter still being “palmed” in it.
The magician would then very deliberately open the right hand, so that you can see the quarter is gone. Then, with a fanciful wave of the hand, the magician might throw the invisible quarter into the air. Then, with the left hand, which is still “palming” the quarter, and also now holding the open brown paper bag, the magician might then catch the invisible quarter, in the bag. This is accomplished by snapping the fingers (of the left hand) hard against the bag, adding an auditory illusion of the quarter landing in the bag with a thud. The magician simultaneously allows the quarter to slip into the bag, with the snap.
Now the magician can reach into the bag, with their right hand, and…TADA…there’s the quarter.
Now you know.