Picked this up from Insta, but I don’t care that he already linked it; this is one of those stories.
People who have been reading this blog regularly know that I’m fascinated by magic and the history of magic. You know that my admiration for Penn and Teller is like the universe itself; finite but unbounded.
Penn and Teller are only in this story as sort of peripheral figures, but I commend it to your attention: a New Yorker profile of Apollo Robins, the world’s greatest pickpocket.
…Robbins begged off, but he offered to do a trick instead. He instructed Jillette to place a ring that he was wearing on a piece of paper and trace its outline with a pen. By now, a small crowd had gathered. Jillette removed his ring, put it down on the paper, unclipped a pen from his shirt, and leaned forward, preparing to draw. After a moment, he froze and looked up. His face was pale.
“Fuck. You,” he said, and slumped into a chair.
Robbins held up a thin, cylindrical object: the cartridge from Jillette’s pen.
Part of what makes this story so interesting to me, other than the magic angle, is that Robbins’ work, and the techniques he’s developed, reveal really interesting things about the mind and human perception.
The intersection of magic and neuroscience has become a topic of some interest in the scientific community, and Robbins is now a regular on the lecture circuit. Recently, at a forum in Baltimore, he shared a stage with the psychologist Daniel Kahneman—who won a Nobel Prize for his work in behavioral economics—and the two had a long discussion about so-called “inattentional blindness,” the phenomenon of focussing so intently on a single task that one fails to notice things in plain sight.
This is the best thing I’ve read so far in 2013. It may be the best magazine article of the year; I expect it to be in contention if we’re all still here in December.