Persi Diaconis , currently the Mary V . Sunseri Professor of Statistics and Mathematics at Stanford
Does studying magic make one a better or more creative scientist , technologist , researcher , or teacher ? Best-selling creativity author and Wharton professor Adam Grant has an answer , and it ’ s a resounding yes ! As covered in Forbes , Grant says that artistic hobbies train us to think creatively and give us access to new ways of solving problems . For example , Einstein described his theory of relativity as a musical thought , and Galileo recognized the moon ’ s mountains through a telescope because of drawing instruction that made him mindful of shading .
At the top of Grant ’ s list of creativityenhancing hobbies is practicing magic . Getting good at the element of surprise , “ helps with making new scientific discoveries . It also reinforces curiosity , focused attention , and the desire to have an impact on an audience .”
Magic at Stanford
I ’ ve found several stellar examples of accomplished scientists at my Alma Mater Stanford ( MBA ’ 91 ) who demonstrate how studying performance magic has been a critical training ground or source of inspiration for their success in scientific and academic work .
Mathematical achievement inspired by card magic
When Persi Diaconis , currently the Mary V . Sunseri Professor of Statistics and Mathematics at Stanford , was a teenager , he ran away to study and perform magic with legendary magician Dai Vernon . Diaconis ’ study of a deck of cards and magic led to a fascination with numbers and math . He was a professional magician for many years , then went on to study mathematics at Harvard , came to Stanford in the mid-1970s , and won a MacArthur Fellows “ genius ” grant back in 1982 .
A search for the hidden workings of magic led Diaconis to math
Diaconis has attributed his interest and achievements in mathematics to his study of magic and the mathematics of a deck of cards . According to a profile in the Chronicle of Higher Education
, when Diaconis first came to Stanford he planned to keep his magic background a secret from academic colleagues . His concern was that they wouldn ’ t take seriously a man of hocus-pocus who did research on card shuffling .
Then he stumbled upon a book in the Stanford library that changed his mind . It described an experiment by one of his intellectual heroes , French mathematician Paul Lévy , analyzing the phenomenon known as perfect shuffling – in which a standard deck of cards is carefully shuffled eight times and ends up returning precisely to its starting arrangement . “ I let out a whoop ,” Diaconis said .“ I thought , if Paul Lévy can study perfect shuffling , I can say I study perfect shuffling .