A cancer researcher sharing how magic can make science better
Parag Mallick , PhD , currently an Associate Professor at Stanford ’ s School of Medicine , is also a professional magician , as well as Founder & Chief Scientist at Nautilus Biotechnology ,
a company pioneering a single-molecule protein analysis platform for quantifying the human proteome . A long-time member and performer at The Academy of Magical Arts , aka The Magic Castle in Hollywood , Mallick also once shared the concern that Persi Diaconis had early in his career – that being open about one ’ s interest in magic with academic colleagues might best be avoided due to how it might be perceived .
For years , Mallick kept his two worlds of science and magic separate . He was concerned that scientists wouldn ’ t take him or his research seriously , and that magicians and other performers he worked with would question his dedication to his craft . A few years ago , he reconciled this and unified
The best scientists and magicians share a healthy disregard for the impossible
Mallick , who arrived at Stanford a decade ago , shared some insights on how magicians and scientists look at the world in a similar way . “ As a scientist , you are constantly looking at and dealing with the impossible – and then making it possible . For example , 25 years ago sequencing the genome was impossible , yet today it ’ s commonplace .”
Mallick says that this process is quite like what magicians deal with when they make “ impossible ” things appear possible . “ The very best scientists and magicians share a healthy disregard for the impossible and a near-obsessive attention to detail ,” says Mallick . In addition , to achieve the highest levels of success , both scientists and magicians must become comfortable with a process that repeatedly involves being wrong and failing along the way .
The influence of magic on neuroscience
Over the past decade , significant research in neuroscience has been driven by scientists inspired by magic and doing research in collaboration with magicians . A major turning point came in 2008 with the publication of “ Attention and awareness in stage magic : turning tricks into research ” in the journal Nature Reviews Neuroscience , written by neuroscientists Stephen L . Macknik and Susana Martinez , along with a cadre of professional magicians including Teller and Apollo Robbins . Macknik and Martinez are Laboratory Directors at the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix , Arizona , and are also members of the Academy of Magical Arts . The authors state : “ By studying magicians and their techniques , neuroscientists can learn powerful methods to manipulate attention and awareness in the laboratory . Such methods could be exploited to directly
Being able to talk about magic openly and discuss concepts from magic in science – like the fundamentals of misperception and how that might influence scientists ’ ability to interpret data – it ’ s made me both a better scientist and a better magician .
- Parag Mallick , Associate Professor at Stanford School of Medicine
his dual life , and the change has been overwhelmingly positive .
Mallick now embraces sharing with academic colleagues that he is a magician – and that he believes the study of magic can improve and inform scientists ’ work . Mallick developed an academic presentation entitled “ Your Brain Is Deceiving You : A Magician-Scientist ’ s Perspective on How to Do Better Science ” that he ’ s delivered at MIT , ASU , and Cambridge to enthusiastic audiences . When Parag gave his talk at MIT , it was the first time he received a standing ovation for an academic lecture . Mallick has found that sharing his interest in magic with academic colleagues has helped his science and was liberating .
A neuroscientist-surgeon who learned skills and confidence from practicing magic
Prominent Stanford neuroscientist , James Doty , MD , Clinical Professor of Neurosurgery at Stanford School of Medicine , is the author of the best-selling book Into the Magic Shop : A Neurosurgeon ’ s Quest to Discover the Mysteries of the Brain and the Secrets of the Heart . Doty has also declared his appreciation of studying magic on his path to becoming an accomplished neurosurgeon . In his book , Doty partly attributes his skill as a surgeon to the confidence and dexterity he learned when diligently practicing difficult sleight-ofhand magic in his youth . study the behavioral and neural basis of consciousness itself , for instance through the use of brain imaging and other neural recording techniques .”
This work led to the publication in 2010 of Sleights of Mind : What the Neuroscience of Magic Reveals about Our Everyday Deceptions , which helped popularize the legitimacy of scientific researchers studying magicians – and their semi-guarded body of knowledge on the theory of perception , deception and illusion – to help advance scientific research in this era .