Magician Asi Wind Reveals Secrets of Memory and Perception

Magician Asi Wind Reveals the Neuroscience of Memory and Perception

Wind is one of the top magicians and mentalists in the world. His work illustrates how we form and erase memories, and the specific things we can do to stamp down or erase certain memories.

Wind uses an understanding of how the brain works to create false memories, erase recent memories, and use emotion, empathy, and storytelling to create a perception of something that may or may not have actually happened. He reveals how we lead ourselves to believe that certain things happened when they may not have, and how we collaborate with others to create those perceptions.

Huberman learned from the discussion about the neuroscience of how to learn, forget, access creativity, and how art, storytelling, empathy, and emotion can allow us to access powers within us that make us more effective in our pursuits.

Wind’s work involves many senses, not just visual perception and memory, and he is able to create perceptions in groups of people. Huberman believes that Wind understands how perception works, the gaps in perception and memory, at a practical level that no neuroscientist could approach.

The Power of Perception and Memory in Mentalism

Huberman and Wind discuss the art of mentalism and how it relates to psychology and perception. Wind reveals that mentalists, like jazz musicians, improvise and adapt their performances based on the audience’s reactions. He explains that it’s easier to fool smart people because they fill in the blanks with their own knowledge, which the mentalist can use to their advantage.

Wind also shares how mentalists collect data from their performances and use it to refine their techniques. They rely on psychological forces and other tools to guide the audience’s perceptions and decisions. Huberman compares this to how the brain runs algorithms based on historical experiences and how people respond differently to challenges and engagement.

The conversation then delves into the use of hypnosis and half-truths to manipulate perceptions. Wind explains how mentalists direct attention to specific things, even if they are not entirely accurate, to create illusions. Huberman relates this to attentional spotlighting, where people can focus their perception on specific aspects of reality, changing their experience without altering the physical world.

Finally, they discuss how these techniques are used in media, social media, and politics to capture attention and funnel it towards specific endpoints. Huberman suggests that everyone is being biased by these external forces, living in a kind of simulation shaped by mentalist techniques applied on a larger scale.

The Power of Confabulation and Collective Perception

Wind and Huberman discuss the idea of memory confabulation and how it can be manipulated in magic tricks or “experiments”. They explore the possibility of getting people to believe they saw certain numbers on a piece of paper, even if the paper actually showed something different. Wind explains how he uses the term “experiment” to describe his work, as it implies the possibility of failure and engages the audience more effectively.

The conversation then shifts to David Blaine, a magician known for blending real stunts with magic. Wind expresses his admiration for Blaine’s work, particularly his ability to hold his breath for ten minutes during his performances in Las Vegas. Wind sees Blaine’s feats as a symbolic message, showing that if one person can achieve something incredible, then everyone has the potential to do so.

The Power of Pauses and Memory Manipulation in Magic and Performance

Wind discusses how social media has changed the way audiences behave in the theater. With the prevalence of short clips on platforms like TikTok and Instagram, people need to be stimulated more often than they used to. Wind observes that even during a blackout before his appearance, people are still on their phones until the very last minute, leaving no gap between the stimulation from their devices and the real stimulation of the performance.

Huberman theorizes that those willing to introduce gaps in stimulation, such as sleep, rest, and walks without phone usage, allow the brain to process and stabilize information while also generating new ideas. He suggests that to excel in a craft, one should introduce more gaps between intense focus, learning, and exposure to that particular thing.

Wind agrees and mentions the power of pauses, citing an example from Juan Tamariz’s performance where he holds a card and asks the audience if they can see the reflection in his glasses. He then accidentally knocks over a glass of water, causing a distraction. When asked about the card later, most people don’t remember it because the dramatic event erased the smaller memory.

Wind and Huberman discuss how magicians manipulate the audience’s memory by either giving them time to digest and store information or cluttering their minds with information to make them forget certain elements. The speed, emphasis, and pauses are all used to manipulate how the audience remembers things.

The Neuroscience of Learning and Memory

Huberman shares a neuroscience tidbit about gap effects, which demonstrate that introducing gaps during learning allows the brain to encode information more effectively. The brain processes information much faster during these gaps, even when we’re not actively rehearsing.

Wind explains that magicians create tension, like a drum roll, leading up to the punchline of a trick. The moment of relaxation after the tension is when the audience is most vulnerable, and magicians can perform actions they don’t want the audience to encode.

Wind believes that revealing a bit about the complexity of magic can enhance the audience’s appreciation, as long as it doesn’t give away the entire secret. Similarly, Huberman feels that understanding the mechanism behind health advice enriches people’s understanding and gives them flexibility when things are not optimal.

The Power of Stories: How Our Brains Perceive, Learn, and Remember Information

Huberman and Wind discuss the importance of stories in learning and perception. The brain is a selective filter and prediction machine that can only perceive a limited amount of information at any given time. Stories provide context and sequence that help arrange information in a way that is easily learned and remembered. This concept extends beyond magic and reveals fundamental truths about how the brain works.

The age and historical context of information can also make it more interesting and memorable. Huberman uses the example of the pyramids, which are fascinating in their own right but even more so when considering the time period in which they were built. This additional context helps to engage the brain and make the information more compelling.

The Brain: An Abstraction Machine

Huberman discusses how the brain creates perceptions by making abstractions of the outside world. He explains that the brain constantly takes in sensory information and reconstructs it into an image, even though the initial perception is inverted and reversed.

Huberman suggests that great art captures enough of the real physical truth of a subject while also touching on the ways in which the brain abstracts. He uses Rothko’s paintings as an example, noting how they eliminate white space and allow colors to come forward in a way that is not visible in framed paintings or those with visible canvas.

Wind questions whether Rothko intentionally used this understanding of color space or if he intuitively felt it was a great composition. Huberman believes it’s likely the latter, but notes that Rothko may have realized something special was happening when colors were brought to scale in a restricted tunnel of vision.

Huberman concludes that great art takes us through a trajectory similar to excellent storytelling, involving surprise, recognition of truth, and a return to mystery. He believes these components are present in various forms of art, including magic, songs, and plays.

The Power of Memory: Unlocking Hidden Abilities

Wind recalls a pivotal moment in his career when he first attempted to memorize the names of all 30 attendees at a small venue show. To his surprise, he was able to recall every name flawlessly, making him feel like he had superpowers.

As Wind’s shows grew to around 60 people, he continued to challenge himself. During one performance, while blindfolded and solving two Rubik’s cubes simultaneously, he asked if anyone could time him. When a man volunteered, Wind recognized his voice and addressed him by name, revealing an unexpected ability to remember how people sound.

Wind attributes his success in remembering names to genuinely caring about the individuals he meets. He emphasizes the importance of repeating a person’s name and engaging in conversation to create a memorable story around them. While he occasionally uses mnemonics or exaggerates features to help with difficult names, most of his recall comes from a genuine interest in the people he encounters.

Huberman notes that the brain remembers information with emotional salience and that putting things into song motifs, like the Alphabet song, can help with long-term retention. He explains that the brain creates libraries of information, grouping related topics together, which helps with memory organization and retrieval.

The Magnificent Potential of the Human Mind

Wind, a renowned mentalist and magician, is excited to debut his next show, “Incredibly Human.” Unlike his previous show, “Inner Circle,” this one will be performed in large theaters seating thousands. Wind aims to make the show visually stunning, with a painterly quality that pays tribute to the human mind and its magnificent capabilities.

Wind’s upcoming show is a reflection of his conversation with Huberman, focusing on the incredible potential of the human mind and pushing the limits of what we believe is possible. Although he cannot reveal specific details, Wind is thrilled to figure out how to make this the best version of his show yet.

Huberman expresses gratitude for Wind’s unique and spectacular work, which teaches us about the human mind, perception, and imagination. He appreciates Wind’s empathy and sensitivity, acknowledging that living life “thinking with your heart” can be challenging at times.

Huberman also values Wind’s decision to keep much of the mystery of magic and mentalism a secret, allowing audiences to experience the wonder and amazement firsthand through his shows. On behalf of himself and the listeners, Huberman extends an enormous debt of gratitude to Wind for his incredible work and for being true to himself.

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