Monday, October 15, 2012
Science Is Not Magic
Last week magician David Blaine completed a stunt “where he spent…72 hours standing inside an artificial lightning storm generated by seven high-voltage, low-current Tesla coils,” on a stage 20 feet above a New York City pier. This is not magic; it’s science. The most amazing thing about it was his ability to stand upright for three days without food, not the special effects created by the artificial lightning show.
If you visit a science museum (or check YouTube) you may see an example of a Faraday cage. In a science museum, they don’t try to pass it off as magic; they explain how it works. A Faraday cage is a hollow conductor where the charge remains on the external surface of the cage while the interior has no charge. Static electricity striking the outside of the cage stays on the outside. Anything inside the cage is not affected.
There are practical uses for this scientific knowledge, but a magician may also use it to put on a spectacular show with a million volts of artificial lightning, trying to scare an audience into believing that he is in some physical danger. As is the case with most magic tricks, this is a harmless illusion created by using ingeniously designed props. It did not, however, get the ho-hum response it probably deserved from what I’ve described before as a “scientifically unsophisticated populace.” This general lack of scientific understanding can lead to serious consequences, health-wise, financially or both, when advantage is taken not by magicians for entertainment purposes, but by unscrupulous businesspeople or charlatans.