Published on Wednesday 15 may 2013 • Post by Mariano Tomatis • Permalink
«On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.», says a dog to another in a popular cartoon. (1) It is particularly true on Twitter, where a number of celebrities find themselves impersonated by fans. Sometimes the line blurs, and it is not easy to distinguish between the original and the impersonators.
If you search for Max Maven’s account, you will find @RealMaxMaven; does the nickname honestly refer to the "real" Max Maven? In this case, it is not difficult to check it. Just have a look on this conversation between Bill Mullins and the user @RealMaxMaven, dated May 8th, 2013:
@mullins_bill Your reminder was too late. Fortunately, it’ll happen again in August, in England.
Published on Thursday 9 may 2013 • Post by Mariano Tomatis • Permalink
My video tutorial “How to create two linking rings out of a newspaper” got viral (more than 50K visits in a couple of weeks) also raising some disappointment. Because the tutorial... was actually not a honest tutorial! Some labeled the video as “fake”, suspecting that CGI was involved in its creation. It was not. The missing part is the setup of the newspaper; with the proper arrangement, the video depicts something which can be performed live in front of an audience. (1)
It is not the first time I create something which violates its own narrative frame.
(1)This video has been shot in the style of an history documentary. Actually it is an interactive magic trick.
(2)This website seems to involve a scientific organization dealing with science and magic. Actually it is a repository of a spin-off series created by me and ispired by TV series Lost. The series is a collection of interactive magic tricks, dressed as 8 mm films.
(3)This math game for kids is something completely different: one plays with it with light heart, then discovers that it involves something deadly scary.
My contributions are experiments intended to go beyond the trivial use of YouTube as an eye on magic routines; my purpose is to hack the medium in provocative and puzzling ways, raising feelings which transcend mere entertainment. In this, I have been deeply influenced by Barry and Stuart; in their talk “Everything We’ve Learned So Far” — given during the Essential Magic Conference 2010 — they told:
Magic performances don’t have to be beautiful. You don’t have to make invoking wonder your main purpose. [...] We believe that if magic truly is an Art, then you can just as legitimately make your intention to provoke feelings of alienation, dissociation, or sadness. [...] We even thought that magic didn’t even have to be entertaining or even have an audience, and this led us to film pieces that were like short films. They weren’t performed for people, they were just performed for a camera with the fourth wall up, which means they were like insular stories. (2)
The best definition of magic I have ever found is the one given by Max Maven in his article “Vitriollie-Ollie-Infree”. (3) He starts by asking:
Just what is “magic”, anyway? If you were to ask an assortment of magicians to define what it is that they do, the most common answer would be that magic is “something that fools you.” But surely this is not so. There are many things that fool you that are certainly not magic, just as there are some quite magical things that don’t specifically deceive the observer. So, how do we go about trying to formulate a working definition of the term that, in turn, defies our efforts?
Max Maven, “Vitriollie-Ollie-Infree”, Magic 4 (1994). [BUY IT HERE]
Believe it or not, Max does offer such a definition. Unfortunately it defies any verbalization, and requires to read the article — which trascend the mere status of article, offering a trasformative experience in itself and evoking — in indirect way — the very core of the experience of magic.
(1) I have seen it performed live by Ian Rowland in Abano Terme, Italy in 2004.
(2) Barry and Stuart, “Everything We’ve Learned So Far”, Essential Magic Conference 2010.
(3) Max Maven, “Vitriollie-Ollie-Infree”, Magic 4 (1994).
Published on Monday 6 may 2013 • Post by Mariano Tomatis • Permalink
Orson Welles (1915-1985) was born exactly 98 years ago. In an interview by Kenneth Tynan, published in Playboy on 1967, he comments about his alleged clairvoyant power and his idea that “accumulation of faith creates its own veracity”:
Kenneth Tynan, “Playboy Interview: Orson Welles” in Playboy (March 1967).
A prevalent rumor is that you have the power of clairvoyance. Is that true?
Well, if it exists, I sure as hell have it; if it doesn’t exist, I have the thing that’s mistaken for it. I’ve told people their futures in a terrifying way sometimes — and please understand that I hate fortunetelling. It’s meddlesome, dangerous and a mockery of free will — the most important doctrine man has invented.
But I was a fortuneteller once in Kansas City, when I was playing a week’s stand there in the theater. As a part-time magician, I’d met a lot of semi-magician racketeers and learned the tricks of the professional seers. I took an apartment in a cheap district and put up a sign — $2 READINGS — and every day I went there, put on a turban and told fortunes. At first I used what are called “cold readings”; that’s a technical term for things you say to people that are bound to impress them and put them off their guard so that they start telling you things about themselves. A typical cold reading is to say that you have a scar on your knee. Everybody has a scar on their knee, because everybody fell down as a child. Another one is to say that a big change took place in your attitude toward life between the ages of 12 and 14. But in the last two or three days, I stopped doing the tricks and just talked. A woman came in wearing a bright dress. As soon as she sat down, I said, «You’ve just lost your husband»; and she burst into tears. I believe that I saw and deduced things that my conscious mind did not record. But consciously, I just said the first thing that came into my head, and it was true.
So I was well on the way to contracting the fortune-teller’s occupational disease, which is to start believing in yourself; to become what they call a “shut-eye.” And that’s dangerous.
Do you believe in God?
I may not be a believer, but I’m certainly religious. In a strange way, I even accept the divinity of Christ. The accumulation of faith creates its own veracity. It does this in a sort of Jungian sense, because it’s been made true in a way that’s almost as real as life. If you ask me whether the rabbi who was crucified was God, the answer is no. But the great, irresistible thing about the Judaeo-Christian idea is that man — no matter what his ancestry, no matter how close he is to any murderous ape — really is unique. If we are capable of unselfishly loving one another, we are absolutely alone, as a species, on this planet. There isn’t another animal that remotely resembles us. The notion of Christ’s divinity is a way of saying that. That’s why the myth is true. In the highest tragic sense, it dramatizes the idea that man is divine.
But how do you reconcile that with—
For 30 years people have been asking me how I reconcile X with Y! The truthful answer is that I don’t. Everything about me is a contradiction, and so is everything about everybody I know. We are made out of oppositions; we live between two poles. There’s a Philistine and an aesthete in all of us, and a murderer and a saint. You don’t reconcile the poles. You just recognize them.
Published on Friday 3 may 2013 • Post by Mariano Tomatis and Ferdinando Buscema • Permalink
What is reallymentalism? Wikipedia limits it to
a performing art in which its practitioners appear to demonstrate highly developed mental or intuitive abilities. (1)
In my latest book Te lo leggo nella mente ("I read it in your mind") I give a broader definition, including performances far more varied and fascinating:
The purpose of mentalism is to create out of ordinary experiences, such as to blur the line between reality and fiction and challenge the classical models with which we interpret reality. (2)
Here are two "mentalistic experiences" that violate the classical Wikipedia definition, not evoking any classic paranormal phenomenon nor mental abilities, but subtly challenging perceptions and offering dreamlike visions. Both seem to be inspired by the famous Dutch artist Maurits Cornelis Escher (1898-1972).
Ascending and Descending (March 1960)
The never-ending staircase, which always brings back to the starting point, is one of the most famous lithograph by Escher. Reinterpreted many times by other artists (i.e. by Christopher Nolan in Inception and by Andrew Lipson in LEGO) the staircase seems to come straight out of a nightmare.
In the 60s the Filipino architect Rafael Nelson Aboganda created a physical version of it at the Rochester Institute of Technology, just before disappearing mysteriously.
The incredible architecture is depicted in a video that opens with the following written in Indonesian language:
Do not use this staircase in case of fire.
Left: Rafael Aboganda Nelson. Right: the project of the scale.
The reason becomes clear soon. Impossible to escape from his disturbing cyclicality:
The whole experience is part of a broader project ("The Stairwell Project: Building a Modern Myth") coordinated by Michael Lacanilao and described here in detail.
Drawing Hands (January 1948)
"Drawing Hands" is a most famous Escher lithograph. It stages a "strange loop": each hand seems to be drawing the other, and both seem to belong to a "higher level".
It is impossible to sharply draw the boundary between reality and representation, and their edges are blurred, embedding a paradoxical circularity.
This experience, designed by Escher in its most minimal essence, has been brought to an hyperdimensional level by Willie Witte. His video "Screengrab" perceptually challenges the observer: every time you believe you know where you are, a moment later you lose every reference point, asking yourself to which level what you are observing belongs. Willie wrote:
I'm testing an experimental process of printing out still frames from videos and using them to create these transistions. Hope you enjoy. Thank you for watching!
Published on Tuesday 9 april 2013 • Post by Mariano Tomatis • Permalink
Do you want to solve world hunger with magic? Slice a chocolare bar into 4 pieces and rearrange 3 of them: you will get the original bar plus a square, appeared out of nothing. Repeating the procedure, you can produce as much chocolate as you want. This tutorial will teach you how to do it:
The procedure is based on an old principle, recently proposed with chocolate. The idea is analysed here.
Published on Tuesday 2 april 2013 • Post by Mariano Tomatis • Permalink
Inferno, the new thriller by Dan Brown, will be released around the world on May 14. The date has not been chosen at random: it is written 5-14-13, which read backwards 3.1415 - the value of pi.
The plot has been inspired by Dante Alighieri and his 14th-century epic poem The Divine Comedy, interpreted as a “coded” work on the trail of an umpteenth, explosive secret. The first hints are already available to the readers on the cover of the novel.
The Italian edition of the book shows, at the very center, a representation of the Hell and its nine concentric circles, each circle representing a specific sin - taken from a well known book by Manfredi Porena (1902): (1)
Comparison between the cover of the novel and the representation by Manfredi Porena (1902)
Inside the nine concentric circles ten letters have been arranged along a spiral, which form the sequence CATROVACER:
The meaning of the string has been recently revealed by Mauro Ballesio, who wrote me:
The sequence must be written on a circle and cut so as to form the two words “CERCA TROVA” (“SEEK FIND”): it is the enigmatic writing which Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574) inscribed in his fresco in the Sala dei Cinquecento in Palazzo Vecchio (Florence), painted probably on an earlier work by Leonardo Da Vinci. The writing has ignited the imagination of treasure hunters, according to whom it refers to a lost work of Leonardo - “The Battle of Anghiari”. Some have even suggested that the fresco hides a secret cavity in which the work is still hidden. (2)
The writing “CERCA TROVA” on the fresco by Vasari.
Ballesio notes that the words are evoked in the first chapter of Dan Brown’s novel, where Robert Langdon comes across a strange veiled woman who whispers:
Time grows short. Seek and find. (3)
We do not know the relevance of this coded message in the novel, but a further clue comes from the American cover, where the sequence CATROACCR appears on the nine concentric circles:
The topic has been discussed a few days ago on Greg Taylor’s blog The Cryptex, where on March 11 a mysterious UDbmas wrote:
CATROACCR = TESORETTO
Mauro Ballesio has checked 245000 distinct Italian words, finding that TESORETTO is the only one that allows a transliteration of CATROACCR. Since the logical rule to change from CATROACCR to TESORETTO is not clear, it has been hypothesized that UDbmas is actually a nickname used by Dan Brown to unveil a (otherwise impossible to decode) clue.
Even the word “Tesoretto” refers to Palazzo Vecchio, being the name of a small secret room, whose existence was forgotten until 1908, when it was rediscovered during restoration work.
The room was built under the reign of Cosimo I de’ Medici (1519-1574) for storing jewels, documents and personal objects of scientific interest. It had no windows, it was decorated by Vasari with strictly secular images and was off limits even to members of servitude.
By connecting all the dots, Ballesio raises this interesting hypothesis:
If TESORETTO is the correct transliteration of CATROACCR, I assume that Dan Brown has suggested - in the fiction of the novel - that the lost work of Leonardo is in the secret closet of Cosimo I de’ Medici.
So let’s follow the veiled woman advice. Let’s seek... and we will find!
Published on Friday 22 march 2013 • Post by Mariano Tomatis • Permalink
Designing and recreating a wood-and-glass computer used in the 16th century? A funny activity with a certain amount of thrill, especially because the mathematical secret at its core could lead to death!
It all started with the "Book of Soyga"(discover its story here), a 16th century treatise that included 18 leaves containing 36 tables of letters. Their structure has been shrouded in mystery for centuries, and — according to legend — revealing its secret would have brought to death in two years and a half. The alchemist and astrologer John Dee (1527-1608) invoked the archangel Uriel to solve the puzzle, but in vain.
Four centuries later, the mathematician James A. Reeds defied the curse, discovering and publishing (1) in 2006 the method to compile all 36 tables of the "Book of Soyga".
How to fill in the "Book of Soyga"
In order to create a page of the book, draw a square grid, consisting of 36 rows and 36 columns. From the upper left corner, write vertically a "magic word", followed by itself upside down, then back upright, upside down, etc. until you have completed the column. Here’s how to fill it starting from ABRACADABRA:
It is easy to fill in the first row. Reeds discovered that each letter is followed by another according to a simple rule:
We start from the A which is in the top left square. The arrows in the diagram above show the obligatory path that leads from A to C, then to F, H, N and D, and then enters the closed circle I, Z, B and D again.
Let’s write, on the first line, the path described by the rule:
Now the procedure becomes more difficult. Each of the other squares should be filled on the basis of the letter above and the one on the left, according to a mathematical rule that Reeds summarized in this equation:
Complex enough, isn’t it? According to the equation, the unknown letter X is obtained starting from the (N)orthern letter and moving on in the alphabet a number of positions determined by the (W)estern letter. Each letter corresponds to a different shift, as indicated in the table above. (The procedure is better explained here.)
Can you imagine the amount of work needed by the creator of the tables, who had to "calculate" the equation for more than 45,000 times?
A modern computer can fill the table starting with ABRACADABRA in a fraction of a second (check it here), but a manual work would take months.
What if they had used a computer in the 16th century?
What if they had used a computer in the 16th century to compile the book? «Which kind of computer would have worked?», I asked myself. Inspired by the mnemonic wheels of Ramon Llull (1235-1316), already known at the time, and by the gift of a dear friend — David Metcalfe —, I designed a "Soyga Tables Compiler" consisting of two wheels, fixed on a wooden base:
Both wheels show in the external crown the 23 letters of the alphabet appearing on the tables of the "Book of Soyga". The right wheel shows, at the center, arrows leading from one letter to another. A second wheel is printed on glass and fixed in the center of the first. When spun, the arrows in the background remain fixed, and being transparent, different rotations produce different connections between letters.
Here is the hypothetical 16th century computer:
Such an instrument would enable anyone to compile a table of the "Book of Soyga" ignoring the complex rules described by Reeds, because it incorporates them all in a single object easy to work with. (2)
In order to compile the first line, it is enough to rotate the two wheels in a way that all the letters are aligned: the arrows thus obtained reproduce the graph above and allow you to easily see the path to follow — A leading to C, then to F, etc.
From the second row, a different rule applies, equally simple: in order to find out what to write in a square, the wheels must be rotated until the letter on the left (on the outer circle) and the letter above (in the inner ring) are aligned; now the arrow (red in the diagram) starting from the letter above leads to the letter to be written — in this case, to E:
This procedure can be repeated for the entire table, square by square, and allows you to faithfully reconstruct the entire "Book of Soyga".
To better understand its use, click here: the table shown is based on the magic word ABRACADABRA, and clicking on any letter (from the second column on) you can see the interaction between the two wheels and — indicated by two red dots — the arrow that connects the letters involved in the encoding procedure:
(1) Jim Reeds, "John Dee and the Magic Tables in the Book of Soyga" in Stephen Clucas (ed.), John Dee: Interdisciplinary Studies in English Renaissance Thought, International Archives of the History of Ideas, No. 193. Dordrecht, Netherlands: Springer, 2006, pages 177-204. The article can be downloaded from here.
(2) I stress again that, to date, there is no description of a computer like that, which I designed in a totally hypothetical way, limiting myself to technologies and mathematical knowledges available at the time.
Published on Wednesday 6 march 2013 • Post by Mariano Tomatis • Permalink
On March 20th, during TEDxNavigli, the Moleskine® notebook created by me and Ferdinando Buscema will be officially released. It is a meditation tool on the necessary balance between Power and Love in our contemporary society.
Once Martin Luther King told:
The concepts of love and power have usually been contrasted as opposites. [...] What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and that love without power is sentimental and anemic. (1)
Left to itself — at rest — the elastic band stays on the heart, symbol of Love. The elastic band can be stretched up to overlap the symbol of Power, but this position requires excessive energy. Only the application of a balanced force allows to place the elastic band on the central symbol that combines Power and Love. Curiously, the force in Newtons is equal to 1.618 — the Golden Ratio, an ideal of harmony and the principle of natural and artistic phenomena.
By incorporating this universal constant, the notebook allows to reflect on the Power of Love — a pillar of the harmony of the spheres since time immemorial.