Italian writer and magician
working for a better Rule #34:
«If it exists, there is magic of it.
If not, let’s make it!»







 2014 (36)



Science Foo Camp (or “Sci Foo”) is an invitation-only gathering organized by Digital Science, O'Reilly Media, and Google, with support from Nature. The 9th edition of Sci Foo takes place on 8-10 August 2014 at the Googleplex in Mountain View, CA. Lord Martin Rees has defined it as “a sort of mini Woodstock of the Mind”. Participants include researchers, writers, educators, artists, policy makers, investors, and other thought leaders, all doing groundbreaking work in diverse areas of science and technology.


Magic & its boundaries

Cultivating wonder: the contribution by Jason Salavon

Posted on tuesday 12 august 2014• Written by Mariano Tomatis

According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the best way to become involved in a domain deeply enough to reach its boundaries and then push them farther is to develop

a good dose of curiosity, wonder, and interest in what things are like and in how they work. (1)

For many years, I have perceived Magic as an irredeemable (2) art, doomed to repeat old clichés over and over again, without any possible upgrade. Then I met revolutionary magicians (like Penn & Teller, Max Maven, Derren Brown and Marco Tempest) who pushed its boundaries in totally unexpected directions. I started to work on it just some years ago, with a renewed trust in the potentials of Magic. I was exploring this promising path when, abruptly, I was invited to Science Foo Camp 2014, organised by Nature, Digital Science, O’Reilly and Google at the Googleplex in Mountain View (CA). It has been the perfect context where to cultivate curiosity, wonder, and interest in what things are like and in how they work.

I have performed there a lightning-magic-talk (CLICK HERE), shared my work on the first Italian 17th century mind-reading books (CLICK HERE) and returned home with tons of good material to work on: I have met amazing people, discussed about hundreds of potential hybridizations between Magic and other disciplines and I have been literally mesmerised by some of the props shown during the sessions.

It’s difficult to decide where to start from. Picking a single aha-moment at random, I was attending a session about Maths and Art, during which Jason Salavon (DISCOVER HERE HIS STUNNING WORKS) described the concept of “amalgamation”: the procedure through which many images are merged into a single one by averaging the colour of each pixel. This reminded me of the most stunning example of amalgamation I have read about in 2002: the one involving four decades of Playboy centerfolds (from 60s to 90s).

I was going to share this piece of information with the audience, when he revealed of being himself the author of the Playboy amalgamation!

Jason Salavon, Every Playboy Centerfold, The Decades (normalized) 2002.

During a lunch spent together after the session, I have explained Jason that I often use wonder for didactical purposes, and his work on Playboy centerfolds has been very useful during my mathematical lectures: I have often used his images with students, stressing the difference between the statistical concepts of “average” and “median”; citing his work, it was easy to show that — in this specific case — the median image is sexier than the average one (and still more sexier when you use 119 photos instead of 120 for each decade).

1990s Playboy centerfolds: average (left) vs. median (right).
Jason Salavon’s 1990s decade and Elisa Bridges, Miss December 1994.

Being Jason an instructor at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the discussion with him focused on the most surprising sides of art — from Banksy’s “Exit Through The Giftshop” to Cattelan’s middle finger displayed in Milan’s Piazza Affari — and on the shared idea that Art may be empowered by taking it out of the galleries and museums. The concept is also at the core of our book The Art of Astonishment, focused on the concept of magical experiences designed (and lived) out of a theatrical context, in everyday life. In Italy, the concept has been analysed in the wider framework of Contemporary Art by Alessandro Dal Lago and Serena Giordano, whose books introduce radical ideas on how to bring Art to a higher level by letting it break out of the official places with the aim of upgrading the contexts in which it is presented to the public: a must-read!


(1) Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Creativity: The Flow and the Psychology of Discovery & Invention.

(2) The term has been suggested me by Filippo Sottile.

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