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Magicians’ Views on the Paranormal

Following up on the last post about the Million Dollar Challenge – in particular the idea of modern magicians as debunkers of the paranormal – I just noticed that George Hansen’s Paranormal Trickster blog has been updated with two new additions. Both of them touch on the issue of (stage) magicians and their interaction with religion, supernatural ideas and the paranormal. Hansen’s review of a conference on “The Theory and Art of Magic” throws the spotlight on the work of Eugene Burger, one of magic’s most profound thinkers but also a graduate from Yale University’s Divinity School.

The second post offers a PDF file of Hansen’s 1992 essay on “Magicians and the Paranormal” which was originally published in the Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research (JASPR). The article provides a fascinating look at how magicians have viewed the paranormal over the past four centuries. As Hansen says, it’s important to understand this background, because…

…several magicians have had an impact on scientists’ and the general public’s perception of psychical research, and some have played a major role in the modern-day skeptical movement. Conjurors have been consulted regarding government funding of psi research, and the recent workshop on parapsychology by the Office of Technology Assessment (1989) of the U.S. Congress included nine outside panelists, three of whom were scientist-magicians. Also, conjurors have special expertise in evaluating certain types of psi research.

The JASPR article in particular is a wonderful read, I highly recommend it. I find George Hansen’s writings on the paranormal a welcome tonic to the true believers on either side – he goes beyond evaluating the objective reality of these phenomena and considers sociological and psychological factors as well (although I also cringe when people take things too far in that direction).

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