The world’s first Visiting Professor of Performance Magic
Posted by Xeno on October 27, 2012
The University of Huddersfield in northern England is a key centre for research into the art of magic and illusion and has now appointed the world’s first Visiting Professor of Performance Magic. But his students will not be taught to pull rabbits from top hats or to saw their glamorous assistants in half.
US-born Dr Todd Landman, who combines a career as a magician and mentalist with a post as a professor of government, delves deeply into the history and heritage of magic and believes that it enables the world to be viewed with a fresh sense of wonder.
“We are trying to rescue magic from its worst faults – which is cheesy guys in cheesy ties with rabbits in hats!” he says. “We are interested in the deeper side of things.”
He has a special fascination for renaissance men such as Dr John Dee and Sir Isaac Newton – scientists, astronomers and mathematicians who also practised astrology and alchemy. And today, the study of magic allows for “different ways of knowing the world”, according to Dr Landman.
“Even some neuro-scientists are saying we can’t explain everything with neuro-science. There are some things, like consciousness, that can’t be explained and that is the contribution we can make.” …
Well, neuroscience may not have the ability to create a working human consciousness from computer circuits yet, and many mysteries remain, but we do know a few interesting things after all these years of research.
We know how to turn consciousness off: administer drugs that make different parts of the brain fire at the same time.
We also know that when someone is coming back from anesthesia, primitive consciousness returns when old brain structures (rather than the neocortex) start communicating: the anterior cingulate cortex (i), thalamus (ii) and brainstem (iii) locus coeruleus/parabrachial area.
More about this study:
… Twenty young healthy volunteers were put under anesthesia in a brain scanner using either dexmedetomidine or propofol anesthetic drugs. The subjects were then woken up while brain activity pictures were being taken. Dexmedetomidine is used as a sedative in the intensive care unit setting and propofol is widely used for induction and maintenance of general anesthesia. Dexmedetomidine-induced unconsciousness has a close resemblance to normal physiological sleep, as it can be reversed with mild physical stimulation or loud voices without requiring any change in the dosing of the drug. This unique property was critical to the study design, as it enabled the investigators to separate the brain activity changes associated with the changing level of consciousness from the drugrelated effects on the brain. The staterelated changes in brain activity were imaged with positron emission tomography (PET).
The emergence of consciousness, as assessed with a motor response to a spoken command, was associated with the activation of a core network involving subcortical and limbic regions that became functionally coupled with parts of frontal and inferior parietal cortices upon awakening from dexme-detomidine-induced unconsciousness. This network thus enabled the subjective awareness of the external world and the capacity to behaviorally express the contents of consciousness through voluntary responses. Interestingly, the same deep brain structures, i.e. the brain stem, thalamus, hypothalamus and the anterior cingulate cortex, were activated also upon emergence from propofol anesthesia, suggesting a common, drug-independent mechanism of arousal. For both drugs, activations seen up-on regaining consciousness were thus mostly localized in deep, phylogenetically old brain structures rather than in the neocortex. …
Consciousness is what is it like to have your particular mental model of yourself. That includes integration of many interconnected dynamic systems such as body awareness, emotions, memory, language, sensory perception, complex learned actions and behaviors.