Review: Smoke and Mirrors exhibition

SELHuG enjoyed a really entertaining exhibition at the Wellcome Collection in July called Smoke and Mirrors: The Psychology of Magic.

It was fascinating to see the history of magicians and spiritualists, seances and haunted houses. And incredible that some scientists such as Sherlock Holmes author Arthur Conan Doyle believed in the afterlife and that the dead could speak to the living. He thought Houdini had supernatural powers and was really cross with him when Houdini tried to show him it was all trickery. One reason for the rise of seances and spiritualism in the Victoria era was the desire to believe in life after death, and the search for proof of it, at a time when scepticism about religion was on the rise.

The exhibition was full of explanations on how our minds and perceptions work, and why we are so susceptible to illusion and suggestion. Our needs and desires make us fertile ground for manipulation, which SELHuG secretary Tony Brewer, understandably, found disturbing. He said, “It illustrated how gullible people are, even people who like to think of themselves as logical & rational.”

And he added: “The implication is, I think, that as ‘influencers’ (Facebook, Google, Trump, Putin, BoJo & all the rest) come to understand the underlying psychology of magic & deception, they will develop techniques to bend us to their will. This is a threat to everyone but particularly to humanists who are trying to do the opposite.”

The exhibition is on till 15 September, go and see what you think!