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Steve Trash is an eco-friendly comedian who entertains children while teaching them important environmental lessons.

Red cars were there all along

Magic tricks are not real.

I know, I’m a magician. I’m the one pulling all the strings, hiding all the rabbits and sawing all the ladies in half. It’s my job.

But magic tricks are mental misperceptions. They are illusions.

I think about human perception a lot – because, of course, that lady isn’t really being sawn in half, that rabbit didn’t actually just pop out of nothingness and that person floating in the air … well … isn’t.

It’s misperception. It’s a fun, harmless game magicians play with the minds of those watching.

We magicians must have an audience to “interpret” what’s happening because, of course, they aren’t really “seeing” what’s actually happening. That part is a secret. What they are seeing is an illusion, made possible by the many holes in our mind’s perception.

Magicians know where these perceptive holes, shortcuts, bypasses and zones of trickery are. With them we pretend to defy the laws of nature and make magic.

One perceptive hole in our minds is our ability to “see what we expect to see.”  Magicians use this one a lot, but it can also apply in your non-magic life, too.

Here’s an example from real life.

Have you ever purchased a new car, or something expensive like a car? This thing was beautiful, amazing, fantastic – and you just loved it.

It filled you with happiness.

It was red. It was awesome. Your dream of dreams had come true. You had a beautiful red car, and you were happy.

But as you drove around town, you began to notice something peculiar: There are now tons of beautiful red cars, just like yours, on the road.

What? How could this be? Where did all these red cars come from?

What has happened?

Your mind did its thing; that’s what happened. By purchasing a red car that brought you so much pleasure, you sent a signal to your unconscious mind that red cars were important to you, so your mind – unconsciously – began looking for red cars.

Because your mind began looking for them, you began seeing them.

The red cars were there all along, but your mind is now LOOKING for them unconsciously and serving them up to your conscious mind.

There is a reason our minds do this: Seeing and processing information takes mental energy, so we prime our minds to see what we want to see, what we believe is important, what we believe is true. We see the stuff we want to see without much effort or energy.

It’s just easier on us.

There’s a downside, however, to this mental shortcut: bias, preconceived ideas and prejudices also live in this zone. We look for things, unconsciously, that support our biases.

All bias is a shortcut – an excuse not to think. It’s a shorthand so we don’t burn up too many brain cells on too much thinking.

Many times this is based on what respected people have told us or things we have observed and concluded for ourselves. We have a mental model of the world in our minds, and our biases are the lenses we see the world through – and we’re constantly seeking to support that worldview.

Examples: that “other” political party is filled with liars, rich people are always bad, rich people are always good, big business always hurts the little guy, big business always does good for society, that skin color is “less than” my skin color, “those people” will always cheat and steal.

Our mind is seeking to confirm our bias ideas all the time. We see the things that support our story because our minds are looking for only those things.

Remember, there are no more red cars than there used to be; you just began noticing them because you told your mind red cars were important.

So take it from a magician: It’s a very good idea to occasionally question your picture of the world. This applies to politics, business, religion, family, happiness, worldview – everything.

It’s your mind, so pause every once in a while and ask yourself if you’re being honest – with yourself.

As the old ad from the 1970s used to say, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.”

Question your perceptions, your beliefs and your biases every once in a while.  Ask yourself, “Why do I believe this is true?”

It will grow your understanding of the world. It will make you a better member of society. It will make you a better person.


Rockin’ Eco Hero Steve Trash tours the planet teaching children about their connection to nature through magic, music and comedy. He has his own PBS Kids science show called STEVE TRASH SCIENCE. He lives with his wife and dogs in Frog Pond. For more visit www.stevetrash.com.

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