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Manual Magic

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  • Barrett,
    I'm curious about your interpretation of the character Tesla in the movie, played by David Bowie by the way.

    Michael Caine's character called him a wizard because his magic was real.
    Cory Blickenstaff, PT, OCS

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    • Tesla the Sorceror

      Cory, Good question.

      From the Wikipedia entry: “Tesla was widely known for his great showmanship, presenting his innovations and demonstrations to the public as an artform, almost like a magician.”

      I’d recommend reading the “personality” section of the Wikipedia page linked above. Tesla, according to some, “invented the twentieth century,” and you could make the case for that. According to the film’s director (yes, I watched the director’s commentary as well), Tesla was known to bury some of his amazing inventions before anyone in the public saw them. Fascinating.

      In the book there’s a passage I underlined on page 52. Here Borden is discussing differing presentations of the same trick. “He performs the same illusion, using the identical secret, but he claims aloud that he is (doing the effect) by sorcerous means. Would not his performance be judged differently? He would appear not skilled but mystical and powerful. He would not be a mere entertainer but a miracle worker who defied natural law.”

      Here we have a special situation, chiefly because any magician seeing such a thing has to decide what they should or shouldn’t reveal to the audience. They are, after all bound by professional honor.

      We are not.

      With Tesla you have the ultimate “advanced technology” and it is no wonder his manipulation of electricity appeared magical and he apparently did little to dissuade the public’s impression of him in this way. On the other hand, he was critical of Edison (an Ohio boy) because “His method was inefficient in the extreme, for an immense ground had to be covered to get anything at all unless blind chance intervened and, at first, I was almost a sorry witness of his doings, knowing that just a little theory and calculation would have saved him 90 per cent of the labor. But he had a veritable contempt for book learning and mathematical knowledge, trusting himself entirely to his inventor's instinct and practical American sense."

      This sounds like a few therapists I know.

      Tesla was such a contradiction. The ultimate scientist but full of ideas that would have required repudiation of natural law, an advocate of “free electricity” who kept huge secrets regarding his unique scientific advances.
      Barrett L. Dorko


      • The therapist/magician and the abnormal neurodynamic

        “When magicians invent their illusions, they usually follow a certain formula: think of something completely impossible, then figure out a way to apparently accomplish it.”

        From Hiding the Elephant

        This thread will soon become an essay that I can offer my classes and may form the basis of my teaching one day. I see the word “magic” as an incredibly powerful hook. No matter how people may feel about it, it gathers their attention for a few moments. During those moments a good performer will turn that attention into curiosity, concentration and intrigue. In the tension between the magician’s invitation to watch (“Are you watching closely?” is the tag line from The Prestige) and their careful attempts to hide all sorts of things, something surprising and unforgettable will occur, but only if everything is in place.

        I flipped open Hiding the Elephant this morning and my eyes landed on the line above. It was on page 242 of the book and I haven’t read that far yet. I must say however that I would have expected it to show up earlier in a book about the nature of a magician’s thinking.

        Therapists faced with pain of a nonpathologic nature whose mechanical origin lies in the nervous tissue are commonly of two sorts. They are either the one person in the department crazy enough to deal with this regularly or they are so low on the totem pole that they get stuck with these conditions. The essential diagnosis is abnormal neurodynamic, and it seems to me that these patients need a therapist/magician who understands what can’t be easily seen or measured and then performs the impossible; they make it disappear.

        Teaching the patient how to do this on their own is clearly The Prestige, and now I know that my teaching must emphasize this.

        Only this thread could have gotten me here.
        Barrett L. Dorko


        • Juggler/Magician

          A conjuror is not a juggler; he is an actor playing the part of a magician.


          I tried to quote this accurately earlier in the thread but missed it by just a bit. It struck me that Houdin’s appreciation for juggling, if it was that, reflected this very famous man’s transformation of magical presentation in the mid-nineteenth century. He recognized that a blend of actual skill and subtle but continuous deception would draw and maintain an audience’s attention like nothing done previously, and he was right. Interestingly, as a young man he was an excellent craftsman; specifically a watchmaker.

          As I turn my attention to manual magic these days, this quote reminds me of a sort of trick I performed many times publicly in my younger days – juggling three bowling balls. (pictured below in 1987).

          Now that I think of it, I came close to all three aspects of what I’m now calling therapy/magic; I’d demonstrate the weight of the balls (they weren’t Nerf bowling balls), I’d get them to fly about over my head in a few unlikely patterns and then I’d catch all three. I can see that I was a little weak on The Prestige part but would often get real close.

          Ordinary to Extraordinary to Reappearance

          Here I thought I was just juggling. Turns out I was performing magic.
          Attached Files
          Last edited by Diane; 10-03-2007, 04:25 AM.
          Barrett L. Dorko


          • The Patient as Houdini

            “Should I be using the tips of my fingers when I touch the patient or can I let another part of my hand make contact?”

            I was asked this by student in a course in Tampa last year. I said in response that this wasn’t the issue, that, in effect, it was the kind of question that indicated she was focusing entirely on the wrong thing and that my lecture during the previous half hour should have made all of that clear.

            I recall that she wasn’t happy with that response.

            Today I read of Houdini’s career as an amazing and famous escape artist and terrible magician. In Hiding the Elephant Steinmeyer compares and contrasts his presentation to that of the equally well known Howard Thurston (another Ohio boy, born in Columbus in 1869). Houdini’s escapes represented the freeing of a small man (he was 5’2’’) from the bonds that early twentieth century culture was breaking, and the audience could relate. Similarly, sawing a woman in half, first performed in London in 1920, was clearly a response to the recent success there of the woman’s suffrage movement.

            Maybe part of our task as manual magicians is to “free” our patients in some way. This sounds right to me, and reminds me of something said by Stanley Milgram: “Our awareness is the first step to our liberation.”

            Simple Contact enhances that awareness and “escape” follows. We are, in a way, allowing the patient to become Houdini. But is this enough? I would say certainly not; that we have to add some of what that Ohio boy brought to magical performance.

            And that’s in the next post.
            Barrett L. Dorko


            • Houdini and Thurston

              For all his success, it was a widely held opinion that Houdini was a very ordinary magician. He was however a great showman and performer, and there’s a difference. Liberace comes to mind. Neither were particularly artistic or versatile. The magician did perfect one illusion however; it was named “Harry Houdini;” truly a magical and superhuman persona. It lives on today. In person he was boastful and arrogant, and he was at once supremely self-assured and paranoid. He toughed out a ruptured appendix for several days before finally seeking medical assistance, but by then an untreatable peritonitis had set in and it led to his death in 1926.

              Howard Thurston on the other hand was a consummate magician as well. Trained as a preacher in his youth, he would typically say in his opening patter, “I wouldn’t deceive you for the world.” It was a lie, of course, but his voice and manner made it believable. He performed no escapes and never took off his elegant evening dress (Houdini stripped regularly) but played upon the emotions of his audience, often using children as props and stooges in ways adults could never be used. Still, he conveyed a sort of “love” for his audience and they sensed this. Was it real? Does that matter?

              If we are to become effective manual magicians therapists must combine these two aspects of early twentieth century legerdemain. We should seek to help our patients see the reality of escape from their ways of behaving and sensing themselves and the world that so commonly threatens them. At the same time we must convey a kind of caring that can only come from a suspension of judgment. Perhaps Houdini’s muscle laden body (a very real accomplishment) and Thurston’s elegant and convivial manner can serve as a model for any effective session of manual magic.
              Barrett L. Dorko


              • Working hard not to know

                Magicians guard an empty safe.

                Jim Steinmeyer in Hiding the Elephant

                As I stated at the beginning of this thread, my personal difficulty with magical performance was the amount of deception involved. Not that I don’t engage in deception as regularly as any other person, but I struggle with the sort of “in your face” lying and hiding and small falsehoods that magicians are obliged to engage in for a living. I once heard a story, perhaps apocryphal, of Houdini’s final few hours. Bedridden and in agony, he was attended by a young physician. Houdini told this man how much he admired his work in medicine. “But you’re Houdini,” the physician said. “You’re world famous.” Houdini said, “But your work is real, everything you do is as it appears. Most of what I do is a fraud.”

                True or not, I never forgot this, and my frustration at not being able to perform magic diminished markedly.

                My massive problems with so many of the methods taught at continuing ed courses in hotel ballrooms are not confined to what I consider the senseless and thoughtless procedures themselves, but with the secrecy that surrounds them. If the theory behind the application is not well articulated and freely available beforehand I have to wonder why. With the explosion of the Internet today no one should have to wait for a book to be published and then purchased in order to figure out what they’re getting into.

                Before I go on I want to say this: Recently on the Evidence in Motion site someone who thinks very little of me said that I’d never articulated any theory behind my method. I assume they were being serious and that many reading that comment assumed it was true. It’s absurd, and I needn’t explain why here.

                The fact is, there aren’t any real secrets in magic, and the public library will teach you all you want to know for free. What’s revealed here in the public’s sense of mystery is our need for it.

                As is stated in the first few minutes of the movie The Prestige: "You want to be fooled because you're looking for the secret but you won't find it because you don't really want to know".

                I don’t know why therapists would be immune to this attitude. It’s been my experience that they work hard not to know.
                Barrett L. Dorko


                • Just a small addendum to that last post from my personal experience.

                  For years I’ve known a local and prominent clinician/manager physical therapist that always treats me cordially and listens carefully when we talk at national conferences. He tells others (including a number of his patients we’ve had in common), “Barrett’s a wonderful therapist. Nobody knows what he does.” I assume there’s a short but dramatic pause between these two statements.

                  I wrote him a letter suggesting I speak to his large staff regarding my work and, as I expected, he replied promptly and positively. “Thanks for this generous offer. I’ll talk to them about this and get right back to you.”

                  I wrote that letter four months ago. Nothing yet.

                  Remember, magicians hide their secrets not because they are large and spectacular in any way, but because they are small and trivial. I would say that mine certainly are, if they exist at all. I really don’t think I have any. Manual magic shouldn’t have any secrets.

                  The problem we’re having generating the interest this site deserves may be in our profession’s insistence on secrets.
                  Barrett L. Dorko


                  • The Parallel of The Teasing Horror

                    As most of you know, I am convinced that it is the culture’s inclinations toward one thing or another that drive our practice. Having carefully watched both the culture and the profession change since the early 70s I feel increasingly confident in this assertion.

                    Similarly, magical performance has been influenced by the desire of a society for certain images and it has often been at the forefront of scientific advance, or, at least, its use of devices generally unknown to the public. Magnets, massive electrical apparatuses and esoteric methods of transferring energy all became part of the mysterious power magicians seemed to have. I see a parallel development in therapy with the introduction of modality care in the 40s, my friend the late Joe Kahn at the leading edge.

                    But the attention of the culture – what interests it – and what is best for its health are commonly at odds, and what we can’t do personally we love to watch others do in our stead. I think professional wrestling figured this out some time ago.

                    Now my point: There’s an analogous relationship between the development of training and manipulation for painful problems and the progression of the “sawing a woman in half” stunt we’re all familiar with. Let’s start with the illusion, and by that I mean the one on the stage.

                    As we know it today, this trick was first performed in 1920, and the magician who performed it, P.T. Selbit, invited the most famous of the English suffragettes to be his “victim.” Though the principles required for the trick were known for decades before, this was the first time it was presented specifically in this fashion. It was quickly followed by “Destroying a Girl, “Stretching a Lady” and “Crushing a Woman.” Do you see a theme here? From the chapter in Steinmeyer’s book describing this: “The Sawing Illusion roared through the music halls…Selbit had made a clean break from the Golden age mysteries...No longer was magic ‘All Done by Kindness’ as it was once advertised. Those days were over. Those magicians were disappearing.”

                    When I came out of school there was both time and an appreciation for “care” as opposed to “training.” Our apparatus was minimal and suffering further in order to suffer less (from pain) eventually was a concept foreign to our understanding. Now it’s the norm. But in a culture entranced by appearance, where, according to David Morris, “(we) cannot avoid versions of the same subliminal message: the healthy-looking body is the beautiful body; and the beautiful body is the healthy-looking body,” a utopian or ideal body is sought, and image is everything. Actual pain relief is very much a secondary concern.

                    I think that the epidemic of chronic pain is a consequence of this, and unless we become as magicians of the Golden Age, before what Steinmeyer calls “the teasing horror” took precedence, we will continue to struggle to relieve it with manual care.
                    Last edited by Barrett Dorko; 13-03-2007, 12:49 PM.
                    Barrett L. Dorko


                    • Brief review and proposal

                      A month ago (man, this is a long thread) I wrote this:

                      1)Therapists want magic.

                      2) Magic is distinct from superpower; it contains a maneuver that, though perhaps not visible or commonly understood, does not violate physical law.

                      3) Magician’s may choose to reveal their method or not.

                      4) In magic there’s a method and a presentation, these represent a meme with fidelity and fecundity.

                      5) The enduring effect of any meme is dependent upon the reaction it produces.

                      6) We shouldn’t underestimate the tendency of the neurobiologic approach to treatment to literally scare our colleagues, especially when it messes with their billing.

                      7) Therapy resembles magic when it’s practiced truthfully, but that is the very reason it can’t be practiced in that way - it appears too magical.

                      8) We all have a desire to dilute reality with fantasy, to make reality seem simpler and more aligned with what we wish it were. But at the same time, all of us have the potential capacity to sift sense from nonsense, if only we were introduced to the distinction in a sufficiently vivid and compelling manner.

                      Looking back, I can see that the primary weakness of manual magic is its fidelity, fecundity and endurance, to put it in memetic terms. In short, it’s difficult to get students to recreate what they do in class, the implications of its application in the clinic (if you take success out of the equation) are largely negative and this method seems not to endure beyond the introduction of any other method.

                      Beyond this realization, I began to liken treatment itself to a magic trick, always containing three parts: The Pledge (likened to the therapist’s manner, empty hand and an ordinary human to work with), The Turn (the application of Simple Contact followed by ideomotion) and The Prestige (the vestiges of education and self care).

                      Maybe becoming magicians, or, at least, learning what magic is all about, should precede the therapist’s education in manual care. It should also be determined whether or not somebody is interested in “the secret” (read theory) before they are allowed into therapy school.

                      Maybe that will work.
                      Barrett L. Dorko


                      • Time on my hands

                        Well, I’ve begun throwing cards. This was inevitable, I guess, given the amount of time I have on my hands these days.

                        After a few thousand attempts I’ve found that I prefer the Thurston Grip and that both my distance and accuracy are improving. They really couldn’t have gotten any worse. My goal is to suddenly flip a card clear to the back wall of any room I’m speaking in. I think it’s important to do this without hitting anybody in the face, so I’m going to work especially hard on my accuracy in the coming weeks.

                        Somewhere along the way I’ll figure out how this is related to manual magic. I think it’s in there somewhere, and I’ll find it.

                        I'll let you know how it goes.
                        Barrett L. Dorko


                        • I think I'm going to have to get back to a Simple Contact course. I'll just make sure I sit behind someone tall.
                          "I did a small amount of web-based research, and what I found is disturbing"--Bob Morris


                          • Is this the trick you're practicing?? Jon, you're giving too much away, I can now only assume that you'll be in on the act...
                            Last edited by EricM; 15-03-2007, 01:53 PM.
                            Eric Matheson, PT


                            • Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. L VINCI
                              We are to admit no more causes of natural things than such as are both true and sufficient to explain their appearances. I NEWTON

                              Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not a bit simpler.
                              If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough. Albert Einstein


                              • Just by coincidence, the cover story on the front of this week's local free paper was about a group of local magicians.
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