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by Peter Amram

Ever wonder why you missed that strong trail coming in from the left, even though you had a good pace count going? Perplexed about running right by the 2-meter boulder because you were sure it was the nearer one, and you kept going, and going? Just didn’t notice passing over the ruined stone wall that was to have been a collecting feature?

Alex Stone, who wrote Fooling Houdini (Harper, 2012) understands. In a witty, well-written, somewhat uneven memoir about his personal obsession with magic, Mr. Stone presents much interesting information about the science and practice of fooling others and being fooled yourself. (Stone also wryly acknowledges social ineptitude: continually performing magic tricks, he notes, is a good way to meet women, and a good way to make them disappear.)

The problem out there in the woods is what psychologists call inattentional blindness. And, not that it matters for the present discussion, it affects not just orienteers.

In scores of studies, the evidence points to a simple yet astounding fact: inattention all but eliminates conscious experience. Objects and events appearing directly before our eyes, in what psychologists call the zone of fixation, frequently go unnoticed when our attention is elsewhere, as if our vision somehow stops working when we’re distracted.

Attention appears to be necessary for all sensory modalities. There is no conscious perception without attention. Even minor distractions can render us deaf and blind, unable to perform simple tasks, regardless of the nature of the distraction.” (p. 180)

Magicians, of course, use distractions to conceal their craft. Those mischievous trolls in the northeastern woodlands do too, and you have to be armored against their trickery.

Concentrate, concentrate, concentrate. 
The way not to get lost is not to get distracted.
So ignore those trolls over there. 
Concentrate here instead.
I said, ignore those trolls!
Okay. Good. Very good.

Now ... anyone know where we are?


Editor's note: Try this "awareness test."

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