The Mathematics of Magic

I don’t particularly like math.  I’ve never been a fan of magic either.  For some reason, however, when I heard about a new book entitled Magical Mathematics written by two first-rate mathematicians, Persi Diaconis and Ron Graham, I felt compelled to buy it and read it.

I have to say that it is really good, and I would highly recommend it to any nerd.  It is a really artful melding of card tricks that are remarkable, with explanations of the underlying math concepts that are at one level so simple and clear that almost anyone could get the basic intuition for what they are talking about, but at another level so deep and difficult that it is probably hopeless for someone like me to ever truly understand.   

It also got me thinking.  I can’t name a single economist who has magic as a hobby or interest.  I’m sure there are some, but it is extremely rare.  Maybe love of magic among adults is just not very common, but I think it is something deeper.  Whatever it is that makes someone like economics, I think it tends to make them not like magic.

Any theories or evidence on this question from blog readers?

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  1. Bob says:

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  2. BL1Y says:

    While economists might not have magic as a hobby, what about the hobbies of magicians?

    For instance, Penn Jillette is very active on political and social issues, including free markets. Seems like quite a few magicians get involved in areas where they see misdirection used for any purpose other than entertainment.

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    • rehajm says:

      Thank you for metioning Larry Moss, John. I was a sudent of Prof. Moss and he would often begin his lectures with a magic trick he would relate to economic principles.

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    • rehajm says:

      I also took his class on scams and frauds, consistent with the deception meme…

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  3. David says:

    I’m not an economist, although I often worked with economists when I was practicing antitrust law. But I am a magician. I’m also deeply skeptical by nature. I’ve been both — magician and skeptic — for as long as I can remember, and I’ve always assumed these things are related; i.e., knowing how easily people can be fooled — even the smartest people — is a lesson one takes into account in his own approach to the world. In the same vein, I’ll cite James Randi and Penn Jillette, and the largely silent Teller as well. All of which makes me surprised that there are no (or few, relatively speaking) economist-magicians.

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  4. GoogleBingAsk says:

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  5. Caleb b says:

    I enjoy both. At one time I was very active in magic, attending regular meetings and paying dues in a society. I also am very interested in econ…considering it as a profession.

    I think they go quite well with eachother bc expectations play such a big role. Both are built on understanding how other people think and behave.

    A great magic trick is usually very simple bc it is the simplicity makes the magic look so extraordinary.

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  6. David says:

    I think it has to do with how logical economists are in general. You like to have data and present the truth about that data, whereas with magic, it’s taking something that can be explained logically but you have to deceive your audience in the process. Economists are not deceptive (at least not on purpose).

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  7. Per says:

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