Revealing ontological commitments by magic

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9 Scopus citations


Considering the appeal of different magical transformations exposes some systematic asymmetries. For example, it is more interesting to transform a vase into a rose than a rose into a vase. An experiment in which people judged how interesting they found different magic tricks showed that these asymmetries reflect the direction a transformation moves in an ontological hierarchy: transformations in the direction of animacy and intelligence are favored over the opposite. A second and third experiment demonstrated that judgments of the plausibility of machines that perform the same transformations do not show the same asymmetries, but judgments of the interestingness of such machines do. A formal argument relates this sense of interestingness to evidence for an alternative to our current physical theory, with magic tricks being a particularly pure source of such evidence. These results suggest that people's intuitions about magic tricks can reveal the ontological commitments that underlie human cognition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)43-48
Number of pages6
StatePublished - Mar 1 2015
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


  • Coincidences
  • Hierarchies
  • Magic
  • Ontological commitments
  • Predicability


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