JF Ptak Science Books LLC Post #87
Following up on an earlier post on disappearing people (and making things disappear) is this slight abrasion on seeing things that aren’t there, and making other people see the same not-there things. This is good and bad, depending on what seats you have in the theater and what kind of theater it is that holds these seats. It is many times fabulous in the theater of science, where people like Democritus and Leucippus (5th century BCE Greek) proposed thinking of the world being composed of tiny, individual, non-solid and invisible elements—these elements were there, of course, because they reasoned that everything could not come from nothing, and thus they had to be so small as to seem to not exist at all. This was the beginning of the atomic theory which would be added to and subtracted from over the next 2500 years, encountering atomists-in-extremis like John Dalton (1766-1844, with the first truly scientific/experimental/useful atomic theory) and JJ Thomson (who in 1897 actually discovered a constituent element of the invisible universe called the electron, and then on to Max Planck (who complicated things enormously and fabulously with the quantum theory in 1900, and Planck's constant = h/2p)and on and on.
In the theater that we expect to be shown nothing and believe in it, humans have been happily deceived for thousands of years. Our gorgeous Orson Welles, for example, still semi young when he made his B-movie masterpiece Touch of Evil, transforms himself utterly with a little make up and a whole lot of acting, disappearing himself and producing Detective Hank Quinlan in his place. In this movie, witch is perhaps one of the greatest black-and-white, sheerly, unstoppably black-and-white, with no grey tones and contrasts sharp enough top cut your pinkies on black-and-white, the most noire of flim noires, Orson manages to hide himself in the shadows and let Det. Quinlan take his disappeared place, right there in front of you.
Another wonderful illustration of empty, waiting-to-be-filled-up humans, human tabula rasa so to speak, was employed by the "second sight" conjurer Robert Heller. He abandoned his wig and his French accent, along with his piano, to become a conjurer, and became one of the “best” of his day. Heller (born Palmer, 1826-1878) took advantage of people's lack of scientific background and inventive acuity, and their need to believe ion something mysterious and larger than themselves, in some sort of simple primordial goo that might hold together the vastly differentiated universe, to trick them into believing that he could somehow divine a manner of objects and thoughts with his razor/divination vision.
Unfortunately, all he was doing was working with confederates and employing a slightly elaborate signaling system to communicate his so-called deep vision. (For example in this manikin image, Heller woul dbe able to signal his confederates the number he was "divining" by touching these parts of his body as he was setting the foundation for the trick.) It was a smart idea, a two-beer idea, that he acted on and parlayed (along with a broad theatrical stage presence)into a significant bankroll. He had other sorts of magical helpers and automata to push his sleight show forward, but mostly, it seems, it was his ability to “force” people to know something that they couldn’t, all worked with secret alphabets and hidden associates. It was easy and a little feeble, and it worked for years until his will just gave out. He was a local to the vicinity of my old shop in Georgetown, and it is perhaps appropriate that his magic was worked and also gave out in Washington, D.C.
To tidy things up, it was the scientists who found the things that are there but can’t be seen but couldn’t make the vast percentage of the population “see” the unseeable, while people like Heller and other magicians couldn’t find their unseen things anyway but could make people “see” their non-existent unseeables—all of which seems fairly paradoxical.
(“I see”, Patti Digh just brightly said.)(Below I've attached the opening scene from Touch of Evil--it is one continuous single take, one of the greatest opening shots in film history I think. And old Uncle Orson was able to do all of the magic on a buck-two-eighty.)