People always ask a magician "How did you do that?"
The magician retorts, "very well, I thought" or some other hack line, whilst thinking to himself "Why am I still doing that? Oh yeah 'cos I'm unemployable."
Magicians actually avoid telling you the 'how' as it takes an age to explain. However dear Huffington Post, you've asked for it, so here it is. I Imagine only your geekiest of readers will get through this (actually that's probably most of you).
Being fooled has nothing to do with your age, background or intelligence. Instead there are predictable patterns that deceive us. What hoodwinked someone in 3000 BC will still amaze today.
But forget the modus operandi. I won't reveal the secrets of the smoke and mirrors because when you do, people tend to say 'yeah but I still don't get it.' That's because what fools us is not the props but the psychology.
We're taught that everything happens due to cause and effect. Whereas a magic trick is an effect without a cause (at least no acceptable cause within the normal parameters of reality). This is why magicians refer to tricks as "effects".
So magic is the art of concealing the cause. In order to do this, you have to understand how we deduce a cause:
Spotting a pattern. If five people on a plane get food poisoning and they all ate salmon mousse you'd assume that was the cause. So if you see a magician vanish a coin and he only seems to be able to do it with a jacket on, you assume he shoves the coin up his sleeve.
Proximity in time. What happened immediately before the effect must be the cause. He must have shoved the coin up his sleeve just before he made it vanish.
Proximity in space. The cause in some sense has to touch the effect. To pick pocket your watch at some point I have to touch your wrist.
So how does a magician disguise these causes?
Recurring pattern. People assume there is only one way to do the trick. So a deceptionist will change how he does the trick each time. There really are a thousand ways to saw a woman in half (some less painful than others).
Proximity in time. Magic is like chess; you have to be three steps ahead. If I secretly stole your watch, I'd do it ten minutes before I revealed it.
Proximity in space. If I steal your watch I have to touch your wrist. So a magician will find clever ways to misdirect you. In the case of removing your watch they'll grab both wrists at the same time and squeeze your other wrist harder so you don't notice them touching the watch.
Finally, and this is the piece de resistance, offer another cause for the effect. "I didn't really bend the spoon whilst you weren't looking. Of course not! I simply used the power of my mind."
In fact the presentation of all magic tricks throughout history reveals society's commonly held superstitions of that time. In the 1500s magicians were aided by the devil, nowadays we can call on the power of self-help babble.
Anyway the next time you're tempted to ask "how'd you do that?" save yourself forty minutes and say instead "that was great, can you show me another one?"