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Lakeshore
An author of no particular popularity

Jay Lake
Date: 2007-11-14 03:30
Subject: [child] The true nature of magic
Security: Public
Location:Omaha
Mood:parental
Music:the heater humming
Tags:child, funny
This past weekend the_child wanted to rent and watch Twitches imdb ]. As always, I watched it with her the first time through.

She likes to mess around with DVD extras. If there's a "making of" disc, she'll often watch that first, and spend more time with that than the actual movie. DVDs are a highly immersive experience for this kid.

The Twitches release we rented has one of those little DVD games you sometimes find. It supposedly tells your fortune, by making you select a secret number, asking you some leading questions, then identifying the secret number you picked and giving you a prediction associated with that number.

the_child was quite astonished her first time through this, and demanded to know how they did that. She was amazed by the magic trick the DVD had pulled on her.

We went through it carefully together, and I helped her analyze it. Here's the algorithm involved:

  • Pick a number between 1 and 55

  • If it's a two digit number, add the digits together

  • If it's a one digit number, simply use the number itself

  • Subtract your second, calculated value from the original number


The solution set falls within the series {0,9,18,27,36,45}. ie, a zero or a multiple of nine. I don't know the name of this function, but it's kind of cute. The leading questions were nothing but smokescreens ("What flavor of ice cream do you like best?") to obscure the math going on in the fortune telling process.

When the game reached its culmination, it presented a screen of numbers from 0 to 55, with a mix of symbols. The solution set always has the same symbol next to each member of the set. All the other symbols are there, again, as a smokescreen. It told her to note the symbol next to her number, then presented it on a following screen along with a generic prediction ("You will soon meet a person with a dog," that sort of thing).

Once the_child understood that this was how the DVD "knew" what number she'd guessed, she was disappointed. "I thought it was real magic," she told me.

I explained that everything that looks like magic has an explanation, and the "real magic" is in knowing how the trick was done. She decided this was pretty cool, after all.

I do believe I'm raising a thoughtful skeptic.
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Mark Teppo
User: markteppo
Date: 2007-11-14 12:58 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
You know, that makes us writer types "magicians." I can live with that. :)
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lordofallfools
User: lordofallfools
Date: 2007-11-14 14:14 (UTC)
Subject: Missile Silos and Twin Teenage Witches
I think "Twitches" is more dangerous for children than abandoned missile silos.

(Don't get me started on Hannah Montana)

***********

I do believe I'm raising a thoughtful skeptic.

Hmmm...what do you think are the main components of skepticism? And how do you go about teaching it to a child?

Or, WHY would you try to teach it to a child?
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(no subject) - (Anonymous)
lordofallfools
User: lordofallfools
Date: 2007-11-14 14:52 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)

Because "Wow!" should always be followed by "How?"


Thank you for filling my daily requirement of platitudes. :-)

I don't think that skepticism-- as generally used in the population-- reflects that attitude. Your definition would fit rather well with "curiosity," though.
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(no subject) - (Anonymous)
lordofallfools
User: lordofallfools
Date: 2007-11-14 15:17 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
And this would be where I talk about the effects of publication bias on the implementation of the null hypothesis, but as a neo-pro genre writer, I have to disclose...I really, really, REALLY have a bias toward being published.

:)
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(no subject) - (Anonymous)
lordofallfools
User: lordofallfools
Date: 2007-11-14 15:57 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
"Pong, the vampire cat, woke up to find herself naked and staked down between Logolas and Frydo..."

:skip to the end:

"...but then she woke up and found out it was all just a dream!"

Do you think it has chance?
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2007-11-14 23:18 (UTC)
Subject: Re: Missile Silos and Twin Teenage Witches
Why would you not teach skepticism to a child?

Close-minded incuriosity and credulous belief are rampant in this country, from the Oval Office to church pews across America. I'd much rather raise a human being who knows how to ask, and answer questions.
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lordofallfools
User: lordofallfools
Date: 2007-11-15 13:14 (UTC)
Subject: Skepticism, Cynicism, and Curiosity
Why would you not teach skepticism to a child?

Because skepticism, as used in common vernacular, inherently contains elements of distrust. Distrust can lead to cynicism, which leads to closed-minded incuriosity.

Note, please, I'm not critiquing your parenting-- just your choice of words.

What you've described isn't, in my mind, skepticism, but curiosity. Curious children delight in mysteries, and puzzles, and get a kick out of learning the trick, or the solution. Skeptical children tend to only feel pleasure about the solution, and may resent the actual illusion.
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starcat_jewel
User: starcat_jewel
Date: 2007-11-17 01:39 (UTC)
Subject: Re: Skepticism, Cynicism, and Curiosity
I disagree with your usages of both "skepticism" and "distrust". Skepticism means knowing how -- and, more importantly, when -- not to take things at face value, but to dig deeper. "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is," is an example of a skeptic's proverb.

As to "distrust"... blind, credulous trust is the source of many ills. Would you want your child to grow up being the kind of person who gets taken in by e-mail scams? Those people (and you hear about them far too frequently for comfort) have not learned how to be sufficiently skeptical.

Jay, you go! You're raising your daughter to be a competent and capable adult. Would that more parents did so.
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Twilight: Samantha Carter
User: twilight2000
Date: 2007-11-14 15:07 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Samantha Carter
I do like her questions -- they show a healthy sense of "Why" and "How Come" -- something that isn't valued as much in today's culture as it has been at times in the past.*
Skepticism until proof is offered is a great thing -- thinking about it rather than reacting to it "just 'cause" is very cool as well. I know when my child asks those kinds of questions it just makes my day :>.


---------
it's all cyclical -- and it will be valued again -- which is why it's nice to teach our kids :>.
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J.K.Richárd
User: neutronjockey
Date: 2007-11-14 16:40 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Oh NOZ not fun with math?!
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Coffee Shop Whore
User: skidspoppe
Date: 2007-11-14 17:28 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
As someone who dabbles in the art of magic, you have hit upon several of the key components which makes the form so difficult in today's age.

1) Once the_child understood that this was how the DVD "knew" what number she'd guessed, she was disappointed. "I thought it was real magic," she told me.

Magic is the only art form which can be ruined retroactively. When I work at the shop, I can show someone a trick which will blow their mind and they'll want to buy it. As soon as they do, they want to know how it's done and when I explain it, they get disappointed. Now this is the same effect they were quite impressed with only moments before. In effect, what has happened is they paid for the secret, not the trick itself (granted, this usually only happens with lay people and not professionals, our usual clientèle).

Which brings me to 2)

I explained that everything that looks like magic has an explanation, and the "real magic" is in knowing how the trick was done.

This is the idea that magic is simply a puzzle to be solved. I disagree. Of course, everything is done by some form of trickery. We have people come into the shop all the time wanting to know if what Criss Angel does is "real." It's not. He really doesn't walk down the sides of buildings without any support. And yes, there's a method when I can look in your eyes and tell you which card you're thinking of, but doesn't that take away from the enjoyment of the moment?

I understand the need to foster curiosity and I also know that, with magic, I tend to be a bit more sensitive (it is, after all, how my girlfriend makes a living) but I worry about taking away the idea of wonder, the idea that it could happen. It's like Santa Claus. We all know he doesn't exist, but wouldn't it be nice to remember back to the time we thought he could?
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2007-11-15 02:04 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I think she was using the word "magic" in the sense of "psychic powers", and I was using it in the sense of "wisdom" or "esoteric knowledge" (albeit weakly). Which neither supports nor weakens your argument, I suppose. I'm just over here trying to teach my kid to critically judge what she sees instead of accepting it, which strikes me as a useful life skill.
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Coffee Shop Whore
User: skidspoppe
Date: 2007-11-15 03:56 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
It is a very useful life skill.

Next time you both happen to be in Vegas, however, you must allow me to take you to see Mac King. I think she'll love it!
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2007-11-15 12:41 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
That would be so cool!
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sheelangig
User: sheelangig
Date: 2007-11-15 00:04 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Completely off topic reply, except it might interest your child.

I've just discovered a place in Tigard, Archers Afield, where I'm taking my demon spawn to learn some archery. The little guy wants to be Robin Hood. I thought yours might like to hear about it...
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User: tillyjane
Date: 2007-11-15 00:29 (UTC)
Subject: archery
The child and I tried some archery at Norwescon, she enjoyed it...we were using blunt soft ended arrows, of course.
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sheelangig
User: sheelangig
Date: 2007-11-15 00:49 (UTC)
Subject: Re: archery

Well, Archers Afield is an archery hunting supply shop, as well as a place to learn and practise shooting bows. If you are offended by deer heads and such, be warned!
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sheelangig
User: sheelangig
Date: 2007-11-15 00:50 (UTC)
Subject: Re: archery
I'm just not communicating well today. What I meant is that the arrows have real points on them. Not hunting points, just target ones, but don't walk down range at the wrong moment, or you are a shish-kebob!
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Jay Lake: child-smiling_close
User: jaylake
Date: 2007-11-15 12:41 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:child-smiling_close
Definitely her kind of thing.
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