Friday, April 17, 2009

Esse est Percipi

More than a year ago I went to a really cool scientific conference.

It was located in Las Vegas. Us scientists were supposed to meet some of the most famous magicians working there (it caused quite a bit of press coverage at the time; you can read the New York Times article about the event here).

The basic idea was that each side would be able to learn from the other about how we become aware of things - and more importantly, fail to perceive some of the most salient things happening in front of our eyes.

You can get a flavor of both, how easily we get fooled and fail to recognize some of the most drastic events in our immediate environment as well as how science and magic can benefit from each other by watching the brief video below:

The most impressive part of the show was performed by a guy called Apollo Robbins.

He told us that he was born into a family of pickpockets and thus grew up learning the required skills first hand. He became famous by stealing wallets, watches and more from Secret Service agents. He now works as an entertainer at Caesars Palace in Vegas, and recently became the lead in the US TV Show "The Real Hustle".

While his show truly was spectacular (robbing pop star philosopher Dan Dennett on stage of pretty much everything he had on him), it was off stage that he became the most impressive.

In contrast to most of the other magicians, he seemed to have been thinking about his skills in very scientific terms (he acknowledged some of the books he had read on that topic). Yet, his ideas were far ahead of the field.

He described his main skill as a sixth, "Grift Sense" that allows him to "see" where a person's attention is located at any point in time. He is able to tell at each point in time what parts of the environment have entered a person's awareness in contrast to the many objects and events that our brain filters out in order not to get flooded with too much information. He is also able to consciously direct and transform the radius of attention of the people he interacts with (we all do this to some degree of course). This allows him to take away stuff anything outside this radius of attention.

At this point, Apollo got my full attention (I was rather hung over and sleep deprived, reocvering from a 5min bar-to-bed pull the night before).

His description of a limited circumference of a person's attention reminded me of the ingenious concept of using Awareness Radius during pickup.

The latter originates from a classic post by a guy who uses the handle "Killswitch" not too long a time ago. In its practical form it is an extension of the older PUA concepts of "frame control" as well as of "push-pull" (or "tease'n'please" as some guys here in DC like to call it):
By repeatdely letting a woman enter your awareness radius, and then closing her out again ("attention radius fucking") one can exploit the most paradoxical aspect of female sexuality:

Wanting to be completely desired by someone who is not even fully attracted

With these thoughts in mind, I approached Apollo after the event (all the while holding my cell phone and wallet tightly in both hands).

He was surrounded by several colleagues of mine, and amidst the small talk I noticed a (very) attractive woman standing a few feet away from us. She looked at Apollo with a loving smile and deep admiration in her eyes.

I approached.

She introduced herself as his wife.

Whenever I approach a woman that turns out to be married, I ease the tension by smirking "Oh no! How many years am I too late?" She laughed, and told me that she used to be a professional pickpocket herself. One day she joined one of her best friends to a bachelorette party in Las Vegas. The girls did what (US) girls do on these occasions: flirt with guys like there is no tomorrow.

It was then that she saw something remarkable. Having a Grifter Sense herself she could not help but notice that the guy whom the bride-to-be was bantering with had just stolen her engagement ring!

She noticed his skill and was taken by his balls to pull off such symbolic act. She approached the guy, told him what she had seen - and there they are now, married for some years. They combined their skills and do amazing shows together (they went on and demonstrated their work by letting her "guess" from the other side of the room with her eyes covered - 100% correctly - the numbers on a credit card he took from a colleague of mine).

The amazing thing happened when I started talking with Apollo again. When reminding him of the "bachelorette party" story, he laughed: "Yeah, I stole that ring while teaching some guys how to pick up girls."

When I looked astonished, he continued "Well, there is quite a bit of overlap between pickpocket and my pickup skills. It's quite straightforward.

For example, as a pickpocket I would never approach a person upfront (where I would dominate the awareness radius). I approach from the side." He approached me directly, face-to-face while saying this and then again with his eyes hidden from my gaze until he almost hit my shoulder. Then he turned his head. First slowly, then quickly - as if he had just noticed something interesting about me.

It worked. While I first felt threatened and clenched my fist even tighter around my wallet, the second time he approached me his slight touch on my shoulder did not even feel unpleasant.

At this point my wallet was gone, but I had learned a great lesson.

Great minds think alike. And whoever made fun of Mystery's card tricks at bars to impress chicks - magic tricks can be helpful for meeting women indeed.


  1. Fascinating. Awareness is an underappreciated and valuable skill. I am constantly amazed by what escapes the attention of the average person. I am a watcher and pick up on all sorts of interesting things that elude most others. I'm not sure what makes one person oblivious and another more aware, but I wonder whether being raised in a rural vs. urban environment has an impact as I was raised in the country and if you're in the woods, a noise or movement is important, it could be a predatory animal. For most city people tuning things out seems to be the coping mechanism. I'm going to have to experiment with this.

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