All in the Mind

Tiny muscle movements linking mind to matter. Communication through imagination, AI, prosthetics, empathy and touch: So much more than magic, Stuart Nolans' 1000 Mindreaders sparked 1000 questions...

By: Phyllida Bluemel,   1 minute

It began with paperclips. Tiny pendulums, dangling on the end of sewing thread.

The inimitable Stuart Nolan: ‘Research Magician’, NESTA fellow, illusionist, scientist, storyteller and our host for the evening, told us we’d could move them with our minds.

And, strangest of all: we could.

Your body and imagination are connected in ways you’re barely aware of. The ‘ideo-motor effect’, key to our night’s revelations, names the way muscles make a reflexive response to thoughts and ideas.

It’s the reflex that types a word before your brain’s got there; the reflex that that pushes you to the edge of your seat when you inhabit a story; the reflex that makes a pro-gamer and aids a mindreader; and, it’s the reflex that can make a paperclip spin on the end of a thread by thinking.

Under Stuart’s careful guidance, and looking for the ideo-motor effect in others, we replicated drawings, found hidden objects, and – time after time – found ourselves screeching in disbelief.

Originally a spooky victorian parlour trick, the ideo-motor effect is now being harnessed for digital interfaces, gaming innovation and responsive prosthetic limbs. In communicating the ways we think in (and not outside) our bodies, Stuart’s workshop has resonated far and wide: with nurses, dancers, musician, architects and us, a ragtag bunch of curious minds.

Less a lesson in mind-reading, more an evening on the power of paying attention. After a night of touch, imagination and concentration, it became apparent that as we move through the world and interact with others, there’s always more to the story…

Thanks to Espressini for serving up full glasses and delicious platefuls to accompany our post-workshop discussions; and Star & Garter, for putting Stuart up in style.   

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