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Thursday 11 May, 1:30pm-2:30pm

Millburn House, Institute of Advanced Study, University of Warwick

Organized by Rebecca Vipond

Dare, Care, & Share
A speech for the Academic Careers and Employability Programme

Mariano Tomatis

« My name is Mariano Tomatis, I come from Turin, Italy and I graduated in computer science in 2003. My left brain has always been intrigued with numbers, logical paradoxes and puzzles and I have found huge inspiration in the work of two intellectuals: Martin Gardner and Raymond Smullyan. Not only because the two science writers are extremely ingenious and brilliant, but probably because they are also magicians. And my right brain has always been attracted by magic.

Since I was a kid, I have cross-contaminated the two interests without perceiving any clear distance between conjuring and a career in the field of Information Technology. I have always felt to be blessed by Arthur C. Clarke, whose Third Law states that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

In particular, some years ago I stumbled upon the concept of “magic experience design”: the practice of using natural means to design and develop experiences which may be described as impossible, unexpected, and extraordinary–all that we usually label with the word “magic.” “Magic experience design” is probably the most important concept in my life, being a bridge between the two sides of my brain. I loved the idea of a materialistic approach to magic, contrasting with the mystical one proposed by New Age movement, and in 2014 I published a book on the topic together with Ferdinando Buscema, the magician who introduced the expression “Magic experience design”. The preface of the book was written by Derren Brown.

Today my professional career is divided between the statistical consultancy and the research in the theory and history of magic. I have published a number of peer-reviewed scientific papers, but also around twenty nonfiction books on magic and its implications in the world of science and culture at large.

As a statistician, I collaborate with the International Agency for Research on Cancer in Lyon and the CPO Piemonte in Italy: I manage huge amonut of data to evaluate the quality of the screening programmes in Europe, focusing in particular on breast, cervical and colorectal cancers.

Shifting from this medical scope to another, in the last few years I have launched the Mesmer Project, entitled to the German physician Franz Anton Mesmer, the link joining medicine and stage magic. At the end of 18th-century he theorized the existence of the “animal magnetism”, an invisible force that he believed could have physical effects, including healing. The same impalpable energy provided also, in the following century, an illusory narrative context for stage magicians and mentalists, who presented seemingly paranormal phenomena crediting their powers to animal magnetism, although they employed the good old bag of tricks. As a result of these studies, I have been invited here as visiting fellow.

As a magician, since many years I am engaged in popularizing science with books, experimental lectures, magic shows and live events, exploiting the ingredient of secular magic to inject wonder in the audience. I work on the idea that knowledge and entertainment can go hand-in-hand, and my goal is to trigger that sparkle of curiosity awaking the desire to go behind the surface.

Since a few years I collaborate with the Wu Ming Foundation, a group of writers and militant storytellers who wrote the novel Q. I totally feel in tune with their idea of combining ethic and style, and I think that their approach can be applied also to stage magic: inspired by their challenging narrative structures, I am engaged in exploring the possibility of linking magic and political activism in an unprecedented way. In my view, this is one of the few ideas that can actually give new power to the world of magic and fully develop the potential of an art which sounds old-fashioned, often of bad taste.

Writing on my personal badge “Militant magician”, I have been invited to give lecture-shows and motivational talks by Google in California, Microsoft in Italy and Wired in England, but also during political demonstrations and anti-corporate events.

Today I am 40. Today, really. If you ask me to summarize what I have learnt so far in three verbs, they are: Dare, Care and Share.

Dare.

Don’t be shy in mixing strange things. From a superficial point of view, magic and science may seem totally different worlds. In my experience, exploring weird connections is a good way to develop a personal style, find a recognizable voice and bring to light fresh new ideas. You have to convince the world that what you love deserves the most serious approach, even if it sounds odd. Do your homeworks with the most severe discipline, diligence and rigour. You will find a lot of resistance, but that’s the way to get your muscles.

Care.

Do never feel special, because you are just always part of a bigger community and you can’t do anything by yourself alone. Cultivate your gifts with humility, taking care of the collectivity. I will not cite Jesus’ parable of talents, but the words of Uncle Ben: with great power comes great responsibility. And a good, practical way to take care of the community is to take advantage of the World Wide Web and share. Share your knowledge. Share your discoveries. Share what you love.

Share.

Three years ago I have created the People’s Magic Library: a collection of links to open access books about stage magic, conjuring, hypnotism, mesmerism, ventriloquism and so on. Every time I do a research, when I find a book or an article which is digitally available in some public library, I immediately stop and record its metadata in the Magic Library, making it immediately available to anyone. It slows my job but that’s my personal contribution to the community and, at the same time, an explicit challenge to the money-centric society – a concept I owe to Aaron Swarts and its Open Access Movement. Today, more than two thousand books are available in the People’s Magic Library, just a click away from your finger. You can visit it, if you are in search of hours of profound intellectual pleasure.

So dare, care and share. And thanks for your attention. »

Mariano Tomatis. Photo courtesy Martina Piperno.


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Mesmer è curato da Mariano Tomatis, già autore di La magia della mente (2008), Te lo leggo nella mente (2013, prefazione di Max Maven) e L’arte di stupire (2014, prefazione di Derren Brown).

Insieme a Wu Ming ha curato il Laboratorio di Magnetismo Rivoluzionario, sperimentazione teatrale tra mentalismo e letteratura.

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Per contatti: mariano.tomatis@gmail.com

Il materiale è distribuito con Licenza Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0