Inattentional Blindness and the Art of the Pickpocket

“Once you learn about cheating, and you start making some money from it, you’re never going to win square again,” he said. “God’s not going to let you cheat and have good luck, too.”

Card cheat Rod the Hop

While reading an article by Adam Green about grifter-showman Apollo Robbins in the New Yorker this morning, I was struck by the number of parallels between politics and the art of the pickpocket.

Robbins says,

“It’s all about the choreography of people’s attention,” he said. “Attention is like water. It flows. It’s liquid. You create channels to divert it, and you hope that it flows the right way.”

Green cites

Barton Whaley and Susan Stratton Aykroyd’s “Textbook of Political-Military Counterdeception” (2007) notes that, in the nineteen-seventies, “conjurors had evolved theories and principles of deception and counterdeception that were substantially more advanced than currently used by political or military intelligence analysts.”

And to the point of the title of my article:

The intersection of magic and neuroscience has become a topic of some interest in the scientific community, and Robbins is now a regular on the lecture circuit. Recently, at a forum in Baltimore, he shared a stage with the psychologist Daniel Kahneman—who won a Nobel Prize for his work in behavioral economics—and the two had a long discussion about so-called “inattentional blindness,” the phenomenon of focusing so intently on a single task that one fails to notice things in plain sight.

Read more:

Adam Green: The Spectacular Thefts of Apollo Robbins, Pickpocket : The New Yorker.

Books cited:

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Robert B. Cialdini.

Whiz Mob: A Correlation of the Technical Argot of Pickpockets with Their Behavior Patterns, David W. Maurer.

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