Card Trick: I Can Read Your Mind!

High Angle View Of Cards On Table
Erich Rau / EyeEm / Getty Images

Here is a well-traveled card trick and mind reading illusion that keeps popping up online, most recently in the form of a PowerPoint presentation purporting to be the work of master stage magician David Copperfield (though it almost certainly is not).

The illusion can be startling until you figure out how it works — at which point you may find yourself wondering how anyone could possibly fall for such a simple, obvious deception!

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Choose a Card

I can read your mind! You don't believe me? Here, I'll prove it.

Take a look at these six cards. Now pick one card — and only one — and remember it. Concentrate!

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Think of the Card

Are you thinking of the card? Excellent.

I will now, read your mind -- even though we're not in the same room and possibly not even on the same continent.

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Here Comes the Magic

Okay, I've got it. I know which card you chose. I will now make it disappear...

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Your Card Is Gone!

Voila! It's gone! Amazed? Don't be. Read on to learn how this simple trick is done.

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Here's How It's Done

This is one of the simplest yet most effective mind reading illusions ever devised. How does it work?

Take another look — a careful look — at the "before" and "after" card layouts, and it will become clear: Do you see it?

The difference, aside from the fact that there's one fewer card in Figure 2, is that none of the cards in the second layout are the same as in the first. Not only did your chosen card disappear — they all disappeared and were replaced them with completely different but similar cards.

Like most magic tricks, this one depends on misdirection which is a kind of deception — the audience is focused on one thing in or to distract attention from something else.

There are two kinds of misdirection: the first method, which is time sensitive, encourages the audience to look away for a brief moment so that the magic trick or sleight of hand can be accomplished without detection.

The second approach consists of reframing the audience's perception and has nothing to do with the senses. Here, the minds of the audience are distracted into thinking that focusing on an unimportant object is responsible for the resulting magic, when it really doesn't have any impact on the effect at all

That's precisely the case with this trick — because you've been instructed to focus your attention and memory on one card and only one card, most of us fail to absorb any details about the other five. When the entire set is replaced by a different one that looks approximately the same, we accept it as exactly the same. Abracadabra!