I attended the annual meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Consciousness in 2007, sending a few MindBlog dispaches from the event, and several subsequent posts. It was organized by Stephen Macknik and Susana Martinez-Conde, both neuroscientists at the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix. Over a number of years they have studied how the tricks of magicians can be explained by classic and recent studies in cognitive neuroscience. They organized a fascinating session at the meeting in which several scientists and four prominent magicians showed and discussed their craft.
Macknik and Martinez-Conde have now joined with science journalist Sandra Blakesless (whose book "The Body has a Mind of its Own" I reviewed in a 2007 MindBlog post) to offer an engaging book: "Sleights of Mind." I've just finished the advance copy I was sent, found it a very interesting and enjoyable read, and plan to make it my seasonal gift to a number of friends. They describe a large number of magical tricks and illusions, following each with an explanatory sections (prefaced by "spoiler alert") that list visual (and other sensory) afterimages, adaptations, habituations, cognitive and sensory short cuts, etc. that explain why we can so easily be tricked.