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Magic show highlights weeklong youth program

Posted 6/16/2008

TMCC duo to present educational show during Discover Your Future

Magic is not a new concept, but the interest continues to prove otherwise.

"Magic has been around since the time of Egyptians for thousands and thousands of years," said Dr. William Mehm, professor at Truckee Meadows Community College. "Many spiritualists did magic tricks to make them seem like they had special powers. The paranormal has an enormous attraction. Any efforts that we go through to correct that, which look like an illusion, make a small dent in the misleading passion. They’re just absolutely drawn to it."

Mehm, along with his mentor Dennis Dobies, a full-time Reno magician who teaches magic classes at TMCC, will attempt to electrify the audience during Discover Your Future, a weeklong college and careers program for high school students held at the University of Nevada, Reno campus. The duo will give a presentation following the program’s banquet Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. at the Joe Crowley Student Union.

"What you do in magic is you have to work within physical laws but you appear like you’re violating those laws," Mehm said. "If you’re honest about it, then it’s good entertainment."

For many of students, faculty, family and friends in attendance, Mehm’s and Dobies’ show could be a first-time experience. Illusions and deceptions from movies, like "The Illusionist" and "The Prestige," will be used during next week’s presentation.

"Those are pretty good movies. They came clean with it and I liked it," Mehm said.

But Mehm will take the show one step further. Mehm and Dobies will use volunteers from the audience for their acts and then explain and analyze the tricks to show that science education uses critical thinking skills.

"How do you analyze phenomena and make sense out of that?" Mehm asked. "To do that and to help with critical thinking skills, we go through the scientific method and critical thinking steps. Illusions appear to look like something. You have something disappear but it doesn’t. It looks like it does."

Mehm said he will use the nine claims of the paranormal to analyze the magic tricks. He and his partner plan on using a different trick for each claim.

"There are nine things you believe are possible. We go through these nine claims," he said. "We do an example of each one. We have no powers, therefore, it has to be an illusion. You as an audience member have to be aware."

Mehm said that the main concept to the show will be on deception with the human eye and mind. Observers have to watch carefully and cannot fall for an illusion, but Mehm said it’s difficult.

"All we really have to observe the world are our eyes and mind," Mehm said. "An example is how the eye is designed in such a way that it can easily be fooled. I’ll have them look at a ghost that’s really not there. We depend on the eye and it misleads us for observation. Look at the brain, you have something right in front of your eyes and you won’t even see it. They can’t believe it."

Mehm’s experience speaks for itself although he got into magic just two years ago. He was in the Air Force for 26 years and worked in biomedical science before retiring as an officer. Mehm researched and worked with NASA and the military on projects with human physiology, like helping pilots with disorientation.

"I studied magic and found it an immediate application to teaching science," said Mehm who retired in 2002 and then joined TMCC. "It turned out to be a wonderful way to teach critical thinking. This is the second show and Dobies and I are trying different aspects to analyze data. We’ve gone to some Washoe County schools, and the Coral Science Academy kids came up and said they popped everyone’s bubble in believing this stuff. We felt pretty good about this because the kids got the message."

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