-“Learn to do by knowing and to know by doing”, John Dewey wrote almost 130 years ago. The first part of that quote is a given, that’s they way most of us have learnt things in school – the second part of the quote is more rare, but just as important. Learning to know by doing is always the main key to breaking new ground, and it is strange that not more time is spent on that method of teaching. The notable exception is the hacker culture with their main credo “Always yield to the Hands-on Imperative!”
Hackers believe that essential lessons can be learned about the systems—about the world—from taking things apart, seeing how they work, and using this knowledge to create new and more interesting things – and I believe that the same goes for magic. Try things out, evaluate the experience, learn from it and let the mistakes and successes guide and inform the next experiment.
-“Don’t trust authority”, that’s another part of the hacker’s ethics. That’s true in magic as well. You can listen to Ramsay, Vernon, Slydini, Wonder, Tamariz, Maven… but don’t take anything as gospel, don’t trust anything blindly. Time moves on, and new innovations and discoveries emerge on a daily basis. If you perform Ramsay’s “Cylinder and Coins” without using later discoveries in misdirection – and it is not done solely as historical research – then you are an ignorant fool. As important as Vernon’s Triumph and Travelers might be historically, they are not the best versions out there. While our legends have done much to shape and guide the evolution of our art, they are not deities. It is fully possible, and desireable, to prove them wrong – and whenever that happens, it should be celebrated, not treated as a deicide.
Most of us have learnt magic on our own, in solitary. That’s not the most optimal way, because alone we all fall in the same pitholes, our general knowledge becomes spotty, we easily becomes experts in one narrow area while being completely oblivious to countless other areas, and all progress is slooooow as heck.
It is so much more efficient to follow the Hands-on imperative, or “to know by doing”.
One way to work is the following:
- Start with a hypothesis, your own or someone else’s.
- Explore it hands-on, side by side with others, and try to discover how to test it out. Give and take assistance and advise.
- Test it out, and let your peers observe. And observe when your peers do their tests.
- Discuss. Find the strengths and weaknesses in the hypothesis.
- Draw your own conclusions.
The speed of the progress is mindboggling when working with others in this manner. And this is also the main basis for the pedagogical model of Magic Workshops.