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Robert houdin's
greatest secret

©2020 Dr Penn et Al
Jean-Eugène Robert-Houdin   
(7 December 1805 – 13 June 1871) was a French watchmaker, magician and illusionist.

Houdin is widely recognized as the father of the modern style of conjuring.
He transformed magic from a pastime for the lower classes, seen at fairs, to an entertainment for the wealthy

By 2020, countless magical historians have thoroughly analysed and explained most of Houdins' tricks.
But there is one trick that, to this day, remains a complete mystery...
Since his youth, Houdin infamously kept detailed notes to outline all of his special effects in a rack of handwritten and coded diaries.

Yet one there is one closely guarded secret that he never put down in writing; even until his death.

The Infamous Magic Trick:
  • A Volunteer is asked to shuffle a pack of 52 playing cards
  • Another volunteer is asked to name any  playing card
  • Immediately, without any further handling - The Card Appeared in his Hand...

So Simple to understand - but so impossible to explain.
This is the 'Real Magic' that has perplexed professional magicians for centuries.
But what can we learn about Human Perception from this enduring mystery?
A woodcut of Houdin performing his infamous and mysterious feat of magic in his youth
This study researched 3 possible explanations for this enduring mystery.
But as yet, no conclusions have been found.

  1. Influence
  2. Sleight of Hand
  3. Hypnosis

No written scripts of this performance exist, and no witnesses remain alive - but the myth has been passed down from generation to generation.
From transcripts and interviews of researchers obsessed with this miracle it is apparent that Houdin may have used gestures and some clever language to influence his numerous audiences to select 1 particular playing card.

However, this still doesn't explain how the Card seemed to materialize in his hand...

If video recording existed in Victorian times it would be possible to watch for subtle movements or mechanical devices that could have been utilised to bring about the miraculous outcome. Photography in the late 1800's was still in its infancy, and alas it was not until 1888 that the Roundhay Garden scene was first captured in rough and grainy detail.
So all we have are eye witness testimony to rely upon.
Eye witness testimony is fraught with inaccuracy as several psychological studies have proved (see Loftus et Al 1987) 

But one persistent detail does sustain throughout the available reports of Houdin's accomplishment. That of a moment of blur... a millisecond of confusion... A distortion perhaps of the mind's ability to perceive reality.

This leads us on to our supposition; this study contends that in fact the trick actually never occurred in reality; but in the volunteers minds alone - through hypnosis. 


If we agree that magic doesn't actually exist - and that a magician is merely playing the part of someone that can do extraordinary things - must must settle on one explanation and one only - A temporary control over the mind through hypnotic induction.

Perhaps then the outlandish gestures to which eye witnesses report, and the lulling, flowery language that Houdin is professed to have used was in fact a ploy to create a hypnotic trance over his spectators.

Perhaps the Card that the audience perceived to materialise in his hand was never there at all - but only a figment of their collective imagination.

The parapsychological department at Oxford University themselves have proved, beyond doubt, that hypnosis can indeed bring about absolutely convincing hallucinations.
We contend therefore that Houdin is not only the Father of Modern Magic, but an extremely early proponent of hypngogic therapy.
old drawing.jpg
An early woodcut that explains a Stage Illusion
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