The Impossibility Scale


What’s more impossible? 

As soon as we start deciding on the order of phases in a trick, or tricks in a show, this question raises its meddlesome head (like a Scooby Doo baddie, but without the “It was you all along” unmasking). 

If only there was a way to skip the guesswork and get some concrete answers. Well, thankfully there is. Please give it up for…Psychology.

A Scintillating Study

I came across a fascinating study that’s summarised in the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest:

As the URL suggests, researchers John McCoy and Tomer Ullman conducted a study (published in PLOS One) and found that people apply intuitive physics to imaginary worlds.

The study even ranks how impossible (or difficult) people perceive different magical acts to be. For example, people intuitively feel that it’s harder to make a frog appear than to change its colour. For the full picture, check out their helpful diagram (N.B. ‘Conjure’ = appear, ‘Cease’ = vanish):

Degrees of impossibility
A scientific scale of impossibility by McCoy and Ullman (2019)

Playing to an intuitive impossibility scale is something we already see in depictions of magic in fiction. In Harry Potter, for instance, when students are learning levitation spells (levi-O-sa), they start with something light – a feather – before attempting to lift heavier objects. And it’s something that can help with our own magic.

Scale New Heights

Have a read and a ponder – if you’re anything like me, it’ll make you reconsider the order of some existing multi-phase routines, and inspire ideas for new ones. As ever, let me know your thoughts and discoveries.

And next Friday, I’ll share some thoughts it sparked for me.