The choice illusion

It’s an old trick, a good one, one with many variations, many names, but its all the same trick. A trick that hangs on the same guiding principle, creating the illusion of choice. the illusionist can pull this off with one person, a small group, in a club, a theatre, on TV, hell with an audience of the whole world. Ask the right questions and you can guide the outcomes. Let me run you through it. Suspend your disbelief for a moment, because I have just told you everything you really need to know about the trick and how it works, so forget this first paragraph and let me write something down on this piece of paper while you open that brand new deck of cards for me, Marko the Marvelous magician extraordinaire…


Marko…   draws something on rd on a piece of paper, folds it in half and sticks it in his hatband where everyone can see it “open the pack and split the cards into red and black, just throw out the joker’s for now, we won’t need them.”

Audience… splits the desk by colour and hands the jokers to Marko who throws them away. Then places the cards as instructed in two piles.

Marko… “Okay then, pick a pile, and remember to watch the cards…”

Audience…  points at one

Marko…  turns other the half the audience picked “the blacks, okay then that just leave us with red cards,, hearts and diamonds,, divide them up by suit.” then he throws the black cards behind himself.

Audiance… divides up the deck once more 

Marko… “Okay then, pick for me, hearts or diamonds?…”

Audiance…. “Hearts”

Marko… “Okay, that just leaves us with diamonds then…”  he pick up the heart and throws them the way of the black cards, “Now Let’s get rid of the picture cards as well while were at it as we can’t really divide them..” he picks up the diamonds and sorts of the jack, queen and king and throws them away too “Now lets see, how can we do this, I know split them into odds and evens.” hands the deck back to the audience member. 

Audiance…  split the cards into two piles once more.  

Marko …  palms both piles and moves them about a bit, dropping them and picking them up, Nothing fancy then puts his finger on one pile and says “What do you think odds or evens?”

Audience…  thinks for a moment, knowing there is a trick going on and trying to second guess it, then says “Odds”

Marko…  turns over the pile, its evens, he shrugs ” Oh well not to worry,” he says as he throws them behind himself and the asks the audience to pile the pile into highs and lows. Then does the same dancing little shuffle of the two decks and puts a finger down on one pack “So what do you think this time highs or low?”

Audience… thinks some more, mildly disappointed they got it wrong the last time. Then says “Low”

Marko… turns over the two card pile, and brightly says ” Your right.” smiling. 

Audience.. smiles back, they got the choice right. a little “Yay” even gets exclaimed.

Marko… throws away the high cards and “So just the five and the three left…” folds each slightly and dances them over the table then ” This time you pick, put your finger on a card.” The audience does just that and Marko says... ” So which do you think it is the five or the three?”

Audience … thinks for a moment then says “Five…”

Marko… pick up the other card and looks at it, Smiles and says “Your right it is, which leaves us with this one, the three of diamonds”  he turns over the card, as the Audiance member smiles having made the right choice…       

Then Marko takes the piece of paper out of his hatband reveals…


So did you spot it, did you see the trick, the slight of hand, the slip and slide. If you didn’t then you should read it again because the trick is right there for you to see. It’s less impressive written down than with a real magician doing it. Easier to see passed the smiling face, fast hands and quick words, but it’s a trick that has been around for centuries, and fools people every day. Variations of it are everywhere. Sometimes the piece of paper with the cards name is in the hatband, sometimes it’s painted on the underside of an aeroplane that will fly over at just the right moment. Or perhaps written in icing on a child’s birthday cake. It doesn’t matter, the trick always ends the same way.

The trick is not the card, or the piece of paper, or the magician’s smile. It’s simply this, make the audience think they are making choices, that their actions influence the cards discarded, and that their decisions lead to the three of diamonds. That the magic lay in Marko the Marvellous knowing somehow which card they would choose ahead of time by some secret art taught to him by the learned.

Rather than Marko never letting them make a choice, indeed, making every choice for them, steering them down a path he knows they will follow, because its not the cards we should have been watching, but the choices we were bene given.

Magicians have done this down the ages, but they are amateurs when it comes to this trick. The real trick being described above, the one pulled off all the time, everyday in fact, is called politics. And politicians are so much better at convincing people they are making decisions and making a choice that has some influence on the outcome than magicians ever are. We all know magicians are frauds even though we go along with the trick most of the time. Yet somehow we keep convincing ourselves the same is not true of others who offer us the pretence of a choice while they stack the game for the outcome they design.

And that, in all honesty, is my opinion of the Brexit referendum and the American election come to that…


This entry was posted in humour, pointless things of wonderfulness, politics, rights and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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