Like many feats of visual trickery, the secret behind psychologist Richard Wiseman's "Tube of Mystery" boils down to a few not-so-mysterious tricks of the trade. What makes this illusion interesting, though, is how well it works even when performed badly.
Good on Wiseman for showing us how this one's done. It's not something I say often about effective illusions, but the thing I enjoy most about this video is the trick's sloppy execution. With more elegant examples of sleight-of-hand, it can often be impossible to catch the deception at play even when you know what that deception entails. That's clearly not the case here. Watch the video again, once you've had a look behind the scenes, and you'll realize just how obvious this trick is. Carelessly obvious, even. Did you notice the tripod? What about the picture-bump? There's really nothing sleight about it.
It's a testament to the power of misdirection, then, that, even upon realizing that the red ball was probably intended to distract the viewer from another aspect of the trick, I still didn't know what that other aspect was, and certainly didn't notice it, because I was still too busy having my attention diverted toward the red ball. (All while patting myself on the back for identifying it as misdirection, no less. Funny how we can become slaves to our own tools of observation, even as we know it's happening.)
That we can be so easily distracted from something happening maybe AN INCH OR TWO AWAY on our screens illustrates how narrow our field of perception can really be. Legendary pickpocket artist Apollo Robbins talks about this concept a lot.
"You've got this spotlight that just moves back and forth," Robbins explained in a profile published last year in The New Yorker. "If you think about where the spotlight is, the dark place around the spotlight is where I dance. So basically I just play in the dark around where your attention's moving."
Wiseman is doing the same thing here, operating in the periphery of our eye sight, outside our surprisingly narrow cone of perceptive illumination. All-in-all, it's a fantastic demonstration of misdirection, forced perspective, and the frustrating gullibility of human senses.