The Psychology of the Impossible

By: Leonardo Breno Martins   Camila Chagas  

For centuries, artists have been using principles of illusion to entertain and delight spectators. Some people related to religion use part of the same principles and symbols in materialization, faith healing and to convince followers about certain spiritual principles. Even swindlers use principles from the art of magic (such as the symbolic figure of the conjurer, the storytelling ability and misdirection) to deceive the unwary, for example by emulating paranormal powers (as some false psychics do). To be successful in their purposes, these persons seemed to understand, on the basis of intuition, theory of mind and trial-and-error learning, certain aspects of human psychology, such as memory, suggestion, belief formation, perception and emotion. This was one of the reasons why, since the nineteenth century, psychologists like Alfred Binet, Max Dessoir, Joseph Jastrow and others have devoted themselves to understand the art of magic and its impact on the human mind. After a hiatus in the mid-twentieth century, the academy has become very interested in magic again, since its symbols, theories and methods have proved useful for understanding processes related to religion, spirituality and mind. The authors present a synthesis of the main findings of this field, with emphasis on their ethnographic and experimental studies on religion and spirituality related to magic art. The main topics to be presented are the impact of magic symbols and processes on belief formation and social imagery, and the role of social influence in perception and memory of a religion and/or spiritual experience.

Religion, Spirituality, Society, Psychology, Magic
2019 Special Focus—Universal Religious Symbols: Mutual Influences and Specific Relationships
Paper Presentation in a Themed Session

Leonardo Breno Martins

Professor, Social Psychology, University of São Paulo

Magician, psychologist, master and PhD in social psychology at the University of São Paulo (USP), Brazil. Member of the LabPsiRel - Laboratory of Social Psychology of Religion (at USP) and of the InterPsi - Laboratory of Anomalistic Psychology and Psychosocial Processes (at USP), in which he is involved in researches on various topics, including the magic art, traditional and emerging religions, altered states of consciousness, beliefs and experiences allegedly paranormal. Research themes: magic art, society, anomalous experiences, psychology of religion, social psychology and mental health. Engaged in initiatives to popularize knowledge, by promoting lectures and related activities. He has scholarship from the Sao Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP) and has experience in clinical psychology, mental health and hypnotherapy.

Camila Chagas

Masters Student