Mind Reading in Stage Magic: The “Second Sight” Illusion, Media, and Mediums

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.


This article analyzes the late-nineteenth-century stage illusion “The Second Sight,” which seemingly demonstrates the performers’ telepathic abilities. The illusion is on the one hand regarded as an expression of contemporary trends in cultural imagination as it seizes upon notions implied by spiritualism as well as utopian and dystopian ideas associated with technical media. On the other hand, the spread of binary code in communication can be traced along with the development of the "Second Sight," the latter being outlined by means of three examples using different methods to obtain a similar effect. While the first version used a speaking code to transmit information, the other two were performed silently, relying on other ways of communication. The article reveals how stage magic, technical media, spiritualism, and mind reading were interconnected in the late nineteenth century, and drove each other forward.