The digital ramblings of an analog conjurer


June 4, 2016 THE EMPTY SPACE


‘The Empty Space’ is a short essay, originally published in This is Not a Box; it is a philosophical/artistic description of the psychological experience, sometimes referred to as ‘the magic moment’. I’m currently working on an academic paper, to be presented at a conference in 2017, which describes this moment in concrete psychological terms. This is an updated version of the original essay:


Nothingness & Somethingness


Benjamin Earl

The ‘magic moment’ is often described as a moment of wonder or astonishment; however, this only describes a possible reaction after the moment of magic has occurred. If this is the case, what is the moment before wonder, before astonishment? What therefore, is the magic moment? I call it ‘the empty space’; a theoretical dimension of experience.

The empty space is comprised of nothingness, devoid of any meaning or form where the spectator has no sense of time, space or self. The spectator experiences a fracture in the grounded sense of consciousness or reality and instead it is replaced by a disconnection from any sense of context or understanding. That is the magic moment: an empty space, a void in which the spectator dissolves, losing any sense of who or what they are, no thoughts, feeling or action, complete nothingness… a form of paralysis.

Nothingness inherently contains the entire universe. It is where we came from and where we are heading towards; it is the fundamental reality and therefore cannot be contaminated. This nothingness is universal and eternal; it is larger than the individual and so all consuming. Nothingness is simple, powerful and honest, without feeling or definition; it is comparable to Buddhist states of being in which to clear your mind and experience nothingness is the highest ideal, pure Zen. Magic has the ability to force this state upon a spectator for the briefest of moments.

Experiencing the empty space can only last for a few seconds at most. The loss of self and context is what can make the magic moment feel so profound. How long the moment lasts or how long a spectator exists in this state is defined by the exact nature of the relationship between performer and spectator in that particular moment. If a spectator resists before the magic moment, their reaction is largely conscious and they won’t truly enter the empty space and experience nothingness; they will remain on the outside unable to fully experience the magic moment.

Once the magic moment is over, the spectator will leave the nothingness and enter a new space of ‘somethingness’ where meaning, context and understanding begin to develop or reconstruct. It is only when exiting the void that we transform from nothing to something. It is only now that an audience begins to think, feel, wonder in an attempt to understand what has happened; it is now that the spectator may feel excitement, astonishment, amazement or wonder. The spectator may try to understand what has happened in the present by looking for evidence in the past, or they latch on to aspects of the performance to support/explain the feelings felt within the empty space. Regardless, the spectator has emerged transformed, entered into a new space with new feelings, thoughts and emotions. Experiencing nothingness within the empty space and exiting that space to find somethingness is what has transformed the spectator’s experience of reality. Therefore what we think of as magic is the movement between nothingness and somethingness, a movement from absence to substance; nothingness is the magic and somethingness is our reaction to it.

The nothingness is the unconscious, naive and raw stream of the moment, a suspension of time and space; a shared experience of intimacy and openness where no thought, action or emotion is present. The somethingness is the substance with context and meaning, the resulting feelings from engaging cognitive processes and processing the data. However excitable someone’s reaction to magic may be, it is conscious and disconnected from the moment of magic itself; the ‘reaction’ is the moment after magic, it is not the magic moment itself.

So, the art of magic is about using a set of real skills to create absence so that the spectator can create substance for themselves, to create something out of nothing. Our goal is not actually the trick but the construction of a theoretical space, an empty space which has the potential to be transformative. Leaving this space can give a spectator a glimpse of a newly created world and is the highest expression of the art, creating meaning for both spectator and performer.




Muhammad Ali is probably the greatest boxer of all time, and unquestionably one of the greatest ‘movers’ that boxing has ever seen. His unorthodox movement was so spectacular, that it redefined the sport and popularised a fighting style which has been adopted by current MMA fighters such as Dominick Cruz, T.J Dillashaw and Demetrious Johnson.

So, what made Ali’s movement so good? Well, before you watch the video below, bear in mind that he was 6ft 3 inches tall and 220lbs – a heavyweight! Heavyweights didn’t move like that! His movement made world class opponents look like amateurs; effortlessly slipping in and out of range like a dancer, floating between punches like a ghost while stalking his opponent like a panther. 

The video below opens with the title ‘Amazing Speed’, but it should be ‘Amazing Movement’; yes Ali was extremely fast, but it was his movement which allowed his speed to be so effective. Specifically pay attention to his stance, head position, body rolls and slick footwork. However, if you only focus on one thing… watch his head movement; drawing and then slipping punches by millimeters, causing opponents hit nothing but thin air.

Each of Ali’s movements were designed to create false assumptions about space and timing, set-up, interrupt or break patterns of motion, causing opponents to hesitate or overcommit. He was operating on a completely different level, mixing leads and counters with ruthless efficiency to slowly dismantling an opponent’s ‘game’. He made it look easyThe best example of Ali’s ability is displayed in the fight between Ali (Cassius Clay) and Cleveland ‘Big Cat’ Williams (click here), it’s a masterclass in the supreme artistry of Ali… nothing short of poetry in motion. 

“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. The hand can’t hit what the eye cant see.”

– Muhammad Ali

Studying Ali is not only an interesting ‘movement case study’ but also an extremely interesting psychological one, however, a breakdown of his ‘psychological game’ is an article for a later date.

– video by Gorilla Productions