I pulled out this interesting excerpt from this interview of Donald Prothero and Tim Callahan done by Michael Shermer. (You can watch the full interview here.)
He’s discussing their book, UFOs, Chemtrails and Aliens: What the Science Says, but this interesting tangent popped up 24 minutes in, discussing the magician Uri Geller.
Essentially it amounts to people’s poor ability to accurately report what they saw, and their natural tendency to exaggerate. Research subjects told, not what he did, but the story he told about what he had done on another night as though that is what they had seen.
People often ask what the role of magic in a modern society is and it’s that. It provides us with simple, straightforward visceral examples of the limits of our own perception. It shows us that the arguments of “[X number] of people can’t explain this, therefore it must be…” and “How could [X many] people possibly be wrong about this?” are invalid, even though intuitively they might be quite compelling.
The whole interview is extremely informative and well worth listening to. The part above is interesting, but if you listen to the whole thing, they actually tell you what happened in Roswell….