"The hand isn't
faster than the
Jerry. "We are
of the wonderful
way our mind
Albany's Awesome Andrus
|By Jeanine DeNoma|
Jerry’s described as a "magician's magician."
It comes from his training: he's self-taught. No standard, straight
from the book, stuff. He'll imagine a trick and then work out a way
to do it. His specialty is close-up magic: tricks done in slow motion,
right under your nose. "The hand isn't faster than the eye," explains
Jerry. "We are fooled because of the wonderful way our mind works."
In other words, he doesn't deceive you; he lets your mind
do it for him.
Inventor. Jerry is famous for his optical illusions, created using what he knows about the workings of our mind and visual system. Most famous is his "Impossible Box." It's an Escher-inspired, three-dimensional box constructed entirely from straight boards and conventional building methods. It takes a second glance before one realizes this box is really messed up! When OMNI ran its picture in May, 1981 it elicited over 1,000 letters, more than any other article ever published in the magazine.
If you visit Jerry at his Albany home, the Castle of Chaos, you must squeeze among gadgetry, works in progress, a modified Macintosh, books and papers to reach the offered chair. Once seated, however, you're treated to stimulating conversation, a bit of philosophy, maybe a passage from some recent writing, and a collection of unique illusions. One after another, surprises get pulled from under this or that stack of papers.
A Kirlian camera; dowsing rods; 3-D cardboard models of cars, boxes, and houses in reversed depth. And there's the "tri-zonal space warper." Look at it for 25 seconds then peer up at the picture above the electric organ (Jerry built the organ too). The clouds appear to undulate across the scene. Look at your hand; the skin appears to crawl. There are the giant, cardboard, hex nuts that cause a pipe to appear to bend as it passes through their centers; moiré patterns and lighted grates, all designed to trick the eye. The editors of the Magic Eye series just published a book entirely of Jerry's optical illusions; some are cutouts so readers can build their own 3-D illusions. Unfortunately, at this time the book is only available in Japan, with text only in Japanese. The illusions, however, present no language barrier; they are designed to fool a human visual system.
Jerry's inventions aren't limited to illusions. On my visits, I've seen a welding helmet built to pop-up with a jerk of the jaw, modified lawn mower, newly designed lawn rake, computer keyboard designed for a species that's all thumbs and electrical gadgetry of all sorts. These are probably just the tip of the iceberg.
Your visit may be temporarily interrupted by the electronic toots and whoops from the doorbell and several neighborhood kids asking to see a magic trick. Outside there'll be excited voices, oohs and ahs. The youngsters never leave disappointed. And come Halloween, trick-or-treaters are greeted with some special effect.
Iconoclast. As a skeptic Jerry assists in debunking old myths about the paranormal. He speaks up about injustices: a fraudulent magician trying to pass as a psychic, or a faith-healer taking advantage of someone. A self-declared agnostic, Jerry is one of the few people I know who will spend time talking when a Jehovah's Witness comes to the door.
The Eugene Register-Guard described Jerry as operating "on an ethereal fringe where magic meets philosophy meets science. Andrus confounds those who encounter him." True. But let us add Jerry is also an honest, unpretentious individual who thinks interesting thoughts, builds unique inventions and has an exceptionally active and creative imagination.
"I was born with an insatiable curiosity," he explains.
With only a high school diploma, Jerry has lectured at Harvard and Stanford. He has shared his work, especially his optical illusions, with leading scientists, magicians and entertainers around the world. Because he has gained his insights outside of the usual academic circles, he brings a fresh perspective and has made useful, creative contributions to vision and artificial intelligence research. Marvin Minsky, a leading artificial intelligence researcher at Massachusetts Institute of Technology says, "Jerry Andrus is one of those people who helps move science along when it gets stuck. He's a smart guy with another point of view."
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