A feather sailing on the water

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The “Light as a feather” mystery solved by science

Lifting an entire person with just your index fingers?! Many have tried this trick with successful results. Though it may seem like magic, there is a scientific explanation for this mystery. Try it out for yourself and read here why it works.

The trick

There are many versions of ‘light as a feather’, which is the name of this lifting trick. From my own experience I can recommend the following set-up, for which you need five people and one chair. One person sits in the chair, and the remaining four clasp their two hands together with their index fingers pointing out, to make the shape of a pistol. Two people each put their ‘pistolhand’ in an armpit of the seated person, the other two people each go for a kneefold. Now, try to lift the person together.

Any lift? Probably not. Now try it this way: everyone places their hands in an alternating order on the head of the seated person and focuses. When all hands are resting on the head, count down from 3 to 0. At 0, everybody puts their pistolhand in either the armpit or kneefold and tries to lift the person again. It might take some practice, but most likely you will now succeed at the task. How come?

The power of timing

An important difference between the two attempts is the count-down in the second time around. This synchronizes your group, ensuring you will act simultaneously as a group. This makes you one unit of movement, which gives you a great advantage. Imagine the person on the chair weighs 80 kilograms. If the timing is perfect, every lifter lifts exactly 20 kilograms. However, if you are not moving simultaneously, it can happen that one person has to lift 74 kilograms while the others share the remaining 6 kilograms. In this case, a successful lift is impossible.

Do not underestimate the strength of a finger

You may be truly amazed by how strong your fingers are. The Guinness World Record for the highest number of push-ups on one finger is 124. Another world record for finger strength is for lifting weight with just one finger: an amazing 121.7 kilograms. Lifting 20 kilograms with two fingers should thus be easy-peasy


Lastly, the phenomenon of ‘false memory’ makes its entrance. Did the trick work? If so, how much were you able to lift the seated person? People who have participated in this experiment often experience it as if the seated person is being catapulted towards the ceiling. There are even warnings on the internet for a potential hard fall and people are advised to put pillows on the floor. But how high was the lift for real?

The actual height can be disappointingly low. Why this discrepancy? Often a false memory is formed. When parts of an event are missing in memory, the brain fills in the gaps. Especially when something has occurred quite some time ago and you experienced it positively, the memory tends to be better than reality. Given that this trick is often done at parties, you can imagine that memories of the actual lift would be skewed positively.

During the summer we republish some of our best blogs that have only been published in Dutch. This is a translation of the formerly published Donders Wonders blog post: Zo licht als een veertje” ontmaskerd door de wetenschap

Original author: Romy Bakker
Translator: Floortje
Editor translation:

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4 thoughts on “The “Light as a feather” mystery solved by science

  1. This is a common and wrong explanation. There has been numerous investigations done in 200 years with no satisfactional exploration. The interesting thing is that it can also be done with heavy object. Even by one person after counting..the effect lasts only a few seconds. I know this from experience. You can really feel , when executed rightly that there is someting going on that is not normal.

  2. Synergy is not the reason. It’s about playing with the pressure. The more and longer you press your hands on top of the head of the sitting person, the higher and easier he’ll be lifted.

  3. Im sorry, but is your debunking really based on “world record for lifting weight with finger is 120 so 20 should be easy-peasy”? Did you ever hold weights in your hand? Like, dumbell? Is book of exeptional human feats your only point of reference? I really hoped for some actual explanation here.

  4. This was one experiment claiming to solve something that has been tested over many years with no definitive conclusion.

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