Scientific discoveries rely on creative thinking, and several authors have explored similarities in and differences between creativity in the sciences and that in the arts. Here we explore possible ways in which science can learn from the arts, focusing specifically on experiences derived from the art of magic and on the limitations of human cognition. Generations of stage magicians or “illusionists” have made sophisticated use of the weaknesses in human systems of perception and interpretation. We highlight three important principles of magic tricks, including: (1) the audience see what it expects, (2) it is blind to all but the focus of attention, and (3) ideas spring predictably from a primed mind. These principles highlight a number of important tendencies, which we argue are shortcomings in the ability of scientists to perceive the world, and which scientists need to be aware of. Consciously addressing these shortcomings may help scientists improve their creativity, and will strengthen their capacity to address complex and global challenges.