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March 29, 2005 9:19 AM   Subscribe

Mind control revealed. Derren Brown, magician turned hypnotist, performs amazing feats of mind control and then gives away the basic psychological tricks he uses. The link is to the video clips from England's Channel 4, an article is here. Via boingboing.
posted by blahblahblah (31 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
This is a great link...

What he says about the "oldest con in the world" is true. I once worked as a telemarketer selling theatre tickets. We would all try basically the same trick, getting people to focus on the dates they would like to see the productions, skipping over the customer's decision about whether or not they wished to actually purchase.
posted by xammerboy at 9:59 AM on March 29, 2005

Groovy. You always get the feeling with Derren Brown that he's not telling you everything though. Making people fall asleep is a case in point. He says he bombards them with information, and then gives them a simple instruction which they have to follow. Something about that doesn't ring true.

The Messiah show was fantastic though.
posted by seanyboy at 10:04 AM on March 29, 2005

I need to find that link where someone said "Derren Brown leaves the viewer with a very much inflated view of what is possible with the mind alone" (might be this one)

Essentially Derren Brown is an illusionist and a smarmy one at that!

See also Russian Roulette live on TV which was painful to watch live as he didnt shoot himself in the head (maybe I'm just angry I didnt get picked to be one of his volunteers)

(dont mean to sound harsh - had one of *those* kinda days - gonna go back to reading the BOFH now)
posted by 13twelve at 10:05 AM on March 29, 2005

And here's a brief rundown of what he did on the show.
posted by seanyboy at 10:08 AM on March 29, 2005

Ah: I thought someone would probably beat me to the Simon Singh article. Others such as Chris French and Richard Wiseman, have argued much the same: that these revelations shouldn't be trusted, and that Brown is an excellent conjuror using plausible-sounding psychology as his patter.
posted by raygirvan at 10:08 AM on March 29, 2005

Some of those "mind control" tricks do work. But if I tell you which I'd have to kill you.
posted by davy at 10:10 AM on March 29, 2005

Great article btw 13twelve.
posted by seanyboy at 10:13 AM on March 29, 2005

Cant claim any credit, it was on the Russian Roulette thread
posted by 13twelve at 10:17 AM on March 29, 2005

Wow, so he draws a line around an abandoned wallet, and people don't pick it up??

He's totally bending their minds, man.
posted by abcde at 10:38 AM on March 29, 2005

This recent interview is pretty interesting, he talks about his early life (onetime evangelical christian), the attention seeking side of his character, and some of the motivations behind his routines.
posted by aisforal at 10:45 AM on March 29, 2005

England's Channel Four?
posted by salmacis at 10:49 AM on March 29, 2005

If you guys like this, you'll also like Penn & Teller.
posted by randomstriker at 11:50 AM on March 29, 2005

Little tidbit on the Russian Roulette show: it was broadcast simultaneously on Dutch tv with a well-known presenter translating bits during the boring stuff (segues, montages etc). Brown does strike me as total attention seeker by the way, the kind that would make a fantastic liar. If he's married, I kind of pity the woman.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 12:13 PM on March 29, 2005

Random: Except that Penn's an insufferable Libertarian twat. I mean, sure, it's fun to read the books for the tricks or whatnot, but I don't want a strident argument for the flat tax that dismisses opponents as morons who it's OK to take advantage of (likewise for cigarette smokers).
posted by klangklangston at 12:20 PM on March 29, 2005

Magic is all about misdirection. This guy's misdirection is calling it a psychological phenomenon. More power to him as an entertainer. It takes years of skill and craft to get to his level, so I can't help but be happy for him.
posted by Mach3avelli at 12:26 PM on March 29, 2005

Singh's argument, though, is that as a major side effect he's muddying the water for psychologists by promoting bogus psychology as fact.
posted by raygirvan at 12:47 PM on March 29, 2005

Regardless of whether he's a huckster or not, it's difficult to deny that the phenomena he works with are psychological in that they rely on certain predictable actions and reactions of the human brain. That includes misdirection.

There are hundreds of guys who can do these things touring college campuses and small theatres. What I like about this guy, and what makes him different, is that he uses his showmanship to bring home a message about the importance of critical thinking and understanding the prejudices and shortcuts of the brain. By explaining why the tricks work, he helps to create in people an increased awareness of the constant manipulation we do to ourselves, to one another, and to consumers and citizens at large.
posted by Miko at 2:07 PM on March 29, 2005 [1 favorite]

Recently, he said, he used his talents to defuse a situation in which an aggressive youth approached him on the street, yelling, "What are you looking at?" (Brown responded with a rapid series of diversionary non sequiturs, he said; the man burst into tears.) -- IHT

Interesting corollary there with Non-Escalating Verbal Self-Defense [recent thread].
posted by dhartung at 2:24 PM on March 29, 2005

Miko: but that justification seems to be sidestepping the basic inaccuracy of the explanations. He demonstrates (apparently) powerful and accurate methods, and explains them in terms of psychological phenomena that are much weaker, or even disputed, in reality. For instance, the idea that you glance this way or that, depending on whether you're lying or not, comes from neurolinguistic programming, which is a disputed technique. It's not encouraging critical thinking if it gives a fake picture of such methods.
posted by raygirvan at 3:21 PM on March 29, 2005

What seanyboy said.

I'm calling BS on the falling-asleep-in-the-phone-booth trick.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 3:41 PM on March 29, 2005

But by providing all this information on as to how he carries out his 'tricks', like he does here, I'd say that this another great distraction to stop you thinking that he's helped out in a fair percentage of his 'tricks' by stooges, clever camerawork and editing.
posted by tapeguy at 4:45 PM on March 29, 2005

DB's an amazing magician, probably the best one right now, certainly the most entertaining. Singh's article is confused, at best. And how, essentially, is DB different from other magicians? Joe Labero, for instance, also demonstrates (apparently) powerful and accurate methods, and explains them in terms of phenomena that are much weaker, or even disputed, in reality. Labero can, among other things, teleport an elephant off stage. Yes, teleportation is a powerful method, and certainly a disputed method, but who on Earth actually believes Labero can teleport an elephant? A kangaroo, perhaps, but surely nothing bigger.
posted by Panfilo at 5:57 PM on March 29, 2005

I don't see anything confused about Singh's article. The difference is that Brown claims his explanations are true, even outside the context of the act, and is thus promoting misinformation about psychology.
posted by raygirvan at 6:56 PM on March 29, 2005

I have missed something. Where does Brown claim that his magic tricks and conjuring are "real"? On his homepage he states he can seemingly predict and control human behavior. Seemingly being the keyword. In the service of critical thinking (for instance his Messiah show), Brown is an entertaining debunker of flimflammery. His critics suggest he makes wild and extravagant claims, but I wonder where exactly. Like other conjurers, Brown's performance mixes magic, suggestion, psychology, misdirection and showmanship. But obviously he won't reveal how his tricks actually work as that ruins any "magical" effect.
posted by Panfilo at 7:32 PM on March 29, 2005

It depends where you look. I stand corrected about his home page, but its tack has subtly changed. Compare his current home page - with its "seemingly" and admission of multiple techniques - to the unqualified claims of the earlier one ("Call it what you like. Derren Brown reads minds but claims no psychic power. 'I began my career as a magician but slowly left behind the props and sleight-of-hand to work with the psychological techniques that are the real stuff of magic. I have to learn people's patterns, step inside their heads. Then I can play'.”)

However, the cited Channel 4 microsite for his programme certainly doesn't have any caveats. For instance: Are you feeling sleepy? Derren makes people fall asleep while they're talking to him on the phone. How does he manage that?. And here's how: "...the group of people subjected to the stunt are particularly suggestible. I know this simply because they chose to answer a public phone that happened to be ringing as they walked past ... Secondly, once the person answers, I immediately bombard them with a rapid set of confusing instructions and facts. I do this for several minutes without giving give them a break, then follow it by telling them to fall asleep. As seen on the shows, this works".

What bit of that isn't a literal claim? (I suppose one could just about read the last sentence as implying that only on the shows does it work as portrayed).
posted by raygirvan at 8:18 PM on March 29, 2005

The Magician's Guild is going to be soooo pissed.
posted by drezdn at 11:16 PM on March 29, 2005

I think he does have excellent skill as a 'mentalist', and doesn't just rely on props.

Did you see those USA shows where he got accepted as a psychic, did a seance and convinced a room of people to believe in god?

It's hard to know what bits are real and what contrived, but isn't part of the fun trying to work that out?
posted by lunkfish at 2:58 AM on March 30, 2005

Derren is very good at mental arithmetics, and uses a large pallette of psychological tricks to acheive the effects.
I would be very suprised to learn that any of his television programmes included footage of stooges or set ups. This is not David Blaine.
As regards the phone booth sleep trick, I believe what he says about it, but I wonder about the cutting. I doubt that we see everyone that answers the phone, as we only see two per programme.
I am going to see him next week, so I will ask him if I get a chance. He pulls people out of the audience to perform the tricks, but he wont pick me as I am not suggestible enough (that and the fact I am not in the stalls).
He often hangs around the venue before hand talking to people (to see if they are susceptible to his techniques) some of whom he will pick out of the audience. Now, that is amazing; imagine being able to learn people's features in a few minutes, so that you can pick them out of an audience of over a thousand people in a badly lit auditorium.
The last time he toured my sister saw him with a psychologist and a group hypnotist. They said that he is clearly a very clever and capable hypnotist and combining that with his mental arithmetic and a level of concentration most of us never reach for sustained lengths of time (2x45mins in his case) he can perform the tasks which seem impossible to most of us.
posted by asok at 3:11 AM on March 30, 2005

a level of concentration most of us never reach for sustained lengths of time

Speak for yourself. I find that ... [gazes out of window, goes to make a cup of tea] ... where was I?
posted by raygirvan at 8:28 AM on March 30, 2005

I was a bit on the fence about him as being to showy and full of himself, however entertaining he was. I have more respect for him now after the seance show he did. Fantastic piece of television, and apparently the second most complained about show on British TV ever.
posted by doozer_ex_machina at 5:03 AM on March 31, 2005

You always get the feeling with Derren Brown that he's not telling you everything though

That's pretty much key to his schtick, I would've thought - he reveals enough, or fibs that he's using psychology techniques when it's good old trickery, that the audience, flattered, think, 'Ah, so that's how he does it,' but leaves enough out or misleads enough that the next thought is inevitably, 'Hey, wait a minute...' - just another little trick, presumably with the goal of generating repeat business for his shows.

I also wonder how much of his dreadful smarm is an act referencing traditional stage hypnotists - surely no one can really be that oily?

England's Channel 4

You probably have no idea how annoying that is, blahblahblah, but it really is incredibly fucking annoying. (Despite living in Scotland, I manage to watch a lot of Channel 4.)

posted by jack_mo at 5:46 AM on April 2, 2005

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