Friday, October 01, 2010

Mind Tricks

Have you ever heard of Derren Brown?

If you’re in America, it’s highly unlikely… but he’s a magician/mentalist from the UK.

What I love about Derren Brown, however, is he’s not your regular magician or mind reader. He openly admits his act is based on psychology, misdirection and showmanship…and in a lot of cases he shows exactly how the trick is done (or at least how he claims the trick is done, he’s open about the misdirection there as well), and in 99% of cases, the ‘secret’ is just as astounding as the actual effect.

If you’ve never heard of him, I suggest checking him out. You may be wondering where you can find his stuff, but I’m not sure if you can get his DVDs in America, but if you can’t I would never suggest THE act of PIRATEing his show, so keep those thoughts at BAY.

It’s amazing stuff to watch, but very hard to explain. He does everything from card tricks to mind reading to hypnotism…but the show is more about showing how people can be manipulated or coerced into behaving a particular way through psychological techniques.

Hell, just type ‘Derren Brown’ into youtube, and you’ll see in fifteen seconds what would take me 5000 words to explain.

However, the thing that inspired me to write this post is that, a couple of weeks ago, Sunny and I did a podcast on the paranormal, and I talked about how so-called psychics just use techniques like ‘cold reading’ and straight up cheating to make it appear they have special powers…and I tried to explain how everyone has more in common than they think, and a really specific fact that ‘no one could possibly know’ is actually quite common.

So, in an episode of Derren Brown’s show ‘Mind Tricks’, he showed exactly how this worked.

He went to three separate countries (The UK, America and Mexico) and got a group of five people together in each. He spent a few minutes explaining to them how he was psychic and talked about the massive amount of info a ‘sensitive’ person can glean from reading your palm, your horoscope or personal items.

So in each country, he gave each person in the group a numbered envelope, asked them to trace their handprint on the back, write their birth date underneath and put a small personal item, something they carry with them a lot, into the envelope…then he sent them away for a couple of days so he could write a detailed ‘reading’ on each of them.

When they came back, he handed each of them their envelope that had a fairly long (about 4000 words) personalized ‘reading’ in each.

Everyone was floored. Only one person out of the fifteen across the three different groups claimed that the reading was less than 90% accurate and most said their readings were so spot on and personal that it was embarrassing to read any of it out. They were absolutely amazed. Even the few people who said they thought the whole psychic reading thing was complete nonsense were convinced.

Now, if you’re like me, you’re probably already guessing how it’s done. With someone’s name and birthdate, you can get a lot if information on them. Not to mention all the footage and pre-show interviews that never made it on air. Even without those shenanigans, you can get a good read on people’s personalities just by looking them up on Facebook.

If you think that’s how it’s done, that’s a good guess, and that’s how 99% of so called ‘psychics’ get their information…but in this case, that’s completely wrong… the answer is actually a lot simpler.

Derren revealed the secret to each group. He shuffled the ‘readings’ and asked everyone to take one at random…and everyone was surprised to find they’d got their own back, so he asked them to do it again…and again…until finally the penny dropped.

Each person, all of different ages, sexes, walks of life and three separate nationalities had received exactly the same reading, which he’d written months before meeting any of them. All but one of them said they were amazingly accurate and described them perfectly, and the one who didn’t said it had got him about 70% right, and had got certain things absolutely right that no-one else could possibly know.

Is that an amazing and a scary insight into human nature…or is it just me?

As Derren has pointed out on his show, people who want to believe will believe, and they’ll take in anything that strengthens that belief, while ignoring anything that contradicts it. When a psychic guesses a name (or more usually, the first letter of a name) on the third try, that person forgets the first two failures. When they tell the story, they leave out the vague, leading questions and missed guesses and only leave in what the psychic got correct. These people read their ‘personalized reading’ and mentally edit out the misses while exaggerating the hits.

Plus, this feeds of a very basic human conceit. We love the idea that we’re unique, creative people and that our problems are unique to us because we have it harder than everyone else. We like to think that we’re the only ones who are only working our crappy job until out ‘real’ career starts, unlike the mindless ’sheeple’ we work with. That we’re held down through fear of failure or because other people never see the ‘real me’.

Yes, you’re unique…just like everyone else.

1 comment:

Sunny said...

I loved the show we watched...until the end when he revealed his "secrets".
I HATE when they do that.....I guess i'm just a child at heart and don't want the magic to be explainable.