Magic? Psychic ability? Or something else? . . . Yeah, something else.

“All of us believing we can do it [predict the lottery], is what made it happen.” The unconvincing words from one of the 24 participants Derren Brown used to help him predict the lottery last week.

Whether or not you watched it, you will have probably heard or read something about Derren Brown’s new four part Channel 4 series ‘The Events’. The first of which, ‘How to win the lottery’, aired last Friday.

In many ways the show could be considered a huge success. Following the Wednesday night draw in which he correctly ‘predicted’ the lottery, his Friday night show, in which he promised to reveal how he did it, attracted a whopping 4.6 million viewers (beating both ITV and BBCin the 9-10pm ratings battle) and has garnered huge media speculation and conjecture, which will obviously heighten awareness and raise viewer numbers for the forthcoming shows.

On the other hand, the show could be seen as a dismal failure, because he broke from what is, in my opinion, his most successful modus operandi. In past shows, such as Séance and Messiah, Brown exposed the fragility and susceptibility of our minds to persuasion; manipulating people’s thoughts through surreptitious psychological techniques, until they believed something unquestionably – like ghosts, for example – only to show that it was all a trick and there are no ghosts, which provides us, the audience, with a group of bewildered participants to laugh at and also a fascinating insight into how easily our feeble little brains are confused. DB: “You believe in ghosts now don’t you?” Person: “Yes, definitely! 100%. I’ve never been so certain of anything in my life.” DB: “Well you shouldn’t, because I tricked you and there definitely weren’t any ghosts.” Person: “Oh no, I’m an idiot”. Us: “Ha ha ha, you are an idiot! I wouldn’t have fallen for that . . . probably.”

In ‘How to win the lottery’, he tricked us, but he didn’t reveal the truth behind the trick, thus breaking the promise held in his aphorism, “I am often dishonest in my techniques but I am always honest about my dishonesty.” Probably because, in this case, the honest truth wasn’t an interesting experiment that delved into our psyche, but a cheap camera trick glossed over with meaningless mathematical and psychological hyperbole.

If you still believe that Derren Brown did predict the lottery by getting a random group of 24 people to look a wall of meaningless numbers and then subconsciously doodle on a piece of paper while feigning a trance, then firstly, re-read that sentence and then secondly, look at the evidence:

1. According to Derren Brown, he used ‘Deep Maths’ to predict the numbers. Roger Heath-Brown, Professor of Pure Mathematics at the University of Oxford, had this to say about the claim: “Mathematically it is complete rubbish.”

2. Also, if Brown did use ‘Deep Maths’ then why did he feel the need to get 24 people to sit in a room, close their eyes, then scribble some barely intelligible numbers in a spiritual process known as Automatic Writing.

3. Apparently Camelot wouldn’t let him buy a lottery ticket for the draw. If that was the case then: (A) Why did he tell them he was doing it, when he could have just bought a ticket like any normal person and become £2 million pounds richer? (B) If they had such a problem with him buying a ticket then why would they be perfectly happy for him to explain the technique to the entire country a few days later?

4. Nobody, apart from Derren Brown, saw any of the numbers predicted until after the lottery was drawn. Brown tallied the averages that the group of 24 selected. Brown put the balls into a sealed tube which he promptly carted off out of sight. And Brown claimed that the BBC had the legal right to announce the lottery numbers first, thus preventing him from showing his numbers before the draw.

As far as I’m concerned, the most reasonable explanation is the split screen hypothesis, whereby, the side of the studio with the stand full of balls is switched from a live feed to a video and back again, enabling an assistant to switch the balls moments after the numbers are announced. This theory is backed by the unnecessarily jerky handheld camera work, which would cover any jumps when the video was switched to the live feed and, most importantly, the unmistakable rise of the ball on the far left hand side moments after the numbers were revealed.

It is still a clever trick, but it is devoid of any of the psychological prowess that Derren Brown has demonstrated in the past. I hope that the remaining shows: ‘How to control the nation’, ‘How to be a psychic spy’ and ‘How to take down a casino’ showcase more of the old DB that made him so highly regarded.

Perhaps though, Derren Brown is a victim of his own brilliance – I’ve never heard the word genius bandied around so often, as when he crops up in conversation. Maybe, to paraphrase the first quote, all of us believing he can do it, is what made it happen.

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2 Comments

Filed under Television

2 responses to “Magic? Psychic ability? Or something else? . . . Yeah, something else.

  1. Ted Szuman

    I think Derren Brown has a potentially harmful influence on his viewers. Relating to his use of “deep maths” and “wisdom of crowds” rubbish – has he misunderstood the fundamental concepts of both of these or does he just think that his viewers will believe it simply because it sounds like science. (This persuasion route is used all the time in advertising. Remember those L’Oreal ads ‘here comes the science’, what exactly is proceramide-r and how will creatine make my hair look better?). I would guess that Brown treats his viewers like idiots that will believe whatever he says.

    He cannot be bothered any longer to come up with ‘the science bit’ that comes remotely close to holding up to any kind of closer inspection. When explaining wisdom of crowds he used the example of the average of a set of individual guesses of a cow’s weight being a highly accurate. This is so completely different to the experiment he conducted.

    This article goes into the various flaws a bit further

    http://bps-research-digest.blogspot.com/2009/09/derren-brown-purveyor-of-bad-science.html

    My problem with this is two fold: the first being that he is lazy and secondly that viewers will believe that these theories are scientific truths.

    • cheggers139

      Wise words Tedface. I didn’t see the aforementioned programme, as I am currently in a temporary flat with no internet or TV except Channel 5. So, if ain’t CSI, I ain’t seen it. I do, however, agree, that pretty much everyone on television or radio, and often those who write in newspapers, assume that the general public watching/listening/reading at home are idiots, and will accept everything they say at face value, without checking the facts. This goes for pretty much everything, not just the things already mentioned. (Everything except Newsnight Review that is. This assumes that everyone is an idiot and tries to emphasize this by talking a load of overly-convoluted that no-one understands in order to sound clever. Wankers.)

      The saddest thing about most of this is that pretty much everyone does accept what they see and hear and don’t question it, because people in the media are perceived as experts, purely because they’re in the media. They’re not. Ian Botham is an idiotic, overly-opinionated half-wit who knows less about cricket than my mum – he was just good at it, but he still commentates on Sky Sports and people believe his unresearched, unintelligent and often unintelligible comments. Why? Well, because they’re idiots. People wouldn’t believe L’Oreal, Derren Brown and Ian Botham, unless they were idiots.

      Basically, if less people were idiots, people in the media would stop treating everyone as if they were one, and the News would start to sound less like Newsround.

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