Sunday, September 13, 2009
Derren Brown: How many mediums are as rich as he is?
A number of Arcatistes have emailed asking me what I make of the mentalist conjurer Derren Brown, his trick "prediction" of the Lottery numbers and his ongoing assaults on psychics, mediums, astrologers, et al. Let's put it like this: I'm not losing any sleep.
Brown's main contention is that he reads minds just the way mediums do. Ergo, all mediums are cons. As a line of logic that makes no sense at all. It's as if I were to say: "I successfully pretended to be a doctor for a few days in a hospital: that proves that all doctors are frauds." Total nonsense. It's the same line of specious reasoning.
He contends that mediums just do what he does - cold read (ie basically pick up from visual and verbal cues, body-read, etc). There is no easy way to answer that but to critically examine the nature of the information given by Brown and a reputable (ie non-Derek Acorah-type) medium.
Brown is a startlingly gifted mind reader: his ability to tell people the names of their pets and the nature of their career aspirations stuns audiences. In other words, he can only tell what audience members know themselves. No doubt his training in neuro-linguistic programming has refined his tricks.
Authentic mediums are not governed by what the sitter knows (or is suggested to them) but by what is fed by an external spirit informant. This is evident in the range of information supplied. Messages may include names of people unknown to the sitter or cited incidents which can only be corroborated by another party. Prophecy is a part of this - and I can testify as to the accuracy of certain clairvoyants. Brown and his like cannot do this.
But he can stage big-time "predictions": I know of no medium who could predict the outcome of the National Lottery. Nor do I know of any reputable medium who can routinely "foresee" numerical combinations - or tell someone the name of their dog.
I had to laugh when Brown contended on the C4 show The Enemies of Reason (with the faintly unworldly Richard Dawkins) that mediums are just magicians who've lost their way in their craving for lots of money. How many mediums are as rich as Derren Brown? Apart from a handful of celebrity TV clairvoyants, most seers I know either scrape a living or do something else besides to supplement their earnings.
Brown also recalled going to a palmist and asking her during the reading what the relationship was between hand lines and fate. He was most put out when she accused him of blocking the reading and turfed him out. The palmist was perfectly correct. He'd paid to have a reading, not a lecture; and his question was, in context, plainly hostile and disrespectful of the palmist's need to focus. Why didn't he ask her after the reading?
Or put it another way: next time you're at a Derren Brown show, interrupt his stage show and ask him to explain his illusions. You'll be out on your arse before you know it.