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.


gb said...

I think he's awesome - but of course it wasn't a "prediction" - nobody who could genuinely predict lottery results would be working at 10.30 on a Wednesday night would they...? ;-)

Nonetheless, top bloke - and I wouldn't expect any explanation he ever gives of anything to be in the slightest bit accurate or useful. Just another illusion :-)

Anonymous said...

This is a very effective response to Brown, Dawkins and co who try to debunk mediums and astrologers by ignoring the personal experiences people have. The sceptics' view is deeply condescending, it assumes most people are dumb. True, Brown has pulled the wool over people's eyes but that doesn't disprove clairvoyance. Just what a clever git he is. (Didn't know he was into NLP!)

Madame Arcati said...

Thank you GB, he is a very smart illusionist. But let's be wary opf his campaign to illusionise things he plainly doesn't understand.

Anonymous said...

That that TV show you mentioned - Dawkins knew nothing about psychics or tarot readers. What kind of scientist is this moron?

veritas said...

Oh I do so love it Madame sounds angry-so butch!

But I agree entirely and 'skeptics' are an odd bunch.

I haven't seen Brown in action but have been disappointed by most illusionists as I generally can spot the trick-which I'd prefer not to.
Except for MA's disliked Uri Geller who has bent forks in front of me..never worked it out yet. The problem being of course who the fuck wants a bent fork ?

Madame Arcati said...

I don't shave my legs for a day after writing a piece like this.

I think Geller's for real, I don't share the dimwit sceptical view that his fork bending is a trick. Even Brown is tapping energies scarcely understood. I dislike Geller because he's such an obvious hustler and starfucker - his recent antics on QVC, using his Jacko friendship to flog his tack, was the stuff of chemotherapy side-effects.

Brown is worth watching on YouTube, he's brilliant and persuasive. He certainly focuses the mind on what is believable. I love the fact his Saturn is in his 12th house - the house of mystery, secrets, magic, paranormal; Saturn being the planet of time and discipline. He is preoccupied natally by questions of fact and fiction so that his scepticism may be regarded as horoscopically sound.

A sad journalist said...

I hear a certain media company is closing in January. Uh-oh!

Madame Arcati said...

Really? Is this the news that broke about a month ago? Do try to keep up, dearie.

KL said...

"Life is the filling in an oblivion sandwich"

veritas said...

I must watch Brown on youtube on Madame's recommendation. You are right about Uri being a shameless hustler but he's ever so charming in person-whilst hustling.

A SKEPTIC, who could have thought, eh? said...

Sniff. Sniff. What's that smelling? Is it the smell of a naive 'believer'? I really hope not - I think the world has enough of those.

Praise Derren for being one of the most genuine mentalists out there. Shame about all the fake mediums only going for the easy money in people with emotional needs to fill in the blanks.

Madame Arcati said...

The naivety is all yours - all knee-jerk reaction, nil research.

The SkEpTiC :) :) :) said...

Well thank you - how nice...

I think humanity would benefit by actually using their brains a little more and question what they see, hear and feel - something that might seem scary for people like yourself, who might even be a regular at mediums and had experiences that "YOU JUST CAN'T EXPLAIN!!!". :D

The sad thing is that Derren probably gets a lot of this from people who's toes he's hurt by simply revealing the tricks of manipulation that unfortunately overshadows this filthy industry, it's all for the best though - you can never question enough.

...Well, if you don't have that need for an emotional fix, of course. :)

Madame Arcati said...

Brown reveals the tricks of mentalists not mediumship. And since science is now the established faith of orthodoxy you might want to re-apply that self-described questioning mind of yours to that. Too.

Skeptic said...

He does reveal how easy it is to trick people - and how easy that can be done by self-proclaimed mediums. It surely is healthy information to have, it brings open-mindedness to the table and not to take everything as solid fact when one imagine that people really have the power they claim to have. Thus, we need people like Derren who provides us this information to make more intelligent choices. It's foolish to say anything other.

I'm not a regular in your blog, just typed in Derren Brown is rich and came here, just wanted to give a shout that you might wanna tone down the bitterness you come off to have against people such as Derren and Richard Dawkins - which is, too, a needed force in this crazy world.

Madame Arcati said...

Madame is not bitter, just precise. I have never witnessed any clairvoyant mediumship that is anything like Brown's stage shows - brilliant as they are. I know of no medium who claims to do what Brown does. Brown says he's revealing what Victorian mediums got up to - I have no idea. All I know is what I have experienced. As for Dawkins, he's just a fool. He knows nothing of religious faith and imagines all the answers are supplied by science. The reality is that on the big eternal questions, none of us is any the wiser. However credit where it's due - Dawkins knows how to sell books.

Skeptic said...

Experiences can be manipulated and probably only a religious would consider Dawkins a fool.

Madame Arcati said...

Results in all forms may be manipulated, that's true. Truer than you know. Experience troubles the fashionable atheist because it belongs to the experiencer. Brown is showbiz.

Skeptic said...

In a world where everyone is swimming in the ocean of life, you do what you can to hold on to something and you'll whatever you can not to lose it. To defend it as long as you possibly can, even if there are no rational basis behind what you're floating on what so ever - it doesn't matter, you're hanging on to it regardless of whatever storm of wisdom that is coming your way. That, if anything, is especially true for believers I've personally experienced - and your post shined that from the beginning, all of your replies as well.

And, from experience, I also know what a complete waste of time it usually is to try talk sense to them - to try sparkle some light into that fixed reality frame most of them unfortunately seem to have. That's why this will be my final reply - good luck with the blog and all though. Cheers.

Madame Arcati said...

You have written nothing that shines a light on anything, my dear. You have just advertised your certainties.

John said...

In response to "I think Geller's for real, I don't share the dimwit sceptical view that his fork bending is a trick."

Spoon/fork bending is a pretty standard routine practiced my many magicians and mentalists. The only difference is that he denies using trickery. Do you believe everything people say?

Madame Arcati said...

You have not demonstrated that what Geller does is trickery, any more than Brown's Victorian "seances" disprove mediumsship.

Do you disbelieve everything that conflicts with your unresearched assumptions?

John said...

I'd love to believe in the supernatural, but unfortunately I can't. My statements are anything but assumptions or unresearched. I have studied both the art of conjuring and Geller's claims in detail. I have looked for evidence but there's nothing that he has done that cannot be explained through the use of trickery. If someone makes a claim to be able to do something considered supernatural, it's up to them to be able to prove that they can do what they are claiming to be able to do, not the opposite way about.

If any psychic passed a controlled test to demonstrate their abilities where the possibility of cheating was eliminated, I would embrace that and accept that these abilities do exist. Unfortunately it seems that whenever anyone is challenged in this way, they either fail or make some excuse and avoid taking the test.

James Randi even offers $1 Million to someone who will do such a thing. If you genuinely have the abilities that you claim to have, take the test. And if you don't need the money, donate it to charity ..... or me!

Madame Arcati said...

The explanations of trickery do not necessarily disprove Geller's claim: they are merely an alternative view. Geller has submitted to many scientific tests with positive results - eg

While it is true that it is for Geller to prove supernatural abilities, it is for sceptics to prove fraud.

James Randi is an aggressive, fundamentalist atheist and unreliable because of his prejudices. He cannot be trusted to apply objectivity. He will never pay his $1m because in the world of Randi just about everything can be questioned out of existence.

Randi is not alone is offering rewards. The Australian former lawyer Victor Zammit also offers a bounty - but to anyone who can disprove the afterlife. It is his contention, thanks to substantial psychical and parapsychological research undertaken over many decades, that a case has been made for the afterlife: it is therefore for critics to show otherwise.

It is of course natural for magicians and mentalists to see trickery wherever they look.

John said...

Whilst Geller has submitted to some tests, there has also been times where Geller has been caught cheating. The most famous example is probably on a TV show (Noels House Party) in 1996 where he was caught secretly bending a spoon using force by a hidden camera. Another video exists where he turns a compass without touching it. Closer examination of the footage reveals that he secretly puts on a false thumb (presumably containing a magnet.) Now whilst this only proves the use of trickery was used on one occasion (the thumbtip may not have contained a magnet so does not count as 'proof' of cheating), it does cast serious doubt on the credibility of his claims.

Also, some magicians have also achieved similar feats by using trickery to defeat the scientists. (Most notably Banachek.) This only goes to prove how easy it is to trick people and how very often believers will very often not apply proper scientific protocol when conducting tests.

I personally do not believe in the afterlife, but I look at things from a neutral perspective. It's a nice idea that when we die we somehow live on but with no evidence to suggest this is the case, it would be unreasonable for me to formulate the opinion that it does. To state anything exists and then not back it up seems an unreasonable way of looking at anything. For example, if I told you that I had a pink dragon in my back garden but only I could see it, would you believe me? I can't prove it exists but then again, you can't disprove it either.

Madame Arcati said...

The Geller trickery revelations are disputed. For example, it is not clear from the video you mention that he used a false thumb: there is some fumbling but no sign of a false thumb. Randi likes to sell that idea as writ in stone. It is not.

People are not easily tricked. Derren Brown, for example, spent years mastering his techniques. People tend to assume they are being tricked and look for clues. In a sceptical age, people are sharper, less gullible.

If you do not "believe" in an afterlife then you are not neutral. Belief shouldn't be relevant. You have no cause to believe anything unless you have scrupulously and objectively examined a vast amount of evidence one way or another and reached a conclusion. You may have done this of course but I would doubt it. For example, you imply no evidence has been adduced for the afterlife: this is incorrect. There is in fact a vast amount of psychical and parapsychological research of which you appear to be oblivious: you have elected to ignore this evidence because of your belief.

As for your pink dragon, you would have to demonstrate some reason to believe you other than your belief. This is where looking at research is useful. I have seen no research into pink dragons.

Oh, and you do the afterlife research. You have to do the work if you're interested.

John said...

With regards to Geller, the video evidence of him bending the spoon was undeniable. This is not to say though that every other performance that he ever did was genuine. It only proves that one performance was faked because he was caught red handed.

As for the compass thing, your right. It doesn't disprove it. However, if a conjurer was to duplicate that effect using trickery, using a magnetic thumbtip would be one method that could be employed. Unfortunately, I've yet to see any Geller effect that doesn't have a logical explanation.

I am not confined to one way of thinking. I would love for you or any psychic to do something that I can't offer an explanation for. Something that science has no answer to.

The main issue I have with virtually every topic related to supernatural phenomena is that the evidence for many of these things is wishy washy and could be faked pretty easily by anyone with a bit of conjuring knowledge. For every claim there seems to be a logical, rational explanation.

This is not to say that these things do not exist though. To date I have not come across any evidence for anything supernatural including life after death but if you are aware of any, point me in the right direction and I'd be glad to take a look at it.

Madame Arcati said...

Like I said, if you're really that interested then you do your own research into the research. You don't just sit about waiting for something to happen. But here's something -

John said...

With all due respect, because I haven't found anything so far to convince me that there is life after death, does not necessarily mean that I haven't looked. Like most people, I would like to believe in life after death but I find myself unconvinced with the lack of proof or even strong evidence to suggest that this were the case.

In that article, Point 17 is particularly interesting as it talks about how NDEs can be replicated using electrodes to stimulate the brain. Its a bit bizarre that they are using this to support their case because if NDEs can be replicated in controlled conditions where there is no chance of death, they therefore prove that, in these instances, they can be generated by brain function alone.

Whilst its an interesting article that you linked to, virtually all of the points raised in that article could simply be attributed to abnormal brain function, fiction or coincidence.

Madame Arcati said...

Outside of subjective experience there is no absolute proof of afterlife - this is my personal view.

However, if mechanical brain function alone accounts for NDEs it is reasonable to suppose that anyone who 'dies' would have the experiences described by a few. I think it would be fair to say that we still do not have a complete understanding of the brain: and if it is the case that an NDE involves a spiritual component, then science would be incapable of detecting it - because it does know know what to look for. For this reason we fall back on personal experiences which open our minds to possibilities but not to the conclusive evidence you seek.

In order to say "There is no afterlife" you have first to ignore or reject a substantial amount of research and experience which in my view raise a case.