I just want to burn him at a stake and watch his witch's heart bubble. It’s extraordinary. Great trick. - Stephen Fry

Derren Brown does many amazing tricks - I want to focus here on his "mind reading". This is way beyond any cold reading I've seen, but he insists that he uses no actors or stooges. He's also a skeptic, very clear about not being psychic. He does reveal some of his tricks, but maintains a lot of mystery.

Reading David Frost's mind - unusually, he struggles and gets the first one wrong, and seems to reveal tiny glimpses of his technique. Then at the end he gives more hints about his technique than usual. 

Pet name - getting someone on the street to read another person's mind. In the full version (from the DVD of Trick of the Mind, series one) the segment starts with Derren telling the guy (the pet owner) that sorry, it won't work on you, then later changing his mind and bringing him in.

Creepy clown - the detail here is extraordinary. 

Watch the videos then scroll down, if you want to watch it without being influenced by me... I have a few thoughts, but they don't go very far in explaining it... 

 

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Whatever he's doing, he's extraordinarily good at it. Some speculations:

  • Derren Brown uses suggestion and "subliminal" messages very heavily in his tricks. Often he will have written down the person's choice long before they've chosen, and subtly gets them thinking about what he wants. In the examples above he doesn't have much opportunity to direct the thought, I think... except that in the case of David Frost choosing a place, Frost is looking in the direction of the city scape behind Derren, which presumably influences his choice. 
  • Micromuscle reading: When he or a participant tries to read a thought, there's often something about picking up the sound of a letter. Perhaps he reads involuntary micromuscle movements related to the mouth and throat that happen while saying something loudly in one's head, but suppressing it. (I would have guessed that was impossible... it still seems unlikely, but much more likely than "he's psychic".)
  • He narrows down the field of possibilities, often through suggestion, or sometimes (as with David Frost) asking them for something more specific. 
  • He usually selects the participant, making sure he's got someone suitable. Perhaps all TV show hosts are suitable. (Except in his stage shows, where he throws a teddy bear into the audience, and asks the audience to throw it again. Perhaps if you've bought an expensive ticket to his show, you're invested in it and ready to go along with him, and that's enough for those particular tricks.) He says that a few things increase suggestibility, including the presence of a camera.
  • He's extremely observant and good at making connections - in one trick, he tells a man a lot about himself, by holding his hands through holes in a panel, but not able to see the man. E.g. by the roughness of the man's hands, he guesses what sport he's interested in. He pulls his hands back, smells them deeply, then declares that he has terriers (correct - he attributes that to having learnt to tell the difference between breeds of dogs by their smell), probably 3 of them (correct - no idea how). 
  • Any of these things might be misdirection. 
  • He may be lying, and actually using actors & stooges in some of his tricks. But that doesn't explain everything very well (e.g. I doubt that David Frost, Jamie Oliver or other celebs were paid to go along with him, but again, it's more believable that they're all lying than that he's psychic.)
I think he's using a lot of different methods at once, with great skill... but I'm sure my speculations are a long way short of explaining what he does. I'd love to hear any further insights on his mind-reading. 

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I think it's worth taking a step back from the details of any one of Derren Brown's effects, and looking at the nature of stage magic. A stage magician employs a set of techniques called misdirection to mislead the audience as to how a trick is performed, to direct their attention to irrelevant aspects of the performance, or to encourage them to misinterpret relevant aspects.

An important technique in misdirection is to provide the audience with a false explanation for how the trick is done. A magician who says that a trick is done by magic encourages you watch carefully at the point where he waves his magic wand (knowing that this does the audience no good, because the rabbit was already loaded into the hat). A magician who says that a trick is done by science encourages you to look at the fancy gears of his machine (when actually there's an assistant hidden inside). A magician who says that a trick is done by psychic powers encourages you to watch carefully at the point where he concentrates on reading the subject's mind (when actually the card was marked or forced).

Knowing all this, as I imagine you do, what are we to make of a magician who explains that a trick is done by psychology? I guess this time he might be telling the truth, right?

Now, let's look at your examples with the above in mind, and ask some questions.

In the first example, why does David Frost later agree that he was thinking of a place, after first denying it?

In the second example (guessing the pet name),

  1. Is Derren taller or shorter than the woman?
  2. Did Derren pick the other volunteer (the man with the shoulder bag) before or after explaining how to read minds?
  3. Where was Derren standing while he explained to the woman how to read minds?
  4. What was the man with the shoulder bag doing while this was going on?
  5. Who exactly was tricked here?

In the third example (the creepy clown),

  1. Why is he dressed as a clown?
  2. Why a creepy clown in particular?
  3. Why does he wave his arms about?
  4. What does it look like if you watch it without the sound?

I'll ROT-13 my own answers to the questions, but I strongly recommend that you do your best to figure out your own answers to them before decrypting mine. Trying to figure out plausible mechanisms for magic tricks is a way of calibrating your rational thinking skills, in the presence of an adversary (the magician) who is trying to use all your perceptual biases and cognitive shortcuts against you. If you find yourself seriously considering hypotheses like micromuscle reading or subliminal suggestion, then that's probably because the magician has managed to slip a false assumption past your defences!

Svefg, Qnivq Sebfg. Guvf, V jvyy fnl hc sebag, vf gur bar V'z yrnfg pbasvqrag nobhg. Ohg zl gurbel vf guvf. N pung fubj yvxr Sebfg'f glcvpnyyl unf fbzr xvaq bs cercnengvba orsberunaq: abg n fpevcgrq erurnefny, ohg n pbairefngvba va juvpu gur ubfg naq gur thrfg jbex bhg jung xvaqf bs fhowrpgf gurl ner tbvat gb pbire. Va gur erurnefny, Qreera qbrf fbzr zntvp gevpxf naq va gur pbhefr bs guvf ur fbzrubj sbeprf gur jbeq Zvyna ba Sebfg va fbzr jnl gung Sebfg guvaxf vf enaqbz. (Ubj? N obbx grfg? V qba'g xabj.) Qreera fgnegf gb thrff jung vg vf, ohg gura fnlf, "Ab, V'yy gel naq thrff gung yngre ba gur fubj". Gura, qhevat gur yvir erpbeqvat, ur tbrf guebhtu n zvaq-ernqvat nggrzcg gung tbrf onqyl (gur pvtne) ohg qhevat gur pbhefr bs guvf ur qebcf uvagf nobhg n cynpr, juvpu Sebfg vavgvnyyl qravrf: "Vg'f n cynpr bs fbzr fbeg" "Ab" "BX, pna lbh tb onpx va lbhe zvaq. V guvax gurer jnf n cynpr." "Ab, nf fbba nf lbh nfxrq zr V'ir bayl gubhtug bs guvf bar guvat." Qreera trgf vg jebat, ohg gura ur fnlf, "Gurer jnf n cynpr. V guvax gurer jnf n cynpr, gubhtu, gung jrag guebhtu lbhe urnq. Whfg tb onpx va lbhe zvaq naq whfg sbphf ba n cynpr sbe n frpbaq." Abj Sebfg nterrf gung gurer jnf n cynpr. Jul vf gung? Vg'f orpnhfr abj gung gur gevpx vf bire naq Qreera snvyrq, Sebfg ernyvmrf gung ur'f orvat cebzcgrq gb guvax onpx gb gur cynpr gung jnf pubfra rneyvre, naq abj Qreera thrffrf vg. Sebfg vf vzcerffrq orpnhfr ur qvqa'g fcbg gur sbepr, ohg jr ner rira zber vzcerffrq orpnhfr jr qba'g xabj nobhg gur erurnefny naq jr guvax Qreera jnf thrffvat pbyq. Sebfg vf gbb zhpu bs n cebsrffvbany gb fcbvy gur rssrpg ol gnyxvat nobhg gur erurnefny (naq Qreera bs pbhefr xabjf guvf).

Frpbaq, gur crg. 1. Qreera cvpxrq n jbzra jub jnf fubegre guna uvz fb gung ur pbhyq rnfvyl oybpx ure ivrj qhevat uvf rkcynangvba. 2. Qreera cvpxrq gur zna orsber tvivat gur rkcynangvba fb gung gur zna jbhyq unir n ybat jnvg bss pnzren. 3. Qreera fgrcf sbejneq gbjneqf gur jbzra, gbhpuvat ure fb nf gb pbzcyrgryl bpphcl ure nggragvbaf. Fur qbrf abg frr jung unccraf gb gur zna. 4. Arvgure qb jr, ohg zl gurbel vf gung Qreera'f "cebqhpre" yrnqf gur zna gb gur fvqr naq fnlf "jr arrq lbh gb ernq guvf eryrnfr sbez, cyrnfr". Gur zna ybbxf ng gur "eryrnfr sbez" naq vg fnlf, "Jrypbzr, ibyhagrre! Gbtrgure, lbh naq V ner tbvat gb tvir guvf jbzna na nznmvat rkcrevrapr: sbe n zvahgr be gjb fur vf tbvat gb oryvrir gung fur pna ernq lbhe zvaq. Nyy lbh unir gb qb vf nterr jvgu rnpu bs ure thrffrf. Orfg bs yhpx, Qreera"

Guveq, gur pybja. 1. Qreera vf qerffrq nf n pybja orpnhfr vg tvirf uvz na rkphfr gb chg urnil znxr-hc ba naq nebhaq uvf yvcf. 2. Vg'f n perrcl pybja fb gur znxr-hc pna or oynpx. 3. Ur jnirf uvf unaqf nebhaq fb gung gurl bsgra bofgehpg gur pnzren'f ivrj bs uvf zbhgu. 4. Jvgubhg gur fbhaq, vg'f pyrne gung lbh pna'g frr uvf yvcf pyrneyl be bsgra rabhtu gb irevsl gung ur'f fcrnxvat gur jbeqf ba gur fbhaqgenpx. Zl gurbel vf gung gur npghny qvnybthr vf pbzcyrgryl qvssrerag sebz gur fbhaqgenpx, naq qbrf abg unir nalguvat gb qb jvgu zvaq-ernqvat ng nyy. Creuncf Qreera fgnegf, "Rkphfr zr, Zvff, jbhyq lbh yvxr gb urne n wbxr?" naq fur fnlf "Hu-uhu" naq bss gurl tb. Gur zvaq-ernqvat qvnybthr vf gura jevggra naq qhoorq ba nsgrejneqf, gnxvat pner gb zngpu gur yvcf va gur oevrs frpbaqf jura jr pna frr gurz.

If you find yourself seriously considering hypotheses like micromuscle reading or subliminal suggestion, then that's probably because the magician has managed to slip a false assumption past your defences!

The subliminal suggestion part isn't that implausible a priori, though. Suppose I first tell you to think of some tool, after which I tell you to think of some color.

Znal crbcyr jvyy svefg nafjre "unzzre", orpnhfr gung'f n cebgbglcvpny gbby, naq gura nafjre "erq", orpnhfr obgu jbeqf ner nffbpvngrq jvgu pbzzhavfz naq gur zragvba bs n unzzre cevzrf nffbpvngrq pbaprcgf.

While I'm not sure of how well that will work here, once back in junior high school I had happened to read that and a list of other priming questions from somewhere, and tried them out on my classmates. I didn't always get the expected answer, but I did get it more often than not.

My favorite was one that only works in Finnish - asking people to say "kuusi" for several times in a row, which is a word that means either the number six, or a spruce tree. Then I would ask them to name a vegetable, and often they would say "carrot" - which happens to have a similar shape as the popular way of drawing cartoon spruce trees.

For the record, I thought of "spade" and then "orange" (perhaps because of an association of spades with the merchant B&Q, whose logo and branded materials are orange, though of course this is post-hoc rationalization on my part).

The reason why I think concentrating on "suggestion" is often an indication that you've missed something, is that suggestion is not reliable enough for magicians to use it as the sole mechanism for an effect, especially in settings like live television where the stakes are high. Magicians prefer to use it in combination with another method. Then, if the suggestion works, the effect is spectacular, but if it fails, the other method comes in and saves the effect. For example, Derren asks David Frost to picture something "in the back of your mind" and emphasizes this by tapping the back of his head. He then guesses that the word will "begin with a guttural sound, like a C or a G". I wondered if this was an attempt at suggestion (via an association from "back of the mind" to "back of the mouth") that didn't quite come off, with some other method then saving the effect. (My own word was "apple", which does start with a guttural sound—a glottal stop—though this would not have helped Derren, because no-one in the audience would know enough phonology to recognize that this was the case.)

But yes, you're right, I was a bit too strong in my comment above and suggestion does sometimes deserve consideration. If by good luck it works in a trick, then you might not get a hint from the performance as to what the backup method was going to be.

(If you can point me to televised tricks that you think are pure suggestion, then I'd be interested to see them.)

I got an "uploader has not made this video available in your country" message for the first video, but your "explanations" for the other two aren't valid. The first is just a fancy way of accusing Derren Brown of using a stooge, which is given as not being a valid explanation, and once we entertain this possibility, the question becomes vacuous. It's like if someone asks you "Here's a chess position, how do you force checkmate?" and your answer is "I'd point a gun at my opponent's head and order him to move his queen out of the way". There's lateral thinking, and then there's just refusing to accept basic assumptions that are necessary for there to be a puzzle in the first place. Your explanation for the third video is similarly invalid. You have to assume that the video is an accurate account of the encounter, just as you have to assume, when watching a play, that any character that is declared dead by the another character is, in fact, dead. A puzzle where the "solution" consists of rejecting the assumption that the person telling the puzzle to you is accurately presenting the nature of the puzzle is not a puzzle.

"I have two coins in my pocket. The value of them add up to 35 cents, and neither of them is a quarter. What are they?" "I don't know." "A dime and a quarter." "But you said neither of them is a quarter." "Yeah, I lied."

You say that my explanations "aren't valid" because I "have to assume" various facts. Why do I have to make these assumptions? Your argument is that these tricks must be fair puzzles. But Derren is not in the business of making fair puzzles, he is in the business of entertaining television audiences. He is under no obligation to play fair, and he is quite willing to use your belief that he plays fair in order to fool you.

My explanations for tricks two and three don't just explain the effect, but also a number of details of the presentation that would otherwise be mysterious or arbitrary. The technique in trick two (which is well-known among magicians under the name "vafgnag fgbbtr") explains, among other things, the flat affect of the man whose mind is supposedly being read (why doesn't he seem as amazed as the woman?) The technique in trick three explains not only why Derren is dressed like a clown, but also the sequence of camera cuts.

I never said that you have to assume various facts. I said that you have to assume various facts ''for there to be a puzzle''. Nor did I say that these tricks must be fair puzzles. I said that ''if'' it is a fair puzzle, ''then'' there are certain assumptions that must be true. This is quite likely not a fair puzzle. If it's not a fair puzzle, then trying to "figure it out" strikes me as not being a worthwhile endeavor.

And if it's not a fair puzzle, then pretty much any explanation is unfalsifiable. If we proceed with the assumption that he's trying to fool us, then we ''shouldn't expect'' it to make sense. We should ''expect'' there to be mysterious and arbitrary details, and any such details can be presented as support for the explanation, while any details that aren't mysterious or arbitrary under the proposed explanation can be presented as confirmation as well. For instance, him having the woman touch the face of the man is, under your explanation, arbitrary, and supports your explanation because it shows that he's introducing elements that have no inherent purpose as misdirection. The woman being shorter than the man, on the other hand, you claim is evidence for your explanation, because it serves a direct purpose in his plan.

If Derren is operating through camera cuts in video three, there is little need for the clown costume. We need four things to dismiss this hypothesis:

  1. Derren makes a specific claim.
  2. We have a clear shot of his mouth, and can lip-read him as saying that.
  3. The woman clearly and explicitly states that the claim is true.
  4. We have a clear shot of her mouth.

Not only do we need these four things, we need them ''all in the same shot''. It's hardly difficult to arrange the editing such that there is no shot with all four, even without a clown costume. And that's about a satisfying explanation as if I had seen a magician on TV get in one box, then instantly appear in a box across the room, and the explanation is that the magician actually climbed out of the first box, walked over to the second box, and got in it, and then edited the video so we wouldn't see him walking from one box to the other. If I see a boat blow up in a movie, I might idly wonder "I wonder how they did that? Maybe they had a miniature. Maybe it was CGI. Maybe they actually bought a boat and blew it up." But that would simply be an issue of movie trivia. It wouldn't be a "puzzle". And if someone were filming miniatures being blown up and presenting it as a "magic trick", I'd consider that pretty lame. There's a difference between an illusion and a hoax. It doesn't take any skill to pull off a hoax, only chutzpah.

I watched #3 again and I'm pretty convinced you're right. It is strange, seeing it totally differently once I have a theory to match.

It's an example of Derren Brown's brilliant use of misdirection. Here you're misdirected as to the whole nature of the trick, and if you start your analysis by asking yourself, "how does he manage to read the woman's mind?" then you've already swallowed the false assumption. You have to take a step back and start from the question, "how does he manage to convince me, the viewer, that he read the woman's mind?"

The really interesting thing about Derren Brown is that he used to be an evangelical Christian, and thought his way into rationality. In his 2006 book Tricks Of The Mind, he introduces the reader to basic rationality - "how do I know what I know?" - with the story of how he deconverted himself: he learnt about hypnotism, got into conjuring, and discovered how to perform for entertainment the tricks that psychics purport to perform for real. This interested him in the world of delusion: how people come to believe that such easily explicable tricks are real; and the circular nature of belief in the paranormal. He then realised he should apply this to his own Christianity ... and a lot of thinking and a copy of The God Delusion later (yes, Derren Brown is Richard Dawkins' fault), he was free. It's a heartwarming tale.

One obvious issue is selection effects: we don't necessarily see the examples where it doesn't work well.

we don't necessarily see the examples where it doesn't work well.

Actually, his TV show included some outtakes of some of his attempts at things not working well: paying with fake money, robbing a person by handing them things and then having them hand back more things than he originally gave him, etc. It appeared as though the purpose of including these segments was to show that the tricks he was using didn't work on everybody in every situation.

Of course, that could just be what he wants us to think... ;-)

After having read this book, I assign a rather high prior to "he employs some extremely complicated technique, possibly involving some long honed skill ordinary people would never bother with, which no layperson could realistically hope to guess." One of the takeaways I got from that book is that while some magic relies on simple, elegant tricks which seem obvious in hindsight, a lot of the killer tricks are really, really complicated. He may not even be employing the same technique in every permutation of the trick; magicians routinely learn a wide array of methods for accomplishing individual "effects."

Can you give a specific example of one of these killer tricks that is really, really complicated?

I no longer have the book for reference to recall any of the exact techniques, but the author developed an original trick for an international magic competition involved not only misdirection techniques, but original math developed in collaboration with a statistician, and the manual precision to perfectly shuffle a deck repeatedly so that it retains its original order after four shuffles.

Well, there's this. Not an example of mentalism, but a card trick from earlier in his career. Everything in it is basically sleight of hand and misdirection, but there are so many different techniques in there, strung together with such precision, that it would be extremely difficult to replicate without a huge amount of training.

I don't know if this is the kind of thing Desrtopa was talking about.

Read Brown's books. He explains really quite a lot of his tricks. And yes, some are quite complicated. It's revelatory stuff.

[-][anonymous]9y 4

I expect a fair amount of it is basically "traditional" magic. I can't find it at the moment, but I vaguely remember reading him commenting that in the olden days, magicians pretended to be able to do real magic, but now people are far more willing to believe in psychology.

I studied a lot about magic routines and can tell you for many big magic tricks on youtube at least one possible way how it would work. But the most important thing about magic is, it is entertainment. And also Derren Brown is an entertainer, that's what he does. I'm a big fan of Derren, also because he exposes much of the supposedly psychic or prayer stuff.

I clearly agree with garethrees' point about misdirection and psychology. Providing a solution that seems plausible to system 1 (sensu Kahneman), makes you stop thinking about it. I think that one of Derren's best tricks is to make the audience feel happy with a fake explanation. In general, I don't like exposing magic tricks. But in some cases when false beliefs spread by magicians clearly threaten to poison people's belief systems, I make sort of an exception:

  • The old magician's rule "80% show, 20% magic skills" is still true and also applies to Derren
  • Derren is an excellent sleight-of-hand magician. Many tricks that he presents as mental tricks, are card tricks (for example http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AewhMHhCmNQ)
  • Forget suggestion and NLP in the way Derren uses them as explanations. All his tricks are clearly possible without them.
  • Often, solutions of "impossible" tricks are very disappointing in the sense that one realises that the actual trick was to make one believe that the magician would not use "cheap" tricks (for example see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EUiToBs_YT0), or that the magician would not be able to see through a blindfold, or…
  • On TV, you can easily select for what you want (nicely demonstrated by Derren's "The System", http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9R5OWh7luL4)

Forget suggestion and NLP in the way Derren uses them as explanations. All his tricks are clearly possible without them.

If you mean they're also possible with stooges, sure. But note that some of his effects essentially require either an actual psychological effect, or a stooge, as the entire effect is psychological. (Eg. getting somebody to forget something, priming someone to commit armed robbery, etc.)

Granted, even the ones that are genuinely psychological tricks depend heavily on selection effects. For the armed robbery trick, the show included a lot about the selection process used to select people who were suggestible and who would comply with authority figures (using a Milgram shock-the-learner test).

(And also granted, all of this stuff is potentially subject to further levels of misdirection.)

Ok, I should not have written "clearly".

Yes, the ones where he gets people to do something weird on their own are tough ones. As you point out (and hypnotists would agree) , selection is very important here. But I think it is likely that the selection process does not only take place before the show, but also after the show. I mean that he probably tried this with 20 people and it only worked with one, who is the only one we see on TV (if you think this is too expensive, watch "The System" linked above).

But what does the selection process consists of? Derren can state that the subject has no record of crimes or violence. Could be a misdirection. Also he could use other methods to make them do something and convince them afterwards that it was because of all the links and hidden messages he placed on the way there. Look at the Advertising Agency Trick (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YQXe1CokWqQ). Do you think it is not possible that he used secret cameras in the room to observe what they came up with, then copied it somewhat and replaced his original prediction envelope with the new one? The scene is cut, could happen anything. One of the camera crew members (who is never in the view) could switch the envelope. Also, an assistant could go into the room right before Derren and the camera reenters to announce that the time is up and exchange it while they are distracted somehow. So many other ways to do it. Then film the journey afterwards and put it together. They won't be able to tell for sure that the posters were not there on their way to the show. Note that you only see the signs on their own and it looks like they were filmed on their actual cab ride. But you never see one of the advertisement guys together with one of the dominant pictures in the same picture. The only three links where you see the link and one of the guys in the same picture is the zoo, the "creature" on the truck that is parked in front of their cab when it stops and the angel wings. But the zoo and the "creature" are kind of obvious to predict and broadly interpretable. I would say they included as many potential signs as possible along their journey. But it is strange that they only show these three in the same shot with one of the guys. They just got lucky on the zoo one, as it is quite specific on what they came up with. The angel wings are even on the wrong side of the carried board and doesn't face them when they enter. Strange? Also the camera is speeded up right after they go through the door. Could be an easy cut (he used camera trick in other occasions) It looks like you see them inside the building through the revolving door. Just put a bald guy there, it will look exactly the same to the TV audience.

Or the shopping mall trick (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fcURS3tHhWo). Having a lot of stooges in the crowd putting their hands up would help a lot to make others also put their hands up. Then you only interview the non-stooges of course.

Back to the armed robbery case. I'm still not convinced, that the hidden messages he presents are the only explanation for why the guy did it. If it is the way as Derren says it is, I think he used many more messages and incentives than he exposes on the show. Maybe he also hypnotized him before he let him walk along that street and told him to do so, but the guy doesn't remember it for the moment he is asked on camera why he did it. With an easy subject, such things should be possible (again, selection). Memory is very susceptible to hypnosis (note that I use hypnosis in an all-natural sense). I just saw Derren telling false explanations on TV so many times, I don't believe it so easily. In Derren's case, it is extremely important to build up a reputation that his stuff really works, so people think it very unlikely that he would do the following tricks in another way than he says. Again, I think his best trick is to convince us that he does not use cheap/expensive/extremely complicated tricks.

Or the "Evening Of Wonders" show ending trick: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x7fAsKuMDsE If I did it, I would switch the prediction at 1:45, easy. If he had nothing to hide, he would be happy to let Danielle open the box and take it out. Only because he has a hard time to screw the lid off the tube (convincer) doesn't mean it's closed on the other side. It's a classic but very, very well performed!

What do you think about this one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AMsngNWMfH4 Genuine?

Forget suggestion and NLP in the way Derren uses them as explanations. All his tricks are clearly possible without them.

There are tricks that do work with suggestion. In general if the audience expects a card trick, do a trick that's build on suggestion. If the audience expects a trick based on mind reading do slight of hand.

I think it's easy to overestimate his skills; I remember a number of occasions where, whilst watching, I assumed psychological brilliance was the only possibility, yet later thought of a much simpler hypothesis. I'll list one example here.

In one trick, which he did on his stage show Enigma, he would have a lot of audience members write a celebritiy's name on a piece of paper and fill a basket; a randomly chosen audience member selected a piece of paper and Derren, from holding the man's hand, painted a picture of the celebrity's face. He makes a good deal of showmanship from the contact with the man's arm, and appeared to be having extreme difficulty - the face looked nothing like a face! Finally he turned it upside down and there was Elton John. For a long time I believed he was a psychological genius, before I realised that somehow forcing the celebrity's name, even in front of the audience looking at the empty bucket being filled and then handed to the audience member, was a far simpler hypothesis.

he would have a lot of audience members write a celebritiy's name on a piece of paper and fill a basket; a randomly chosen audience member selected a piece of paper and Derren, from holding the man's hand, painted a picture of the celebrity's face.

This doesn't sound like a trick that's psychological in nature. It probably involves switching the piece of paper somewhere.

Yes, but the emphasis is on the psychological showmanship. The shortest description of the trick would be "Derren painted a picture from the imagination of an audience member just by holding their wrists and asking them to think about it" but the trick is that the magic is already over when he forced the celebrity's name.

It seems strange to me that a topic that generated so much discussion and speculation was voted to approximately zero. Perhaps the number of comments on a post is a better indicator of its interest than upvotes - downvotes.

If my math is right the post has 7 upvotes and 5 downvotes. It seems there a lot to be said about the topic in general but the starting post isn't that existing.

Did I hear correctly in the second video? They both has a goldfish named "George"? No one else finds that worth remarking on? Surely P(both have goldfish named George) << P(She will guess his pet's name|their pets have the same name). So why are we focusing on the latter?

[-][anonymous]9y 0

More relevantly, P(both have a goldfish named George) << P(they don't, and there's some trickery going on)

It's actually quite a useful clue - obviously no psychological "mind-reading" technique could force it, so it must be some other trick, most likely the one garethrees suggests.

I think they're all examples of compliance - i.e., in each example he gets them to go along with something that isn't true. The creepy clown is the most obvious. He has put her in a confusing situation and then makes her confusion look like agreement. He also appears to be mirroring and then provoking her body language. He manages to get her to not walk away and to say he's right, but most of the time she appears to be completely baffled. With the pet name, I suspect the main part of the trick is making the man wait an extremely long time and making him sympathise with the woman, so that he'll agree with whatever she says. In his book he explicitly claims to never use camera tricks, he says it's always a mix of traditional magic and psychological techniques, with one sometimes posing as the other.

In general it worth noting that Derren doesn't claim to avoid camera manipulation. He did it visibly in the lotto numbers prediction episode.

Derren sometimes uses simple card tricks for mentalism.

Through mixing different methods he can achieve effects that are much greater than he could be just doing card tricks or just using mental suggestion.

Take the James Oliver example http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PFrdEgWIJLI : He start the trick by making James Oliver stand up. This breaks James normal relaxed state in the interview and produces here a light trance.

Anyone who came up with a Hypothesis is welcome to explain how he can do it blindfolded to two people sitting more than ten meters away here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZlAO4U7PG1o

Birthday and names can come from ticket data. Earpiece concealed by the bandages can easily get info to Derren if needed. As for the mind reading - plenty of cuts in the video, so maybe this was just good cold reading and they only picked the successes. Or there were longer meandering conversations and not all was shown. Alternately, maybe they asked for an anonymous questionnaire before the show that contained most of the info, and then from the audience's perspective the magic trick was mysteriously guessing the questionnaire, plus a little cold reading. Or maybe they asked the people who attended the show with the subjects - spouses and the like, and so it really was a surprise for the subjects.

Birthday and names can come from ticket data.

Even easier... Prior to this, he had asked audience members to write down any questions they had on cards he handed out and seal them in envelopes, write their seat number on the envelope and put the envelopes in that bowl on the stage.

I'm presuming the cards asked for more data than just the question. They probably also asked for birthdates, and some additional information (like "Anything interesting that happened to you recently"). He just needed someone to go up there pretending to drop a card in that bowl, and to instead pick up a few cards and feed him the information through an earpiece concealed in the bandages.

Anyway the "Oracle act" is a classic mentalist trick with many variations. Google "Q and A routine". Derren Brown performs it with much more flair than most, but he's not doing something completely unknown here.

I'll note that the act is from a stage show that is filmed in its hour-long entirety, so its unlikely that these are just snippets of longer conversations. Also, he specifies beforehand that he doesn't use stooges or have any prior contact with his audience. I doubt he's lying about this.

I think that a lot of Derren Brown's stuff, while not exactly fake, is done by hypnotizing them off-camera.

So he either hypnotizes them and finds out some information then wipes the memory of them telling him the information, or he hypnotizes them and gives a post-hypnotic suggestion that they will make a specific choice (but not remember being hypnotized to make the choice).

Edit: This post received 4 downvotes, can someone explain? Is it because of a general skepticism about hypnosis? I gave a source on post-hypnotic amnesia below but I'm still receiving downvotes. Even if you think the supposed effects achieved by stage magicians are illegitimate in some way (e.g. people are just playing along), hypnosis as an explanation for how Derren Brown does these tricks is still valid.

Can you cite any evidence that hypnotism can have such effects on memory? As I understand it, the research on hypnotism largely indicates that such effect as it has is no more than you would expect from the fact that people are far more deferential to authority and inclined to do what they're told to do than they realize. Wiping memories and post-hypnotic suggestion were, I though, confined to fictional hypnotism.

People wipe out memories of their dreams quite frequently soon after waking up. It not something very mystical.

Post-hypnotic suggestion is also a pretty fancy word. If I tell you to wear a red shirt tomorrow and you indeed follow the suggestion and wear a red shirt you can call that post-hypnotic suggestion. I say something and you do something in the future.

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Posthypnotic_amnesia

"memory wiping" might not be the best term for it, since the memory is still in there, just really hard to access, but it's definitely a real effect.

I've also personally used hypnosis to achieve the effects on friends of mine (who I'm certain weren't just pretending), as well as to many strangers on omegle (who could have been pretending, but based on what I know about hypnosis I doubt they were).

Your opening quotation is sufficiently gross that I'm half tempted to demand a trigger warning.