Derren Brown's Tricks of the Mind video -- baffling mentalism


42 Responses to “Derren Brown's Tricks of the Mind video -- baffling mentalism”

  1. general zubon says:

    @Scoutmaster : your point is actually one the Brown makes in quite a few of his programs, especially ‘Messiah’. On occasion he refers to himself as an atheist non-believer in the supernatural & psychic abilities, and part of his ‘agenda’ is to show how tricks such as ‘talking to the dead’ are merely just tricks.

    A lot of the criticism here seems to be from people who know nothing about Brown or have not watched his program. Please check him out before you dismiss … it’s fascinating stuff. He’s actually helped me (and many others I’m sure) become even more skeptical.

  2. PeaceLove says:

    Some silly comments! Brown is a magician, and any claims he makes must be taken with a strong grain of salt. His job is to create the illusion of impossibility, and this he accomplishes beautifully.

    Check out Something Wicked This Way Comes, his award-winning live stage show. Possibly the best live magic/mentalism show of the last decade:

    Brown’s a consummate gentleman and a brilliant performer. Bravo!

  3. Brit says:

    If he, a poor chess player, can defeat grandmasters, why isn’t he world champion?

    Here’s a video of the chess game, with the explanation at the end:

    As far a magicians go, you have to understand that there’s a mixture of a lot of things going on. One of the common tricks is to use actors. For example, I remember reading that a lot of stage magicians use identical twins in their show. Just because a magician says he’s not lying, or just because someone is made to look like a random stranger, it doesn’t mean they are.

  4. LeeH says:

    Well, of course he’s a liar – he’s an entertainer! His job, like many other performers, is to entertain. In doing so he has to use a number of falsehoods. He’s an illusionist (which, by most sane definitions of the word, amounts to “liar” – he create illusions… makes people believe something other than the whole truth).

    Any piece of fiction does the same. At the beginning of Star Wars, some text informs us that “Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away…”

    It’s lying. It’s setting up an illusion. It’s not a documentary!

    Performers lie for a living, so to berate him for being a liar is somewhat missing the point.

    I enjoy his lies – they entertain me; long may they continue to do so.

  5. Teresa Nielsen Hayden / Moderator says:

    Blahbalicious: Try to be a little slower about declaring that everything that goes over your head must therefore be “obvious bullshit.” You may not be able to do those tricks, or see how Derren Brown does them, but that doesn’t mean he and other people can’t do them — which in fact they can. MyZip, Osiris, you might consider doing the same thing.

    Acacia: no, that’s not what he’s doing.

    Scoutmaster, someone who was playing the supernatural card wouldn’t also be explaining how the tricks are done.

  6. acacia says:

    What bothers me about Derren Brown’s absurd psychological claims is that he’s become the pseudoscientific equivalent of the psychics he’s so skeptical about.

  7. hamstu says:

    Derren has some am amazing tricks. As to how they’re done, I don’t know.

    This one has be completely baffled:

  8. Tubman says:

    @#30, Acacia: He’s a showman, he’s supposed to make absurd pychological claims.

  9. Tubman says:

    @#31, Hamstu: The first part is real and he uses a series of cues to program the woman to stop after 5 paces. One obvious example is when he repeatedly uses the phrase “stopping days to Christmas” instead of “shopping”, and there were probably several unseen things to suggest 5, such as tapping on her back. The second part is much simpler – the girl on the street is a stooge – and it only works because of the credibility generated by the first part.

  10. acacia says:

    Tubman, the “absurd psychological claims” I am speaking of would be something like: “the first part is real and he uses a series of cues to program the woman to stop after 5 paces.” Sure, whether he admits it or not, it’s arguably a part of his scripted reality-programming showmanship (TV magic), but it’s also hypocritical and often promotes, as suggested by comments from his audience (online and elsewhere), irrational thinking about what psychology is capable of–which makes him merely a modern variation of the psychics he supposedly criticizes. If you don’t have a problem with that, fine, but I do, and my comments here mostly derive from my surprise that Cory doesn’t think along the same lines, as I’ve learned from him to be critical in other areas (DRM, et cetera).

  11. Tubman says:

    @#34, Acacia: Where’s the hypocrisy? I’m sorry but I just can’t see it. What Brown does is to make use of a variety of psychological tricks on selected individuals in controlled circumstances and package them with some nice presentation and misdirection to give the impression that he’s capable of doing far more than he actually does. In other words, he does his job well.

    Were you also offended when you found out that Fargo wasn’t based on a true story even though it said so at the beginning of the movie?

  12. Luc says:

    That’s a good point Acacia. A sizable part of the general public does swallow the NLP explanation hook, line and sinker. If a person is missing the basics of skepticism, they’ll fall for astrology, homeopathy, crystals and any other kind of dopey world-view. Skeptical thinking should be taught early on in life in schools – we can’t put warning messages on every form of entertainment. And let me repeat that Derren is a well known skeptic – he appeared in Richard Dawkins’ last show ‘The Enemies of Reason’.

  13. Luc says:

    Tubman, I think the point is most of his tricks only use a psychological explanation as a misdirection from the fact that he is using ‘standard’ magical tricks. (Derren has written a book about card magic that is already considered a classic, and he’s a master at a magic technique called ‘double reality’.)

  14. Jeff says:

    Human’s have very limited sensory abilities (usually). An illusionist/mentalist is taking advantage of those limitations. People generally don’t make good witnesses because they generally aren’t focussed on the details. The good tricks are always dependent on small details that you aren’t aware of. Or, maybe the guy really is a magician. One of Charles Stross’s Laundry agents acting out in public.

  15. druidbros says:

    I was only lucky enough to see one episode. He put a wallet containing visable cash down on the street and drew a circle around it – in NYC. No one, nobody, not one person stopped to pick it up. Having been to NYC I found this amazing.

  16. Scurra says:

    Try and see the Heist show if you get the chance. It’s one of the most astonishing pieces of television ever made. But pretty much everything he does is worth seeing, if only because it’s good exercise to keep picking your jaw up from off the floor…

  17. Matt says:

    His book is truly awesome. I’ve long wanted to go see one of his live shows.

  18. themindfantastic says:

    With a nick like ‘themindfantastic’ you might understand why Derren Brown is someone I have to say is a sort of idol of mine. You really should check out his other shows/specials that one you mentioned is kind of old actually. The most recent is Trick or Treat, in which he takes a person who has asked to be part of the show and gives them a chance to choose a card, which is a rotational ambigram saying ‘Trick’ or ‘Treat’ matters which side is held up (allows for him to keep to what he wants to do to them despite whatever they pick) if they choose trick they get something not so good done to them, like going into a photobooth and coming out in Morocco, drive out one day and find themselves waking to have an ‘out of body experience’ of their own death, to having themselves mentally displaced with a ventriloquist dummy, or for a short period of time being insane running around a public square making a complete fool of themselves. If its a treat you get something good, like being taught how to play poker with such skill to play against some of the top players in the UK, or relearning the enjoyment of playing the piano by forgetting you ever knew how to play it in the first place and learning how to play it all over again. Look on youtube, quite a number of clips from every series he as done, and all of them very impressive and short enough to watch different clips.

  19. Fuzzy says:

    I just ran into master hypnotist and magician Derren Brown at a party and he was such a nice … guy that yesterday I went out and picked up the first video of his I could find in a shop.

    Did you pick up the video because he was so nice — or because he hypnotized you into doing so!?

  20. MonochromaticKnight says:

    I’ve been following Derren Brown for several years now. There are several videos on the following blog plus an analysis of some of his tricks. Keep in mind, even his explanations can be distractions from what is actually going on.

  21. Gilbert Wham says:

    He’s awesome. Living in Mud Island means I’ve seen just about all his TV stuff. Mind you, if I were him, I’d be using my powers for evil right now. wouldn’t you?

    Just sayin…

  22. Nach says:

    The book is really, really worth it, much more informative yet just as entertaining as the series. I could guess the workings of a few tricks by watching them after I’d read about his techniques.

    Many tricks I’m still unsure of, but I grokked the one in which people guess the time on a watch. Watch his gestures and see what they correspond to. I’m not very good at the patter, but I’ve got it to work on a couple of people :D

    There’s a kind of linear principle about the unconscious that many of his tricks exploit. When it’s not making the strongest associations, it’s likely making the ones closest in time. Much of Derren’s work seems to be about putting things in there, then the payoff is getting them back out.

    A part of writing well is selecting the words that will push people’s buttons. Derren Brown’s tricks are like doing it in real time – absolutely fascinating, and an amazing skill.

  23. blahbalicious says:

    No, you can’t “guess” a stranger’s street address or the name of their pet with a few tries. It’s such obvious bullshit that I can’t believe anyone would fall for it. Since it’s impossible to guess and he hasn’t collected a million dollars from James Randi, he is most likely working with actors or using some other form of cheating.

    If he, a poor chess player, can defeat grandmasters, why isn’t he world champion? Sounds exactly like martial arts frauds who claim their deadly techniques allow them to defeat anyone, but for some reason you never see them competing or fighting.

  24. spugmeistress says:

    I absolutely love (and simultaneously fear) Derren Brown. I am pretty sure he hypnotized you to say all that Cory, and you will probably wake up tomorrow thinking you’re a chicken or something. He indeed has mad skillz. I didn’t like Trick of the Mind though, the ambigram thing really annoyed me because I spotted it straight away and it just felt like cheating, and quite patronising at the same time. Ambigrams are lovely pieces of typographical wonderment, they should not be used for evils.

  25. myzipis02139 says:

    There’s a simple answer for why his shows are so amazing – he lies. Check out his Wikipedia entry. There are several instances where he has been proven to have lied about the authenticity of his tricks. Therefore all his tricks are suspect. (You don’t think he *only* cheated on the ones he got caught, do you?)

  26. Halloween Jack says:

    …it was much better than Cats… I’m going to see it again and again…

  27. osiris7 says:

    I’m going with #9 on this one, glad someone already told it like it is hahah

  28. Cory Doctorow says:

    Blahbalicious@9: He’s a mystic debunker, works with Randi, and repeatedly says that his work is illusion.

  29. Certhas says:

    There’s a good writeup here:

    He doesn’t trick or suggest or program, he simply lies:

    “So that means Brown leaves two options:

    a) He defies all known science
    b) He is using actors and stooges despite having said he would not”

    It somewhat bothers me how frequently somewhat or highly unscientifc worldviews are espoused repeated and propagated in boingboing.
    Where is your scepticism? We’d all like to believe that amazing things would be possible, and they are, but by deep and patient study of the structure of reality (science) and the application of these discovered structures (technology), not by wishfully thinking that our fantasies might be a little bit true.

    Scientists aren’t idiots if these effects existed they would have made some scientist famous a long time ago.

  30. Red Zebra says:

    I’ve seen him performing live, and he goes to incredible pains to demonstrate that he is not “lying” or using stooges. He is also the first to admit that they’re all (mind)tricks, and nothing supernatural. He explains some of his tricks, which often involve the trick of “suggestion” – implanting an idea in your mind – and then “reading” that idea. However he always goes on to extend the trick in ways that are completely baffling.

    Of course, some people will never be convinced that the tricks aren’t set-ups, which in my opinion is just as close-minded as assuming he must use supernatural powers.

  31. License Farm says:

    I saw Brown’s show when it was aired on the SciFi Channel in the US and enjoyed it enormously. It’s incredible just how reliably he can befuddle people, though I’m sure there were failures that ended up on the cutting room floor. Cory, is this video available yet to either Region 0 or 1 DVD players? I have a friend who’s a licensed hypnotist who tends not to watch TV who I’d like to see this.

    @ Certhas: You’re shooting the messenger here. Reporting on perspectives is not the same as endorsing them. Because of more institutionalized attacks upon science in recent years science itself has closed ranks and is less open to ideas that come from outside its orthodoxy. I will almost universally accept science’s word over that of blind faith, but science ought never EXPECT to be taken at its (often callously dismissive) word; it becomes no better than any other institution, putting cohesion and lockstep ahead of further pursuit of truth, science’s very mission statement. There are a good many ideas that were once considered mysticism that have been borne out by scientific investigation. It’s also foolhardy to believe the two are mutually-exclusive; attempts to understand the universe will always come up short, after which there is only wonder.

  32. wray says:

    Blahbalicious@9: I just watched the chess masters video and Brown explains his success. It is a trick, one that you or I could duplicate if we had Brown’s stage mastery. (Well, the beating the chess masters part of it. The number thing is magician master stuff. Looks like magic to me.)

  33. Luc says:

    #9: He is most likely working with actors or using some other form of cheating. If he, a poor chess player, can defeat grandmasters, why isn’t he world champion?

    Derren Brown is a mentalist, in other words a kind of magician (for anyone interested: read ’13 Steps to Mentalism’ by Corinda). Do you also think a magician who cuts someone in half on stage is a liar? Is the magician lying when he says he used magic to do his trick, instead of owing up that it is a trick?
    His trick for defeating the grandmasters was really rather straightforward and elegant. Of course it’s a trick, and in this case he even explains exactly how it was done.

    #10: the ambigram thing really annoyed me because I spotted it straight away and it just felt like cheating, and quite patronising at the same time.

    The ambigram is a misdirection, just like hypnosis is a misdirection in many of his tricks.

    #15: He doesn’t trick or suggest or program, he simply lies.

    The web page you link to is hilariously wrong. Any great hypnotic subject will behave like the zombie-killing guy. It’s really not that hard.

    #16: He explains some of his tricks, which often involve the trick of “suggestion” – implanting an idea in your mind – and then “reading” that idea. However he always goes on to extend the trick in ways that are completely baffling.

    Baffling because the ‘suggestion’ explanation is a misdirect from a standard magic trick…

    Of course, some people will never be convinced that the tricks aren’t set-ups, which in my opinion is just as close-minded as assuming he must use supernatural powers.


    Derren also made a great show called Messiah ( ) debunking all kinds of superstition.

  34. happenchance says:

    You’ll love the book Cory… it lets you in on some of the secrets from his show (it’s funny too).

  35. acacia says:

    I’m a bit disappointed you seem so starstruck and uncritical of the fellow. Isn’t he just using basic TV magic (magic tricks + editing, acting, et cetera) and adding the veneer of ‘debunking mysticism’ to make pseudopsychology seem legitimate and powerful? I get the same creeped out feeling from his TV shows that I got from those late night TV ads about how to pick up a woman in 5 minutes by mimicking her breathing and touching her arm whenever you say ‘member’ or something.

  36. neilbe says:

    Derren is the best thing to come out of Bristol in ages. I was quite perplexed by some of the accusations on the thread, Derren is and always has been an illusionist.

    A liar? No more than any other magician, writer, or performer.

    Luc is spot on.

  37. acacia says:

    I couldn’t resist clicking that little eyeball. Did I just flag my own comment, hehe.

  38. Talia says:

    #21: I think people are just saying he’s got some sweet tricks up his sleeve, that’s all. Its not something everyone is going to be comfortable with, because not everyone can tolerate basically having mind tricks played on them. It can be an unsettling feeling.

    I, for one, am intrigued enough to want to check it out.

  39. dalasv says:

    I agree with everyone who says he’s an entertaining liar. The only thoughts he implants are the ones he tells his stooges to deliver.

    “But he doesn’t use stooges!”

    When you stop believing that, you’ll understand how most magic tricks work.

  40. Scoutmaster says:

    With all the fools who “believe” in nonsense these days and are voting with their faith rather than after well researched reasoning can we really afford to pander to these kinds of tricksters? For every seeming miracle they perform another sucker falls hook line and sinker for the mystical mumbo jumbo of their parent’s religion. His trick being sufficient proof of the supernatural for a mind absent of critical thought to leap to preposterous conclusions about the nature of reality.

  41. Wheres my email says:

    29, try to be a little slower about being rude, obnoxious and ignorant, or refrain completely.

    NLP and psychological suggestion are not real. There are no clever tricks that allow you to control another person’s mind or rewrite their memory without their consent. Why am I repeating this?

    Think before you speak.

  42. kaosdevice says:

    Brown is ok, but he is no Penn and Teller.

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