"derren brown"

Examining the ancient technique of "memory palaces" with brain-imaging

A small (51 men aged 24 +/- 3 years) study published in Neuron tasked experimental subjects with practicing the ancient Greek mnemonic technique of "memory palaces" and then scanned their brains with functional magnetic resonance imaging, comparing the scans to scans from competitive "memory athletes" and also measuring their performance on memorization tasks. Read the rest

Derren Brown sends creepy life-size Victorian dolls into the London Underground

The two creepy head-characters rode the Northern Line, pushed an empty pram down the platforms, and sat down to play trains at Hamley's toy-store, as a publicity stunt for Mind Gap, a new theme park ride designed by stage conjurer/hypnotist Derren Brown (previously) that will open in March 2016 at the Thorpe Park theme park in Chertsey, England. Read the rest

Mind reading magic effect - The Code by Andy Nyman

Jane and I have been having a great time with The Code, a magic effect created by actor and magician Andy Nyman. It's made by Theory 11 and consists of a deck of playing cards and a one-hour instructional DVD that includes several excellent mind-reading routines you can perform with the deck.

There's no memorization, forces, or slight-of-hand required to use the deck, which means you can focus on the routine. Nyman is a great teacher (and an interesting person - he's the co-creator and co-writer of the TV shows Derren Brown – Mind Control and Trick of the Mind) and the included DVD is very well-produced. The deck and DVD come in a cool-looking box, too, which is indicative of the high-level of quality I've come to except from everything Theory 11 does.

The Code by Andy Nyman ($25) Read the rest

How psychology can improve your sleep life [YANSS 24]

William Dement, former dean of sleep studies at Stanford, a man with 50 years of research behind him, once told a reporter for National Geographic – “As far as I know, the only reason we need to sleep that is really, really solid is because we get sleepy.”

Derren Brown show's unepxected finale: wife pushes husband off balcony

Mentalist and conjurer Derren Brown got a hell of a shock during his Saturday night show: a woman pushed her husband off a 45' balcony "for a joke," sending him over the edge. He caught hold of a light-rig about halfway down and was pulled to safety.

Derren Brown describes man's 'terrifying' fall from theatre balcony [Press Association/The Guardian]

(via Dan Hon) Read the rest

Derren Brown's guide to overcoming awkward situations

Boing Boing reader tw1515tw mentioned this essay by mentalist Derren Brown on how to overcome awkward situations. Most of Brown's strategies involve behaving irrationally to disarm the other person.

Here's one of Brown's tips:

How to handle aggressive situations

This is simply about not engaging with your aggressor at the level they expect. I was coming back from a hotel at about 3am one night and there was a guy in the street with his girlfriend. He was really drunk, clearly looking for a fight and he started kicking off at me. I had a routine ready in my head for this sort of situation and it worked a treat on this occasion. He asked me that typical aggressive rhetorical question — “Do you want a fight?” You can’t say “yes” or “no” — you’ll get hit either way. So, I responded with, “The wall outside my house is four-feet high.”

I didn’t engage at the level he was expecting me to, so immediately he was on the back foot. He came back with, “What?” and I repeated my bizarre response. I delivered the line in a completely matter-of-fact tone, as if he was the one who was missing something here. Suddenly, he was confused. All his adrenaline had dropped away, because I’d pulled the rug from under him. It’s the verbal version of a martial-arts technique called an ‘adrenaline dump’, whereby you get the person to relax before you hit them. A punch will have much greater impact if the recipient’s guard is down.

Read the rest

Sleights of Mind: the secrets of neuromagic

Last month, I blogged a fascinating profile of Apollo Robbins, a stage pickpocket with an almost supernatural facility for manipulating attention and vision to allow him to literally relieve you of your watch, eyeglasses, and the contents of your wallet without you even noticing it, even after you've been told that he's planning on doing exactly that.

The profile mentioned that Robbins had consulted on a book called Sleights of Mind, written by a pair of neuroscientists named Stephen L Macknick and Susana Martinez-Conde (a husband and wife team, who also hired science writer Sandra Blakeslee to help with the prose, to very good effect). Macknick and Martinez-Conde are working scientists who had a key insight: the way that magicians manipulate our blind spots, our attention, our awareness, our intuitions and our assumptions reveal an awful lot about our neurological functions. Indeed, conjurers, pickpockets, ventriloquists and other performers are essentially practicing applied neuroscience, working out ways to systematically fool our perceptions and make seemingly impossible things happen before our eyes.

The book is a marvellous read, a very well-balanced mix of summaries of published scientific insights into visual and attention systems; accounts of the meetings between illusionists and scientists that the authors organized; histories of magic tricks; exposure of psychic frauds and fakes; and a tale about the couple's quest to craft a neuroscience-based magic act that would gain them full membership to the exclusive Magic Castle in Los Angeles.

I really can't overstate the charm and delight of Sleights of Mind -- from the introduction to the extensive footnotes, it is a truly great popular science text on one of my favorite subjects. Read the rest

Pious Indian town gets a bank with no door-locks

India's UCO bank has opened a lockless branch in Shani Shinganapur in Ahmednagar, Maharashtra, a town known for its piety and with a reputation for being crime-free:

The legislator said bank officials carefully studied households in the township before starting the branch. "All houses here have no doors. We are following a more or less similar practice. Our branch has doors, but they will never be locked. Adequate precautions are being taken for the safety of lockers and important documents," he said, adding that in months to come, the branch is planning to start an ATM near the temple.

Gadakh explained that, by and large, it is believed that because of Lord Shani's power, the village has not witnessed a single theft or robbery in the recent past. "People here fear that if there is a theft or robbery, then the culprit and their family have to bear the wrath of Lord Shani," he said.

God as guard: Bank opens 'lockless' branch

(via Derren Brown)

(Image: Shani.jpg, Pierre Sonnerat/Wikimedia Commons)

  Wikileaks: Cables show India accused of widespread, systematic ... India's copyright bill gets it right - Boing Boing Medical illustration from 19th century India - Boing Boing India: Holy Hobos (photo gallery) - Boing Boing Pyramids placed at intersections in India to prevent accidents ... India's superhighway - Boing Boing Gangs of women in rural India fight abuse with bamboo sticks ... Read the rest

Derren Brown's Confessions of a Conjuror: funny memoir is also a meditation on attention, theatrics and psychology

Mentalist/magician Derren Brown's new memoir, Confessions of a Conjuror, is a very odd sort of book. Technically, it's a kind of autobiography, but what it really is is a kind of meandering shaggy dog story that presents narrative in the same way that a great conjuror presents a trick.

Brown begins by recounting a night from the start of his career, when he was performing close-up table magic at a restaurant in Bristol. He recounts in eidetic detail his nervous thought processes as he begins his work for the night, conjuring up the scene with language. And then, just as you think he's about to tell you about the trick he performs, he veers off into a meandering story about the effect that the smell of pink industrial soap and blue ink has on him, taking him back to his unhappy school days. This seems to just be a kind of stalling trick, but when Brown returns to the present day, you find that the anaecdote has a purpose, that it explains the way he approaches the performance he is about to give.

The description of the performance inches forward, and then, again, Brown wanders off the road to explore the hedges, more stories about his boyhood, about his personal habits, about the things he hates about himself, about his little compulsions, about his work habits. And so the story inches along, pushing forward just a nudge on the trick in the restaurant, then going for a long stroll around memory lane, and these asides take over the book, and they develop their own asides, in the form of sprawling, multi-page footnotes, and so forth, but each time you pop up one layer through the narrative, you discover that you've been informed of something vital to understanding the layer above it. Read the rest

Bad Science comes to the USA: Ben Goldacre's tremendous woo-fighting book in print in the States

Dr Ben Goldacre's UK bestseller Bad Science: Quacks, Hacks, and Big Pharma Flacks is finally in print in the USA, and Americans are lucky to have it. Goldacre writes a terrific Guardian column analyzing (and debunking) popular science reporting, and has been a star in the effort to set the record straight on woowoo "nutritionists," doctors who claim that AIDS can be cured with vitamins, and vaccination/autism scares.

Bad Science is more than just a debunking expose (though it is that): it's a toolkit for critical thinking, a primer on statistics and valid study design, a guide to meta-analysis and other tools for uncovering and understanding truth. It is, furthermore, an extraordinary account of "the cultural impact of nonsense," "the medicalization of everyday life" and "the undermining of sense." Goldacre's work is rigorous, intellectually honest, and plays no favorites: for every brick he tosses through the window of the homeopaths, he tosses two more through the windows of Big Pharma, whose bloated marketing budgets and dodgy science put us all at risk.

"Nonsense" is big business: companies selling "Brain Gyms" are getting rich off publicly funded schools that buy texts advising students to "Make a 'C' shape with your thumb and forefinger and place on either side of the breast bone just below the collar bone. Gently rub for 20 or 30 seconds whilst placing your other hand over your navel. Change hands and repeat. This exercise stimulates the flow of oxygen-carrying blood through the carotid arteries to the brain to awaken it and increase concentration and relaxation... Read the rest

The physics of breaking stuff with your fists

iO9 recently ran a story on how martial artists are able to break boards and cement blocks, using their hands rather than mystical powers. I thought it was pretty neat, but then I read an interesting counter-analysis by science journalist (and, significantly, martial arts practitioner) John Rennie.

iO9 is right about the lack of magic powers, he says. But they got the physics wrong. Key slip-up: Assuming martial artists strike like a cobra—fast punch, with a quick pull back at the end—when they have their smashing fun times. iO9's theory was that that movement caused the boards to bend and snap. But that's not how it works, Rennie says. In fact, martial artists are taught to follow through with their punches, aiming not at the board-to-be-broken, but at a point beyond it.

So how's the breaking really done? Rennie quotes an episode of the awesome old PBS show Newton's Apple:

One key to understanding brick breaking is a basic principle of motion: The more momentum an object has, the more force it can generate. When it hit the brick, [karateka Ron] McNair's hand had reached a speed of 11 meters per second (24 miles per hour). At this speed, his hand exerted a whopping force of 3,000 Newton's -or 675 pounds-on the concrete. A slab of concrete could likely support the weight of a few people weighing a total of 675 pounds (306 kilograms). But apply that amount of force concentrated into an area as small as a fist and the concrete slab will break.

Read the rest

Woo-fighting scientist takes the funny high-road when libeled by millionaire "nutritionist"

Dr Ben Goldacre is the woo-fighting science writer for The Guardian, and in that capacity he has dogged the heels of "Doctor" Gillian McKeith, a "nutritionist" whose explanations for the way that nutrition works defy science and delve into bizarre areas of Being Wrong, such as her claims about the way that chlorophyll operates in your pitch-black gut.

Goldacre devoted a chapter of his excellent Bad Science book to McKeith's claims, and paid special attention to McKeith's use of Britain's brutal libel laws to silence her critics.

Now Goldacre finds himself libeled by McKeith on Twitter; McKeith, rather than apologizing or defending her libel, has backtracked from it, instead claiming that her Twitter account isn't really her; sloppily removing links to it from her official website, etc.

Goldacre's response has been to record post this wonderful megaphone-jazz-style ballad in tribute to McKeith's zany beliefs and practices:

Update: Ben corrects the record:

That tune's not by me! It's all by Doghorse, from 2007 when the saga of the awful poo lady all began. Doghorse also wrote another great song called "I just wanna look at your poo"

for which he received legal threats from McKeith, which he dealt with very admirably (it's about one minute in...). Lots more excellent creativity around McKeith and her scientific expertise here in the b3ta image challenge. Truly, she has inspired some great works of art."

And then I was incompetently libelled by a litigious millionaire

Pseudoscience's "Awful Poo Lady" can't flush twitterings The Doctor Will Sue You Now: the missing chapter of Ben Goldacre's ... Read the rest

XKCD: Homeopathy v evolution

In today's XKCD: the evolutionary unsustainability of homeopathy. Be sure to click through to the original for the excellent afterjoke in the tooltip.


Dara O'Briain on homeopathy from Derren Brown Blog Mass "overdose" planned in protest of Boots pharmacy sale of ... Bounty offered to anyone who can prove homeopathy outperforms ... Docs to WHO: publicly condemn homeopathy for dangerous diseases ... If woowoos ran the emergency room Read the rest

Michigan town wants fortune-tellers' employment history

Warren, Michigan has just passed a new law requiring fortune-tellers to get "licenses, fees, fingerprints, criminal background reports and employment histories."

As Ed Brayton sez, "All fortune tellers are fraudulent and prey on the vulnerable. A fortune teller without a criminal background is every bit as incapable of telling fortunes as one with a criminal background. A fraud with a good employment history is no less a fraud."

Fortune telling in Warren to get harder

(via Dispatches From the Culture Wars)

(Image: Coin-operated Fortune-Teller, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from benleto's photostream)

Science of Scams: Derren Brown and Kat the Scientist debunk the ... Hand-built fortune-telling robot in Bangalore Read the rest

Saudi Arabia government to behead man for practicing witchcraft

Ali Sibat was convicted of sorcery in Saudi Arabia after he appeared on TV and gave psychic advice and predictions. As punishment, the government is going to behead him.

From Jennifer Clark writing for The Examiner:

This Lebanese "sorcerer" is a 49-year old married man with five children.  His job entailed appearing on a television show and offering psychic advice and predictions.  When Sibat was arrested, the Mutawa'een (religious police) instructed Sibat to write down what he did for a living claiming he would be released after doing so.  He apparently believed them.  His written description of his job was used as evidence against him -- it became his confession to the sorcery charges.

His case in not unique. From The Telegraph:

Sibat is one of scores of people reported arrested every year in the kingdom for practicing sorcery, witchcraft, black magic and fortunetelling. The deeply religious authorities in Saudi consider these practices polytheism.

I have a psychic prediction of my own: We'll see comments that say "If he was a real psychic, he'd have seen this coming."

(Via Derren Brown) Read the rest

Mass "overdose" planned in protest of Boots pharmacy sale of "homeopathic remedies"

10:23, a pro-science, anti-homeopathy group, is planning an "overdose event" for Jan 30 at 10:23 AM UK time: "more than three hundred homeopathy sceptics nationwide will be taking part in a mass homeopathic 'overdose' in protest at Boots' continued endorsement and sale of homeopathic remedies, and to raise public awareness about the fact that homeopathic remedies have nothing in them. Sceptics and consumer rights activists will publicly swallow an entire bottle of homeopathic 'pillules' to demonstrate that these 'remedies', prepared according to a long-discredited 18th century ritual, are nothing but sugar pills."

The 10:23 Event

(via Derren Brown)

Previously: Bounty offered to anyone who can prove homeopathy outperforms ... TED: James Randi - Boing Boing Celebrity science gaffes Boing Boing End of skeptic James Randi's million dollar challenge - Boing Boing UK chiropractors try to silence critic with libel claim - Boing Boing Top 11 compounds in US drinking water - Boing Boing

Read the rest

A Peek Inside a 17th-Century Guide to Magic Tricks

The title is a mouthful: Hocus Pocus Junior The anatomy of legerdemain. Or, The art of iugling set forth in his proper colours, fully, plainly, and exactly; so that an ignorant person may thereby learn the full perfection of the same, after a little practise.

The publication date is 1634. Although it's the earliest book devoted to magic as a performing art, it apparently takes its text almost exactly from a 1584 book called The Discoverie of Witchcraft. The Witchcraft book was meant to be a debunking text, proving to people that witches didn't exist and, thus, that we shouldn't go about condemning other people for witchcraft. Hocus Pocus Junior took the chapters on sleight of hand and slightly (heh) reworked them as an instructional manual.

Comparing Hocus Pocus Junior and the Discoverie of Witchcraft at Early Modern Whale. Two Posts on the History of Hocus Pocus Junior from Bookride.com

Thanks to Holly Tucker!

Previously: Derren Brown live in London's West End -- astounding! - Boing Boing enigma: derren brown's new live mentalism and magic show on uk tour Chimp enjoys magic show - Boing Boing HOWTO Make a magic fireball (flaming oily rag) -- UPDATED - Boing ... Read the rest

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