Mind Control with Derren Brown

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To round out its summer lineup, the Sci Fi channel has been pushing a new show called Mind Control with Derren Brown. According to the advertisements, he’s “not a psychic” and “has no supernatural powers” but can still perform amazing feats by manipulating his own, or his audience’s minds. All the while we see a montage of strange and unusual events, such as Derren throwing a punch at a man and having his fist stop several inches away, yet the man still doubles up in pain.

I’m a bit skeptical of this sort of thing, so I went ahead and browsed YouTube for a couple of videos of Derren’s show in Britain. Presumably, he is very popular over there and is only now making his American debut. I watched a couple of videos, which had me somewhat impressed. The first involved Derren debunking psychic readings by investigating his audience’s backgrounds and using an earpiece to receive messages as he tossed out words and impressions to solicit his audience to give him something to work with. The second involved a pair of advertisers who, presumably, had been unconsciously primed with words and images before being instructed to draw up some sample ads for a fictitious company. The resulting ads were almost identical, in many aspects, to the images and words which they had been primed with — This example was a stretch, but stranger things have happened.

So, after investigating a little bit I was intrigued. I figured I’d give the show a shot, and I did last Thursday. Big mistake.

After about ten or fifteen minutes I was so incredulous that I could barely stand to sit through the remainder of the program. I did watch it through to the end, in the hopes that we might get some sort of “This is how it was done” segment that explained the principles behind how the tricks worked. There wasn’t any.* The Sci Fi channel has been pushing this program as scientific and the result of Derren Brown’s psychological insights, but all we got was Derren Brown on a microphone, presumably influencing people to raise their hands in a shopping mall, Derren Brown presumably paying for items in stores with blank paper, Derren Brown presumably tricking people out of their wallets on the street, Derren Brown presumably guessing songs and numbers and dollar bills with no clues.

If this is all scientific then we should be able to have a segment for each trick going step-by-step through the motions needed to get reproducible results. But we don’t, and we won’t. Not only are these tricks not scientific, but whether they’re really taking place or staged with actors is in serious doubt. The only feasible way I can see some of the tricks he pulls off as being performed with real, random, off-the-street strangers is if he tried each trick thousands of times and only selected the miniscule few with whom it worked — And even then, if your trick only works once in a hundred, once in a thousand times, could it be said to even work at all?

I’m pretty disappointed in the Sci Fi Channel for carrying this dreck, but more importantly I’m disappointed that they present it in a factual manner. I may not like some of the ridiculous crap they show, like Ghost Hunters, but at least the advertisements for it don’t try to trick me into believing the premise that Ghost Hunters is some sort of respectable, factual documentary show. I won’t be tuning in again.

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