sugoll (sugoll) wrote,

Derren Brown: Tricks of the Mind

I've just finished reading Derren Brown's book, Tricks of the Mind. I'm quite impressed.

(Background: I'm really not a fan of stage hypnotism, and that's what I thought DB was. Recently, I'd seen posts on boing boing and Gaiman's blog that hinted there was more to him, so while off work With The Lurgy, I watched Something Wicked This Way Comes, a recording of his live show, on the tellybox. And lo, there was indeed more: stage illusions, humorous dialogue, and a massively impressive denoument.

K and I watched a few more of his Trick of the Mind Channel 4 series, and then katlinel turned up with the book for me to read. Aww.)

It's taken me all month to get through, pretty much.

Not being plot-based, I haven't been sucked in so much. But it's good stuff. It includes his early biographical details (Christian, evangelical, with a small e), stuff on the showmanship of stage magic, a chapter on memory and another on hypnotism and suggestibility, and then we get into bad science. Occasionally, there are references to his TV shows, and even more rarely, to episodes I've seen.

An example: DB has three jewellery boxes. One of them contains an expensive ring. Watch closely:
He shuffles the boxes, then lays them out in front of you.
You pick one, but don't look inside.
He picks one of the remaining boxes, opens it to show it's empty, and discards it.
Now you have a box, and he has a box. Both closed.
You're ready to open the boxes, and you get to keep what's inside yours. But first, he offers you the chance to switch.
Should you switch, or stick?

The chapter on memory is good. He starts off with the linking system (new to me), moves into the loci system, through to memory palaces, and introduces his peg system for remembering numbers. Although I didn't follow along with the majority of this, I played the game with the linking system. Here, said Derren, is twenty random words. Don't try to memorise them, just see how many you can remember later.

(For the record, the words were:


And the idea is to create a mental image that includes the first two items (telephone and sausage), and then another that links the next two (sausage and monkey), and so on. He gave his own images in the section. Apparently this system works, because I have a lousy memory, and yet I've just typed in a list of words I read once, about three weeks ago, and haven't referred back to, since.

Since this works, I don't doubt that the other, more advanced memory systems work, too. One day, I might try them.

Brown's got a nice sense of humour in his writing. He'll be self-deprecating ("If I have to remember to call one of my few remaining friends when I get home...") or self-aggrandising ("I think of an object, such as one of my (admittedly well-deserved) awards...") but does so at times when it generally amuses. He has a terrible line in puns, but usually carries those off, too.

The section on science is great, focusing on reliable, experimental evidence: "There's no such thing as 'alternative medicine' that works reliably; if it works reliably, it's just 'medicine'." I haven't read Dawkins, and Brown does think he's terrific, but Brown does make a distinction between private, personal beliefs and insisting that those who discount those beliefs due to a lack of evidences are "narrow-minded."

(That parses badly. Let me try again: "You can believe what you like, and that's your right. So can I. But don't dare accuse me of being narrow-minded because you insist I should agree with your belief when you cannot give me evidence to back it up.")

He lays into stage hypnotists generally, too, but not nearly as much as he gives mediums a kicking.

Although I've enjoyed the book, I'm still not happy with a couple of scenes from his shows:
- A kid plays a shoot'em up style zombie game in a pub, then is hypnotised and wakes in a warehouse where actors are playing out the game for real. It freaks him out.
- A woman crossing a zebra-crossing is convinced her feet are stuck to the ground, and cannot move, as traffic passes her on either side.

In the former case, Brown's book says that considerable work was done in advance to ensure the kid in question would be strong enough, but this was omitted from the programme. No clue about the latter, but both seem to me to be just plain wrong.

Anyway, an enjoyable book, and probably one that's done me some practical good from having read it, which is rare indeed,

communicator may now have the floor. :-)
Tags: books
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