Last night, I watched Derren Brown’s program Derren Brown Investigates; as usual, it was riveting telly. I am a big fan of Derren. I think he is immensely skillful as a stage magician and, there is no question about it, his outstanding abilities would have amply equipped him for the role of ‘medium’ should he have chosen to pursue that path.
The difference between Derren and those unscrupulous fakes who are engaged in duping people into thinking they are in contact with the spirit world, is that although he can be very convincing, he is prepared to openly disclose exactly how he does it. It is, of course, accomplished via quite earthly methods – in his case, a mixture of techniques that include prior research, misdirection, stagecraft, NLP and cold reading.
For anyone who has any doubt about the stunning effects that good cold reading can have, Derren’s programs are well worth watching.
Last night’s show was a repeat of the demolition of Liverpool ‘medium’ Joe Power But, it was not really Derren who did the demoltion work; it was Joe himself. He did himself no favours at all as he attempted to accuse the program of bias; in the end, coming across as rude, arrogant and perhaps even a little deluded.
This morning, as I was chatting about the program with my wife, I mentioned that parts of Joe’s readings might have applied very well to me. In one situation, he asked if the name, Jean, meant anything to anyone. I had a cousin named Jean who sadly died before her time. If I had been present, I would have been the only person in the room to make an association because nobody spoke up about the Jean who was apparently trying to make contact at the time.
In another situation he gave the information ‘she was one of five’. I started thinking to myself, ‘how many kids did Uncle Bill have?’ Actually, I am not sure if it was five or six, but again, that could have been another ‘hit’ for me.
The use of numbers seems to add an air of credibility to claims of possessing some kind of special knowledge, however, it is amazing how flexible you can be with seemingly inflexible details. Especially when we are encouraged to ‘think about it’, it is amazing how good we can be at making the connection between a number and a situation.
For example, if my cousin Jean did happen to be one of six children rather than one of five, the number, five, would still be very significant i.e. she would have had five siblings. Similarly, if he had said she was ‘one of three’ that would also have been true because she definitely had two sisters.
If you were to count the whole family, you would have to add the number two, for mum and dad, so that makes seven and eight both good contenders too. And I think there was one baby who, sadly, didn’t make it, so every one of those numbers could also be increased by one if you were to factor in this additional detail. That means that the numbers three, four, five, six, seven, eight and nine could all have some relevance to that family.
In another situation, Joe asked someone if there had been an issue with a bike. Now, if he had simply managed to put those three things together for me (i.e. Jean, one of five and bike) it would have seemed very convincing indeed to me, because my Mum was, apparently, a bit paranoid about not allowing those kids (Jean’s siblings) on my bike. Years later, when I met my cousins again, all they seemed to talk about was their memories of that bike.
Of course, it is impossible to prove, one way or the other, that Joe is a fake and, to be clear, I am not suggesting that he is. It could simply be that the spirit world chooses to operate in ways that defy human logic, often getting names, figures and facts wrong. But really, it is quite amazing how little information you have to get right (and how good the odds can be for doing so, as illustrated above) for people to make sense of disparate facts and draw their own ethereal conclusions.