Blog powered by Typepad

« I feel a cold (reading) coming on | Main | Hypnotized by skepticism »


I found this article:

it seemed that he exaggerated his use of mentalism when in fact he employed tricks and even hypnotized some in the audience to get his desired effect.

like you said, i was not so impressive by his ability of his 'cold reading.'

I don't believe he does. A couple of years back he did a Russian Roulette trick, claiming that it was performed in a foreign country (since handguns are illegal here in the UK) AND that live ammunition was used. Journalists shortly discovered that neither statement was true. However at the close range involved I read somewhere that both blanks and real bullets would have the same fatal effect. In another of his tricks he claimed to have memorised the dictionary via a process called Photoreading and would then provide the precise word at the top of a quoted page number. He didn't really employ Photoreading; as many who were inspired by this piece of magic later discovered when they took up the Photoreading system and found it utterly ineffective. It was just the justification, the persuasive patter that set up the trick and persuaded the audience that this was a legitimate ability. So does he use dishonesty? Of course. What magician doesn't? He does preface all his shows with the "no actors or stooges were used" line, but who knows really.

By the way, both clips you mentioned were from the same TV special, in which he travelled across America persuading various New Age figures that he had legitimate powers (and succeeding, it ought to be said). I get the impression the guy's really embraced the Randiite militarism and that he's eager to persuade us that all our weird experiences are mental illusions.

I regard his IMO lacklustre mediumship performance as quite interesting actually -- because if this guy can't fake a quality reading nobody can. He's an undisputedly exceptional magician/mentalist.

He did a TV "séance" a couple years back too you might be interested in seeing. No doubt created with the ambition of confounding all the poor misled believers. Again I stress this is no cause for alarm because if he's the best the skeptical crowd can put forward, D. D. Home and others rest very comfortably in a league of their own, as they always have.

Also worth bearing in mind the guy's a very able hypnotist. I suspect this has a good deal to do with his abilities.

Derren Brown did not seem too comfortable performing the "cold readings" on that special. He seemed stiff and was definitely leading and seemed to get extrodinarily lucky with some of the names he guessed. After reading more comments about other shows he's done, I am more inclined to think it was all scripted and staged, and the two women who were read were paid actresses.

It also occurs to me that his "instant conversion" could be used to prove the opposite of what he claims. He says (or implies) that it shows the flimsiness of religious belief. But it could equally be said to show that atheistic belief is flimsy - since the avowed atheist on the show converted to religion after only being touched on the head for a few seconds.

If I could be converted, say, from a political conservative to a political liberal just by someone touching me, I'd have to wonder if my conservativism was very firmly anchored in the first place!

Another, quite lengthy, skeptical look at Brown is here.

And a debunking of his Russian Roulette act ... by the police!

In the on going debate of "fraud or for real", here's a link to an interesting story of direct voice medium, Mina "Margery" Crandon (1888-1941). The part I most enjoyed of this story was the reference to America's most famous debunker engaging in a bit of possible fraud himself. Did Harry Houdini set "Margery" up?

An interesting read anyway -->

I wrote about Margery here. She was certainly caught in fraud near the end of her career, but may have had legitimate abilities earlier. Houdini seems to have been yet another trickster-magician-debunker who was more interested in winning the debate than in playing by the rules.


that's one well-written and well-researched article, Michael. Again, another reason why I am against physical mediumship. It is impossible to validate under scientific controls and usually pockmarked with fraud and corruption.

Thanks for sharing.

Michael's articles are *all* fabbo.

Thank you Michael for looking into this for me. I just *KNEW* there was something fishy about that Derren Brown, things just fell into place for him faaar too convienently. He never seems to have any mess ups, *everyone* seems to be easily and gullibly fooled by him, and the people in his specials reek of being plants or actors. Since he has been caught in a lie alot about what he does, and various things he has done have been debunked as magic tricks, and there are many valid accusations against him of using plants and actors, and there are many valid accusations of him using clever editing in his TV Specials, and accusations of him hypnotising certain audiance members before hand, it all adds up as to him not being able to be trusted as reliable in what he does.

And to think a good friend of mine, who is a Hard Minded Skeptic in the UK, just gullibly eats up Derren Brown and his Act as true and authentic, and absolutely loves the man and tried to get me into him. This just goes to show that it is always beneficial to be Skeptical of the Skeptics. ;)

As for the elevator bit in the Mediumship Episode, that could be a common generalization that could be interpreted by just about anyone in any number of ways. In addition, there is also the possibility that he could have used Hot Reading, and since he knew the people in the audiance were coming beforehand, he could have gathered information about them beforehand, and heard from a friend of relative about the elevator bit while inquirying about her deceased relatives, especially if it's something she had widely and often told her family members and friends about. The third possibility and the most likely is that she was a plant or actor.

I also take it that the hat bit he got right could be chalked up to cold reading, as most older women like hats and many collect hats.

Also, in the Instant Conversion Episode, if (and only if) those people were not actors and plants, I feel what actually happened was that these people had that spiritual potential deep within themselves, and Derren Brown merely acted as a object to awaken that from within them. He had no spiritual power of his own, but in using those motions and movements, he was able to awaken it deep inside of them.

It can be likened in how Shamans will use Totems and the Sound of Drumming to Awaken their Spiritual Consciousness, and Pagans will use supposed "magical words" to focus their Spiritual Will, if you ask any of these groups if it actually is the Totem, Drums, or Magicial Words that themselves have any power, they will so say NO. They will say they are merely something used to induce that Spiritual State or Trance State, and alone are meaningless. Derren Brown could have worked in that way.

With the YouTube link where he fooled the Remote Viewing people, he obviously used Mentalism techniques to influence what the woman would draw. For example, when she drew a boat, beforehand he told her, "Let ideas SAIL into your mind, and don't go OVERBOARD on detail." But still, it seems faaar too convienent for him to have gotten all four pictures totally accurate, especially when most of them save for that one he didn't seem to give subconscious cues for the woman to draw them, and even if he had, humans will not always draw what you expect them do, even with a hidden suggestion. So that reeks that something is up.

By the way, did you see the last YouTube link I sent you? The one with the Skeptics in Australia who were able to debunk a high profile medium over there (who may indeed have been a fraud) by having sitters come to her telling her they are looking to contact a deceased sister or deceased child, and she brings them through in the reading, but they never existed, they had made them up to fool her and she fell for it? Interesting. That might be a good way for researchers to test mediums, in addition to the Proxy Sittings and Gary Schwartz Experiments.

>they never existed, they had made them up to fool her and she fell for it? Interesting. That might be a good way for researchers to test mediums

Yes, this has been done. Sometimes, however, reputable mediums get fooled this way, too, as in the "Bessie Beals" case.

One possible explanation was suggested by Hornell Hart in his persona theory. The idea is that a communicating spirit interacts with the medium's subconscious mind to create a temporary persona which serves as a vehicle for communication. If false information is fed to the medium by the sitter, the medium's subconscious will create an appropriate persona on its own. The medium herself will not be able to distinguish between a legitimate persona and a false one, just as (to use an example provide by Allen Spraggett) a hypnotized subject can't tell the difference between a real orange and a hallucinated orange.

To the skeptic this will naturally sound like special pleading, but the fact remains that otherwise unimpeachable mediums have been tripped up by the "fictitious relative" trick.


In response to your suggestion...

"...she brings them through in the reading, but they never existed, they had made them up to fool her and she fell for it? Interesting. That might be a good way for researchers to test mediums, in addition to the Proxy Sittings and Gary Schwartz Experiments."

I think this is a terrible idea for the following reasons:

a) Tricking a medium with false information is not analogous to feeding a research patient a placebo. The goal with afterlife research is to prove the survival of consciouosness, not the existence of fraud and cheats. That is already a known fact. I think Dr. Schwartz's methods, though not exactly perfect, are as close to an acceptable methodology as we have seen.

b) A medium should not be given any information, period. After all, a medium is still a living mortal suceptable to external influences. In a controlled experiment, you want to eliminate these influences as much as possible to not taint the results.

c) Misleading a medium at the commencement of the research is injecting a foregone conclusion into the experiment prior to seeing the results. By feeding a falsehood, you are essentially stating that "most mediums are frauds, now prove me wrong." This, as I am sure you would agree, is not proper science.

I hope to begin the veritas experiment sometime in 2007. Believe it or not, you actually have to mentally prepare for it by eliminating bad habits from your own reading style. For example, I sometimes tend to open my mouth and blurt out information before spirit has finished delivering it. So, for instance, if someone in spirit is trying to tell me that they are a deceased sister of the sitter's brother-in-law, I may jump the gun and say, "I have a female here who tells me they are your sister." Within a millisecond of it exiting my mouth, I already know I was wrong, but I can't take it back. I'm learning to be more patient with the messages.

I do have one concern about the Veritas Methodology. It doesn't leave much room for what I call "Symbiotic Sleuthing". This is where spirit engages both the medium and sitter with a series of clues to form a larger picture. For instance, a sitter's father could have the medium bring forth four disparate images like - "Bob Woodward," "Lake Michigan," "Indiana Jones," and "Chevy Chase." What is the meaningful message here? Without the reader's participation, one might never know that all those clues point to President Gerald Ford, who the father might be a distant cousin to. This happens a lot in readings. I know that spirit loves games like this. They love it because it trains our minds to think non-linearly which is critical for consciousness to consciousness communication.

I see your point there Marcel Cairo. I agree. The sole reason though that I thought it might be a great method, is if someone tries to trick a medium into contacting a false deceased sibling or false deceased child, and the medium tries to connect with them, and upon not finding that energy, the medium says, "I do not feel a sister/brother/child energy around you who has passed", it would be evidence in favor of mediumship being authentic. But, your points as to not using it are well warrented, in addition to Michael Prescott's explaination.


I have been making the rounds (or fighting a few rounds, I should say) at Julia Sweeney's (aka It's Pat!) blog. She mentiined my name specifically in one of her aethist vs. believers posts. In my response, I listed a link to an essay you wrote on James Randi. I hope you don't mind. Hopefully it will only stir positive debate.

Here is the link to Julia's blog...

Well, Michael... you were slagged on Julia Sweeney's blog. Sorry to drag you into my mess. Remember, to err is human, to forgive divine. :-)

Marcel, I read that blog that you linked, and the comments within. Don't waste your time there. It's just a bunch of arrogent elitest close-minded dogmatic evangelical angstheist pseudo-skeptics who have already made up their mind about everything, who don't care to seek out the Truth for themselves, and likewise don't care to have a more balanced open-minded viewpoint of things, and who's primary goal is to ensure the non-existence of all human souls upon death, and to crush the dreams, hopes, beliefs, and spirituality of all of the supposed "silly pathetic weak-minded individuals of humanity" who do not think exactly as they do, and to destroy all faith in God(s) or a Higher Power. Because they take great pride in believing themselves to be nothing more than soul-less gene driven robots without a higher purpose, who will cease to exist upon death, a random fluke generated by random chance over billions of years by an uncaring cosmos. That's their mentality. The mentality of Angstheism.

Yes, they do present "God" as the stereotypical cartoony "Sky Daddy" of the Abrahamic Religions, and poorly presented at that. It's just a strawman. Nothing more. And as we all know, it's much easier to attack a Straw Man than to tackle something of actual substance.

They also equated the "brain" with the "soul". Another common Straw Man. They also said "what about animals?", "what about insects?" They have Spirit too, as do all living things.

I would have said, "what about veridical perception in NDEs/OBEs?", "what about veridical information coming through mediums in conditions where cold reading and hot reading cannot explain the facts and circumstances involved?", "what about groups of level-headed people together at the same time or seperate at different times at the same locations experiencing something paranormal and their descriptions matching up exactly?", "what about people in NDEs and ADVs and DBVs learning about people who had died that they did not know were dead, or whom they had never met or heard about in life?", "what about people born blind having veridical perception in their NDEs/OBEs?"

They don't care about those questions, they obviously don't care about the truth, the bottom line is, they just don't want these things to be true! End of story. They don't want to continue to exist after death, they want to be erased! They want to ensure that themselves, and all of their loved ones and everyone else in existence is erased at death as well! If they actually cared, they would take research into these subjects more seriously!

This shows because they will gullibly cling to *ANY* plausible sounding pseudo-skeptical explaination of paranormal events, *REGARDLESS* of whether or not their statements actually add up with the actual facts of the matter, it's all about omitting the veridical evidence and veridical research in favor from other side of the argument, and cleaverly side-stepping pesky facts and evidence and research that do not fit into their biased pre-determined world view. "These things do not and cannot exist! They can't be, therefore they aren't! Case closed! Let's play cards and make fun of the dims, because we are the brights! Haw Haw!"

When the other side of the argument offers up their valid rebuttals to the Skeptic's Arguments, they are largely ignored, and the Pseudo-Skeptics carry on their merry way of wishing non-existence upon all human souls upon death without incident. Organized Pseudo-Skepticism is just the opposite extreme of Organized Religion, only they aren't looked down upon in the public eye for being arrogent, intolerant, and hate-filled.

It's a Religion of Pseudo-Skepticism, with James Randi as the Pope, Richard Dawkins as the Pastor, and Skeptic Magazine as their infallible Bible. No questions. You cannot question the Skeptics. Being Skeptical of the Skeptics is the unforgivable sin in Pseudo-Skeptical Angstheism.

I think I've rambled on long enough, you get my point. ;)

>Well, Michael... you were slagged on Julia Sweeney's blog. Sorry to drag you into my mess.

Not a problem. I didn't even click on the link. I've found it's a waste of time to argue with skeptics. As Eteponge says, skepticism is their religion. They are particularly committed to James Randi and won't tolerate any criticism of him. The Wikipedia page on Randi is pretty funny for that reason - anything critical has been edited out by his supporters (as you can see by reading the discussion attached to that page).

In some ways, James randi is the perfect "antiChrist" for the "Children of Dawkins." BTW, I love the concept of Angstheism. It has now entered my lexicon of words I will toss around at parties to sound smart. Gracias.

Eteponge -- I'm eager to contact you but can't find an email address anywhere. Do send me a quick email wouldya? :)

Derren is awesome and really gets us to understand that we are all walking around in a trance...

If you want a great analysis of The Heist go to Dave Lakhani's blog (he is a master of persuasion) -



Imagine developing your own 'Derren Mind' - Find out how. Go to ->>

The comments to this entry are closed.