Ira Israel has his money on the psychological teachings of Derren Brown. Here’s why.
I have heard that putting on a show is ‘the art of stopping people coughing’, and I do rather like the idea. ~ Derren Brown
At the University of Pennsylvania I was privileged to study sociology with leading sociologists such as Philip Rieff and Elijah Anderson, yet would argue that the most astute sociologists in America today are Chris Rock and Aziz Ansari.
I studied philosophy in graduate school, yet would argue that the scope and depth of Adele Van Reeth’s Les Nouveaux Chemins de la Connaissance podcasts are even more profound, poignant, provocative and pertinent than the writings of Slavoj Žižek and Frederic Jameson.
When I teach “Cultivating Meaning and Happiness through Mindfulness and Yoga” at the Esalen Institute I often employ aural and visual games – such as the Thatcher Effect (below) – to demonstrate how our minds do not provide us with accurate representations of reality.
The map is not the territory and as a psychotherapist I have seen thousands of patients’ maps lead them into quite insidious territories. For our minds are constantly constructing narratives and adding meanings and judgments to those narratives; those narratives are the water in which we swim, the air through which we move – usually as heroes, victims, jokesters, some other archetypes or combinations thereof.
I try to keep abreast of all of the latest psychological healing modalities for individuals and couples, yet I often find more insights into the dissonances and hypocrisies that our minds rationalize and reconcile (usually quite poorly) exposed by entertainers than psychologists. While Marc Maron, Louis C.K., Chelsea Handler and Larry David are extraordinarily talented at glamorizing their own foibles, idiosyncrasies, afflictions, irrationalities, and unnecessary dramas (as opposed to the truly necessary dramas of life), for my money it is Derren Brown who is our best psychologist and has the clearest understanding of the human mind of anyone working today.
The only problem may be that Mister Brown does not work as a psychologist. Rather, he is a “mentalist,” which I originally thought meant that he assists people in becoming mental and now admit I do not understand at all. Moreover, Mister Brown does not exist professionally in the United States – I assume – because many of his “mentalisms” would end in lawsuits. For he has hypnotized two apparently run-of-the-mill people into committing murder and three people into committing armed robbery.
Americans would probably find Mister Brown to be manipulative, in the same way they might find Tony Robbin’s getting people to walk across hot coals to be some sort of brainwashing.
Two of my favorite explorations are Mister Brown’s “Barnum Effect” and his “Word Disassociation.”
Now, before you watch hundreds of his videos and say, “I know how he does that!” you must take into consideration that Mister Brown is a truly gifted performer so in all likelihood what you believe to be the “trick” is not actually the trick. Most of his magic, I believe, involves a great deal of priming or setting up both the victims (for lack of a better word) as well as his audiences.
Any videos involving Mister Brown’s hands are of little interest to me because his hands are exceptionally sleight (or is that “sleightful?) and my mind is prone to illusion. While at the University of Pennsylvania, Professor Rieff once told my roommate that “Mister Israel should pursue a career in the entertainment industry because I am sure he leads a very active imaginary life.” This was not a compliment. And fifteen years after pursuing such an imaginary life I switched to something more applicable if not concrete: psychology. Mister Brown seemingly has mastered both psychology and entertainment, having been awarded with not one but two Olivier Awards for Best Entertainment for his mind-boggling show “Svengali.”
You can find the full transcript of Mister Brown’s version of the “Forer Experiment” used in the above “Barnum Effect” video in his gorgeously written and hilarious book “Tricks of the Mind.” However, in the “Word Disassociation” video above – seeing as there are over one million words in the English language – the only potential narrative that my mind constructs for Mister Brown suggesting thoughts into Doctor Arthur Anderson’s head and/or mouth comes from the supposed error at the beginning of the game (if the video itself and the written words are not some sort of illusion): Doctor Anderson offers the word “apple” as something completely unrelated to the word “suit,” while Mister Brown has written down the name of another fruit fruit fruit, namely “orange.” So I imagine that Mister Brown primed Doctor Anderson to say the first fruit that came to mind upon hearing the word suit; orange is probably the most ubiquitous fruit in our culture but for some reason Doctor Anderson chose “apple” instead and thus Mister Brown came up over 999,999 words shy his first time at bat but hit home runs for his last three.
I also imagine that the narratives that my mind creates to try to explain Derren Brown’s illusions miss the mark by a wide berth, which is why they are a constant source of entertainment and insight for me, and I imagine will be for you also. For more information on the prodigious number of theatres that Derren Brown will not be performing in in America, please visit www.DerrenBrown.co.uk