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Mind Control with Derren Brown

  1. Aug 23, 2007 #1
    Anyone seen this show?

    This guy is a mentalist/hypnotist who goes around doing apparently remarkable feats of suggestion and hypnosis. It's reminiscent of David Blaine in format, but very much more interesting for psychological reasons.

    The two remarkable feats he performed on the episode that just aired was to hypnotize a woman into seeing the color red as black without her being aware she was being hypnotized and to hypnotize a girl into completely forgetting the fact she had played the piano all her life.

    Having switched the former woman's perception of red to black, he took her out into the parking lot where she was unable to find her red car since it now appeared black to her.

    In the case of the piano girl (college aged), it took a week of sessions to set her up. She had complained of being bored with the piano, of it having lost the freshness it had when she was a kid. He proceeded to wipe her memory of all that history such that she was no longer aware she knew how to play, and then he pretended to teach her how to play from scratch in a fake accelerated course and set up a public recital in which she was to play a set of variations by Mozart, which she did. After the recital he explained to her what he'd done, that unbeknownst to her during the recital she had actually been playing all her life, and that he'd wiped her memory of it to make the piano a fresh, exiting thing for her again.

    Before each show he assures us that none of these people are schills; it's all done with the power of suggestion, and, indeed, it looks genuine in that the participants don't ring false.

    In the case of getting the woman to perceive red as black without her realizing he was doing so, the whole procedure was filmed and only took a couple minutes and, if you paid attention, the strategy he used was clear. It was a bit scary to ponder that anyone could do this to anyone else.

    The piano girl said that, while she remembered getting together with him for the sessions she said she could hardly remember anything that happened during them. Wiping her memory of the fact she could play piano also included making her forget how he made her forget.

    Feynman's assessment of his experience with hypnosis was that the hypnotist had somehow elicited his cooperation with the notion that he'd been hypnotized. He felt he could have disobeyed the instruction, but that it would be a very bad idea to do so. That being the case, he, obeyed it. And that being the case he decided he probably couldn't have disobeyed it after all.

    I have to wonder to what extent the woman who saw red as black merely felt involuntarily compelled to pretend she saw red as black, and to what extent red authentically looked black to her. Likewise, to what extent did the piano girl actually cause her conscious memories of years of piano playing to become inaccessible to her, and to what extent was she was involuntarily compelled to merely pretend she couldn't remember them?
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 23, 2007 #2
    He's pretty big here in the UK. To quote him "I am often dishonest, but I am always honest about my dishonesty".

    At the start of every show he states that he uses a mixture of magic, suggestion, psychology, misdirection and showmanship.

    He's a smart guy, I don't think he does anything that's in need of debunking, though.
  4. Aug 23, 2007 #3
    The reason I posted about this here was to raise the issue of how "suggestion' works, and how thoroughly it works. Can major things might be suggested to us, both deliberately and inadvertantly without our being aware of it? To what extent can a person resolve a distant object in the sky into a UFO because their first glimpse of it suggested that image to their unconscious? If he got a woman to see red as black, it would seems suggestion might do just about anything.
  5. Aug 23, 2007 #4
    There was a TV show by hypnotist Paul McKenna here in the UK, one stunt that stuck in my mind was him hypnotising a woman to think that he was invisible, and then getting her to play a game of pool against someone, and he would move the balls with his hands so she thought that her opponent was pulling off physically impossible shots.

    Obviously she was able to see him, but the suggestion was that he was invisible. It's a very weird thing.
  6. Aug 23, 2007 #5


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    He also does a trick I would love to try - you ask a stranager in the street for directions, then add a couple of 'reinforcing' questions like "I'm not bothering you am I?", "You don't mind me stopping you?" then asks for their wallet in the same tone - about half the people handed it over!

    He does say in his book that some of the tricks which look like hyprnotic suggestion or NLP are actaully just conjuring tricks, but he is very entertaining.
  7. Aug 23, 2007 #6


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    Have any of you been hypnotized? Or tried? One of the top clinical psychologists in the US doing hypnosis tried to hypnotize me once. It didn't work. He was really upset because he said he'd never failed.

    I don't see how anyone can be hypnotized. I really wanted to be hypnotized so I could see if it was real, it would have been very easy to play along, but I knew nothing was happening. I finally had to stop the session and tell him I wasn't hypnotized. He confirmed what I've always known, I'm not suggestive.
  8. Aug 23, 2007 #7
    It's been tried on me before. But nothing ever worked. I really wonder what state of mind some of these people really have to be in. And I don't buy it as an act, because many people will do things when hypnotized that they would seriously never even consider when in a normal state.
  9. Aug 23, 2007 #8
    I read this as very clever showmanship. The ones who hand their wallet over are not the ones who are fooled, because they don't get their wallets stolen: they have correctly assessed that he's not a risk. The viewers who wonder at the thought of people handing their wallet to a stranger are the ones who are fooled.
  10. Aug 23, 2007 #9
    I have read that this is possible: to get someone to believe someone is invisible. This happens in "Nature" so to speak in a phenomenon called "negative hallucination" where psychotics subtract certain things from their environment. Instead of seeing things that aren't there the hallucination consists of not being able to see something that is there. In some neurological problems there is a phenomenon known as agnosia in which a person can see something but cannot recognize it for what it is, and that makes it virtually invisible, since they generally react by ignoring it. I wonder if someone hypnotized to think someone or something is invisible can simply not see it at all, or if they ignore it because they are unable to recognize it, unable to make conscious sense of what it is.
  11. Aug 23, 2007 #10
    I think, above all else, they have to really like, respect, identify with, or otherwise be fascinated by the hypnotist. Complying with his or her suggestion has to seem like a really, really desirable thing to do.
  12. Aug 23, 2007 #11

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    What amazes me is that sometimes attention blindness is all you need for invisibility:

    Count the basketball passes in this video:

    Sorry for the slow-loading applet, I couldn't find this video on youtube.
  13. Aug 23, 2007 #12


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    Can't get it to load - is that the famous 'gorilla' experiment?
  14. Aug 23, 2007 #13

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    Yes, that's the one. Sorry, I'll try to find a video of it somewhere. I think there's also another version where a person walks through with an umbrella.
  15. Aug 23, 2007 #14


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    I bought a couple of hypnosis CDs out of curiosity a while ago that do the trick for me. When hypnotized I feel tranquil and very "in the zone," as you might feel when very absorbed in performing a task.

    MIH's link is relevant as it seems some of the things described in this threat could be described as a form of attentional neglect. It's not enough to have your senses process information from the world, this information must also be integrated into the global functioning of the brain in such a way as to be accessible to attentional mechanisms.

    I am skeptical that you could make a person experience the color red as if it were the color black. I think it's more likely that some kind of attentional neglect for red objects was induced.
  16. Aug 23, 2007 #15

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    When I was a kid, from time to time we would attend a local Dodger or Rams game. It was easy to induce attentional neglect by simply looking for a particular color in the crowd. If you looked for red, you saw plenty of red shirts and hats, but you could see no blue, for example. But if you looked for blue, you saw lots of blue but no red! It was amazing how easily one could completely block the presense of one color by simply looking for another one.
    Last edited: Aug 23, 2007
  17. Aug 23, 2007 #16
    This might account for the memory wipe in some way: he may have rendered her inattentive to memories of piano playing such that she simply couldn't focus on them. I don't know. I found that whole thing freaky.

    The procedure he used was to first get her to envision something about herself she was not secure about, something she wished she could be more confident of. As she did this he held up his right hand and told her to envision this uncertainty at that location in space. Then he asked her to envision something she was absolutely certain of, a mere bald fact. I think he said "You're in Vegas right now, right, and there's no doubt in your mind about where you're located right?" She agreed and he held up his left hand and asked her to envision the certainty she felt about that at that location (he simply said "over here" not "at this location"). Then he instructed her to shift the vision of what she was uncertain about over to the certain side :"It's alot more solid and clear now, isn't it?" She agreed it was. He said that she could always therefore remove her doubts about that aspect of her self image in the future by simply shifting it over "here" (the "confident" side) whenever she wanted. Automatically, she's pleased: he's helped her out, she on his side now.

    Next he showed her four solid colored cards: blue, red, yellow, black. He asks her to name the colors and she does. Then he picks up the blue card and launches into a spiel about how she probably knows it isn't actually blue, that this is how our minds respond to a certain frequency of light and that the card is merely absorbing and reflecting wavelengths of light, etc. He spins this out for a while, and as he does so he casually holds it up on his right, the "uncertain" side he's already established in her visual field, without calling any attention to that. The combination of his monolog and it being over in the "uncertain" side creates doubt in her mind about the authenticity of it's blueness.

    Then, holding it down in the neutral position in front of him, he proceeds to explain that anything we call blue probably isn't exlusively blue anyway, but contains other trace pigments to a larger or smaller degree and our perception will also be altered by ambient lighting so that, if she looks more closely she'll see the card actually has a lot of green in it: it's probably blue green. As she peers at it he holds it up on the "confident" side, without calling attention to that, for her to look at. "You see how it's very green?" And she agrees it is.

    He does this to each card in succession getting her to agree to greater and greater differences between what's there and what she percieves untill he gets her to agree that red is black.

    I don't think this amounts to inducing inattention, it seems more elaborate than that.
    Last edited: Aug 23, 2007
  18. Aug 23, 2007 #17
    It is just as well that she couldn't find her car. What would have happened when she reached the first set of traffic lights that showed red?!
  19. Aug 23, 2007 #18
    Excellent point!
  20. Aug 25, 2007 #19


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    I've seen Derren Brown also say to people (after doing a quick test) "No, this won't work on you, I`m sorry." Then move to another. It's a test to see how suggestive they are, I`m sure.

    I've been hypnotized about 7 years ago. Not extremely deeply, but deep enough to experience was it is like.
    A few things I know is, if you don't want to be hypnotized, you won't be. What hypnotists
    do is speak directly to your unconsious mind and belief system, bypassing the 'filter', which guards your beliefs as it were. You MUST allow yourself to lower that guard, or it's just not going to work. It's especially hard for natural critical thinkers, as I`m sure you are Evo, to do so. To allow someone else to take control and accept what they say without pondering the truth of those claims. You have to at least fully trust the other person.
    I think either you had a skeptical mindset when you entered into this, maybe expecting it wasn't going to work on you anyways (perhaps wanting to confirm your own belief, namely that you are not suggestive) or that the hypnotist failed to comfort you enough.

    For me, critical thinking is partly a learned skill. I`m able to kind of 'turn the critical voice on or off'. I believe everyone CAN be hypnotized. You probably had the wrong person to do it with. (yes, he was the top. But it's not just about skill). You really ought to try and get into it. It's a great way to relax and relieve stress.
  21. Aug 25, 2007 #20
    I recall seeing a hypnotist on TV a few years ago who made some sort of garrantee he'd hypnotize you. He had one client who was so intractable it was 20 sessions before he succeeded in getting him under.
  22. Aug 25, 2007 #21


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    Fascinating! I'm still skeptical about the mechanism; specifically, how it alters her perception of red objects as black without doing the same to her memory of red objects.
  23. Aug 25, 2007 #22
    I don't know. I am curious about many details like that, myself. Does her brain, under hypnosis, actually generate the qualia of black when sensing the frequencies she formerly associated with the qualia of red? Or does this procedure merely elicit her full cooperation in pretending that to be the case?

    If it's the former it opens a can of worms about the possibility of things like false cases of color blindness: people who can't properly sort out colors, not because there's anything different about the light sensitive receptors in their eyes, but because of some confused, contradictory teaching when they were taught to identify and name colors.
  24. Aug 30, 2007 #23
    I watched this again last night. He does a lot of parlor trick type things on each show, guessing what people have written on cards, and such, but there were two segments I found very impressive:

    In one he somehow hypnotized a cab driver to be unable to remember the location of a well known London landmark (the "Eye of London"). In fact he couldn't even see it when they passed it a few times.

    In another segment he told a guy he would "make the sun go away". He took him into the desert and at 4 PM put him into a hypnotic sleep. Then he woke him up after dark. In the guy's mind no time had passed and it seemed to him the sun had simply vanished.
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