Look Into My Eyes

Any list of people I admire is, I admit, going to be an eclectic one. It will include such luminaries as Kit Williams (for be both interesting and brilliant), Kazuo Ishiguro (for being an outstanding and eminently readable writer) and Kirsty Allsopp (for making people cry). Even locally I find people upon whom to heap my admiration; Declan the Post knows the location of every house in the area and the name of the people within it. At first I assumed he had a piece of paper to remind him but if I drive past him, we’ve got into the habit of holding up the traffic so he can give me my post there and then. Mind you, I think he likes me because when I was putting the post box up, I put it so he could drive up next to it rather than having to get out of the van.

The person who heads up my personal list of “People who are that great I will offer them my kidney or firstborn child” is the immortal Derren Brown. Should you be foreign, as I know some of you insist on being, you will have no idea who I am talking about. You in particular should pay close attention as I don’t rule out asking questions later.

Derren Brown is usually described as a magician. He isn’t. He is a performer who uses magic, suggestion, psychology, misdirection and showmanship. Anybody can gain the necessary skills to do what he does although not many people would use those skills to rig a photo booth so it hypnotised an unsuspecting young man and then put him on a flight so that when he woke up he was in Morocco.
Derren Brown is an altogether marvellous bloke, a rather nifty painter and he once made me faint (although that wasn’t deliberate, I was watching his show and I’m a bit of a wuss sometimes).

His latest series, The Events, is half way through its four week run on Channel Four and has caused a veritable explosion of conspiracy theories in every corner of the interweb. For his debut show, Derren Brown correctly predicted the Wednesday night lottery draw.
Of course, the trouble is that, having predicted the lottery, Mr Brown promised to reveal his method assuring his audience that they would be able use it themselves to predict the numbers. Following his Friday night revelation on the matter, the interweb has opined that the method Mr Brown gave is a load of gubbins and doesn’t work. There is, rather perplexingly, much anger in many quarters.

One of the joys, and indeed the difficulties, of watching Derren Brown perform is that sometimes, the trick he tells you he is performing is not the trick at all. On a couple of occasions, it hasn’t even been a trick, merely accurate data presented in such a way as to play into your misconceptions; when he tossed a coin to get 10 heads in a row, for instance. It wasn’t a trick. It was the result of standing in front of a camera for nine hours tossing a coin until the required result was achieved.

So, on Wednesday night, rather than going to a marvellous party, Derren Brown broadcast himself watching the lottery draw, live, before turning his set of balls around to reveal (GASP!) the same six numbers as had just been drawn.
On Friday night, he revealed the mysterious Wisdom Of Crowds method of prediction. This was discovered, we were told, by a scientist at the turn of the century, who asked attendants at an agricultural fair to look at a cow and predict its weight. He totted up all of the answers and found that the mean average of them was the exact weight of the cow.
This, Derren Brown claimed, was how he predicted the lottery. Get 24 people, give them some team building exercises, then ask them to choose 6 numbers each and average the result.

As the interweb was quick to point out, this does not work. I’m very grateful the interweb did this. I was about to ring my 23 closest acquaintances and offer them a thrilling day in a field with some office furniture. Imagine how red my face would have been!
Personally, I have no idea if the Wisdom of Crowds is a real theory. It may well be. The most likely attendants of an agricultural fair are farmers. Farmers know how much a cow weighs. It’s not a massive discovery. If the scientist in question had repeated the trick at the Ideal Home show, then I might be impressed.

So. If the Wisdom Of Crowds isn’t real, how did Mr Brown predict the results? The simple answer is, he didn’t. You cannot predict the lottery. It is a random result with one of 14 million different combinations.

As Derren Brown is Bad, having delivered his Wisdom of Crowds spiel, he went on to tell everybody that he had certainly not rigged the result and that he certainly hadn’t done it with weighted balls, that there was nobody on the inside helping him, that he definitely hadn’t hypnotised the security guards to forget they had seen him make the switch with the real balls.

So, did he rig the draw? No. Of course not. For a start that would be an absolute legal minefield both for himself and Camelot (the company who run the lottery). It would also be a really rubbish trick.

In that case, how did he do it? A quick perusal of the ever so reliable interweb gives dozens of weary bloggers explaining that it was all down to a split screen. One enterprising young man has created a Youtube video, complete with fake camera shake for added authenticity. Somebody else insists that if you squint really hard, the ball furthest on the left appears to grow by a millimeter where the assistant didn’t replace it properly after writing the numbers on the balls.
In my opinion, this is not the answer either. Sure, it’s certainly possible to do it this way but really, why would you? As the enterprising young man has shown, anybody can do it that way. Name me one trick, by anybody at all, which rests on the edit suite.
That odd program with the misogynistic voice over claims there are some tricks which are done with a crafty camera angle (the Bentley into a Porsche trick) but many of the methods shown on that program are not the methods used by the big name performers. Paul Daniels never used a camera angle in his life. The lovely Debbie McGee would never have stood for it. David Copperfield could easily have used the edit suite to vanish Lady Liberty or escape from Alcatraz but he didn’t. At least I hope he didn’t. My childhood memories will be ruined if I ever find out he lied to me on this matter.

So, if it wasn’t rigged, “The Wisdom of Crowds”, or a split screen edit, what was it? Well, I don’t know. I’m not Derren Brown.
What I do know is that Derren Brown is a great challenger of wooly thinking. He made people think it was possible to predict the lottery, this is why there are so many angry and disappointed bloggers and commentators at work. What he illustrated is that even when we know something to be fundamentally true, we are genuinely prepared to believe the system can be beaten.
Personally speaking, I wonder if the trick isn’t anything to do with the lottery. The theme of the first show was, after all, predictability in human behavior. The theme of the second show (in which he promised to stick us all to our sofas, bless him) was suggestibility and perception. Both were structured around what we believe, how we can be made to believe it and the effect it then has.

I’m certain Derren Brown did not predict the lottery in advance. This is not possible to do, even by somebody as debonair as him.
I’m fairly certain it wasn’t done with a split screen. While it could be done that way, I don’t give much credence to the “growing ball”, I feel it would be a very risky way of doing it (one wrong move from the camera man and the trick is exposed). Also, how do you ensure that the pictures overlap correctly when you fade out the split screen? Certainly possible to do but sounds rather complicated to me.
I am totally certain the draw wasn’t rigged. As I said above, aside from anything else, it would be a legal minefield for everybody involved.
Sleight of hand to replace the balls? I don’t see an opportunity for that to happen. Laser pens? Harry Potter’s cloak of invisibility?
There is talk on the interweb of a film shown to the audience which discounts the split screen theory. It didn’t make it onto the show. Maybe it is being preserved for a later edition and for that reason, I shall say no more about it here.

I have no idea how Derren Brown appeared to predict the lottery but nevertheless, it was a great trick.

3 comments:

durdlin said...

I think I've heard of Derren Brown. He sounds interesting.

And I know I've heard of the Wisdom Of Crowds. There was a great episode of Radiolab called http://www.wnyc.org/shows/radiolab/episodes/2005/02/18 which covered this. Sort of.

sarah said...

firstly, im sorry to hear about your cat theo :( xx

secondly, how freaking awesome does derren brown sound!!! wow! and i dont even care how he did his trick. sounds like he was smart and got himself a nice bundle of publicity!! good for him

please educate me on some more interesting foreign people. i especially like the sound of your postman. is he old? you should marry him.

Theo said...

Derren Brown is very interesting Durdlin. Check Youtube for his efforts.

Thanks Sarah. We miss the cat still.
And Declan is probably married. Everybody is married but me. I did terrify him the other day. I came out of the house to get a parcel off him (save him coming to the door) and he assumed I was HWKE.

Declan: Here you go Jon... Oh! I'm sorry I thought you were Jon!
Me: Don't worry. It's not the first time I've been mistaken for a man. It must be down to the beard.
Declan: *laughs nervously* Oh God... I'm sure that's not true. *laughs nervously some more*

Poor Declan.