This is how an illusionist targets your unconscious mind
Juggling conscious experience with the machinations of the mind can create the ultimate audience experience.
Derren Brown began his UK television career in December 2000 with a series of specials called Mind Control. In the UK, his name is now pretty much synonymous with the art of psychological manipulation. Amongst a varied and notorious TV career, Derren has played Russian Roulette live, convinced middle-managers to commit armed robbery, led the nation in a séance, stuck viewers at home to their sofas, successfully predicted the National Lottery, motivated a shy man to land a packed passenger plane at 30,000 feet, hypnotised a man to assassinate Stephen Fry, and created a zombie apocalypse for an unsuspecting participant after seemingly ending the world. He has also written several best-selling books and has toured with eight sell-out one-man stage shows.
DERREN BROWN: When you work I think with any sort of magic you become a very good applied psychologist just in a very niche area, which is why it's generally magicians that are brought in to kind of test for psychic claims and that kind of thing to sort of debunk or look for that kind of evidence because scientists get fooled very easily like the rest of us, magicians are just very good at understanding how that sort of thing can work and be fooling. So, you're working with conscious and unconscious processes, so for example, to take an idea of just a card trick, say you start a card trick and the deck has to be in a special order in order for the trick to work, but there's a point halfway through the trick where it's safe for the person to shuffle the cards, but if they shuffle at the beginning it would ruin the whole trick. So, maybe at the beginning you shuffle yourself as the magician but it's a false shuffle you're not really shuffling the cards but it looks like you are, but halfway through the trick you hand them the deck and you say to the spectator, who so far has not shuffled the cards, you say to them, "Shuffle the cards again but this time do it under the table."
Now, that doesn't make any sense because they haven't shuffled the cards before, but in as much as they're now taking the cards and shuffling them under the table and following that instruction you're starting to play with the memory of what actually happened in the trick. So, now you're essentially planting a false memory that they had shuffled the deck before. It's not a guaranteed thing, but when they start to narrate the trick afterwards you start to see how these false memories are fitting into play. So, a big part of performing any sort of magic is controlling that narrative afterwards by playing with things like false memories so any magician becomes very good at doing that sort of thing.
My tool kit is the ongoing experience of both the audience and the people that come up on stage so I use rapid hypnotic induction techniques with people that come up on stage and they vary in efficacy from night to night, but generally they work. So there, for example, I would be using an unconscious process there of using bafflement and bewilderment to my advantage. So, if you imagine that somebody comes up to you in the street and says "It's not half past seven." Your reaction isn't to go oh yes I know it's 20 to two, your reaction is normally would be to feel baffled and thrown by that like you've sort of missed something. And when we are baffled we become hyper suggestible because we're looking for a way out, we're looking for a clear steer, a clear direction out of that towards information that makes sense so I use that a lot. Politicians use it a lot so they give you a bunch of statistics that you can barely follow and then they say so therefore, dot, dot dot. And you're much more likely to then accept that information than if they've started off with that information because it's relief from the sort of the bafflement of the figures that they've just given you.
So, I use it when people come up on stage they are naturally disoriented by the experience of suddenly being in front of 2000 people that they can't see because it's just dark and it's odd and they're suddenly looking to me for directions. That's a very powerful position in terms of influence. It's great because from the audience it doesn't necessarily look any different, I mean someone has just walked up on stage, but you don't quite appreciate the level of sort of confusion that that person can then be in. So, I hypnotize through a handshake, I go in for a handshake and then halfway through the handshake I interrupt it, which again is just adding another level of bafflement because now you've got this automated process of a handshake that's suddenly interrupted, which leaves us completely flummoxed. So, then an instruction to go to sleep, or to, you could stick someone's feet to the floor. You could maybe take their voice away. There's a whole lot of things that you can do at that moment because you've created this sort of maximum responsiveness gets in at a level that seems to bypass the normal conscious filters.
So, I'm using that sort of stuff a lot. And then the whole show is really structured around those kind of things. I'm filtering for suggestibility, filtering for people that are going to respond well to what I do. It's sort of a constant sort of juggling of the conscious things that we are appreciating and the unconscious things that are guiding how we are appreciating them.
- Magicians are actually very effective applied psychologists. They're familiar with the workings of both the conscious and unconscious mind.
- During his act, renowned psychological illusionist Derren Brown uses the technique of bafflement to bypass participants' conscious filters and get a maximum response to the trick.
- Derren Brown returns to the stage with his new live, one-man show, Showman. Check it out here.
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