Derren Brown: Frequently Asked Questions and Frequently Posed Criticisms

Since writing an article about Derren Brown I have been asked several questions. Below are a few brief answers to common questions or replies to points raised. This is a good opportunity to address issues that I could not touch on in the article due to lack of space. Unfortunately, I cannot enter into email dialogue on this issue, simply because I do not have the time. But hopefully the article and the answers below will address most questions.

I understand what you are saying in the article but people on the whole know that what Derren does is trickery- only people who are incredibly stupid or want to be fooled think that what he does is real.

In fact, many people do not realise that Derren is using magic, and they assume that he is using body language etc. I base this judgement on numerous conversations with individuals and a survey taken after the show, which I quote in the article. Also, the people who are misled in this way are often very bright. Finally, as quoted in the article, Derren actually states that he is NOT doing magic at the start of one show, which helps give the impression to the majority of viewers that he is not a magician.

(Contradicting the question above) Okay, some of it might be magic, but the majority of it is genuine, pure psychology.
Some of the TV show is legitimate psychology. We could argue about the definition and the fraction, but I suspect that it is about 25%. In other words 75% of the show is magic dressed up as psychology. I could explain away many more of his demonstrations than I explained in the article, but this would be unfair to magicians who use these techniques as part of their magic routines.

It is obvious to me that your article was just shameless self-promotion and it’s sad that you had to promote yourself by trying to discredit another performer.
I have nothing (e.g., book) to promote. I am currently turning down invitations to write articles, because I am writing a new book on cosmology and have to concentrate on this project. Next year, when my next book is published, I may well move into shameless self-promotion mode, but promotion is not a priority for this year. In the case of the article about Derren, I am so concerned about the misrepresentation involved in Derren’s work that I was prepared to put aside an entire week to fully research and write the article.

Magic is psychology, so what is the problem?
Magic does involve psychology, but Derren gives the impression that his demonstrations rely solely on psychology whereas I suspect that many of his demonstrations involve several other non-psychological magic techniques. For example, the poker trick explained in the article does not rely on the psychology that he implies, but on the cards that are chosen.

Has Derren accepted the challenge?
No. I was contacted by a TV show that wanted to stage a challenge, but they called me back to say that Derren was unavailable to take part.

Does Derren agree with the criticisms?
Yes, at least to some extent. In an interview with Jamy Ian Swiss, Derren said about my article: “… my feelings on it now are actually that it was a good thing. I think his main frustration point was that the show was classified under the science part of the Channel 4 website. Which is a perfectly understandable objection.”

I should add that Derren is a brilliant performer, entertainer and magician. It is merely his misleading explanations that concern me. Science and factual television are both precious commodities and I do not believe either should be tarnished or that viewers should be misled.

One recent positive note is that Derren’s website has been removed from the C4 science section and put in the entertainment section. I still think that parts of the site are misleading, but at least it no longer has the banner of science to endorse it.