Derren Brown

Discussion of various public figures

Derren Brown

Postby Gavin » 06 Nov 2011, 20:39

I don't know what people think of Derren Brown, but in my view he is an unusual person. He makes a living by manipulating people. He would no doubt argue that all people do this, and at least he does it openly. Nonetheless I found this programme somewhat disturbing. Not particularly the subject matter, but the fact it was made at all.

In this programme Brown seeks to demonstrate something we already know: that some people can be deliberately confused into admitting to things they didn't do. He sews seeds of doubt in a man's mind through an elaborate ruse, deceiving and confusing the man and inducing such a state of guilt that the man believes he is guilty of having killed someone.

The experiment struck me as in bad taste. I wonder what others think. I believe the principal reason for making this was the pursuit of money via entertainment, but Brown would perhaps say it was a public service in order to expose the ease with which police can elicit false confessions. In this case I think this was a bad analogy and rarely would such a large number of people comply in such an intricate and elaborate deception. Even if they would, we already knew it could be done.

This topic has a bearing on the Milgram Experiment, which was also somewhat cruel but perhaps more useful, and was at least conducted by a qualified Professor of Psychology under laboratory conditions and not merely for reasons of entertainment.

Some might say the subject of Brown's experiment agreed to it, after the event, thus it was acceptable, but I'm not sure this is relevant at all.
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Re: Derren Brown

Postby Caleb » 07 Nov 2011, 01:18

I'd agree that this kind of thing is most likely in poor taste (though I haven't watched it, I must admit) because there's the element of entertainment and money making involved. It's also why I think corporal or capital punishment, if they must occur, should not be done in public, and perhaps not even in front of the victims or their families. I'm not so sure about the effect of discouraging people to misbehave. Quite the contrary actually, as I think it would feed many people's baser instincts. I think there's a rather large and perverse element of voyeurism involved in a lot of these kinds of things such as with Derren Brown, and I think they might make society worse in general. It's also why I'm not a big fan of gory movies. I think there can be a place for violence or cruelty within any story if it's used to drive a bigger point, but not if it's purely for entertainment purposes.

As to the whole realm of psychology and pop-psychology (what's the difference, really?) I'm quite sceptical. I think it's generally a lot of quackery and that anything it does have to say, especially in the realm of social psychology, is usually quite trite. Some other areas that have a strong biological grounding such as neuropsychology or developmental psychology are better though. The big problem I have with psychology, and it's something that plagues the social sciences in general, is that it's caught in a kind of no man's land. On the one hand, psychology obviously lacks the real rigour and objectivity of the hard sciences. On the other hand, what it does come up with is often covered much better (and more interestingly!) in the humanities. A person could probably learn a lot more about human psychology from reading Shakespeare or Dostoyevsky than they would in a whole psychology degree.

Another thing I noticed about psychology (I did a major in it) is that the kind of people who were really interested in it (both students and tutors or professors) struck me as being unbelievably boring people with almost no insights into anything. On the other hand, studying philosophy (which I also majored in), I regularly came in contact with large numbers of people who dwarfed me intellectually and who thought about things I had never even considered. It was a very challenging and rewarding environment. One might ask why I studied psychology then, but in my own case, by the time I'd figured all of this out, I'd already committed enough time to it that I figured I might as well get a major out of it. I felt like it was a complete waste of my time though, and feel increasingly that way.

Regarding qualified psychologists and laboratory conditions, have you ever heard of the Stanford prison experiment? (It strikes me that the whole title of that should be in capital letters.)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanford_prison_experiment
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Re: Derren Brown

Postby Gavin » 08 Nov 2011, 10:29

Hi Caleb. I agree and sympathise with everything you said there.

I nearly mentioned the Stanford Prison Experiment actually. In that one of course even the organiser started enjoying himself too much and only a colleague noticing what was going on brought it to a stop.

Re. psychology, something I have often said is that it usually seems to either state the obvious or be wrong. It's hardly a science in my opinion. Also (perhaps not yourself, but) a lot of the people who study it seem to do so in order to try to make sense of their own minds. Perhaps this is too harsh on psychology but it's been my impression.

I'm glad you met a lot of intelligent people while studying philosophy. I was led to this subject too due to being very introspective and reflective about the world, especially in my late teens and early twenties. I thought I might go to university, a seat of learning, where I could meet likeminded people and immerse myself in the study of the classics.

I was accepted by a good UK university and did come out with a 1st class degree after a great deal of work. However, almost everyone else I met had chosen philosophy having no interest in the subject and simply because it "looked easy to pass" (they had been channelled into the university via private school). Most people seemed more interested in getting drunk and playing sports actually. No doubt sporting prowess was more important to the university itself too.

It's hard to find likeminded people, wherever you go, which is why this forum is a good thing.

However, just before my final exams I did have something of a crisis of belief in the value of philosophy, and certainly a great skepticism about the value of the exam system. I was there, trying to memorise my responses to Kant and Descartes, I had predicted the exam questions, learned the games taught to people of average intelligence in British private schools so that they can get into these universities, and I just thought the whole thing was rather inconsequential. Ontology, epistemology and so on didn't seem as important as making sure the post is delivered, for example. The only subject which remained of interest and importance to me was ethics. But even the theories of that often go out of the window in the real world I fear. (One problem faced by philosophy, I felt, was that its ground had mostly now been occupied by various specialised, more practical, sciences and hence it had little left for itself.)

I still think that, actually - that a lot of philosophy is an indulgence - so I keep it as a "leisure pursuit". It was hard to sit the exams having lost faith in the subject to a significant degree. I suppose I just went through the motions, which is what - it seems to me - most students do.
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Re: Derren Brown

Postby Caleb » 09 Nov 2011, 05:52

Gavin: I'm not entirely sure psychology's popularity is about people trying to understand their own minds. I think there's an element of that, and I don't think that's bad per se. It's complicated both by the fact that the public generally often have a slightly distorted view of what psychology is (abnormal psychology is only one small field), and also because within the field of psychology, people often can't agree on what psychology is. There's also the fact that psychology has often been co-opted by the commercial realm, and sold (that being the important word) as a kind of panacea.

At least where I'm from, psychology was also something fairly new at the high school level when I studied it (I think it was only introduced a few years before I took it), so there was definitely an attitude of it being something new, and therefore trendy. Most of the guys in my high school psychology classes were not particularly bright (one even managed the statistically improbable feat of scoring 4/24 on a four-way multiple choice test, and some of us said he probably should have just guessed the answers), but my teacher was a very interesting and smart guy, so maybe that was my hook. It was extremely popular in my first year of university though, so something was going on.

I'm still very much of two minds about my university experience in general. I really do think I was too young and immature to really know why I was at university, and probably would have gained more if I'd studied a few years later (though aside from the fact that I might never have done it then, I would also be a different person to the one writing this now). I think that is a problem, to some extent, of an educational system that just expects 18 year olds to know what it is they want to study, and why. There are competing motives, such as genuine intellectual curiosity and attractiveness to potential employers, for attending university also. I can honestly say I had no real idea why I chose to study what I chose to study at the time, and how it was I came to those decisions. I can remember thinking particular things then, but they don't make much sense to me now, and I think that any kind of analysis I do of them is likely to be faulty because I could misinterpret what I was thinking then or fill in the gaps with how I think now.

Of course, I was also my own worst enemy at times too. I partied a fair bit and certainly could have worked harder, despite getting into the honours programme in philosophy. That's just my point though. I'm not sure that anyone can put old heads on young shoulders. It's always a matter of striking a balance between pushing down too hard on young people and not pushing enough. Obviously, in the latter case, you do them (and society) a great disservice. However, in the former case, it's possible to either cause them to be reactionary simply for the sake of it (as young people are often inclined to do so they can exert what they perceive as their right to independence) or to simply crush any kind of intellectual curiosity in them. I think it comes down to some sort of really good leadership and/or ability to inspire and motivate people, which is as true of a professor as it is of a politician. I'm not sure how easy it is for a professor to really make that kind of connection though when he has a lecture hall with even just thirty students per subject (let alone hundreds, as in some of my subjects), and has to churn through as many assignments a couple of times per semester. Also, there's a conflict with academics producing great research and also being great teachers with great people skills. The two don't necessarily overlap at all, yet academics are principally at universities to research and publish and then get the teaching side of things thrust upon them. Yet I don't know that turning professors into "teachers for big kids" would be the solution either.

I think there was definitely some sort of contradiction at the heart of the university experience for me. On the one hand, I think the problem with university was precisely because it was so egalitarian or democratic or something of the sort, i.e. they let in people like me, and so the average student (if not the majority!) drags the quality of the educational experience down. I realised, even then, that I was probably part of the problem. However, if they hadn't let me in, then I'd probably be intellectually poorer as a result, and multiplied across thousands and thousands of students, society probably would be poorer also. Yet it also strikes me that I've met a lot of people who didn't really seem to get much from university and just cost society a lot in the process. It's a very complex issue, so I'd be interested if others could, and would, offer their perspectives on the value of large numbers of people studying at universities these days.

Regarding philosophy in particular, there were parts of it that I really did find immensely beneficial, but I also came to a lot of the same realisations you did. These days, I agree, it is hard to really see what the practical point of philosophy is given that even in the various fields of applied ethics there are basically entire departments specialising in such things now. However, I think the real benefit to a university education in general, and studying philosophy in particular is that it should ideally lead to a person approaching life in a particular manner. I can actually remember very few of the details of which philosopher wrote what these days (though I still have a general idea), but I think I'm a reasonably good critical thinker. Obviously, not everyone who studies at university (and studies philosophy in particular) is better at this than people who never set foot in the place, but there does seem to be some sort of relationship there. Of course, it could be a bit of a chicken and an egg thing, and it might be hard to tell whether those inclined to critical thinking seek universities out, or whether universities make critical thinkers (probably a bit of both), but I think the point stands.

Philosophy is an indulgence and it is hard to really justify its existence in a sense, but then, isn't that also true of most of the things we would consider higher goods, such as music or art? We're not robots, after all, so it's not all about building structurally sound bridges and making sure the company's bottom line is in the black.
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Re: Derren Brown

Postby Rachel » 09 Nov 2011, 08:31

Caleb wrote:Gavin:
I'm still very much of two minds about my university experience in general. I really do think I was too young and immature to really know why I was at university, and probably would have gained more if I'd studied a few years later (though aside from the fact that I might never have done it then, I would also be a different person to the one writing this now). I think that is a problem, to some extent, of an educational system that just expects 18 year olds to know what it is they want to study, and why. .


That's spot on. I had no idea what I wanted to do at 18.

The isolation of the state school system for 13 years does not help.

I like this dalrymple article:
http://issuu.com/salisburyreview/docs/spring_10-2

Sorry I could not find the link in a better format "Learn Now, Pay Later"

Re: Derren Brown
Unfortunatly I could not view the video living outside the UK.
Personally I do not believe in psycology as a science subject or even a worthy non science subject like Languages for example. I agree with Gavin on this.
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Re: Derren Brown

Postby Mike » 10 Nov 2011, 09:10

Caleb wrote:Another thing I noticed about psychology (I did a major in it) is that the kind of people who were really interested in it (both students and tutors or professors) struck me as being unbelievably boring people with almost no insights into anything. On the other hand, studying philosophy (which I also majored in), I regularly came in contact with large numbers of people who dwarfed me intellectually and who thought about things I had never even considered. It was a very challenging and rewarding environment. One might ask why I studied psychology then, but in my own case, by the time I'd figured all of this out, I'd already committed enough time to it that I figured I might as well get a major out of it. I felt like it was a complete waste of my time though, and feel increasingly that way.


Interesting to read. I did a year of philosophy at university and although the lecturers (with one exception) were terrible and the tutors not much better, the people studying it seemed a nice bunch on the whole. By contrast, almost all the people I knew doing psychology seemed very driven in one way or another, and not very pleasant.
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Re: Derren Brown

Postby Gavin » 21 Oct 2012, 22:32

This "manipulation TV" seems very popular. I happened to see about a minute of television this evening and it was part of what might actually be the most cretinous programme I have ever seen. This trash was called Balls of Steel and the part I saw was called "The Bunny Boiler":

[A woman] flirts with a man whilst in the company of his girlfriend to provoke a reaction from her. Thaila is young, slim, pretty, flirtatious and usually wears provocative clothes. Entry music: Lovefool by The Cardigans.


In, presumably, their desire for 15 minutes of fame under any conditions, the abused couple actually appeared in the studio for the "debriefing" after this idiotic incident.

It's not in the least surprising that this trash comes from Channel 4 television (as does Derren Brown). The other things that happen on the show are just as nasty and stupid (see the link and YouTube, if you can bear it). The programme describes itself as "the most daring and outrageous comedy quiz show in Britain!".
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Re: Derren Brown

Postby Paul » 21 Oct 2012, 23:13

Someone was telling me about this programme yesterday. Apparently the episode he saw had people deliberately injuring themselves with power tools he says. One fellow shot a nail through his hand with a nail gun (I think) whilst another chap dropped his trousers for someone to apply a belt-sanding machine to his bare buttocks.

Entertainment? We might as well bring back the Colisseum. This isn't a new TV phenomenum though. Haven't the Japanese had a TV programme based on self-abuse for decades and wasn't there an American TV show called 'Jackass' wherein the self-harm was actually quite horrific?
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Re: Derren Brown

Postby Gavin » 22 Oct 2012, 00:11

Yes, I was thinking about Jackass.

another chap dropped his trousers for someone to apply a belt-sanding machine to his bare buttocks


I've got to admit I chuckled at this! The sheer stupidity of it. In the same way I sometimes involuntarily laugh at someone's flesh tunnels. But turning this kind of idiocy into TV programmes - no.
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