AC Grayling: Derren Brown's Lotto stunt was a trick too far
By AC GRAYLING - THE BELFAST TELEGRAPH
Added: Mon, 14 Sep 2009 23:00:00 UTC
If you watched the illusionist Derren Brown predicting the winning lottery numbers last Wednesday, you almost certainly watched him last Friday explaining – one should rather say, "explaining" – how he did it. The Wednesday event was a great trick; the question is, was the Friday event a great trick also?
To answer this question we need to know what, in general, lies behind the ability of magicians and illusionists to do things that invariably make us gasp with surprise and admiration. There are four elements involved. The first is the nature of perception. The second is the fact that almost all of us share a common set of expectations and beliefs, which magicians can exploit. The third is that people want to be entertained, and willingly allow themselves to be led into deceiving themselves accordingly. And the fourth is the skill and dexterity of the magician himself.
Take first the nature of perception. We think that when we are awake with our eyes open, we see our physical environment continuously and as a whole. We do neither. Instead we consciously register only a small part of the environment, the part we are focusing on, and we see it in a series of snapshots that we interpret as continuous, filling in the blanks (for example, when we blink – which we do often) as we go. We not only interpret the snapshot series as continuous with the help of these fillings-in, we also "see" things that are not there but which we expect to find there, or believe are there.
Continue reading (and 2 YouTube videos)
Kyle Hill - JREF Comments
If we want people to understand the full range of skepticism we have to also stress the affirmatives. We need to live up to the charge of promoting science and critical thinking
Jon White - New Scientist Comments
Indian rationalist Sanal Edamaruku faces a Catholic backlash after insisting that the "holy" water dripping from a statue of Christ came from a leaky drain
Matthew Hutson - Wired Comments
"If there's no obvious responsible party, we find a scapegoat. And what happens if no acceptable scapegoats are in sight? We credit a supernatural one."
Jonah Lehrer - The New Yorker 106 Comments
While philosophers, economists, and social scientists had assumed for centuries that human beings are rational agents—reason was our Promethean gift—Kahneman, the late Amos Tversky, and others demonstrated that we’re not nearly as rational as we like to believe.
Chris Michaud - Reuters 91 Comments
Nearly 15 percent of people worldwide believe the world will end during their lifetime and 10 percent think the Mayan calendar could signify it will happen in 2012.
Daisy Grewal - Scientific American 41 Comments
How Critical Thinkers Lose Their Faith in God