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.
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