Derren Brown was nowhere on my radar until I heard Sam Harris talk about binging through his specials with his daughter. Brown was able to get a 10-year old to ask, “how is this legal?” After starting to work through his Netflix specials, I completely understand where she’s coming from, and why Harris is such a fan.
Brown is a psychological illusionist, or more traditionally what is know as a mentalist. Mind reading, hypnotism – all of the extensions of normal magic that tweak your psychology just a bit, turned up to 10 (or 11 in his case).
As a kid playing with special effects pedals for my guitar, I’d figure out how something really worked by turning different knobs all the way up and all the way down. That trick of isolating a variable and then really tinkering with it has served me well. Brown does the same thing with people’s minds. He builds complex scenarios around suggestibility and cognitive predispositions that he’s isolated. From there, he guides his marks toward insane sounding outcomes, turning the knobs up to 11 by seeing if a person would commit murder or jump in front of a bullet. It has to be seen to be believed.
Check him out on Youtube or Netflix. If you’re interested in behavioral psychology it doesn’t get much better than this.