We are all trapped inside our own heads,
and our beliefs and our understandings about the world are limited
by that perspective,
which means we tell ourselves stories.
Right? So here we are in this infinite data source.
There’s an infinite number of things that we could think about,
but we edit and delete.
We choose what to think about, what to pay attention to.
We make up a story …
to make sense of what’s going on,
and we all get it wrong.
Because we’re all trying to navigate with our own skewed compasses,
and we all have our own baggage,
but the stories themselves are utterly convincing.
And we all do this,
and a lot of the stories that we live by aren’t even our own.
The first ones we inherit at a young age from our parents,
who of course have their own skewed beliefs,
their own frustrations, their own unlived lives.
And for better or worse, we take all that onboard,
and then we go out into the world
thinking maybe we have to be successful to be loved;
or that we always have to put other people’s needs first;
or that we have some big terrible secret we couldn’t possible tell people.
And it’s just fiction, it’s just stories,
and we’d worry a lot less about what other people think of us
if we realized how seldom they do.
(Laughter)
So I feel that magic is a great analogy for how we edit reality and form a story
and then mistake that story for the truth,
and I’ve had a 20-year career in the UK
staging big psychological experiments on TV,
and now that’s on Netflix.
I also have a stage show.
I’ve got my first Broadway show actually coming up, called «Secret.»
Just throwing that out there. No pressure.
(Laughter)
That should be this year.
And I try to do something new with mentalism, mentalism,
which is the dubious art of getting inside your head.
So there was a heyday for this kind of stage mind-reading,
which was the 1930s.
That’s why I’m dressed like this,
in my most un-TED-like garb.
And there was an act, an act known as the Oracle Act.
And in the Oracle Act, members of the audience,
as I know you have done,
would write down secret questions,
the sort of questions you might ask a psychic,
seal that question into an envelope,
and on the outside of the envelope they would write their initials
and then roughly where they sat in the audience.
And then the Oracle, the mind reader, would take an envelope one at a time,
he wouldn’t open it,
but he would attempt to divine what question was sealed inside.
And if he got that right, he would try and answer the question
for the person too.
And the act spread like wildfire.
It’s a testament, I think, to the seductive appeal
of some powerful figure offering you easy, simple answers
to life’s complex and subtle questions
and anxieties.
So thank you all of you that wrote questions.
I haven’t seen these. I know somebody’s guarding them.
Thank you so much.
I will take those now. Thank you all of you that did this.
I should say, probably, a couple of things before I start.
In absolute honesty,
first of all I can’t see through these envelopes.
They are sealed. They are thick black envelopes.
You’ll know if you wrote one. I can’t see through them.
Secondly, importantly, I don’t know any of you
and nobody is playing along.
That’s not what this is.
Thirdly …
I don’t believe for a second that I have any special psychological gifts,
let alone any psychic ones.
So let’s begin.
Nope.
(Laughter)
OK, this —
Oh, nice.
OK, this one’s interesting. There’s a couple here.
I will start with maybe this one.
This one’s interesting, because the writing undulates.
There’s a sort of an up and down thing,
which normally — not always — normally means
that the person doesn’t know the answer to the question themselves,
so it’s normally a question about the future, right?
That sort of suggests uncertainty.
So I would say it’s a lady,
age-wise it’s a little difficult to tell from this minimal handwriting,
but I would expect maybe 30s, maybe 40s, but let’s find out.
It says — and a question about the future —
it says, «JN, center.»
So it’s going to be somebody in this big central section here.
If you think this is you, if you wrote one,
could you make a fuss?
It’s a bit difficult for me to see in the center.
Hi, give us a wave.
So J …
Jane? Jessica?
Jessica: Yes.
Derren Brown: Which one? Jessica: Jessica.
DB: Thank you. Just a guess. Little murmur of approval, thank you?
(Laughter)
I’ll take it.
Alright, so Jessica, I won’t ask your age,
but is it a question essentially about the future?
Jessica: Mhm? DB: Yes?
Jessica: Yes. DB: Yes. OK.
Alright. So what did we ask? What did Jessica ask about the future?
So am I OK with late-30s, early-40s?
Jessica: I’ll take it. I’m taking it.
(Laughter)
DB: OK, so it’s important,
because we ask different questions depending how old we are.
Just say, «I’ll take it» again.
Jessica: I’ll take it.
DB: Virginia? You’re from Virginia? Jessica: Yes, I am.
DB: Yeah. So —
(Laughter)
I think this is a lady,
I think this is a lady who wants to leave Virginia.
I think you’re looking at plans,
it’s whether or not things are going to come together to get out.
Just show me your hands.
Other sides so I can see fingernails?
OK, I think you have a farm
and it’s whether or not you’re going to sell your farm and get out of Virginia?
Is this right?
Jessica: Absolutely, that’s the question.
DB: Alright. Great. Thank you. It’s a great question!
What was the actual question? What did you put?
Jessica: «Will I sell the farm in Virginia?»
DB: Will you sell the farm?
Alright, so look, it’s a great question if you are pretending to be psychic,
because it’s about the future,
which means I can give you a yes or no on this.
It means nothing. You have no way of verifying it.
And a dangerous thing to do —
and if I say yes or no, it’ll just stick in the back of your mind,
and it can’t not start to affect decisions you make.
So a dangerous thing to do. However —
(Laughter)
Yes, I think you will sell the farm,
because I think you’re the sort of person
that in the nicest way will get what you want.
I think when there are things you want, you tend to focus on them
at the expense of other things
that you know you probably should be focusing on more,
would you agree?
Educated, you spent a few years in —
Say yes again, the word «yes» quickly? Jessica: Yes.
DB: No? Jessica: No.
DB: California? Berkeley? A bit of a guess, but …
Jessica: I went to Berkeley, yes. Stop doing this!
DB: So it’s a yes.
Oh, and you’ve been to India recently as well.
There’s just a tiny, tiny little thing going on there. Yes? No?
Jessica: Yes, I just got back from India.
DB: It’s a yes from me, I just don’t want to say it like it’s written in the stars
because it isn’t, and you need to take responsibility for it.
DB: Have a seat. Thank you. Let’s do another one.
(Applause)
AH, also in the center? AH.
This will be a man, a little older, maybe late 40s, I would say from this.
AH, center, stand up for me if you think this is you.
AH. Hi, let’s get a microphone to this guy.
Quick as we can, on camera would be amazing.
Oh, look at that! Freeze. Don’t move. Don’t move.
Keep absolutely still.
Are you standing? Where are you?
Man: I am standing. I’m not that short.
DB: OK.
Alright, now you changed that.
There was just something you did as you got up.
Yes or no, have you put something on here —
you’re not doing it now, but you did it as you stood up —
to do with your left or your left leg or your left foot, yes or no?
Man: Yes.
DB: Alright. He was giving us a nice clear signal as he stood up.
Put your weight on your left-hand side and say «yes.»
Man: Yes.
DB: Take your hand out of that pocket, put your weight on the other side,
change hands with the mic and say «yes» again.
Man: Yes.
DB: You have a dislocation
in the big toe on your left-hand side?
Man: Yes.
DB: Thank you so much. Great. Good one! Take a seat. Take a seat.
Can I get the microphone? I’m going to change microphone for this.
Can I grab a mic up? Thank you.
Thank you so much. That would be great there.
I’m going to change mic because,
hopefully you can now still hear me?
So I’m going to blindfold myself.
And I’m doing this now so I don’t have the clues as you stand up.
I can’t see where you put your hands.
I can’t see how you respond to what I’m saying.
I can’t see what the people next to you are doing either.
If they know the answers to the question, that’s always very helpful.
I won’t have those advantages,
but strangely,
this frees me up,
and I want this to free you up as well,
so if you didn’t write a question
but you wish that you had done,
you can still take part.
The point of writing the question is only that it just kind of gets
a nice, clear, succinct wording in your head.
So if you can just find a question in your head,
make it clear and succinct, just send it to me,
and I’ll try and do this now without anything written down.
So just start to form questions but send me your name as well.
«My name is,» whatever that last guy was,
and «what’s strange about my feet,» or whatever the question was.
So name and question.
There is somebody already, I’m guessing you’re quite near the front,
because your name is quite clear.
Feels like you’re in the center at the front.
OK, let me just … Allan?
Feels like there’s an Allan.
And you’re going to be quite near the front, vaguely central, I think.
Feels like it’s coming from right there.
There’s like a man, maybe early 60s, something like that.
Allan: Yes.
DB: You’ve got a mic? Great, thank you.
Allan, just say «stop» when I get to you so that I know where you are,
where to face.
Allan: Stop.
DB: You a Capricorn? Allan: Yes.
DB: So Allan has something in his head.
Now, did you hear it, hear the reserve in his voice?
It’s going to be something really tricky.
I think with you … Just say «yes» again for me?
Allan: Yes.
DB: It’s going to be either —
no it’s not.
It’s access, it’s a password or access to something.
Have you got something, just yes or no, with a password in your head?
Allan: Yes.
DB: A computer password, that sort of thing?
Allan: Yes.
DB: Excellent!
(Laughter)
In that case, I’m going to finish on this one. Let me —
If I get this right,
they’re all going to know what it is, and millions of people potentially.
You will change it, won’t you?
Allan: Of course.
(Laughter)
DB: Just say «of course» again? Allan: Of course.
DB: Alright. If it’s a word — I imagine it’s a word, right —
just see the password written in front of you,
big clear block capital letters,
and as you look at it, think for me of a letter somewhere in the middle,
don’t say it out loud,
just get a letter in your head that’s in the middle.
Have you got one? Allan: Yeah.
DB: OK, stick with that for me.
Ah, you changed it, OK.
You changed your mind there.
I think you settled on a —
I think that’s a «B», yes?
Allan: No.
I didn’t.
DB: Then it’s an «I»? Allan: Correct.
DB: But you had a B. Allan: Yes.
DB: Yeah, he changed his mind. He changed his mind.
(Laughter)
So see it written there.
Just keep saying it to yourself in your head.
Oh, you play drums, don’t you.
Allan: I do.
DB: Just get that out of your head, get that out of your head,
just focus on this one thing for me.
(Laughter)
My job is to sell you a story, right?
I try and do this to all of you, to get you to pay attention
to one thing that I want you to find important,
ignore other things that I want you to ignore,
and then join up those narrative dots
to tell yourself a certain story about what I’m doing,
and this only works because we are story-forming creatures,
which means we do this every day.
We go out into this complex and subtle world
full of a complex and subtle people like you and me, Allan,
and we reduce them to these neat characters
that fit whatever story we’re telling ourselves,
and we say, «She’s insecure,» «He’s arrogant,» «They can’t be trusted.»
And these are just stories like the story that I can somehow read your mind.
You’re thinking of selling your company as well, aren’t you, at the moment.
Allan: Correct.
DB: Which is something to do with skin?
Allan: Yes.
DB: Skin care or something like this.
Allan: Uh, yes.
DB: And I think the reason why I love doing this
is that it reminds me at least to try and be more alive and alert
to the complexity and the subtlety of what’s real,
that there’s always other stuff going on that we don’t know about,
and it means we can get less stuck, we can be kinder to people
because we can recognize there’s always fear behind their stress,
so we don’t need to meet it as defensively,
and we can start to see the stories for what they are
and recognize that life isn’t all about us.
Oh!
Your password, where are you? Where are you? Where is he?
Allan: Right here.
DB: Stand up for me. Your password is «ariboy.»
A-r-i-b-o-y? Is that right? Allan: That’s correct.
DB: Then thank you so much. Thank you very much indeed.
Thank you.
(Applause)

«Magic is a great analogy for how we edit reality and form a story — and then mistake that story for the truth,» says psychological illusionist Derren Brown. In a clever talk wrapped around a dazzling mind-reading performance, Brown explores the seductive appeal of finding simple answers to life’s complex and subtle questions.

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Mentalism, mind reading and the art of getting inside your head | Derren Brown

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