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Derren Brown Interview (1/6) - Richard Dawkins

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Derren, could you begin by telling me what cold reading is and how it's used? Cold reading, I suppose, is the way that a complete stranger can seemingly tell you everything about yourself without being psychic and without knowing anything about you. In essence, the cold reader or psychic is supplying a lot of words, and you as the sitter, the other person, is supplying the meaning to those words. And it relies on a lot of technics --it's not really a question of forensic body-reading and the sort of things that people might [think.] Normally, it's not even that clever. There are linguistic tricks which unless you are aware of them are very easy to fall for. And those tricks can give the impression that the person knows everything about your character, or might refer to facts and things from your life or from your past that they seemingly couldn't seemingly know [about you.] So if a so-called psychic, a trickster, was trying to pretend to guess... ...I don't know --the name of the sitters grandfather or something like that, what would be the kind of thing they might do? Well, very often, even [at] guessing the name of the grandfather, if you back up, what tends to happen is that the psychic will, if it's with a group of people, throw out a name and say "I'm getting the name John", or Albert or something suitable for the age-group they are working with. And that name could refer to a person in the audience who is living or it could refer to someone that's died or it could be a friend of the [person.] It really could be anything --so it's up to somebody to pick up on it and turn it into what they'd want it to be, and of course, if they say "Yes, that was my husband," then the reader can go "Yes, that's right, he's here, he's saying he still loves you" or whatever that is that-- --and they turn it back into make it sound as if they were saying it was your husband, when in fact it could've been anybody-- --it could've been the name of the person who was sat there. The kinda methods that involved the Barnum statements are very sort of famous and well-known about, and there's a great experiment-- Can you remind us what the Barnum [statments are?] Well, yeah, there's a terrific experiment that was done on this with students-- --I've filmed this myself, with three different groups of people across the world, where everybody in the group is given a reading, a personality reading, and normally beforehand there's some nonsense about asking for their birthdate or getting some objects off them-- --you know, so there's some sort of process apparently involved. And they're given a reading. And it's a long reading, it's a very detailed personality reading. They all get one individually, they're asked to read it, and invariably they will all say afterwards that it is very, very accurate, that it was not at all vague or ambiguous or what people might expect. And they'll give it 85-90-95% accuracy-- --and I've seen this happen, people were amazed by it. And then you get them to swap with each other, "So then perhaps you can identify someone else by their reading," and they realise they've all been given exactly the same thing, which was written months ago, before they even met them, you know. And the statements that fill those sort of readings are generally Barnum stataments-- --and Barnum statements are things which essentially apply to anybody. It's only part of the cold reading skill, but it's a major part of it. It comes from P.T. Barnum, the circus proprietor, who said "We have something for everybody!". "Something for everyone". That's right. And famously, "There's a sucker born every minute." These are statements, along the lines of... "You're somebody who...--" "You tend to keep people a little bit at bay, you tend to keep it at arms length," "but when you allow people into that inner sanctum," "when they become your close friends," "if they betray you, then that really hurts..." And you're not saying anything other than "you're closer to people that you're close to." It means nothing, absolutely nothing! And horoscopes are the same, they use the same principle. Yeah --because those things have to apply to anybody, because there's no interaction going on in a horoscope or something given, where everyone's getting the same thing. There's no feedback, so you're simply relying on things that'd apply to anybody. What you can do when you're interacting with somebody is, you can fork off from one way or another. You can go one way or the other depending on the response you get, so if I said to you that "the spirits are telling me you've got quite a temper," you could answer "Yes" or "No" to that, you might agree or disagree. Now if you agree with it, it feels like a hit and I can say "Yes, that's right," I can sense that you got a real temper, dot, dot, dot." If you say "No," I can say "Well, not on the outside," "what you've done is you've learnt how to sort of keep that very contained--" "--but inside, you'll be aware that there are some things that really kinda knock you up and make you very angry," "but what's great about you is that you've learnt to control it on the outside." It still feels like a hit. Linguistically, what they tend to do is... They put the world "not" into the question, so they'll say things like-- In one recent reading I was listening to, she said "You haven't been drinking a lot of water recently, have you?" And by phrasing it in the negative it allows a "Yes" or "No" to be a hit. And the answer was "No", and she said "Well, you should do: the spirits are telling me..." " need to be drinking more than you are, you haven't been drinking much." It sounded like a hit. Equally, if the person said yes, it would've seemed "Yes, they're telling me...," you know, either way. Then, a common ruse also is to... make statements that allow you to have both sides of the coin in one go. So, for example, if I said to you "You've got an extrovert side and an introvert side," that's not remotely convincing at all, that seems to be a given. But if you say to somebody: "When you are at a party, you're are very good at being able to hold court, you know, you can entertain people, you're very good at being, really, the life and soul of the party, but what's interesting about you is that when you walk away from that, you'll often find yourself at home, running back through conversations in your head, and wondering "What did that person mean? Why did I said that? That was stupid." And when you're even at those parties, even though you like to think you're somebody who can be in charge and very charismatic, you'll often find yourself just stood there thinking: "God, why am I here? It's like everyone is a million miles away." And you're aware that is a façade that you put on. Now, whether or not that applies to you, the fact is all I'm doing is saying that "you've got an introvert side and an extrovert side," which cancells itself out, it means nothing. And yet, most people will find a way of making that easily fit themselves. Now, when you analyze these things, like the Barnum effect and cold reading, you're doing it in a sort of rational way. I take it that the psychics and palm readers and astrologers and people who do it know perfectly well what they're doing, and therefore, they are fakes. But are all of them fakes, or some of them managed to fool themselves as well? I think the difference is how good they are at it, which is unfair in a way, because it becomes-- The good ones are the fakes? I think the difference is you can see when cold reading's at work, when you know the tricks, when you know the same old things coming out: "You've got an old box of photographs at home... and you've got..." The tricks they come out with, and the pushing for statements, making somebody make a statement hit, and if they don't, moving on the next person. One I was listening to recently: "The spirits tell me you've been doing a lot of sewing." And that woman was like "No..." "Well, then somebody in the spirit plane's been doing a lot of sewing?" "No..." She couldn't make a hit, so she went to the next person: "Is it for you? Have you been doing a lot of sewing?" "No..." "--Well, you've got a coat at home with a button that's loose or a hem that's loose?" "No...". I mean, it wasn't working. And at the end she said "Have a look for that, my dear, they're telling me that..." --you know. And it went from something [big] to nothing. So when you see that; that's clear that person is ---they know exactly what they're doing, they're desperately trying to get a hit. However, I think the people that are... I've been to psychic training colleges and seen people that are very sincerely trying to learn, they've been told they believe that they're a bit psychic, because, you know, we all have a certain amount of intuition, if we misunderstand things like kinda coincidence- -a phone ringing, because we've been thinking of somebody earlier on that day; the phone rings and it's them. And we might mistake that for being psychic if we don't really understand how these things can easily happen quite a lot of the time. So, I think there are plenty of people who learn it genuinely and really think that whether it's palm reading, tarot cards or whatever, that there really is a system-- So say they go to a training course? These things do exist. I mean literally you can buy books on it nowadays-- But I'm just trying to get into the mind of one of the instructors on the training course. I mean, the instructors on the training course are teaching cold reading, while dressing it up as though it was genuine-- So they really are charlatans, then. I think so, I think so. It's difficult, because cold reading is something that you can be taught to do without it seeming like tricks. Oh, okay. I've been in a situation where... trainee psychics are sat around saying things to each other like: "Oh, I'm sensing there's a..." --Oh, some of the great things I heard was: "I'm sensing you're on a bus, and the bus is going the wrong way." "But it might not be a bus, it might be a relationship." And when you're hearing things like that, you think: Well, okay, this isn't cold reading, this is just people sort of apotheosizing intuition, and just learning to just-- "Well, I'll just speak openly, and I know this other person is going to make it fit," because we're all partisan and we're all learning together." And that just seems sort of naïve-- But even when they're learning it all together, they're still dressing it up in their own minds as the spirit world talking to them-- Yes, absolutely --all it is, is just being intuitive and being open and being --just say what you feel, that's all it is. It's this whole thing of intuiting your way to enlightment and knowledge which is, you know, a potentially disastrous way of thinking.

Video Details

Duration: 9 minutes and 53 seconds
Country: Spain
Language: English
Producer: Richard Dawkins
Views: 208
Posted by: lukanieto on Oct 8, 2010

The full uncut interview filmed for the Channel 4 TV program "The Enemies of Reason." Subtitulado al castellano.

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