Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Religion as Trickery: Brown (3)

Knowledge about what Derren Brown calls the ‘false logic’ involved in religious, spiritual, magical, psychical and other paranormal practices can help in this process of questioning.

Thus Brown’s work often hinges on exhibitions and explanations of the human ability to anticipate and manipulate the actions of others, demonstrating powers that condition and convince, transform and convert, as well as revealing luck, fate or destiny to be intricately linked to aptitudes for working with predictability and probability. The elements of illusion involved here come, therefore, from the performer’s adeptness at misdirection and misinformation, rather than from the subject’s gullibility – though what Brown sees as a ‘hard-wired’ susceptibility to make patterns and tell stories that make sense of our experiences of impossibility plays a part as well.

As far as what I do goes, I see it about playing very specifically to people’s intelligence [and not naivety]. You create a false logic. You create what appears to be an A, B, C. So, you know, in the case of a card trick, A is you pick a card, B is I make some magic thing over it, and C is it’s in my pocket, and that seems impossible.

But you miss, in fact, between A and B there was another stage, where maybe you picked a card and then maybe I took them back and gave them a little shuffle and then handed them back to you or there was something in the way that you picked the card that actually I was forcing a card on you, I was controlling your decision, but it doesn’t seem important so you don’t remember that.

And similarly between me doing the magic part [B] and it ending up in my pocket [C] maybe I did something else, maybe I asked you to put the cards in your pocket and I gestured in my pocket as I did that and that’s when I loaded the card in, but it doesn’t seem important to the story and you remember an A, B, C that’s impossible.

But if you see it in terms of that’s actually A, C, E and the real route actually goes A, then B, then C, then D, then E, then it becomes quite possible.

So to me that’s not about gullibility, that’s about a certain grammar that people will follow… We can’t function unless we form those patterns and this presumably goes back to, “if you see half a sabre-toothed tiger coming round the corner at you, you don’t wait for the other half, you run.” …In the same way, the magician creates that pattern knowing that we are hard-wired, probably, to fall for that, and fall for the easier pattern that’s presented to us. (Brown, in interview with Nigel Warburton, "Appearance and Reality")
Just as we might have missed the steps that would expose our experience of an impossible card trick to be based on a false logic that is in turn grounded in a lack of information about the knowledge and skills of a talented magician, might there be steps – that are consciously taken and thereby exposed by Brown, but perhaps unconsciously taken by those in the institutions and ‘industries’ around religious, spiritual and paranormal beliefs and practices – that we also miss (Brown, "Messiah")?

What are the steps – A, C, and E – which we use to form our beliefs and practices? To what extent do we only ‘notice what supports our beliefs’ in order to construct patterns, and ‘disregard the rest’ ("Messiah")?

What might steps B and D actually be? What aspects of our beliefs and practices don’t we consciously remember or don’t seem important?

Are we telling ourselves the story of the easier pattern?

If religious beliefs and practices operate on the unconscious false logic of a magic trick...

...what happens to my faith?

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