Medium Rare

This is a frightening image... so it must be a ghost

Sometimes weird things happen.  Life is a continual stream of surprises.  Looking at it and realising that some things wait to be explained makes it, I think, all the more exciting.  Similarly knowing how something happens doesn’t detract from its beauty.  I know how clouds form; I understand what basic principles are involved  in a spectacular sunset; I remember from physics class how the bonds form in ice crystals – and I still think icicles are amazing things.  Which makes people’s desire to believe in spooky woo all the more puzzling to me.

I’ve had a boring evening with the exception of a rather nice plate of pork chop with roasted potatoes (plus sundry veg – yum!).  Thinking I would like to watch something interesting I throw on the ‘puter box for a good rummage around 40d.  “What’s this?  A show I had forgotten about – Derren Brown Investigates: The Man Who Contacts the Dead.” I click play.

What we have here is a man in a flat cap wandering around the streets of Liverpool, telling people he speaks to dead people. Derren goes round to visit and off they go to a woman’s house where Mr Psychic performs the small miracle of a psychic reading.  I have to say it looks pretty impressive.  Later on he repeats the trick and urges to Derren to give it a go.  It’s at this point that things start to turn ugly.  Derren is obviously pretty good at the old mind reading and this puts the medium’s nose out of joint;  to the point where he has to reassert his manhood by scoring some more hits of his own.  Derren then goes on to show possibly how the guy does it.  Things turn even uglier later on when Derren organises a reading for the psychic which doesn’t go too well…

Watch the show if you can.  It’s entertaining and informative.

A couple of things struck me as interesting:

At one point they go to one of this psychic’s shows.  The place is full of women seemingly desperate to know that everything is ok; that their loved ones are fine and that there’s something out there… afterwards.  It’s using that desperation, essentially to earn a living, that I find intensely distasteful.  I feel genuine sorrow for these poor women with their sad sad stories.  And that’s another thing I don’t know if it’s just the way the show is cut but there’s only women in the audience.  Where are the men?

There’s a scientist who investigates mediums who repeatedly states that Cold Reading is just one way in which this guy could be doing his schtick but also states that’s he’s open-minded to the prospect that said psychic can talk to the dead. The psychic, however, refuses stating that, “Not even a dog would take the test.”  Essentially leaving the team to do nothing other than take his word or leave it.

Derren reminds me very much of James Randi.  Randi is an interesting bloke and I first came across him when he took part in an excellent debunking of Homeopathy* for Horizon on BBC 2 (back when it still did Science).  He also set up his own foundation and he offers a straight $1 million to someone who can prove a paranormal activity scientifically.  Randi’s a magician (like Brown) and so has had all the training in sleight of hand you would expect; he also makes the point that this trained him to spot frauds.  He’s written books on the subject.  Perhaps people need training in how to spot fraud?  Perhaps they need taught to think critically and not accept things at face value.

* I recommend checking this show** out as well.

** And the one about Graham Hancock.  Oh, how I laughed.

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