How Did Derren Brown Predict The Lottery?

Earlier this week, Derren Brown gave the illusion of predicting the lottery numbers before they were revealed in real time on national TV in Britain.  Here’s that original video in case you missed it:

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Now here is his bullshit explanation of how he did it.

Why his explanation makes no sense:

He took inspiration from the Wisdom of Crowds theory, which essentially says that decisions made by lots of people are better than those by individuals.

The theory tells how a crowd at a county fair accurately guessed the weight of an ox when their individual guesses were averaged.

But last night maths experts poured scorn on Brown’s explanation saying that the whole thing was ‘bluff’ and ‘nonsense’.

Professor of Pure Mathematics at University of Oxford Roger Heath-Brown said: ‘This is not a good strategy for picking the lottery. But I can understand why some people might think it is a plausible strategy.

‘Mathematically it is complete rubbish. It is a bluff on his part. He is doing it some other way that is clear. But he is trying to produce what looks like a plausible rationale for producing numbers.’

The academic said it was wrong to draw a comparison with the ox experiment as people in that case had some evidence to go on.

David Spiegelhalter, professor of public understanding of risk at  University of Cambridge said: ‘There is a difference between guessing between the weight of a cake compared with guessing lottery balls, which is unguessable.

It’s puzzling that someone who does great services of exposing people’s gullibility and the techniques by which frauds dupe them (see here or here for just two of many examples available on youtube) does a trick where he not only performs an illusion but lets people feel like they are in on the secret and have them leave saying ridiculously superstitious things like that simply believing they could predict numbers can make them do it successfully.

Your Thoughts?

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • David Fanning

    Derren Brown always uses the same technique of explaining things in a seemingly plausible (to the average punter) way. But that’s the misdirection he admits at the beginning of every show. He uses normal magic trickery to do the stunt, then explains it with hokey science like Wisdom of Crowds or Subliminal Messaging. Most people accept the explanation, at least at first. But people with an ounce of sense will realise the explanation is actually less lightly that a camera trick, planted stooges in the crowd, or any other magicians techniques.

    • beezer

      At the end of the day guys, it has got everyone talking and that was the purpose of it all, I take my hat off to derren brown and hope he keeps up the good work, weather total rubbish or not, its entertainment plain and simple…

  • Daniel Fincke

    Why does he even claim to explain if he’s only going to spread pseudoscience in the explanations? Why not just achieve the illusion and be satisfied with that? Why go out of the way to trick the audience into actually believing in something false on top of it? That’s really upsetting.

    Do you know how this one is really done? ?
    If it’s just actors, then there’s nothing remotely like illusionism there at all.

  • John

    Predicting people trying to be random is completely different to predicting something truly random. Derren’s junk math is incredibly annoying.

    I think the illusion was achieved with a photo-sensitive coating on his balls and a laser. :-)

  • Theology Now Blog

    The whole programme leads up to the explanation which is given in the last sentence: “It was just a trick”. Nothing more, nothing less. The rest is just misdirection.

  • Daniel Fincke

    It’s a rather cruel joke on the rubes he convinced were helping him do something astonishing. The joy and sense of being something powerful that he gave the people in that room, all as a public exercise in exploiting their astonishing gullibility and mathematical stupidity, just setting them up to believe in something false of which they will be persistently disabused from now on—is just cruel if you ask me.

    They were so over the moon, everyone of them. Not one of them had an appropriately skeptical demeanor while on national TV. All of them exploited for their susceptibility.

    I don’t see the point of this at all. It’s one thing to play with the mind’s ability to see what is not there. It’s wholly another to take the human propensity towards errors in probability and utterly exploit it and confuse it with a bogus mathematics lesson based on lies, which harms people’s mathematical comprehension and trains them in poor inferences rather than improving their understanding.

    The more I think about what he did, the uglier and more disreputable I see it to be.

  • Alton Nutile

    This Daniel Fincke chap is a wanker. It’s entertainment, not fact.

  • Daniel Fincke

    hhahahahaa, nice, I’ve been called a chap and a wanker—that means I’ve officially gone international! Cheerio!

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  • Osian

    I lost a lot of respect for Derren Brown that night. I don’t mind him doing tricks, but the point of the show wasn’t to see him predict the lottery – we all know any magician can do that. The point (as it was billed) was to let the audience in on the secret, and the fun for the viewers should have been to try and work out the trick before it was revealed.

    Instead, we were given an hour of tedious bullshit mathematics of the level normally offered by numskull creationist philosophers. I completely agree with Daniel Fincke that the room of “predictors” were made to look like fools, and I hope for their sake that they were part of the show.

    What I normally like about Derren’s breed of magic is the way he exploits – to our education – the intrinsic weaknesses of the human mind. On this occasion he used it to his own amusement to laugh at us, his gullible audience. I had no interest in the rest of his series.

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