Monday, 14 September 2009

Load of balls

THERE is no doubt of the media event of the last seven days: Darren Brown’s so called prediction of the National Lottery numbers.
However before we all get carried away, let’s get one thing clear. He didn’t. Predict the Lottery numbers, that is.
What he did was show the numbers after the event. If he had predicted them, he would have revealed them in advance, which is of course impossible.
If he could do that then the Lottery would be dead as an event.
When it came to his programme on Friday, explaining “how he did it”, it was difficult to decide whether to be annoyed that he would insult our intelligence with the complete baloney, or admire his bare-faced cheek.
The whole explanation was nonsense.
First he demonstrated how people’s behaviour could be predicted when fear was involved. The demonstrations involved a woman scared of mice putting her hand into four boxes, one of which was supposed to contain said rodent.
All that demonstrated was a schoolboy standard sleight of hand with the card showing a mouse. Whichever was the last box, the card would have been revealed next to it.
The man asked to stamp on polystyrene cups, one of which supposedly contained a knife to sever his foot, was even more irrelevant. No cup had the dagger.
Darren Brown had correctly predicted which six cups the man would leave to last by writing their numbers on the back of a cheque for half a million pounds that was supposed to compensate the man for his disability if the trick had gone wrong.
That was a classier sleight of hand. But it was irrelevant to the lottery prediction, especially when Darren later explained that the emotion of a group thinking they had predicted the lottery numbers was interfering in their psychic ability! Either emotion helps or it doesn’t. He can’t have it both ways.
By then Darren had moved on to the theory of crowd wisdom, based on the ability of a number of people to predict the weight on a bull at a country fare if an average was taken of their guesses.
This is quite different to predicting lottery numbers, as country folk do have knowledge of the weight of animals and it is a fixed fact they are guessing.
This is not the same as predicting random numbers.
So the whole experiment of getting a room of 24 people to use averages to guess the lottery numbers was bogus.
The real trick was to get the guinea pigs to believe they were actually having an impact.
Even this was undermined by Darren Brown doing the calculations himself on the actual live lottery attempt and then not even telling the assembled 24 what their guesses had been until he allegedly revealed them on the live broadcast. P-lease!
There are many theories to what Darren Brown’s trick really was. My own favourite was the use of the white board to write down the numbers after the draw. This was completely unnecessary to the visual appreciation of what he was trying to demonstrate and therefore probably holds the clue.
Any modern teacher will tell you that white boards do some pretty clever things. Transferring his scribbles onto the still hidden balls would be my best guess.
None of this reduces my appreciation of Darren Brown.
His great skills are as an entertainer, his showmanship, his cheek if you like.
He can get enormous publicity for his new series. He can enthral a nation. He can get 24 apparently intelligent people to believe they were collectively predicting the lottery numbers when they weren’t.
And nor did he.

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