i have to admit he's the kind of guy i think i'd love to hate. in my head i imagine him to be slightly smug and dismissive of people as he treats them like his playthings - daring them to try to outwit his freakishly intuitive nature.
but, it turns out, i don't hate him. i think he's bloody brilliant. and he's doing my head in.
if you watched his programs last night, i can't think how you escape wracking your brains as to how that kind of understanding of human facial expressions, mannerisms, body language is possible.
for those of you who didn't watch the programs, here's the big deal.
if that doesn't make you have big huge questions about all kinds of stuff, then i don't know what will.
so, let me tell you some of the things that it makes me think.
derren brown is absolutely exquisitely clear that he does not believe himself to be psychic at all. he doesn't attribute his gift to anything other than a honed skill in reading people, reading from their reactions to him, from the way they look, from the way that they carry themselves, from their manner, from the clothes they wear etc etc.
and he can tell you the most obscure things, the 'hidden' things, the things that no-one else could know - that he couldn't, or shouldn't know, but does. for instance, on the program prior to the lottery number prediction he told a man that the question that man had wanted to ask derren (but which he didn't because it was a silly question) was whether the man should shave his scrotum - i kid you not. the man had opened himself up to the question being guessed, so it wasn't an abuse, derren didn't reveal a 'secret' that wasn't openly offered to be revealed.
he was also very responsible with his gift too. a young woman's question (again guessed by derren) was whether she would end up living in america. derren was absolutely clear that whatever he said wasn't written in stone, that he wasn't pronouncing any definite future over the woman's life, but that he was offering his positive answer to her as a distinct possibility based on what he could 'read' from who she was.
so i began to wonder.
in my own context of faith and religion, we have such a thing as gifts of prophecy and words of knowledge. is this what derren does? or, more to the point, is what derren does, what we do?
what if the highly tuned gift that derren obviously has, is something that people who we designate 'prophets' have?
you see, i rather doubt that derren went from being someone with absolutely no intuitive gift, to predicting the lottery, overnight. i imagine that derren began to realise that he 'knew' stuff about people. and as this gift continued, perhaps he charted it a bit. clocked it. recognised that it was happening. then, perhaps with no 'faith' framework to fit it into, he decided that he would analyse what it was that he was keying into that gave him the 'knowledge' of these people that he, normally, wouldn't have.
so, after time, he begins to think of the exact facial expressions, the exact bodily posture, that gives away certain pieces of information. he memorises them, so that if they come up on other people, he knows.
now, this might make it seem like this is then a learnable skill, something that anyone can do - and therefore, de-mystified, and, perhaps, secular, rather than sacred. but, i would think that even if derren tells us exactly how he predicted the national lottery, there will be an exact number of '0' of us, who will, any time soon, be down the newsagents with the winning ticket.
but this is still an awesome gift - this is still a gift that has the whiff of the divine about it.
my point is that derren has done something with the gift that most of us would never do. he's analysed it. he knows it. he knows when it's his own stuff getting in the way. he knows exactly what it is that he's doing. he's made this 'talent' worth a million times more. he hasn't stuck it in the mud, worried that he'd be called a freak.
regardless of how we interpret this gift in light of our own understanding of God's revealing nature, of God's use of his people as prophets. how many of us would spend a year honing that skill? how many of us would use the skills uncovered by secular means to hone our divine gift?
i predict that you're either slightly irritated right now, or feel like your brain's going to explode - or both