Sunday, May 18, 2008

David Tennant's Time Travel Trick - How did he do it?

Episode 3 of Derren Brown's Trick or Treat 2 featured time traveller David Tennant.

Early in the show, he was given a sealed envelope and hypnotized to travel backward through time and experience a historical event. He then related details of the event, which were virtually identical to details provided in the sealed envelope.

Near the end of the show, Tennant tried to do some "automatic writing" to predict the future, while Derren distracted him with various questions. Two days later, the automatic writing sample was reviewed and found to contain words that seemed to predict an article in that day's newspaper.

How did he do it?

Of the two tricks, the second seems more baffling. Derren Brown does not believe in automatic writing. Nor does he believe that it is possible to predict the future. Either (1) he knew about the article in advance or (2) he was able to make the writing sample appear to match the article when in fact it did not.

Because the writing sample included a complex and unusual name that was also in the article, I think option 1 is more probable. I have not yet had time to look up the actual newspaper article on-line. From what I saw in the show, though, it was a large, feature-type article. It appeared to be at least one full page with graphics/illustrations. It was not, therefore, breaking news.

It is entirely possible that Derren knew about the article two days before it ran, and was therefore able to select relevant words from the article to embed in David's automatic writing. How did he embed the words? I'm not sure.

What do you think?

Once again, I am posting a survey to get your feedback on how Derren did his trick. See survey to the right of this entry -->>

This week, instead of giving you a finite list of options, I am simply asking for a text response. If you have an idea how DB did it, leave a comment. I will post a representative sample of the responses later this week.

In other news

Remember Glen Brighton from episode 1 of Trick or Treat 2? With a little help from DB, Glen won a pub quiz in what has been the most interesting episode so far this season.

I have had the good fortune of corresponding with Glen since the episode ran. With his permission, I will post his comments about the experience later this week. Be sure to check back (or subscribe to the aboutderrenbrown RSS feed) -- you won't want to miss this.


Anthony said...

At least one day (probably a couple of days) passed between the time David did the automatic writing and the time he came back to see Derren on 17th Jan 2008 to read that day's Guardian.

The point is, David would have forgotten the exact appearance of the stuff he'd written -- he wasn't given enough time to get a good look at it. Derren would have had plenty of opportunity to switch the envelope that David put in his dressing-gown pocket by the pool for another, similar envelope containing a blank piece of paper. (Perhaps he hypnotised David to get at his pocket -- after all, he really did appear to have hypnotised him, albeit off-camera, just before the back-in-time regression trick he pulled earlier in the episode.)

When David turned up on 17th Jan to see if his automatic writing had predicted the day's headlines, Derren could again have pulled a switch, this time replacing the dummy envelope with one containing a doctored version of David's writing, which Derren would have had time to prepare that morning -- since the exact time of the newspaper-reading sequence is never given -- or even the night before. There's some very dodgy editing during the handover of the envelope this time round. (And, again, maybe hypnotism was involved as well.)

ellenore said...

Bear in mind that I have no idea what I'm talking about:

1. He knew the article was coming out (an intern called someone at the paper or something like that- and got the topic. Since the story wasn't exactly emergency breaking news-lawsuits rarely are- details were probably gleaned from teh internets

2. David may not be HYPNOTIZED hypnotized (and that's a fuzzy line anyway), but he may be sufficently out of it to where someone could have been flashing (?) words at the edge of his sight and he wasn't paying attention because he had at least 2 other things he was focusing on. Since he wasn't consciously thinking about what he was writing but was instead answering Derren's questions he could have transferred something he was seeing to the paper without really being aware.

A related experiment my professor in college did- She had my class members recite out times tables outloud. She said while we were doing this she would be talking softly but not to listen to what she was saying. While we were reciting, she read the class roster. After the experiment was over, all the students said that the only thing they had heard was their own name. So everyone was listening to and could hear her voice the whole time, but we didn't actually process what she was saying untill she said something significant to us. (It's kind of a version of the hidden observer phenomenon in hypnosis).

If this is true, then he kind of did the same trick twice. :) (Possibly 3 times because I'm sure that cat was cue'd somewhere.)

Alternatively, he could have faked the handwriting and given him a new note- kind of cheap, but effective. If you look at the video, Derren does a neat flourishy thing with the paper where he could have possibly replaced the envelope. no need to go into subliminal stuff (which isn't 100% effective) when you can do good old fashioned sleight of hand stuff (which is).

Anthony said...

@ellenore: as you say, there was no need for Derren to try and use subliminal suggestion to get David to actually write down certain words when there would have been plenty of opportunities to use sleight of hand instead to manoeuvre David into opening an envelope that contained a doctored version of his orginal manuscript.

Your college professor's trick might well have worked, but probably only because she said a word that was significant to you -- i.e. your own name. I suppose you could argue that the words online, Scrabble, sue and Agarwalla might hold the same sort of personal significance for David Tennant, and that therefore they made enough of an impact on his subconscious for him to write them down without realising it -- but it seems a bit unlikely.

ellenore said...

True- that experiment isn't the best analogy. Maybe this one? (I prefer the girl with the umbrella myself)

Even things that aren't significant to you can be visually cued subliminally- if a computer program quickly flashes "lamb" and you then have to give a word starting with l (or la), you'll be more likely to answer "lamb" even if you don't recall seeing the word. (You won't, however, feel abnormally compelled to go to a greek restaurant and order some lamb.) Priming can also happen if a person memorizes a list of words while hypnotized and is told to forget the list- he/she can't free recall but will be more likely to correctly complete a stem and give a primed word as a response to a category. (If "dog" was on the list, he'd give it when asked to name an animal significantly more than someone in a control group.)

There are also some early pain dissociation tests where a hypnotized person reports feeling no pain but will be able to rate the pain they feel through automatic writing- when "woken up" they still deny feeling pain. So there's some decent evidence that you can be primed and process sensory input when you're hypnotized even if you're not aware that you're doing it.

I'm aware that all of these are hypnosis examples and that's not exactly what happened on the show. (Being told to focus strongly on something else is arguably on that continuum, though.) Also there was no explicit suggestion in the show that David needed to ignore anything else he was seeing-
that explicit suggestion is present in all the other hidden observer-y experiments I can think of. Maybe that kind of thing's possible with just inattentional blindness or related dissociation?

Wow, I'm geeky

You're probably right though- I'm pretty sure this was a paper switch. Why do something really complicated which probably has a good chance of not working when you can do a paper switch?

gary said...

I try to look at this from Derren's perspective.

I'd like to think that he influenced the article itself. He could have easily used connections in the media to tell a writer what to write without his or her knowledge that any of it ever occurred.

I have no doubt that he influenced the automatic writing with the same technique. He employs variations of this technique in many of his demonstrations without the need to swap things out -- at the risk of getting caught out.

Iain said...

NEW POST! - no-one's mentioned the sheet of paper yet!! Watch David fold it up by the pool - it's in half and then in half again on the same angle. BUT - the sheet he retrieves from the envelope later on is folded neatly in thirds like an A4 letter. Clearly there has been a switch of envelopes.

Khismett said...

I know this is a long time gone, but I thought I might as well point out how it's done. It's fairly easy to spot from the video that the writing on the back of the page changes; the original version Tennant writes is clearly not the one he has later on.

So a switch has been made: there are several pages on the table, Tennant writes the first bit then Brown -- slightly awkwardly -- turns all the pages over and Tennant continues on what is now the back of the last sheet in the stack (not the back of the first sheet). He's then asked to fold that page up and put it in the envelope, the other sheets (including the first one) are left on the table.

All that is left is for the real envelope to be swapped with one containing the original first sheet (now with "Face Wife Crabapple..." on the back, based on that morning's paper). Brown takes Tennant's envelope and waves it around with the newspaper, I would guess the switch happened there somewhere.

S. Adam Bernstein said...

Actually, of all Derren Brown amazing tricks, this was one I knew right away how it was done and was disappointing. The other poster Khismett got what was obvious to me. Derren asks for the envelope and then waves it around with a newspaper...Duuhh. Wonder what happened. Hate to burst your Derren bubble, but yes, he switched it.