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PaulWright comments on Of Exclusionary Speech and Gender Politics - Less Wrong

60 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 21 July 2009 07:22AM

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Comment author: PaulWright 23 July 2009 12:30:57AM *  5 points [-]

I admire Derren Brown enormously for his cleverness, but he's not doing NLP (if indeed there's anything to do: an article which addressed the evidence would be good, I think). He just wants you do think he is. The bit at the end of the trick where he gleefully shows you how he did it using NLP to implant words in people's minds is itself misdirection. It's part of his act, as pretending to be psychic would have been back in the days when people kind of believed in that.

Brown: "Years ago the issue was whether or not you told people it was psychic because people were prepared to believe in psychic ability--and how far down that road do you take them. Now we're in a situation where we're into pop psychology, and NLP, all these huge industries, and people are prepared to believe in that, and maybe in a way that's the new psychic realm." The whole interview the quote came from is worth reading.

Comment author: pjeby 23 July 2009 01:08:12AM *  2 points [-]

The whole interview the quote came from is worth reading.

Especially since it contradicts what you just said about Brown not doing NLP. From the interview:

Well, I not a big a fan of it, but I've done it and think in some contexts there's some use.... It's not what I do. It's part of what I do."

It struck me that the interviewer was really pressing Brown rather hard to say that things like NLP and hypnosis are shams and false, and Brown was pressing back rather hard with the idea that no, people can actually get some benefits from learning these things, they just won't be able to duplicate all my effects that way.

Of course, I've seen Brown do certain things that are pretty much straight-up, textbook NLP or hypnosis with no real embellishing. For example, confusing a woman about what color her car is - a simple submodality anchoring belief-change exercise, straight out of the NLP textbooks, with no alterations that I noticed.

And the one where he uses blank pieces of paper to pay for things as if it were money, he uses an NLP language pattern to prime the person at a critical moment with the idea that "it's good; take it". (Although I suppose you could say it's an Ericksonian hypnosis pattern; the NLP inventors certainly were among the first to document it, however.)

That having been said, quite a few things he does are not NLP at all, or at least not any cataloged NLP technique I know of.

The bit at the end of the trick where he gleefully shows you how he did it using NLP to implant words in people's minds is itself misdirection.

In neither of the two cases that I just mention, did Brown draw any attention to the NLP aspect of the effects, either verbally or nonverbally. He provided no explanation at all for either, actually. (Maybe he only does it with techniques that aren't real NLP?)

Anyway, I had to very carefully view the paying-with-paper footage several times in order to notice what he was doing, as he was telling different stories each time in which to embed the "it's good, take it" message, which was always timed to occur just as he was handing them the "money".

(Of course, I also respect him for including outtake footage in the episode of him trying the trick on a suspicious hotdog vendor (whose English wasn't so good) and having it fail miserably. I'm glad he's not representing these things as working every time on everybody without fail.)

Comment author: PaulWright 26 July 2009 09:36:37PM *  1 point [-]

So, the context is whether it's ethical to let people believe they've understood how the tricks work when their understanding is that it's done with psychic powers or with NLP.

DERREN: Well, I not a big a fan of it, but I've done it and think in some contexts there's some use--that's a whole other conversation--but it's a dirty word as far as I'm concerned. If somebody came up to me and said, "Look, I really liked your show, and I'm going to go to an NLP course," which I've had happen, I would say to them, "Well, if you want to do that, do that, but here's what you'll get out of it. It's not what I do. It's part of what I do," which is I think true, I think that's fair enough to say.

There's also Brown's statement in Tricks of the Mind (see the Straight Dope article on Brown and NLP) that

I now have a lot of NLPers analysing my TV work in their own terms, as well as people who say that I myself unfairly claim to be using NLP whenever I perform (the truth is I have never mentioned it)."

Given the way NLP is a "dirty word", I don't think Brown is doing whatever you find on NLP courses, or at least, he doesn't think it's quite ethical to let people think he is and as a result decide to pay for an NLP course.

Whether there's anything to NLP is a separate consideration from whether Brown uses it on stage (except that if there's nothing to it, it's obviously not how Brown does it). On the wider question of whether there's anything to it, in the section on NLP in Tricks of the Mind, he says there's some valid stuff in NLP, but he was put off actually being an NLP practitioner by attending an NLP course where there was a lot of bunk mixed in with the valid stuff.

The tricks where I've seen him "explain" how it was done using what I think of as NLP (although, as Brown says, he never uses that word) were the one where he predicted Simon Pegg's ideal birthday present (a BMX bike), and the finale of one of his stage shows, where the effect is that he predicts a word freely chosen from a newspaper which itself was freely chosen from a bunch of possible newspapers (I can't access the formerly working YouTube links for any of these, or indeed your own link, but that may be because I'm in the UK, so you might have more luck viewing them). In both cases, the "explanation" involved words hidden within sentences ("that would B-aM-Xellent present"). "Part of what I do" might mean that he does some stuff which NLP lays some claim to (telling people are lying by watching eye movements) and/or that his act includes him making it look like it was done using NLP :-)

Comment author: pjeby 27 July 2009 03:53:18AM 0 points [-]

"Part of what I do" might mean that he does some stuff which NLP lays some claim to (telling people are lying by watching eye movements) and/or that his act includes him making it look like it was done using NLP :-)

As I pointed out above, at least one effect of his is a straight-up use of two pure textbook NLP techniques: submodality elicitation plus anchoring. Thus in at least one case, "part of what I do" refers to "the entire mechanic of the effect", while perhaps leaving out things like:

  • showmanship
  • carefully picking his subject
  • repeating attempts until he gets a subject that responds well enough to keep the footage
  • not showing the part where he puts color-vision beliefs back to normal

However, the actual application and result of what's shown is precisely what you'd expect from a reasonably responsive subject, in response to the demonstrated NLP procedures.

On a semi-unrelated note, if someone you don't trust to muck around with your head ever asks you the questions that Brown asks at the beginning of that video -- i.e. asking you about something that you believe and something that you don't believe -- you would probably be best off answering "no, thanks". AFAIK, even the slimiest, mind-hackiest of NLP and hypnosis-trained PUA teachers don't suggest doing something as unethical as what Brown actually did in that video would've been, if it were done to a non-consenting subject.

Comment author: xamdam 27 June 2010 06:13:11PM *  0 points [-]

I did not realize that NLP was involved in that trick, probably because I know little about it past the name (suggested remedy?).

questions that Brown asks at the beginning of that video

Which video?

Comment author: pjeby 27 June 2010 07:10:42PM 1 point [-]

Which video?

The one I linked to in the grandparent comment, which shows Brown confusing a woman about her car color.

I did not realize that NLP was involved in that trick

If you mean the paper-as-money one, that one is probably more accurately classified as a hypnosis trick using "quotes" to mask an embedded command ("it's good, take it"), although there are NLP books that explain/teach the same process. (You could consider it a form of applied priming, discovered by hypnotists and NLP people long before the modern studies of priming.)

I know little about it past the name (suggested remedy?).

Do you want technical/theoretical knowledge or practical applications? There are zillions of practical application books, most of which contain considerable amounts of nonsense.

Bandler and Grinder's books also contain lots of nonsense, but it's far more useful nonsense. (I think one even began by saying, "we're going to tell you lots of lies. None of them are true, but most of them are useful. And if you pretend to believe these lies, and act as if they're true, then your clients will also pretend to change. And if you pretend really well, they will continue to pretend to be better, for the rest of their lives.")

Anywho, Structure of Magic I and NLP Volume I are probably the best books for getting the fundamental ideas/theories, and Using Your Brain For A Change contains the basics of the technique Derren Brown used in the car-color-confusion video. The "quotes" pattern and embedded commands (as used in the paper-money trick) are discussed in Frogs Into Princes and Trance-Formations. (All of the above are by Bandler and Grindler, or Bandler by himself, except for NLP Volume I which is by Dilts and others.)

Comment author: noone_special 02 April 2013 09:14:40PM -2 points [-]

Hats off to you for explaining this concisely. People are overly quick to bash on NLP. I just hope they have other means to get what they want. For those who might have quickly disregarded NLP for a quick laugh: if you learn it, you will be able to do some amazing things, from gaining control over your emotional responses, to befriending people out of your league, to learning to lead groups of people, to helping get yourself in the proper frame of mind or mood for what you're supposed to be doing, such as getting in a frame of mind to work in the morning and to relax and enjoy cooking when you get home.

To avoid NLP quacks, yes there are some, do as much research on your own first and start by absorbing all the free material you can and test it and practice it. It may take a few years until you get your enhanced powers, but god damn it was so worth it for me. And many times I've sat there and watched people bash NLP and remained silent because I was happy to benefit and keep it secret how I do it... but now that I'm studying Buddhism, I've been practicing empathy and preferring to share with others how NLP can be useful... so take my words with a grain of salt and I wish for everyone, everywhere a lifetime of happy living.

Comment author: eirenicon 23 July 2009 12:51:16AM 1 point [-]

Well, about fourteen lines later he starts talking about NLP again and says "I've taken NLP courses and learned some NLP" and "It's part of what I do." I do think it's all part of his act when he lets you in on the NLP "secret", but I think it's also part of the magic that he puts it out in plain view so that people say "ah, that's misdirection" and discard it. I think magicians have been using NLP much longer than NLP has been an acronym, and I think Brown uses it, along with a host of other methods. However, I think it is often mistaken for more fundamental (and tried & true) psychological techniques like priming.

Thanks for the link.