Wednesday, June 3, 2009

New Derren Brown Interview

There are a couple interesting revelations in the new Times interview with famed mentalist Derren Brown (including the fact that he's gay!). But for obvious reasons, I found the following particularly intriguing:
He began to see his religious belief as self-delusion. “I used to go out and proselytise for Christianity; I’d go out with my set of arguments and lay them down, bam bam bam. And then when I was a hypnotist I began to see circular belief at work and began to think: ‘Well, that’s what I must be doing with my faith.’ I’m now annoyingly rational, rather annoyingly pedantic sometimes.”

I've long been fascinated by the fact that many famous magicians are also confirmed atheists, agnostics and rationalists. As experts in how to fool people, and how we fool ourselves, I think illusionists can bring a unique and valuable perspective to any analysis of religion.


SuiginChou said...

In order to be a magician, you have to be the sort of person who doesn't believe in miracles but who is also willing to believe that other people less intelligent or less in the know than he is do. That alone predisposes one towards atheism. The magician, like the atheist, scrutinizes the supernatural portions of religion. And when all of the supernatural elements are taken out of a religion, what one usually finds himself left with is a mixture of two things: law and philosophy. The two overlapping and arguably even being interchangeable, we could simply say that religion minus supernatural yields philosophy.

Magicians and scientists both have professional biases away from religion, in theory, but scientists don't display the sort of polarity you claim exists for magicians. Theoretically, science being such a "scientific method," "experiments and theories," "proof, proof, give me proof!" discipline would require the very best practitioners of science to be atheists and would require staunchly theistic scientists to be abysmal at their professions. And yet no such correlation is observed. There's a bias towards atheism within professional science but, iirc, it's more 60:40 than it is 90:10. And you seem to be suggesting a 90:10 or similar skew towards atheism for magic. Is that not correct? So ... I dunno. It's interesting if what you say is correct. :) And back to the point, what I was going to say was that it makes sense for the world's best magicians to be atheists and the world's theistic magicians to be easy to impress and not all that skilled in magic. Why? If only because it takes a theist to suspend disbelief and suspension of disbelief is poison to the trade (of magic). Those who suspend their disbelief are those who do not last long enough to crack the codes and inherit the secret arts of advanced magic. You have to really, really believe that you can do the trick and you have to really, really not believe that the magician doing the trick before you is "special" or "gifted" or whatever in order to make it like that. Otherwise, if you just say, "Well that's something Derren could do but I could never do that," then you never will. And I suppose, in some sense, that sort of mentality is more in line with theism ("there are some things Man can do and other things Man can't do") than it is with my flavour of humanism ("Man is capable of doing anything and everything. Not just yet, but his gift, his most amazing gift, is his ingenuity. And with ingenuity comes advancement").

SuiginChou said...

It's a little surprising to me that Derren's gay. I've always pictured him as either an actualized bisexual or else a potential bisexual living the life of a heterosexual. Can't say as I ever pictured him as a homosexual, but *shrug*, +1 to your guys' team, I suppose. And he's got both the looks and the brains, so that's always nice.