I believe there to be two types of people in this world - those who constantly question things, and those who don't, and I am definitely one of the former. Therefore, I feel the need to write a blog post about the recent works of Derren Brown, the questioning person's hero.
Derren Brown has been on our small screen for over a decade, however it's only recently that I've started to look beyond the novelty aspect of his shows and really respect what he is doing. His new series, The Experiments, questions things that have happened in recent history. The first episode was based around the idea that hypnotism can lead people to carry out an assassination, and looked at the case of Sirhan Sirhan. Sirhan assassinated Senator Robert Kennedy, but he has since argued that he was hypnotised and cannot remember the event that led to his arrest.
The second show looked at the capability of humans to act malevolently when they are in a crowd. It further investigated an area that has been heavily looked at within psychology. For example, the Standford Prison Experiment, whereby being put in a prison setting and given the role of a prison guard led subjects to aggressive behaviour towards other volunteers acting as prisoners, to such an extent that the experiment was called off after five days. The study examined why good people do bad things, and by giving the subjects authority, they acted out of character.
Philip Zimbardo study in 1969 continued this train of thought and concluded that by placing masks on subjects, this anonymity leads to even greater deindividuation.
The mind is amazing, yet it is fragile- open to illusion and persuasion. Everything we see, feel, experience and believe is a product of our consciousness, and our consciousness is so easy to manipulate. I love how Derren has evolved from street magic to profound experiments that are giving input to public discourse and historical events.
It fascinates me how open and malleable the mind is, and I'm reminded of it every time I watch Derren's shows. It worries me though, how easy it is for the mind to be manipulated, for outlook changed by a slight shift in perspective. For instance, in a previous episode Derren casually explained the simplicity of hypnosis, an act which leads people to do exactly what they're told and not remember it. Isn't it scary to think we could surrender control of our conscious mind that easily?
Another example of this is mental illness. I recently read an article (admittedly, through a few tears) about an elderly couple whose son was executed for murder, despite him suffering for over a decade with the worst case of paranoid scizophrenia that his doctor had ever witnessed. The article stated that about one third of prisoners on death row have mental illness. This shocking statistic reiterates how fragile our minds are, and that if the slightest cog turns out of place, our values and understanding of right and wrong can be twisted. This is the point at which one would probably lose the support of society and would still be held responsible, and judged, for one's actions-and that's a scary thought.