How to win the lottery

I’ve just watched through Derren Brown’s “how to win the lottery” in which Derren (supposedly) correctly predicted the lottery numbers for last Wednesday’s national lottery draw. Last night he offered to explain how he did it. Of course in reality, he still leaves you wondering.

His explanation was that it used the “wisdom of crowds” which suggests that subconsciously a group of people can make more accurate predictions than one person alone, and in his example he took 24 people, had them study the lottery numbers for the past year and try and work out which ones came next. He then averaged them out and claimed to have successfully predicted the numbers.

That or, as a final end to the show briefly discusses how we could have fixed the lottery to make sure that the right numbers came up. Of course he claimed this theory was both illegal and ridiculous and this is for the most part true – I think we can rule out that Derren and his team actually managed to get through security and fix the draw.

So how did he manage it? Derren begins his show on Friday by listing the three possibilities by which he could have done it. Faked a lottery ticket, genuinely predicted the numbers or fixed the draw.

However this is where it begins to break down. Where have we seen such an example before? The answer of course is “bad, mad or god.” The classic Christian proposition that Jesus was either evil, crazy or he actually was the son of god. Immediately ruling out the idea that he could have been mistaken, never claimed to be god or never existed at all, to name just a few of other possibilites.

Derren begins by ruling out his first suggestion and leaving us with just two possibilities – either he correctly predicted the numbers or he fixed the draw. He then dismisses the second idea and offers us a very dubiously scientific but almost believable senario and invites us to “believe, or not.”

In reality of course, the first lines Derren spoke on the show were the most accurate. “This show uses magic, trickery and misdirection” he proclaims boldly and yet we still do not appreciate on what scale it is – that the entire one hour show is a misdirection leading us down the garden path to draw attention away from the fact that there is was something a little dodgy about the stand the predictions were held on – which couldn’t be revealed in advance for legal reasons.

We rack our brains trying to work out whether his theory of crowds could actually work and so much thought do we put into this that it never occurs to us that the 24 people predicting the numbers are probably in on the trick – or that Derren ignored the numbers they predicted and only “revealed” to them the numbers they had predicted when the lottery draw had been made.

Not that this takes away the magic of it. Derren put on a superb performance and one which I would highly recommend watching. Just remember that you’re still watching a magic show.

Or at least, that is my take on it. You can believe, or not.

Derren Brown



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This entry was posted on Saturday, September 12th, 2009 at 12:17 pm and is filed under Distractions, Thoughts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.