Derren Brown Investigates: or does he?

 I saw an episode of Derren Brown Investigates on TV the other night, related to the “ghosthunter” Lou Gentile and his investigations into ghostly phenomena. Brown presented evidence for the reality of ghosts and demons as given to him by Gentile; and then he gave his own views of that evidence.

One specific aspect of his program that I found interesting was Brown’s reaction to video of a man undergoing “exorcism”. The man’s body was thrown into violent contortions until he was almost “levitating” above the bed (or couch) on which he was lying. Brown apparently found this disturbing at the time but his mind was eased when he found a scientist who could give a “medical” explanation.

He was shown a similar film of a woman demonstrating the same behaviour and the expert described it as a “pseudo seizure” or “psychogenic non-epileptic seizure”. These are “seizures” that are allegedly psychological in origin – in other words it seems like there is no physical/chemical evidence for the cause of the seizures, so they are attributed to being caused by aberrations in the mental state.

Sorry – but to me this merely seems like a preferred alternative diagnosis acceptable to those who disbelieve the existence of a spirit world. There is effectively little difference to the two diagnoses – apart from the belief system of the ones making the diagnosis. One sees demons – the other sees psychological disorder. The “truth” is in the mind of the beholder.

This assumption laden approach is little different to the attitude displayed by the “ghosthunter” when he presented his evidence for the existence of ghosts. Both project their prefered worldview onto what they experience to give conclusions they feel comfortable accepting.

Gentile’s evidence (both audio and photographic) seemed entirely subjective – spoken words were “heard” within the static and noise recorded on a voice activated recorder, but to me, even with a lot of imagination the claimed messages were very unlikely The same with the photos showing mists – almost anything could be projected into a photo. The “best” evidence was a photo in which (when pointed out) a very clear face could be seen in the mist. That was interesting but definitely not the conclusive evidence it was claimed to be by Lou Gentile.

The BEST conclusion that could genuinely be drawn from this show is that people will believe what they choose to believe. They will be convinced by the flimsiest of evidence when it supports what they want to see, and they will not be swayed by strong evidence when they don’t want to believe.

Rather than being a genuine investigation into the reality or otherwise of ghosts – the programme was a revelation of the power of a person’s desire to believe (or not). In this case it was Brown’s show so his conclusions were presented as being the most reasonable. But were they?

Or was the foundation of those conclusions no less shaky than the foundation of the ghosthunter’s conclusions? It depends upon who or what you want to believe most.


Possession or pseudo seizure? The video.

Move forward to around around the 5 minute mark.