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Emily McManus

Editor, TED.com, TED


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Rupert Sheldrake's TEDx talk: Detailing the issues

There's been a lot of heat today about Rupert Sheldrake's TEDx Talk. And in the spirit of radical openness, I'd like to bring the community into our process.


While TED does not vet speakers at independent TEDx events, a TEDx talk can be removed from the TEDx archive if the ideas contained in it are wrong to the point of being unscientific, and that includes misrepresenting the scientific process itself.

Sheldrake is on that line, to some commenters around Twitter and the web. His talk describes a vision of science made up of hard, unexamined constants. It's a philosophical talk that raises general questions about how we view science, and what role we expect it to play.

When my team and I debate whether to take action on a TEDx talk, we think deeply about the implications of our decision -- and aim to provide the TEDx host with as clear-cut and unbiased a view as possible.

You are invited, if you like, to weigh in today and tomorrow with your thoughts on this talk. We'll be gathering the commentary into a couple of categories for discussion:

1. Philosophy. Is the basis of his argument sound -- does science really operate the way Sheldrake suggests it does? Are his conclusions drawn from factual premises?

2. Factual error. (As an example, Sheldrake says that governments do not fund research into complementary medicine. Here are the US figures on NIH investment in complementary and alternative medicine 2009-2010: http://nccam.nih.gov/about/budget/institute-center.htm )

As a note: Please know that whether or not you have time or energy to contribute here, the talk is also under review by the TED team. We're not requiring your volunteer labor -- but we truly welcome your input. And we're grateful to those who've written about this talk in other forums, including but not limited to Jerry Coyne, PZ Myers, Kylie Sturgess and some thoughtful Redditors.

  • Mar 9 2013: Whilst we are at it... why don't all the proclaimers here that are saying Sheldrake's video should be removed, put their money and reputation where their mouth is.

    Why don't you prove him wrong. Replicate his dog telepathy experiments for a start... and see if there is any validity to the claim. Others have done this like Alex Tsakiris and were impressed enough that they applied for James Randi's Million Dollar Challenge because they thought they could show a valid effect.

    Of course it is no surprise that Randi ran 1000 miles the other way when the claim came in and tried to ridicule and ignore it... making up excuses as to why he ignored the application.

    So instead of ridiculing without investigating why don't you do something about it and prove Sheldrake wrong.
  • Mar 7 2013: I have posted a long critique of Sheldrake's talk at my website. The talk is intensely anti-science, decrying materialism, touting ludicrous and unevidenced ideas like "morphic resonance"—a universal consciousness for which there's not a shred of scientific support, and other woo-ey notions like ESP (no evidence for that, either). If you're looking for specific factual errors, check out Sheldrake's erroneous statement about changes in the measured speed of light. As I show on my post, he's just flat wrong:


    It is am embarrassment to TEDx that your forum gives public credibility to a man whose mission is to show that the basic methodologies of science—materialism and freedom from unevidenced woo-ish explanations--should be discarded in favor of some nebulous spiritual agenda. What's next: talks on the value of homeopathy and astrology. Judging by the approbation of Sheldrake's audience, they take what he says seriously, and therefore having him as a "science" speaker is really damaging public science education.
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      Gail . 50+

      • +6
      Mar 7 2013: You said, "universal consciousness for which there's not a shred of scientific support". You are not correct. Evidence does exist. You have to look at BOTH QM and studies into the nature of consciousness.
      • Mar 7 2013: QM provides zero evidence for a universal consciousness. Someone has deceived you about QM.
  • Mar 9 2013: BTW, I certainly do not agree with all of Sheldrake's hypotheses and intuitions. I think some of the data he's gathered -- e.g. on email and telephone telepathy -- is really interesting, though. And I think his morphic field idea is inspirational and worth careful consideration, though the way he's formulated it is not sufficiently precise for my taste.

    All in all, I think Sheldrake has done enough actual empirical data gathering to support his out-of-the-mainstream ideas, that his perspective should be respected and heard. I really do NOT think he has fraudulently doctored-up all the data he's presented in his various papers....

    Some of the conclusions he has drawn from his data may not be correct ... and some of his analyses of the nature of mainstream science may be a bit exaggerated. But yet, I can see why he feels as he does, given the hostile reception the scientific community has given to the actual empirical results he has been collecting and presentig over the years...

    And, obviously, this assault on his TEDx video exemplifies the sort of hostility he's experienced, which has guided his view of the contemporary scientific community...
  • Mar 9 2013: TED staff Cory Warshaw writes : 'Also the psychic phenomena is hypothesis that cannot be falsified, as one can always say we simply aren't able to measure it'

    Before TED staff make the mistake of censoring Sheldrake. I suggest all TED staff get up to speed by watching a google talk video by Dr Dean Radin 'Science and the taboo of psi'


    In addition Sheldrake has conducted 'Sense of Being Stared at' studies. The results have been replicated by others. Combined together in the literature there were 65 studies, 34,097 sessions. A meta-analysis has produced odds against chance of 85000000000000000000000000000000000000000000 to 1 (Source: Dr Dean Radin's book Entangled Minds)

    '' A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it. ' - Max Planck

    Assuming of course the new generation actually gets to hear it. What decision will TED make?
    • Mar 9 2013: Yes Katie I read that statement by Cory Warshaw and shook my head. That's a big red light right there that we have normally intelligent people making comments on something based on little but their own personal beliefs.

      There is an ASSUMPTION that because a lot of people in the science community don't know about these studies that they must not exist. It is seriously worrying stuff.

      Also that talk by Dean Radin about the taboo of PSI within science should be watched by every single student in every university in the country. He shows not only evidence for PSI in that talk... but evidence that there is a massive taboo within Science to even discuss it. Some of the comments in this forum just prove it even further.
  • Dark Star

    • +22
    Mar 7 2013: 2. Factual error "The Science delusion is the belief that science already understands the nature of reality in principle".

    2. Factual error [science alleges] "there is no consciousness in animals"

    2. Factual error: science assumes all laws are fixed (no, only the fundamental, fixed laws are fixed and science isn't 100% certain which ones those are)

    2. Factual error: [science alleges] matter and energy sprang into existence at the moment of the Big Bang

    2. Factual error: "governments only fund research into mechanistic medicine"

    1. Philosophical error: suggests laws could be habits - this is, at best, his hypothesis, no evidence is provided for the assumptions underlying this argument.

    2. Factual error: genes only produce proteins [and so can't account for morphology], the morphological impact of the position *and* timing of expression of genes (especially the HOX complex) is well established in causing morphological changes.

    2. Factual error: changes in the value of speed of light (discussed elsewhere)

    2. Factual error: that scientists don't look for systematic changes in the 'constants', numerous studies have been undertaken - two of many: http://prd.aps.org/abstract/PRD/v59/i4/e043516 http://iopscience.iop.org/0034-4885/66/11/R04

    1. Philosophical error: misrepresents the relationship between the speed of light and the definition of the meter - speed of light measurements had progressed to the point where the measurement was limited by the definition of the meter itself and so the meter was redefined to be "The metre is the length of the path travelled by light in vacuum during a time interval of 1/299 792 458 of a second."

    Sheldrake dishonestly makes this sound like scientists are trying to pull a fast one but the issue is that you must have a reliable definition of length to measure speed. This definitional change in no way limits our ability to study the speed of light, it merely shifts it into a distance measurement.
    • Mar 7 2013: OK "Dark Star"

      Since you don't seem to want to live up to your Name

      Factual True 1) The prison guards become the prisoner ...every time!!

      Factual True 2) There is nothing you know now that wont change when you know more.
      • Mar 7 2013: I don't get the first "fact" but the second one seems an obvious fail. I don't think water will ever be anything else than H2O (to give just one example).
  • Mar 8 2013: Let us be clear what Sheldrake's talk was and was not about. It was not about morphic resonance or psychic functioning; it was not about dogs who know their owners were coming home; it was not about the sense of being stared at; it was not about whether the speed of light has actually changed; nor was it even a collection of amusing anecdotes about Terence McKenna (although such things did come up and Sheldrake could, no doubt, have talked at length about any or all of them). What his talk was actually about was certain philosophical views which many hold, and which many think are connected with science in a way that Sheldrake, and many academic philosophers of the top rank, do not. That is, his talk was about certain metaphysical views which have become associated with science and which, according to Sheldrake, and many others in academia, are actually metaphysical views which are not only unconnected with science but are actively constraining science (the drive to deny/do away with, rather than explain, consciousness, for example). That the philosophical views Sheldrake was criticizing are loudly espoused by many (with little or no formal academic training in philosophy), and that such criticism gets those people hot under the collar, is no reason to censor such critical views. Indeed, the shrill tone of the uninformed and often off-topic criticisms by those in favour of censorship shows exactly why Sheldrake's ideas are very much ideas worth spreading.
    • Mar 8 2013: This is a good comment ^^^ I was going to say something along the same lines but you summed it up nicely.
    • Mar 8 2013: That is a fantastic comment indeed. This is the heart of the matter.
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      Mar 8 2013: Amazing, you were able to walk through the mine fields and get to the other side with great insight. I am curious Steve, did you read over any of the previous comments?
    • Mar 8 2013: I wish it was the Closing Statement from TED !
      Thanks !
    • Mar 8 2013: Steve, even if we grant your interpretation, there is the problem that
      a. any other metaphysical view must accommodate the evidence of the physical universe; and
      b. there is no obligation by scientists to consider metaphysics in their work till it has been demonstrated by philosophers that there are benefits to some alternative view.

      As far as I can tell, then, Sheldrake still fails to make anything useful of his claims.
      • Mar 8 2013: "b. there is no obligation by scientists to consider metaphysics in their work"
        Filippo, I absolutely agree that empirical scientists should not allow metaphysics to interfere with their work. That's the crux of this issue, really: many (not all) scientists seem to be working from metaphysical assumptions of nomology, Platonism, materialism and naive realism, assumptions that contradict experimental evidence and valid mathematical reasoning and affect their work (for example in standardizing constants).
        • Mar 8 2013: And yet this doesn't preclude their involvement, per part (a) of the problem I highlighted. In particular, since any valid metaphysical view must accommodate the evidence we have about the physical universe, and scientists are expert in accumulating evidence of phenomena in the physical universe, then they need to be participants in the enterprise of metaphysics.
    • Mar 8 2013: Thanks Steve

      As far as I am concerned TED can do what TED wants ,.and their actio(s) will define who they are

      ..but your summary was spot on ..cut quoting......

      " That is, his talk was about certain metaphysical views which have become associated with science and which, according to Sheldrake, and many others in academia, are actually metaphysical views which are not only unconnected with science but are actively constraining science ............That the philosophical views Sheldrake was criticizing are loudly espoused by many (with little or no formal academic training in philosophy), .................. is no reason to censor such critical views. Indeed, the shrill tone of the uninformed
      and often off-topic criticisms by those in favour of censorship shows exactly why Sheldrake's ideas are very much ideas worth spreading. "

      And I will add Plontinus' conclusion "Like can only apprehend Like"
  • Mar 9 2013: Barry,

    I will stand by my characterization of PZ Myers as a zealot. He is part of a group of narrowly "humanist" pundits who make a habit of aggressively attacking anything not allowed by their rather constricted and unimaginative world-view.

    As to whether Sheldrake's largely philosophical talk belongs in the Science section on TED's website, that's a question regarding TED's internal cataloguing criteria. But moving the video to a different section would be different than removing it...

    Questioning the conceptual and methodological foundations of science is not unscientific, it's just "philosophy of science" rather than science per se. Think about a classic like PaulFeyerabend's "Against Method." Feyerabend was edgy, and he radically questioned many assumptions that scientists typically make, just like Sheldrake does. He was way more confrontational than Sheldrake. If Feyerabend were alive today, would he be banned from Ted, due to deviating from some sort of Popperian/naive-reductionist consensus?? I hope not !!

    Regarding replication of Sheldrake's work there has been some, see e.g. (just one example)


    which is a replication of his work on telephone telepathy. Replication of psi results is a subtle matter, and I'm not going to give a dissertation on it in this comment.

    The fact that his work has not been widely replicated, nor published in the top science journals, is not evidence of its invalidity. Nature and Science, for instance, have current policies against publishing psi research, regardless of the apparent quality of the work or results. TED should not, IMO, be afraid of posting unpopular, radical ideas that buck current trends. Unpopularity does not imply incorrectness ;p
    • Mar 9 2013: Ben, when Sheldrake said that the standard measurement of light was wrong, was he making a philosophical point or a scientific one? When he said that consciousness definitely existed outside the body was he making a physical or metaphysical claim? There will always be huge value in individuals who come along and challenge an existing paradigm. It's just helpful that they have the evidence before they make their assertions.
  • Mar 8 2013: Hmmm.... This is kinda frustrating. Anti-Sheldrake zealots are basically trolling TED ;-/

    A number of different issues seem to be wrapped up here. (BTW, for those who care, I am a math PhD who has published a number of scientific papers in various disciplines, including some empirical papers in genomics.)

    For instance:

    1) Would Sheldrake's research on morphic fields and psi be acceptable in a TEDx talk? [PERSONAL OPINION: I don't see why not. TED does not exist to impose a world-view, it exists to promote exchange of cool ideas. Why TED would want to rule out the occasional psi-related talk I don't know. But this is of course, TED's own decision as a private organization.]

    2) Are Sheldrake's philosophical musings appropriate for a TEDx talk, or somehow so inappropriate they should be removed from the site after the fact? [NOTE: His TEDx talk was not really directly about his morphic field or psi research, it was about philosophy of science & metaphysics...]

    3) Does Sheldrake's research about morphic fields and psi somehow disqualify him from giving a TEDx talk about the philosophy of science & metaphysics? [PERSONAL OPINION: I really don't think it should thus disqualify him...]

    4) Is Sheldrake's work on morphic fields and psi data-driven and scientific? [CLEAR ANSWER: If you actually look at his corpus of work, it appears very data driven. He reports results from many experiments. He appears to follow scientific methodology pretty sensibly.]

    5) Are Sheldrake's hypotheses about morphic fields and psi correct? [Not really relevant]


    A couple more comments...

    I have seen plenty of TEDx talks deviating further from mainstream science than Sheldrake's. Obviously it is not the content of his talk that is getting folks hot under the collar. It's his reputation, it's who he is....

    I will be disappointed if TED removes Sheldrake's talk because of the complaining of narrow-minded anti-psi zealots. But I will not be shocked...

    - Ben Goertzel
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      Mar 8 2013: Yours is a respected voice in the field of AGI.
      TED would do well to consider you thoughts/
    • Mar 8 2013: Ben

      Much appreciated reading your comments here this morning.

      I have no idea why the TED administration would even consider coming to this/their public conversation page and asking the "why all the fuss" question. If publications such as Scientific American have featured Sheldrake I would expect TED ....an organization choosing to promote the sharing of "Ideas" ( no where do they claim to be a 'rational science only' form) ....would and should welcome Sheldrake and others with open arms!!!

      It could be that TED is testing the waters of consciousness to see what the reaction(s) and if so I DO trust that they wont be basing it on their public "conversation" forum here .....where far to many come with the attitude that because they can hold an opinion they can also own TED outright.

      I have suggested to TED that they post a sign on the door here

      "All opinion is vanity"..

      and I thank the late Dr David R. Hawkins for that line.

      Be Well Be Present
    • Mar 8 2013: Ben, given the observation you make in your 2nd point, doesn't this make irrelevant the points you make in 1, 3 and 4?

      And as far as point 2 goes, Sheldrake's presentation didn't just challenge 10 foundational propositions about science, he said they were wrong. This isn't a philosophical point it is a scientific claim. It has already been pointed out several times on this thread by people who are qualified to do so, that he is flat out wrong on the science regarding these accusations. He has failed to publish his ideas in appropriate peer reviewed journals and, to my search on pubmed, I have failed to find a single citation where his "research" has been subjected to testing and replication which is the very first step on the road to his research gathering credibility. One would have thought a little more humility from him would have been appropriate.

      Had TED decided to lodge his presentation in the "quirky but mildly interesting" (iow "crank") section then I doubt anyone would have noticed or cared. But they put it in the science section where they have published standards about what should be included and what should not. Correcting this error, it would seem, is part of TED's purpose in opening this up for debate.

      It's also disappointing to see you refer to "anti-Sheldrake zealots" when the debate is clearly about substance. Unless you were being unduly defensive at the outset of your post it is perfectly possible to have a sensible conversation and disagreement about this without resorting to derogatory labels to those who take a counter view. After all, isn't this how science advances?
  • Ben Kadel

    • +16
    Mar 8 2013: I am a trained research scientist and have to say that I think he is spot on in the basic assessment. He makes a clear distinction between the scientific method (which he promotes) and a belief system that I call scientism and he calls the science delusion (which limits the effectiveness of the scientific method). He is calling out a very dangerous tendency in current discussions.

    While we may rightly question some of his hypotheses, that in no way makes his argument "unscientific." In fact, it is the very essence of science. The nature of science is to propose new theories and explanations that do a better job of explaining the gap between existing theories and data. These educated guesses then serve as the basis for experiments that can test previously accepted assumptions and/or provide a more refined context in which the theory applies. Relativity doesn't invalidate Newtonian physics, it merely contains it to the realm of relatively large scales. Punctuated equilibrium doesn't disprove evolution, it just refines our understanding on its mechanisms.

    To tell you the truth, the thing that I find most shocking is not the presentation - which would make sense in most "scientific method 101" courses - but the reaction by some that it is pseudo-science. I would say the reaction itself proves his point more convincingly than his actual presentation.

    As to the "factual error" around government funding, it is such a minor and inconsequential point that it's hardly worth mentioning. At worst, he could be criticized for poorly chosen phrasing, but not for the essential correctness of the idea.

    In short, I have seen far less scientific presentations with greater factual inaccuracy than this live long and popular lives on TED . The desire by some to censor this talk is the best argument I can think of for keeping it and actually promoting it more broadly
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      Mar 9 2013: As your field of research is Sociology, do you have an illustrative example from that field?
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    Mar 7 2013: We must allow for questioning also the most established truths, but that does not mean that everybody doing so, should be given free space and full attention. There must be some kind of sense and quality in the arguments and not just a claim that some existing theories or models are wrong. Rupert Sheldrake claims there is evidence.without giving any refrences, Natural science is far from the set of beliefs he initially accuses it to be. The success of science comes from the requrement on reproducability and verifiability. He may believe in "collective memory" of species and x-tals, in "mind outside brain" etc., but as long as there is no empirical evidence, it is just his un-informed belief. He is making a big issue of different measured values of the speed of light (variation of less than 0,01% before lasers and atomic clocks) and of G (gravity). It is difficult to believe that he is really doing his very best to understand the reasons for the different measured values. And why spend efforts on this materialistic aspect, when claiming science is just about beliefs?
    I think his talk should be removed. Not because of his points, but because of the total lack of arguments and evidence. If you challenge the established accumulated scientific knowledge, you must have something supporting your challenge.
    • Mar 8 2013: My personal thanks for what role you've played as TEDx Organizer in having the courage to invite Dr. Sheldrake to appear on TEDx Talks. Likewise, your decision to allow listeners to comment on your desire to remove his talk is much appreciated.

      Concerning lack of evidence for his claims, though, it's difficult, I'm sure, to make a full case for ANY claim in eighteen minutes. However, virtually everything covered in the talk is also extensively covered in his book, "The Science Delusion", called "Science Set Free" in the US. He is a well-published scientist and academic. His views seem particularly well researched. He is graciously open to critique and, frankly, I've yet to see him leave any critique left unanswered. He has always responded to criticism articulately, effectively and scientifically.

      I guess I've become a consumate fan of the man over the years and believe what separates him from other scientists is his refusal to let fear of controversy impede his expression and enjoyment of the pursuit of truth that is science.
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        Mar 8 2013: Joe Martin and others,
        My initial comment was based only on my viewing Rupert Sheldrake's TEDxTalk, not on any knowledge or information about his background or about the controverses he has been involved in. Your comment made me look at his track record. Of course, it is impossible to get a complete and fair picture of his abilities just by means of 15 minutes Internet research. However, this quick research convinced me that the presentation in his TEDx Talk about the different measured and published values of the speed of light, was consciously misleading rather than fair. With his background in science, e.g. biochemistry, he must (or should) have known better.
        Neither your comments nor his list of publications makes me change my opinion, that his TEDx Talk shold be removed, not because he accuses science to be bassed on a set of false, or at least questionable, dogmas, but because his bias and his use of misleading or false arguments.
        You may look upon "his refusal to let fear of controversy impede his expression and enjoyment of the pursuit of truth that is science" as entertaining, but viewers expecting "ideas worth spreading" will be misled.
        • Mar 8 2013: Bengt, I don't see Sheldrake's importance as being in his entertainment value. His importance is in his intelligence and his willingness to challenge scientific thinking in unique and innovative ways that precious few even attempt.

          Yes, Sheldrake lets it rip. He doesn't mince words. Could he present himself in a fashion that would not raise the hackles of many of his fellow scientists as he seems to do now? I don't know. I don't know how one can candy coat his basic message, that something is fundamentally wrong with the way modern science is played out day to day, and expect the pill to go down any easier.

          But a science that loses its ability to entertain deep self-critique, that stops enjoying ripping itself to shreds intellectually, has already lost something important.

          I guess what I'm saying is, the proper scientific response to Sheldrake is to dialog, not reject. He's not anti-science. He cares deeply about science. He cares enough to challenge his fellow scientists at a fundamental level. How else can science ever hope to know itself at any fundamental level unless it opens itself to deep critique?
  • Mar 8 2013: Please consider the current state of the physical sciences.

    The Theory of Relativity is the best we have for explaining large scale physics, and it is flawed. The "laws of nature" break down when applied to black holes and the theory is inadequate to explain some other phenomena.

    Quantum Mechanics has no adequate explanation for the particle/wave duality. Noted physicists admit that the results of double-slit experiments remain a mystery. The math is amazingly accurately in its predictions, but the true nature of the subatomic world is still waiting to be discovered.

    These and other areas of science that remain stubbornly resistant to the traditional approach to theory and research indicate that the traditional approach may be inadequate. In order to develop the Theory of Relativity, Einstein had to discard a lot of old thinking. The next advance in the physical sciences just might REQUIRE discarding ideas that are now considered as part of the foundation of physics. Sheldrake is trying to open minds to new approaches. His specifics are just examples that might or might not be correct, but his effort to break down the boundaries of the box imposed by the "scientific worldview" (not science) is admirable and perhaps necessary.
    • Mar 8 2013: Very true.

      One could also add consciousness, which is probably the most baffling puzzle in all of science.

      Still, I anticipate some commenters would say that just because these mysteries exist does not necessarily mean that psi does, for example. I would have to agree. The existence of psi or other anomalies must rely on its own evidence. It just so happens that that evidence is stronger than most would suspect or admit.
    • Mar 8 2013: This is the shell game of pseudoscientists, Gish gallop a lot of misunderstandings or errors about science, which will take pages to correct with references and all.

      In short this time: Relativity applies to black holes, there is no "duality" in QM but you can observe quantum relativistic fields which is _the whole point_ physically speaking, Einstein didn't discard but introduced new physics (special relativistic mechanic out of classical relativistic mechanic), et cetera.

      Sheldrake is trying a) to scam people out of money for his talks and books without having to do any work in science and b) to close minds against the amazing progress of science. We _know_ there are no more mystical forces ("morphic fields") as the Standard Model (SM) of particles can predict values with 11 decimals. This is because the vacuum has the amazing property that everything that is not forbidden by physic law is happening - so since SM is correct up to 100's of GeV, way beyond chemical phenomena of ~eV, there are no more fields, no more forces to account for in daily life. (Of course the details remains to fill in in many cases. But the fundamentals are _understood_ now, with SM and standard cosmology (SC).)

      This is something every literate person should try to grasp, even though the results are 40 (SM) and 10 (SC) years old. Indeed the last SM field, the Higgs field, was just observed last year.
      • Mar 8 2013: And of course you have the complete explanation for dark matter as well.
  • Mar 9 2013: Ideas worth spreading?
    Jerry Coyne is right on re Sheldrake.
    It is an absurd waste of time to have poor thinkers like Rupert Sheldrake and Lynn Mctaggart at any TED functions. Why not have the Creationists, Flat Earthers, Geocentrists and so on have the stage as well?
    Sheldrake has nothing to offer but poor science and questionable data to try and support absurd conclusions.
    One would think the organizers of TED and TEDx would be more discriminating and offer "Ideas worth spreading", instead of pseudoscientific pap. I have no motivation to attend TEDx in Brussels again after Lynn McTaggart offered her tripe and now Sheldrake!
    I saw a talk by Sheldrake at the European Skeptics meeting on Brussels a few years ago and learned quickly he has nothing of substance to offer. I could not believe TED gave him time to waste so many other peoples time.
    His ideas should be examined in other venues where they can be examined and challenged. For his theories to be presented as "Ideas worth spreading" without refutation is an insult to ones intelligence. My respect for TED has been diminished greatly.
    • Mar 9 2013: As a wise dude once said:

      "Yeah, well, you know, that's just, like, your Opinion, man"

      What you need are more facts and less outrage.
      It seems a bit dangerous to me that ideas about science should be censored to fit in with the a certain worldview.
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      Mar 9 2013: There is no substance to your claims. No examples of poor methodology. Just a personal attack against those with a different point of view.
    • Mar 9 2013: "poor thinkers" LOL. This is what we mean. So because someone thinks outside of materialistic science they are considered a "poor thinker" and bundled up in the same sentence as Flat Earthers? Really?

      Let me guess all the Newtonian Scientists thought the same of anyone who dared suggest there may be more than they current know? They are just "poor thinkers". Burn the heretics and poor thinkers at the stake and sure as hell don't allow them to talk about it publically on Tedx!

      Can't have people "Free thinking" now can we. Your science isn't a science at all, it is starting to sound more like a religious cult.
  • Mar 8 2013: Max Planck in 1931 wrote …. “We have no right to assume that any physical laws exist, or if they have existed up to now, that they will continue to exist in a similar manner in the future.”

    Max Planck, 'the father of quantum physics' who even has Planck's 'constant' named after him would have approved of Sheldrake's talk. Do TED also wish to delete Max Planck from history?

    Rupert Sheldrake is superb in debates with his critics. Perhaps his political materialist critics like Coyne, Myers etc. need to step into a televised, one to one debate, rather than attempt to silence Sheldrake who has legitimate arguments they would have great difficulty countering.

    Kate McClymont
    • Mar 8 2013: Exactly! This is what I've been saying. The doctrines he is calling into question are not rigorous scientific data. They are outdated philosophical assumptions that are contradicted by experimental findings in physics.
    • Mar 8 2013: Katie, it is a little stretch for you to personally claim to know the mind of Max Planck and what he would think of Sheldrake. It's an amusing conjecture. However, science isn't settled by debate, it's settled by evidence, testing and replication. In some cases it might never be settled. These seem to be standards from which Sheldrake's supporters are attempting to excuse him.
      • Mar 8 2013: How else can you possibly interpret the words “We have no right to assume that any physical laws exist, or if they have existed up to now, that they will continue to exist in a similar manner in the future.” - Max Planck

        'New scientific ideas never spring from a communal body, however organized, but rather from the head of an individually inspired researcher' - Max Planck

        'I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness ' - Max Planck

        '' A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it. ' - Max Planck
        • Mar 8 2013: I don't need to interpret the words, it is very clear what his opinion is. But I can completely falsify your second quote of Planck in a nanosecond, so does that make him wrong on everything, or does it more likely mean that the scientific method will prevail? You don't know what Planck's view of Sheldrake would be, although you presume to know. Regardless, appeals to authority, or your rather novel idea of resolving scientific dispute through debate, do nothing to actually resolve the science, and this is the heart of the issue here. Or maybe we should just get to vote on the science we agree with...which is pretty much the position of some commenters on this site who think TED is a free speech venue.
  • Mar 7 2013: As a graduate student in computer science and artificial intelligence and as someone who frequently reads stuff in biological vision, Sheldrake seems to be inhabiting some scientific world I have never ever seen. Most of what he claims about the process of science is just decidedly untrue. A lot of what he calls "dogma" is just a working hypothesis in science that has served us well, and for which no real plausible alternatives exist. Consider for instance the "dogma" that "memories are stored in the brain". Contrary to what Sheldrake implies, we have several decades of computational models of how memories can in fact be stored in neurons (see perceptrons, multilayer perceptrons, Kohonen maps, associative memory, and a whole plethora of very recent and exciting works on artificial neural networks). Contrary to this, I have never seen a plausible alternative, except vague, undefined words in insubstantial talks (eg. "morphic resonance" or whatever). Simply coming up with a term that sounds good is not the same as coming up with a well-defined, testable hypothesis.
    The part about natural constants is hilarious and should embarrass even high school science students. In his whole rant about how the constants might change, he never even considers the possibility that measurements have noise, and uncertainty improves as better techniques are discovered. He says the value of c decreased: by how much? Was it within the error bars?
    In addition, the reason why these are constants is not because someone decreed them to be constants, but because there are theories that predict that these are constants. G is the proportionality constant in Newton's law of gravitation. To say that G is not constant is to question the validity of the law, a law which actually *predicted* the existence of Neptune before it was discovered. Not many laws can predict the existence of whole undiscovered planets. I would like Sheldrake to come up with an alternative that has similar predictive power.
    • Mar 7 2013: It should be noted, in support of your statement, that error bars only cover the precision of data, not its accuracy. One can have very consistent data, but have systematic errors that compromise accuracy of the data. I can measure my room very precisely by repeated use of a worn-out/stretched-out tape measure. The data, if I have collected many measurements, would have very small error bars and but the accuracy would be off, my room would appear smaller than it really was.

      Past methods for measuring the speed of light were both less precise (larger error bars) and had systematic problems (as all measurements do to some greater or lesser extent) which led to decreased accuracy. Sheldrake has interpreted the minimizing of systematic errors over time as real data. While there may be something there, there is no way to tell, as it is lost in the "noise."
      • Mar 7 2013: True, and I don't know how the accuracy has changed over the years. I mentioned precision because it seemed safe to assume that precision would have improved :).
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      Mar 7 2013: Why don't we take Rupert's 10 itemized issues one-at-a-time and, using the Rules of Logic, prove each one to be false? If he is 100% in error then, once corrected, they should read as follows: 1) The Universe is purely mechanical. There is no soul, or spirit in Man. 2) Consciousness has no relationship to material things and vice-versa. 3) Natural Laws and Physical Constants can never change. Once "they" define a Law/Constant it is impossible for it to change 4) The sum of matter/energy in the Universe can never change. 5) There is no purpose associated with the Universe. It may continue forever for no reason, or it may come to an end for no particular purpose. 6) Inherited characteristics are a result of material/chemical actions. 7) Recalling stored information from the sub-conscious mind to the conscious mind is a purely material/chemical function. 8) The act of conscious thought is solely dependent upon the brain. Like a beating heart outside the chest cavity a brain outside the skull could be conscious of its condition. 9) Thoughts cannot act through a distance because they are confined to the brain. 10) Biological ailments can only be corrected using medicine. A healing without medicine is simply a spontaneous cessation of the cause. Are those all justified true beliefs? If so, the result of the exercise is that we understand better what we claim to believe. Should everyone who disagrees and challenges us be silenced? I don't think so. Publish the Talk!
      • Mar 7 2013: Two things here, before we do that:
        1) Logic is not what we want, or rather not the only thing we want. Logic is sufficient for math; for science we need something more: notions of evidence, and notions of uncertainty.
        2) And before we do any arguing or debating, we need to convert any terms which we might loosely throw, into well defined, testable, hypothesis. By that I mean that I should take a statement like "The universe is mechanical" and decide what predictions such a statement makes that *can be subjected to an experiment, and so falsified*.
        Which is why we need to be careful about statements like "The Universe is purely mechanical", or "Consciousness has no relationship to material things". What exactly does material mean here? Is the electromagnetic field material? Is a computer program material? What does mechanical here mean? What exactly does consciousness mean?etc.
        Now, I personally would be happy to talk about the validity of tens or hundreds of theories, but only *once they are fully specified*. Notwithstanding Sheldrake's many factually incorrect statements, he is also woefully vague, using ill-defined terms that can have any number of meanings in lay usage. That, to me, is not scientific, and is particularly out of place in a talk about science, of all things. Present alternative views all you want, but at least do so in terms of words and terms that can be unambiguously understood by all scientists who come to the table.
        In other words, people who disagree must not be silenced, but this does not automatically make every person who has not even made the effort of defining his views properly worthy of being listened to. Given the limited number of talks that TED has, I would much rather listen to someone I can learn something from, rather than just a flurry of senseless English words embedded in laughable inaccuracies and misunderstandings.
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          Mar 8 2013: Agreed sir, in fact that is my motive for item-by-item falsification of Mr. Sheldrake's talking points. I guess the problem here is that we are arguing about the value of the content of the talk when we should be talking about the refusal to publish the talk. I understand, but disagree with the syllogism that says: TED Talks are factual. Mr. Sheldrake's talk is not factual. Therefor it should not be a published TED Talk. The second premise is the problem. Determining the factual fidelity of the talk is way beyond the scope of this forum. Each of us must make that determination on our own. To abort a person's right to participate in the premier online discussion forum because they are less than perfect regarding Truth is not a good idea. If - I said IF- the post, or Talk, is crisp, candid, provocative and relevant then publish it!
        • Mar 8 2013: Sheldrake's talk is definitely unsuitable for TED as it it not based on fact or logic. However, rejecting him from this forum does not silence him. After all he has published all these silly notions in a book already. The contents of the book would not be accepted by a serious scientific publication and I don't think TED should dirty it's hands with it either. The book will probably be read by more people than know TED exists.
      • Mar 7 2013: Just to add, I am not saying we should outright reject contrary views. I am just saying that people talking on TED or TEDx should have done the effort of defining their views properly and collecting evidence for and against them.
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          Mar 8 2013: I agree that a polemic is not the best way to make the points Mr. (Dr.?) Sheldrake attempts to make. But a poor choice of style is no reson for being banished.
    • Mar 7 2013: "The part about natural constants is hilarious and should embarrass even high school science students. In his whole rant about how the constants might change, he never even considers the possibility that measurements have noise, and uncertainty improves as better techniques are discovered. He says the value of c decreased: by how much? Was it within the error bars? "

      I think you may be missing the point. We can only dismiss variations from the expected figure as 'just noise' if we know in advance what the 'right' answer 'should' be. But how did we find out in the first place what these constants are? By experiment and measurement, which always contain noise. See the problem?
      • Mar 7 2013: Not really. You are looking at these things in isolation, which they are not. The speed of light is not the same as the current temperature in Berkeley.

        The speed of light for instance is one part of a large coherent scientific theory: the theory of relativity. The theory of relativity has made many predictions, and has been tested numerous times, and so, provisionally, we accept it as largely correct.

        Since this theory is accepted as largely correct, and this theory accords a special place to the speed of light as a constant, we accept, provisionally that the speed of light is a constant.

        Now, given this, we see that measurements of speed of light vary. Which is more likely, that the theory is wrong, and so all of its myriad accurate predictions are completely wrong and all of astrophysics which relies on this must go out the window? Or that grad students tend to press stopwatch buttons a bit too soon?

        There are two parts to science: experiment and theory, each with uncertainties, each with noise. Weighing all these uncertainties together is not easy. To say that something is possible is trivial, and everything is possible; the question is, which explanation is more likely?

        Caveat: the last time I read about the speed of light was in high school. I literally am at best a high school student in physics.
        • Mar 7 2013: Thanks for your thoughtful reply Bharath.

          I assure you I am not looking at constants in isolation. My apologies if my answer gave that impression. On the contrary, I was trying to give a simple example of the method of scientific inquiry.

          We never observe "the speed of light". We observe measurement1, measurement2, measurement3, etc. Agreed?

          What about the "large coherent scientific theory" that goes with it? Do we observe that directly? I don't see how we could (and no philosopher I ever read says we do).

          Where does the "large coherent scientific theory" come from? From the same place all scientific theories do: the human imagination interpreting measurements/observations. Agreed?

          There's a doctrine many (but not all) scientists believe: measurement1, measurement2, measurement3, etc. prove the existence of The Constant, and likewise, evidence1, evidence2, evidence3, prove the existence of The Law.

          Is a testable scientific hypothesis or a philosophical assumption? Take a moment and consider that.

          This is the 3rd dogma Sheldrake refers to. It's Platonism plain and simple.

          I am not smart enough to see how we can believe the material universe is governed by pure, perfect laws and constants without positing an immaterial, cosmic layer to the cake. I'm not saying that the Platonic realm, scientific constants, scientific laws or the Invisible Pink Unicorn definitely don't exist - just that no one's ever seen them. And even if we do accept that there are these Laws, that doesn't solve our problem: where do these laws come from? Why do they exist? Where do they exist? How is it possible to have an material universe governed by immaterial laws?

          So Sheldrake's offering a different explanation for why our observations are kinda sorta fairly consistent most of the time: universe is habitual, and the more something happens, the more it will continue to happen. This is the broader scope of the morphic resonance theory as I undertstand it.
      • Mar 8 2013: Okay, I am sorry I didn't get that point; I get it now. To be frank, there is no way I could have got this from Sheldrake's talk.

        My answer to your comment will have to be that I don't know. I don't know where these laws come from. And it is an assumption that such laws exist, and such constants exist.

        But here's the thing. That assumption has helped us a long way. That assumption works. The things we predict about astrophysics come true to a large extent. The things we predict about physics and chemistry and biology come true to a large extent, enough for us to build machines and spaceships, treat diseases, understand a vast number of natural phenomena.

        These assumptions are not dogma. It is certainly possible that these assumptions are wrong. Maybe a truer alternative exists. But given the success of what my current assumptions are, for me to think about a particular alternative, someone will have to 1) define the alternative precisely, and 2) show that the alternative not just explains all, or most, of what I have managed to explain till now, but more.

        Sheldrake on the other hand simply handwaves at vague words that make no sense to me, to state it simply.
        • Mar 8 2013: "To be frank, there is no way I could have got this from Sheldrake's talk."
          True. I did my best to represent my understanding of Sheldrake's theories, based on what I've read of his works, not just the talk. He uses the phrase "cosmic Darwinism" somewhere; the consistent patterns in universe's behavior evolved.

          "But here's the thing. That assumption has helped us a long way. That assumption works. "
          But alternatives like Copenhagnism or model agnosticism work equally well if not better.
      • Mar 8 2013: "But alternatives like Copenhagnism or model agnosticism work equally well if not better."

        I'll have to read up on that; thanks!
  • Mar 7 2013: As they say, talk is cheap, and it's quite easy for Sheldrake to stand up and emit words from his mouth to the effect that science is based on dogmatism. Should it be so easy to discredit science in order to make room for alternative ideas? We are all used to respecting and valuing the ideas of fairness and democracy, and Sheldrake tries to exploit this by implying that science is a democracy of ideas that has gone astray by mindlessly embracing a set of dogmas that should be every bit as open to criticism as any other known religious dogma or orthodoxy jealously guarded and preserved by high priests with candles and incense burners.

    But science is not a democracy, in that all opinions are not equally valid. Science uses consensus based not on opinion, but on reliable repeatable measurement that verifies the accuracy of ideas. Science converges on what natural reality dictates is real and true, not on what people think sounds best or most appeals to their hopes and wishful thinking. In fact any scientist could make his career and win a Nobel Prize by attacking the so-called dogmas and proving that they are wrong. So the idea that science is an orthodoxy defending its flanks from valid criticism is pure nonsense, and amounts to nothing but a rhetorical move to enable the propagation of a whole other set of dogmas and unverifiable speculations as somehow deserving to be placed on an equal footing with scientific knowledge. Only a fool would fall for this trick.

    Sheldrake asserts that it is as likely that a star should be conscious as an unimaginably complex network of 100 billion nerves and trillions of connections, and that genes merely produce proteins, but "morphic resonance" does all the hard work of creating a baby giraffe in the womb. These are assertions without evidence. It is no coincidence that googling "morphic resonance" takes you to one place: a bio of Rupert Sheldrake. The only thing we can learn from Sheldrake is how to sell books to fools.
    • Mar 7 2013: This point deserves emphasis. Religious apologists often portray the scientific method as a belief system in order to erroneously equate insistence on evidence with appeals to spiritual authority. Science is not based on belief, but rather relies on a process that is demonstrably effective at producing accurate, testable, predictive models of the world. Sheldrake's assertions mostly fall into this particular logical non sequitur. Therefore scientific facts are, by their nature, probabilistic and not absolute dogma. Some facts, however, are more certain than others. A friend chided me for my skepticism regarding the possibility of superluminal neutrinos. "How can you be so sure? Nothing is impossible", he opined. I replied that I wasn't 100% certain, but that I'd bet him $1000 that a subliminal explanation would be forthcoming. I would have bet more, but I really wanted him to take the bet. Unfortunately, he declined the challenge.
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      Mar 7 2013: Why create more dogmas? don't we have enough already
  • Mar 7 2013: This talk is nonsense and filled with factual and logical errors. These are numerous and have been delineated in detail in this comment log (e.g., Dark Star) and elsewhere on the net (Jerry Coyne). This talk should never have made it through the vetting process for TEDx. Since it did, however, I would label it as having been judged not to meet TED standards because it contains factual and logical errors. I suggest that the TED editors craft a consensus statement that summarize those errors and either attach it to the video of the talk or splice in frames that point out these errors. This makes viewing the talk and discussion educational and avoids actually censoring any of the content.
  • Mar 7 2013: The problem with TED keeping this talk up is the danger of having these ideas being thought of as mainstream, or as seriously useful critiques of the mainstream, by the less discerning, at a time when it's already difficult to advance the public understanding of science.

    I hate censorship. Sheldrake is hopeless, but I'd rather not take up the "A book for burning" advice from John Maddox on one of Sheldrake's books.

    On top of that, what are students supposed to practice their refutations and critical analysis on if we hide all the woo?

    Perhaps a compromise: a separate TED site for "Discredited Ideas". Maybe a Youtube channel: "TED Bloopers".
    • Mar 7 2013: I wholeheartedly agree with this perspective: Sheldrake should never have been given such a privileged pulpit in the first place, but after the fact, removing the video would be TED's second mistake. In the internet age, removing offensive content is a surefire way to give it martyr status.

      The best course of action for TED is to follow this discussion, reach the correct conclusion that Sheldrake does not meet their quality standards, and to preserve the video on their site but prominently and carefully annotate it to put it in its appropriate context: a mistake.

      Removal will fuel the fire of Sheldrake's supporters and give the appearance of a cover-up or conspiracy. His supporters will crow loudly about the removal, and anyone who hears them won't be able to judge for themselves.
    • Mar 7 2013: If Sheldrake's position had any reasonable evidence, then the video should certainly stay up. But there is no evidence. Should TED start posting videos by climate change denialists? How about religious fanatics? How about white supremacists? Phrenology? Astrology? Alchemy? Where would it end?

      TED(x) is no place for students to be practicing. That should be done in the classroom, and there are plenty of other sources of flawed arguments to draw on. If TED were *only* for education, then I could see it. But to expose ideas like those of Sheldrake to uncritical thinkers just for the sake of providing a venue some a relatively small number of students - well, the downside is *much* greater than the upside.

      I wouldn't burn Sheldrake's books, though. ...I would compost them.

      If presentations like Sheldrake's were put in a "Bloopers" section (I would prefer the label "Woo" myself), then I suspect no one would want to propose such presentation, thus achieving the same end as just eliminating them from the outset.
      • Mar 7 2013: I agree in large part, but my point is the video HAS been posted and will probably never go away. It's TEDs video, and removing it doesn't remove the mistake, it makes it worse. I doubt it will effectively prevent others from seeing the video either, but it will probably reduce their chances of seeing it in the appropriate context.
        • Mar 7 2013: Hmm. Okay. Let's say someone manages to get a copy and put it in youtube or some other place without the kind of quality assurance of TED. It might spread Sheldrake's woo even further. Unfortunately, the internet is like that.

          Ok. I stand corrected. It's a matter of the lesser of two evils but I think, based on this, that perhaps it's okay to leave the video, but with a *strong disclaimer* and a *careful rebuttal* as to its weaknesses. But this would make sense only IF, in the future, TED(x) was much more scrupulous in filtering out presentations full of patent lies.
    • Mar 7 2013: This has nothing to do with the censorship of ideas -- Sheldrake remains free to publish his books.

      But it is irresponsible to promote this as science, under the TED banner, when it very plainly is not, because it conveys the wrong message.

      Should children be taught that astrology and witchcraft and alchemy are all science? The great Newton himself wrote lengthy tomes on all of these subjects, why aren't they taught as science?

      The answer is because it is clear now that these things are not science. They did not hold up.

      How many millions of human centuries of thought and effort need to be wasted on such fancies before we can say "enough"?
      • Mar 7 2013: As long as there are humans?
  • Mar 9 2013: science just understand one language and that is of proof. Provide some well organized and valid proofs and no one would dare to ignore you as have solid proof backing you.If you have solid proof than it does not matter whether you are against the conventional norms or not.

    But in the case of Sheldrake instead of providing any solid proof to any any of his arguments he is just searching the unfilled gaps in other's work or conventional theories and putting forward his Morphic resonance without any sound proofs or valid arguments.

    I think TED should not promote this kind of stuffs.
  • Mar 9 2013: The one thing that I find galling is that the sceptics are already whining (http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2013/03/07/tedx-has-second-thoughts-about-rupert-sheldrakes-talk-asks-viewers-to-weigh-in/) that those of us who are against censorship of Sheldrake have not provided evidence to support his claims. Oh, the hypocrisy. They are the ones who want to shut him up, so surely the onus is on them to support this with evidence. They have not debunked his claims – all they have done is prove that there might be a great deal to them.
    • Mar 9 2013: Think about that for a moment. Scientists around the world, working on things which have a reasonable expectation of success and progress, who disagree with this particular claim, are supposed to drop what they're doing so they can disprove it? Why should they bother?

      Surely it's on the person making the claim to either refine it to a degree where it becomes of interest to more scientists, or to collect the evidence themselves.
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      Mar 9 2013: Someone here asked me if I support teaching creationism in schools instead of evolution just because I don't support censorship of Sheldrake. That kind of attack is unwarranted. My background is in science. I've taught classes in paleontology back when I was in grad school. I live in a country (not the US) where religion isn't substituted for science in schools. I would hazard a guess that the person asking that question never even watched Sheldrake's talk (which wasn't about creationism). He probably responded to an outcry in the JREF forum that suggested it was time to go on the attack because someone had threatened their dogma.
  • Mar 8 2013: I don't come to TED expecting the one universal, eternal right answer. I come to TED looking for ideas that make me think. I know the presenters won't all be right anymore than I am. The Earth is not flat, although it once was believed to be; the sun does not circle the Earth, although it once was believed to. In my personal opinion, anything I can't ask questions about is a dogmatic belief system, sliding us back towards the Middle Ages.
    Whether or not what Rupert Sheldrake says is correct, something from his talk may be the key someone else needs. If you can prove him wrong, give a talk and do that. Taking it down now will generate distrust in the whole TED process.
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      Mar 8 2013: What is there is one universal right answer
    • Mar 8 2013: The question is not whether or not a pseudoscientist and/or scammer for money (Sheldrake is both) should have the opportunity to peddle his goods. The question is if he should be able to do that under the auspice of "science" or "ideas worth spreading".

      Also, in both cases these people do harm with their lies. Harmful activities are often frown at or even banned, certainly many forms of scams are.

      And what is it with people and the flat Earth myth?

      "The myth of the Flat Earth is the modern misconception that the prevailing cosmological view during the Middle Ages saw the Earth as flat, instead of spherical.[1] The idea seems to have been widespread during the first half of the 20th century, so that the Members of the Historical Association in 1945 stated that:

      "The idea that educated men at the time of Columbus believed that the earth was flat, and that this belief was one of the obstacles to be overcome by Columbus before he could get his project sanctioned, remains one of the hardiest errors in teaching."[2]

      During the early Middle Ages, virtually all scholars maintained the spherical viewpoint first expressed by the Ancient Greeks."

      [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flat_Earth_myth ]
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    Mar 8 2013: Whether or not Sheldrake is the embodiment of new scientific thought or a scientific blunder, his questioning has inspired a lot of thought and interest upon the subjects he points out in his TedTalk, and I think the purpose of Ted is to share ideas. These ideas might be hard to believe or completely crazy, but we can learn more on our own part. Ted has offered a lot of new knowledge to me through video and conversations, but some seemed ridiculous, though it was a platform to jump to the next appropriate set of ideas. To understand the many different ideas that can inspire thought and act as a platform for growth, Ted should leave Sheldrake's talk on their youtube archives, which is precisely doing just that from this whole conversation evolving right before us. For further inspections into Sheldrake's ideas, then we should invite Sheldrake to participate in a conversation on Ted, then all the slander can turn into growth on each end of the stick, whether it be Sheldrake or his audience.
    • Mar 8 2013: It is easy to see that Sheldrake's idea's have inspired exact zero science. They are worthless by observation, and apparently thoroughly uninteresting for scientists. If he can't do experiments with his ideas, what science value are they?

      Meanwhile, science has has inspired a lot of thought and interest about the real world. It is amazing what we can tell about it, and that Sheldrake is utterly wrong is but the most uninteresting part. We _know_ there are no more mystical forces ("morphic fields") as the Standard Model (SM) of particles can predict values with 11 decimals. This is because the vacuum has the amazing property that everything that is not forbidden by physic law is happening - so since SM is correct up to 100's of GeV, way beyond chemical phenomena of ~eV, there are no more fields, no more forces to account for in daily life.

      That the vacuum is like that is amazing, that SM is so precise is wondrous and that we still haven't seen dark matter that constitutes the bulk part of the matter is exciting! Sheldrake's woo - yawn. There are 100's like him out there, utter bores all of them, no one with any new ideas but recycled crap from the 18th and 19th century or even further back.
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    Mar 8 2013: I was on board at first, questioning a reductionist, materialist, or deterministic model of the universe is a valid line of inquiry. There are limits to science and we should be clear that there are some questions that science cannot answer, that being said many of his claims are either provably false or ask us to prove a negative.

    For instance, the idea of crystal memory or rat memory. If this was true then after millions of years of forming all over the universe it should be nearly energetically free to make ice. And rats should be amazingly smart. Also the psychic phenomena is hypothesis that cannot be falsified, as one can always say we simply aren't able to measure it. Could it be true, maybe but it's not something anyone can ever prove one way or the other.

    I know that TED is a place to challenge conventional ideas, but I think above all the talks have to be factually and logically sound. I think he has a right to talk about his theories, but as a TEDx organizer, I do not want falsehoods associated with the brand I work so hard to promote. That being said the issue of censorship is a tricky one, it would be best if he never was given the stage, but that is not the case. I think that at the very least a disclaimer saying, "These opinions reflect personal views and not those of TED or TEDx as a whole" would be a good start.
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      Mar 9 2013: In regards to psychic phenomenon, it can be tested. It has been tested. There are currently tests being done. I know people are not often aware of this, but there is a growing body of literature on psychic phenomena. It has been published in journals such as Nature, and IEEE, along with a variety of more specialised journals such as the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, and Physics Essays.

      Targ, R. & Puthoff, H. Nature 252, 602–607 (1974).
      Puthoff, & Targ, R. Proc. IEEE 64, 329–354 (1976).
    • Mar 9 2013: Cory,

      Science Principle 101: You can never prove ANYTHING. You can only disprove it. And until you do, the theory gains more credence.

      Regarding psychic phenomena - if you're truly open to considering it, you should check out books like "The Field" (Lynne McTaggart) and "The Conscious Universe" (Dean Radin). Delicious stuff. Even if you find eventually that you don't want to believe any of it, you can still pretend you saw a really cool movie or something!

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      Mar 9 2013: Cory
      I want you to be a speaking at my next TEDx! Are you coming to Vancouver next spring?
  • Mar 8 2013: My head is spinning seeing this debate.

    I thought he was very clear in separating the scientific method (which he wholeheartedly endorses) and the assumptions that he believes currently go unquestioned (and he laid out ten of these.), which - by definition - have to be taken as starting truths, and therefore can only be "believed in" ... until shaken to its roots, and even then, only when majority view switches to allowing them to be accepted as the "new" truths.

    It's been the history of science through and through ... starting from the flat earth, to Newtons laws, to Einstein's ... to whatever new world-view will happen to hold sway 100 years from now. I mean, surely there is not ONE person amongst us who believes that we have uncovered all of the world's mysteries? Or, that the next SURPRISE will come from a linear extension of current world-views and not from a fundamentally disruptive paradigm?

    In fact, it is PRECISELY this track record of how Scientific Discovery has historically played out that makes his ACTUAL theories so appealing. And it appears that he has designed experiments surrounding his hypotheses, and got interesting, confirming data, AND others have replicated his experiments and got confirming data, as well.

    In the face of this, I can only imagine two sets of reactions. ONE ... SUSPICION and imagining that subversive sets of people are CONSPIRING to foist all this mumbo-jumbo on the Scientifically Inclined ... which, unfortunately, appears to be more of a reaction expected from BELIEVERS rather than from Scientifically Minded people. Or TWO ... a reasonable "Okay, fair enough; we'll take on doing these experiments ourselves and evaluate the results and get back to you".

    Personally, since my curiosity has been piqued, and I'd love to find out more, I'd LOVE to hear back about the results garnered by people who have gone down route TWO. So, dear TEDsters - any links to any such information?

    • Mar 8 2013: Science is a method, a tool, so obviously you don't make "assumptions" or "starting truths". Try that when you buy a hammer - the handle will fall off if it's broken, despite you being told the "starting truth" that it is perfectly fine in the store. Observations (experiments and generically theories) have testable constraints, they are observations too!

      Yes, most theorists believes we have now understood the laws underlying everyday physics (with the standard cosmology (SC) and Standard Model of particles (SM)), and that they won't likely change. This is something every literate person should try to grasp, even though the results are 40 (SM) and 10 (SC) years old. Indeed the last SM field, the Higgs field, was just observed last year.

      _No one_ "started" with "flat Earth" during the time period of science or even the last couple of thousands years, google the flat Earth myth.

      No one can replicate Sheldrake since he hasn't quantified his claims. that is the problem and why it is pseudoscience. You can google that too, or read the link in my previous comment.
      • Mar 8 2013: Hmm. Typically we start with a hypothesis, no? Stated differently that would be "assuming this is true", we expect to see such-and-such by way of results, yes? We typically try to "constrain" for a bunch of variables, right - factor out any impact that heat, pressure, etc, might have, yes? Translated, that would be "assuming that we do this at a particular temperature, pressure, what-not" we expect to see the following results? We do assume that the laws of nature are constant, right? Here on Earth in 2013 AD, as well as out in deep space, 5 nano-seconds after the Big Bang?

        That's what I'm calling starting truths.


        Now, what if these assumptions are NOT true? What if there are a 1000 different factors that are particular to our environment on Earth that are invisible to us - just like water is invisible to fish - that makes all of our science really TRUE, but only within the particular circumstances that are AUTOMATICALLY getting controlled for simply because they are there, they are consistent, and they are invisible to us?

        "Flat Earth" is a good example. To anyone alive at the time, it would have been "obvious". What was wrong with these Copernicus and Galileo types? Couldn't they SEE? That the Earth was flat wasn't an ASSUMPTION ... it was very real, SELF-EVIDENT Truth. Yet, if people suspended their beliefs for a few minutes to listen, and consider what Galileo and co. were saying ... well, IF the World WAS round, planetary orbits became MUCH easier to explain. Hmm. Fast forward many years, and now you have photographs of our lovely blue globe.

        Forget that. In MY lifetime, I had a colleague come tell me that Space was curved. I looked at him as if he was Nuts. Space is "obviously" the ABSENCE of stuff. How can NOTHING be curved? Yet, once I was able to suspend disbelief, I learned something.

        These are fun times, guys. Allow yourselves a bit of wonder. You lose nothing. You could gain a lot.
  • Mar 8 2013: There are two issues here in my view. The first is whether Sheldrake is right or wrong, or more specifically whether his views are scientific. Given his credentials he has a right to be treated as a scientist. Since his argument is that the current view of what "science" consists of (so therefore partly science and partly philosophy of science) it is to be expected that those whose views he questions will regard his stance as unscientific. That they fervently believe this to be so does not make it so. It is their opinion. Opinion, not fact.
    There is then the question of whether TedX standards are being met. I can't speak to that. What I can say is that if TEDx standards do not permit of contrarian views, minority perspectives or (just possibly) leading-edge views that are being attacked by an authoritarian dogma from the past (not saying that this is what is happening, but that it could be) then there is something wrong with TED standards. If Sheldrake's video is banned then I for one will cease to trust that TED is what it has so far seemed to be - a platform for interesting and radical views, presented without censorship.
    Let's be under no illusions. What Coyne is calling for is a form of censorship. Galileo might have been wrong too, but that would not have excused the Church's behaviour towards him. Time and evidence proved him right, and time and evidence will prove Sheldrake right or wrong. That is what science is about.
    • Mar 8 2013: If Sheldrake is to be treated as a scientist, then he has a congruent responsibility to act like one. No self-respecting scientist would question a controversial hypothesis _phrased as such._ Sheldrake, however, does not do this. He makes bald assertions conflating "scientists" with "science" and with "scientific knowledge." He does so only to undermine the scientific establishment that has provided humanity with the foundation to become what it is today.

      As for "censorship," I refer you to the link posted above by "Enopoletus Harding" just to point out how vague the term is in common usage.
      • Mar 8 2013: It doesn't matter how vague the term censorship is. The attempt by those who believe themselves to be authorities to remove a person's point of view from a public forum meets any definition that would possibly matter.
        And yes, the scientific establishment has contributeed to who we are today - man on the moon, internet etc. etc. It has also contributed to changes whose consequences are not fully understood, tehcnologies whose side-effects we are now struggling to cope with, to unintended consequences and to the rejection of other equally valid points of view (including, for example the effectiveness of complementary medical techniques). There is an either-or world in which we are being pushed to choose between technical medicine and non-technological medicine. What will it take for the scientific establishment to allow that a both-and world might be possible. And what would it take for the same level of funding and a truly scientific approach to be applied to both?
        • Mar 8 2013: I guess you didn't bother reading that link I referred to.
      • Mar 8 2013: I guess that means you think that what is happening here comes under the definition of "moderating". It is very clear that we won't agree about very much. I don't believe that you are adressing the issue of whether some of the people involved in ths debate see themselves as authorities - the ones who are entitled to decide what is relevant or not relevant. Your view is that Sheldrake is trying to undermine the scientific establishment. I would say that he is trying for an upgrade. And the fact that you see this as a conflict with "establishment" kind of proves my point.
        • Mar 8 2013: I am only supporting the views of respected experts, which my own studies have led me take as the best situation we currently have. I may not have advanced degrees in the subjects covering Sheldrake's ideas, but I have worked vigorously with scientists for decades besides the scientific influence that pervades my own work.

          I remain open to being "proved" wrong. But it will have to be on grounds of solid evidence and solid reasoning, neither of which is reflected by Sheldrake.
  • Mar 8 2013: Sheldrake made a few mistakes, but his basic message is simply true.

    Many people around the world, and apparently a few of the contributors here, have accepted the scientific worldview and have accepted some or all of the dogmas in Sheldrake's list. Sheldrake points out that this scientific worldview is in conflict with actual scientific investigation. Sheldrake is criticizing the scientific worldview, not science. That is a critical distinction.

    The notion that physical laws are fixed is indeed an assumption, and many people take this assumption as dogma. Theory tells us the speed of light is constant throughout the universe and throughout time. It has never been measured outside of the solar system, or outside of the Milky Way, or a million years ago, or a billion years ago. If you understand science and the scientific method, you understand that science is limited. Science is limited to phenomena that can be demonstrated repeatedly and consistently. Science is limited to phenomena that can be measured here and now.

    Anyone who has not fallen into the delusion that science is dogmatic should understand that Sheldrake is trying to open minds and broaden scientific investigation.

    IMO, this talk should be accepted as any other TED talk.
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      Mar 8 2013: Yes, that was the feelings I had when I watched his Tedtalk. The video was more so attempting to open up minds to new and possibly unproven ideas, but each human only lives a short amount of time compared to planets and dirt, so I say this talk was more of an examination of the way we see things as opposed to what we should learn from watching this talk, but the scientific evidence as lacking, though I think that was a lure to hook his audience to buy his book.

      Sheldrake's Tedtalk can be inspiring and should be published as a talk or at least give the guy a chance to speak for himself. Debates always turn to such hostile environments, or at least in my opinion they seem to.
    • Mar 8 2013: “It has never been measured outside of the solar system, or outside of the Milky Way, or a million years ago, or a billion years ago.”

      Um… yes it has, implicitly. All observations of stars in our own and other galaxies and of the CBR are consistent with a speed of light constant throughout the universe back through time to the BB.

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        Mar 8 2013: When did people from Earth begin sending satellites to planet towards the edges of the Milky Way and other galaxies?

        We have very accurate guesstimates with mathematical backing, but it doesn't account for every factor that could change.
        • Mar 8 2013: Well, we never have sent *satellites* towards the edges of the Milky way, only into orbit around the Earth (and a few planets in the solar system, iirc).

          We have a remarkably accurate understanding of the BB (see, for ex., http://scienceblogs.com/startswithabang/2012/02/09/the-big-bang-for-beginners/). If the speed of light were not a constant over time and space, we just wouldn’t have the consilience across disparate observations that we do.

  • Mar 8 2013: I enjoyed the talk and found it inspiring - exactly what I would expect from a TED talk.

    I had a strong passion for Science and Math at a young age and studied Physics in university. An interesting pattern began to emerge through my years of study. All the "certain" facts I *knew* at a younger age became fuzzier the more I learned about them.

    We live with this reality every day. For example, what we accept as solid matter is really gajillions of molecules made up of jiggling atoms which are in turn made up of mostly empty space. The closer we look at something, the weirder things are and the less certain we become of how things work.

    One thing I learned in my studies was that Physics was just *one way* of looking at a system. Chemistry might be another, Biology another, and Psychology another. Each time you look at the same system from a different perspective, you learn something interesting, something new.

    I think Sheldrake said it quite nicely. He is challenging us to think about the things we think we are certain about. Not because we expect the light to suddenly stop shining or the Earth's gravitational force to suddenly disengage, but rather because we may learn something new if we continue to look.

    I feel that his message is very much in line with the TED talks I have come to cherish, learn and be inspired by. While I no longer teach or study Science, I am happy to see that passion for Science growing in my son. I challenge him to look at things in new ways and hope that one day he is fortunate enough to have a professor that sees things the way Sheldrake does.

    I found Sheldrake's arguments sound. I see no factual error. We employ conveniences that are commonly mistaken for fact by lay people. He is pointing this out to us and some people are taking it literally as if he is challenging the very fabric of Science.. which is stupid.

    I believe you would be doing the world a disservice by removing this video. Please don't.
  • Mar 8 2013: This attempt to censor the ideas of Rupert Sheldrake is depressing on so many levels, and the nastiness of some of the comments on here is a bit disturbing. I think this is a sad day for TED, and if they wanted to engage in this type of censorship they should not have allowed the video in the first place. The thing that worries me most is that the attempt to dispute the claims made by Mr Sheldrake have been so weak. This call to silence his ideas seem to be more about the inability of the people on here to prove his claims about science to be wrong – cognitive dissonance on a large scale.

    The funny thing is that this rush to censor Rupert Sheldrake is going to just increase the popularity of his ideas. People seem to forget that the history of science is full of examples of dogmatic people holding knowledge back using censorship and character assassinations – thankfully such attempts usually backfire in the end.
  • Mar 8 2013: I've read a couple of Sheldrake's books and some of his papers. He did not pull his ideas out of thin air. They were formed from an honest evaluation of the evidence. because he is willing to consider evidence based on its merit rather than whether it's fashionable his ideas are not mainstream. He takes the time to advocate for his ideas and because of this he takes a lot of heat from skeptics.

    Ignore them. He is on the bleeding edge of consciousness research and naturally it's pretty stormy out there. This controversy is to be expected as this is a hotly contested area of science that skeptics won't even concede is hotly contested. My experience is that about 99% of skeptics will have not read his work or even be able to intelligently articulate what his ideas are. They call Sheldrake's ideas unscientific, but they don't say what those ideas are beyond slamming morphic resonance. Don't believe me? Read through the skeptical comments and try to find anything beyond vague proclamations of bad science.

    Don't be the thought police.
    • Mar 8 2013: Craig Weller - when I read your comment about Sheldrake being on "the bleeding edge of consciousness research" it made me wonder how you reached this designation. How do you decide what is "leading (bleeding?)edge" from what is crackpot? When you say that "he doesn't pull his ideas from thin air", and yet every credible scientifically qualified commenter on this thread has pointed out his egregious errors, how are you reaching the determination that Sheldrake is right and they are wrong?

      Having ideas that lie outside the mainstream doesn't credit them with a badge of honor. It is only justifiable, evidence-based hypotheses that eventually become accepted science when others are able to test and replicate their findings. So, I care little for you having read a few of his books and papers and found them convincing. The question is, can you point to citations from other scientists published in reputable journals who have reached similar conclusions under the same constraints and parameters? If not, then the very best conclusion we can reach about Sheldrake is that he is an outlier. The less charitable conclusion is that he is a misguided charlatan.

      I would encourage TED to determine this case against its own publishing standards. This isn't about censorship. No-one is saying that Sheldrake should not print books or make his case. However, TED claims credibility for its presentations meeting appropriate standards. Sheldrake being allowed to present at TED was clearly an error. I see no problem in removing this video with a clear statement as to the reason why. Admit the mistake.
      • Mar 8 2013: Well, I am familiar with the bleeding edge of consciousness research because I have personally researched it. When you take this subject seriously, get back to me.

        When you say that "every credible scientifically qualified commenter on this thread has pointed out his egregious errors." That is pure horse pucky. What you mean is that you assign credibility only to people you agree with. I find that sad.

        When you are outside the mainstream you publish where you can because politics plays a big role in what gets published. This is where actually reading the studies comes in handy. You can evaluate the work on its own merits. I recommend it over the highly political system of only reading from "reputable" (read: conservative mainstream) journals.
        • Mar 8 2013: Craig - I am pleased you have personally researched the bleeding edge of consciousness. I would be more than happy to read any of your papers if you could point me in the right direction. It really wasn't my intention to cite "credible scientifically qualified commenter" as a point of separation in our respective positions, but as an evidenced observation distinguishing the comments of those who are actual scientists from those who have opinions about science. While I am very aware of "arguments from authority" being afforded little weight, I was using the observation more as a test of competence. Please tell me whether you disagree and why?

          But none of that really matters. What I rhetorically asked (for it is a question to which the answer is hiding in plain sight), is whether any of Sheldrake's claims have been cited in research conducted by other scientists and published in reputable journals? You didn't answer this question other than make a "sneer" that attempted to equate "reputable" with "conservative mainstream", which is a distinction I haven't heard before. I wonder if you could enlighten me regarding the journals you consider to be scientifically acceptable?
      • Mar 8 2013: Barry, if you are going to jump into the fray regarding non mainstream research it is up to you to be prepared. it is simply not knowledge imparted in a comment section. For every meaningful paper there is a skeptical rebuttal, and then an author's rebuttal and then a skeptical rebuttal to that and so on. It gets ridiculous. For that reason, there is no point in citing papers. People have argued literally for years over this stuff. You have to research this stuff for yourself.

        To understand this stuff you really need to sit down for literally months to sort it all out because it's not immediately obvious who is right.

        If you study this stuff for long enough, two things become obvious: 1) The skepticism is at its core, irrational. 2)A pattern emerges that very strongly suggests that consciousness/information is somehow fundamental to physics.

        Two really reputable journals that are off the grid, so to speak are the Journal of Parapsychology, in which about 85% of the studies are double blind and the Journal of Scientific Exploration which is a catchall for papers on subjects that fall through the cracks of ordinary science. The JSE has some questionable papers, but also some exceptional ones. It's what happens when your job is exploration.
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          Mar 8 2013: The journal Nature has published artcles on psi. So has IEEE. These are both mainstream, well-respected journals.

          Targ, R. and Puthoff, H. (1975) “Information transfer under conditions of sensory shielding.” Nature, 251, 602-607.
          Puthoff, H.E. & Targ, R. (March, 1976). “A Perceptual Channel for Information Transfer over kilometer distances: Historical perspective and recent research.” Proc. IEEE, Vol. 64, no. 3, March, pp. 329-354;

          Sheldrake has published a number of papers on psi:
        • Mar 8 2013: Thanks for tthose Nature articles, sandy! I hadn't come across them before.
        • Mar 8 2013: Sandy Stone: have you read those papers in Nature?
          They are significantly different (like, night and day different) in terms of the phenomena they report, the transparency of the methods and data used, and the (un)certainty and scope of the conclusions they draw, from what Sheldrake is on about.
  • Mar 8 2013: It would be a very sad state of affairs, if people in the TED community are not going to be allowed to decide for themselves as to the veracity of Sheldrake’s novel, rational and well argued explanations for many of the current anomalies in science. Surely such investigation is a mark of a true scientist? Few scientists have his background in the history of science and philosophy to be able to understand the assumptions commonly being made in how scientists approach their own field.
    Sheldrake’s work is backed up by a great body of experimental data and his experiments very carefully drawn up, since when a scientist presents unorthodox findings, they will be scrutinised much more finely. ( though many skeptics - read cynics in many cases - don’t seem to feel the need to look at Sheldrake’s data before dismissing him outright).
    As for the ‘factual error’, this is plain pettiness since Sheldrake’s general thrust about the lack of government funding for complementary medicine is true. The figures presented in the objection are just peanuts.
    I can only assume that the suggestion to remove this talk must be motivated ideologically to even propose this kind of censorship.
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    Mar 7 2013: Censorship is just wrong. I don't need to be "protected" from unconventional ideas. I can use my own critical thinking skills to consider the evidence and make up my own mind. There are lots of people in the world I disagree with, but I would still fight for them to have the freedom to express their own opinions.

    Has TED really sunk so low to even entertain the prospect of censorship? Does it think so little of those of us watching these talks that we need big brother to approve everything we see on the internet? I'm a grown-up. I'd like the opportunity to make up my own mind in regards to what I agree or disagree with. Giving up such a right would be akin to joining a cult.
    • Mar 7 2013: I believe TED will diminish if it removes this talk...especially as it has already been a TEDx. As it is, I am put off TED by the aggressive or very derogatory tone of a number of the No Sheldrake comments.

      If it does, in time a new forum will emerge*.

      *Maybe in England.
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        Mar 7 2013: I think censorship will harm the credibility of TED far more than airing unconventional ideas ever could.
        • Mar 8 2013: The problem with Sheldrake's ideas isn't that they're unconventional. They problem is that they are factually wrong. Demonstrably, provably, wrong.
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        Mar 8 2013: @ Nathan:

        If you are able to determine this so easily, why do you feel the need to police these ideas? Shouldn't we all be allowed to decide for ourselves?

        I noticed that you haven't provided any evidence to back up your statements, BTW.
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      Mar 8 2013: I completely agree with you sandy stone, that we should learn to think for ourselves. Removing Sheldrake would be censorship and I very much agree that it might not make it on Ted.com, but it should still exist in its youtube archives. This debate is highly stimulating and hopefully that was part of the purpose for Ted.com staff for posting this conversation. I still think Sheldrake should make an appearance to defend his ideas, but yea, thinking for ourselves seems more democratic and those disagreers are welcome to voice their oppositions of his ideas as many ideas have oppositions, but they should all be heard, though sufficient evidence should be provided as some have, seemingly, rightfully claimed. This is fascinating, but seemingly futile without Sheldrake weighing in on this discussion.