Emily McManus

Editor, TED.com, TED


This conversation is closed.

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 .

      • +7
      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 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: 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

    • +23
    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 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

    • +18
    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.
  • Mar 7 2013: Sheldrake’s so-called dogmas are essentially well-validated assumptions or hypotheses, consistent with huge volumes of evidence. All are falsifiable, but many are so well established that the evidence that will falsify any one must be extraordinarily compelling. Yet scientists are more than willing to consider such evidence, just as they were when it appeared that we had seen neutrinos travelling faster than light.

    Morphic resonance is not a scientific hypothesis in the same way that intelligent design is not a scientific hypothesis: It lacks explanatory power (except in the sense that “Fred did it” is an explanation; there is no description of the mechanism by which it – ostensibly – works) and it makes no testable (ie, falsifiable) predictions. It is simply woo.

    • Mar 7 2013: Oh, remember, Ant Allan. evidence for morphic resonanace has "already begun to show up". How can you possibly refute that! If he calls it a duck, it must be one.
      • Mar 7 2013: So, then, which non-existent testable prediction does this evidence validate? ;-)

        • Mar 8 2013: All of the above, of course. 8-)
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      Mar 7 2013: Evolution and the Big Bang are falsifiable theories but Intelligent Design and Creationism are not? What does it mean to be non-falsifiable? Which hypothesis has the truer ring?. . . "In the beginning God created the Heaven and the Earth." or, "In the beginning, for no reason or cause, Nothing exploded and Everything came into being." Rupert may lack accuracy and validity, I don't know, but he does have rights. Those rights are the point of this debate.
      • Mar 7 2013: Well, in the first place, MR and ID are not theories in the sense that evolution and BB are.

        The falsifiability is a property of specific testable predictions, which neither MR nor ID make.

        If you are as unfamiliar with the philosophy of science as you seem, you might like to read Kuhn, Popper or Deutsch on this.

        Sheldrake has the right to spout whatever pseudoscientific flapdoodle he likes. But he does not have the right to expect TED or TEDx to promote that or to add credibility by association with the brand.

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          Mar 7 2013: Did you read the blurb about the Abiogenesis of the Standard Model? Here it is again: "In the beginning, for no reason or cause, Nothing exploded and Everything came into being." I think you should offer some explanation as to why you whole-heartedly embrace that laughable statement (please do not call it a testable hypothesis having specific testable predictions) while summarily dismissing Genesis 1:1. Do you really see the Emperor's new clothes? Really? Do you think, for one moment, that the average TEDster says, "I know it's true I saw it on TED!"? Rediculous.
      • Mar 7 2013: I do think that the average Creationist says, “I know it’s true, I read it in the Bible.”

        I cannot do justice to the likes of Carroll, Hawking or Krauss, so I won’t try, but I know enough to see that your blurb is a woefully scientifically illiterate mischaracterisation of the BB. You do realise that abiogenesis concerns the origin of life, don’t you? Not the origin of our observable universe. Hmm… maybe you don’t.

        And you’re straying rather far from the topic in hand.

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          Mar 8 2013: You separate the theories of Evolution and the Big Bang, I don't. The only genesis hypothesis there is for either of the two is the one I characterize as "Everything Became When Nothing Exploded for no Reason or Cause". Your repeated denigration of me personally shows a lack of substance in your argument. Do you have a substantial explanation for the rationale behind censoring Mr. Sheldrake? If not you need not reply any further to me personally just to spew more insults upon me with your ad hominem fallacies. The Emperor is naked!
      • Mar 8 2013: Sheldrake's rights are not in any way the topic of this debate.

        He has every right to promote wrong ideas. That does not obligate TED to give him a forum for doing so.
        • Mar 8 2013: Just as I said earlier!

      • Mar 8 2013: Well, of course I make a distinction between evolution and the BB! And regarding origins I make a distinction between abiogenesis and the BB (since evolution NE abiogenesis!). And so does Genesis! “Fiat lux!” on Day One and the first living things on Day Three.

        I do not believe I’ve insulted you, sir! Perhaps you are unconsciously guilty of the ad hominem fallacy fallacy [http://plover.net/~bonds/adhominem.html]? I attacked only the straw man of the BB that you proffered.

        No one is censoring Sheldrake; what’s under discussion is whether or not TED/TEDx should be giving him a platform to spout his pseudoscientific flapdoodle — which is very much not an idea worth sharing!

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          Mar 8 2013: Thank you for admitting to attacking a straw man. How is the following quotation of your remark to me not an ad hominem fallacy: "your blurb is a woefully scientifically illiterate mischaracterisation of the BB. You do realise that abiogenesis concerns the origin of life, don’t you? Not the origin of our observable universe. Hmm… maybe you don’t." Isn't the gist of your quoted sentence to insinuate my lack of knowledge? That's ad hominem.
          You say no one is censoring but you are juding the ideas of another and deeming them unfit for broadcast. How is that not censoring? There is no distinction between the theories of Evolution and the Big Bang when it comes to explaining how the Universe began. Two theories, one (shared) genesis account. The Emperor is naked!
      • Mar 8 2013: Your straw man!

        When you continue to parade your lack of knowledge, about logical fallacies as well as science, remarking on your ignorance is a matter of fact, and one very pertinent to the argument.

        No-one is saying Sheldrake can’t make his absurd claims at all. What we’re debating is not censorship, just editorial policy.

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          Mar 8 2013: How is the Big Bang theory a straw man in a conversation about science? The entire Standard Model is built upon it! Also, how is my ignorance and lack of knowledge pertinent to the argument? If I am proven to be the most ignorant of all men (and I might be) how would that have any bearing whatsoever on whether the Sheldrake talk should be published? Again, you need not reply any further to me personally if your purpose is to cast aspersions. Your ad hominem argument adds nothing to the purpose of conversation, collaboration, or debate here on TED. The Emperor is naked!
      • Mar 8 2013: The BB is not a straw man; it‘s your characterisation of it that is.

        The SM is not built upon the BB. It was developed independently of cosmological considerations. See, for ex., Quarks and Leptons by Halzen and Martin.

        This argument was about your “Abiogenesis of the Standard Model”, not Sheldrake.

        And again, claiming that your argument is invalid because your premises are wrong (since you plainly do not understand the science you are critical of) is not an ad hominem attack. Claiming that your arguments are wrong because you are (hypothetically) a person of moral turpitude would be. Do you see?

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          Mar 8 2013: What you seem to be missing is the fact that my personal qualities, or lack thereof, is not the subject of this debate. Let's see if I can correctly define your position on the Sheldrake talk: "The talk should not be broadcast, posted, or otherwise made available on TED resources because it is "pseudoscientific flapdoodle" and sound editorial policy should prevent its dissemination and the appearance of validation to the TED audience. Such action is in no way censorship." Is that a fair assessment of your position?
      • Mar 8 2013: Well, that’s all right then, since I haven’t been discussing your personal qualities. (I notice you’re a vet; kudos to you for that.)

        Yes, pretty much. If you really want to argue that prudent exercise of editorial control to meet published quality guidelines [http://blog.tedx.com/post/37405280671/a-letter-to-the-tedx-community-on-tedx-and-bad-science] is actually *suppressing* Sheldrake, go right ahead, but don’t expect agreement from me.

        Withdrawing the video from TED/TEDx would in no way inhibit Sheldrake from reaching as wide an audience via other channels.

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          Mar 8 2013: Thank you sir, I was glad to serve. Freedom requires constant care.
          We disagree on whether or not Rupert is undeniably guilty of spreading a malignant, intentionally fraudulent message. I believe it is NOT a less-than-zero possibility that science might some day show that consciousness can act through a distance, or that the speed of light in a vacuum does have a tolerance value of plus or minus so many Km/Sec.
          Of course TED editors should not allow precious global exposure to an idea that is essentially without merit or value. Peace to you fellow TEDster.
    • Mar 7 2013: "Sheldrake’s so-called dogmas are essentially well-validated assumptions or hypotheses, consistent with huge volumes of evidence. All are falsifiable,"
      Are you sure they are all falsifiable?
      Doctrines 1, 2, 3 and 5 seem unfalsifiable to me.

      #1) I can't think of any experiment that would show that the universe is not machine-like, because no matter what seemingly acausal phenomenon you observe, a causal determinist can always say, "Oh that has a material cause; we just haven't found it yet". What am I missing, Ant Allan? How is it falsifiable?

      The same logic applies to #5. You can always say, "There's an atelic explanation; we just haven't found it".

      #2 is plainly unfalsifiable until we have a consciousness-o-meter.

      9 and 10 have already been falsified. I think Sheldrake exaggerates how widely they're dismissed. (#10 is worded quite vaguely; I don't know if mind-body effects meet his definition of "mechanistic medicine".)

      (Here they are for reference:)
      1. The universe is machine-like
      2. Matter is unconscious
      3. The universe is governed by Platonic laws
      4. Total amount of matter-energy is the same
      5. The universe is atelic
      6. Heredity is material
      7. All memories are material
      8. Mind is inside head
      9. No psi
      10. Mechanistic medicine is the only kind that works
  • Mar 7 2013: Sheldrake, in his strong implication that the speed of light is changing and that it is only "scientific dogma" that is keeping the broader physics community from recognizing this, has shown us only that he has discovered the concept of noise in data and doesn't understand statistics. In his gently mocking suggestion that we publish the changes in physical constants as we do values in the stock market, he is clearly confusing the well observed phenomenon that all measurement is inherently imprecise and inaccurate at some level, and suggesting that the fluctuations seen are indicative of some actual, physical phenomenon. In other words he completely ignores the fact that at some number of significant digits deep in any method of observation there is always "noise." To strongly suggest a "conspiracy of dogma" because scientists seemingly refuse to entertain the idea that this noise represents a real phenomenon is misleading and irresponsible.

    As an analogy: I can measure the distance between my home and a building downtown by, say, pacing it out. If I do this a hundred times, I'll find that each measurement comes up somewhat different (within a range of, perhaps, plus or minus a dozen paces different each time.) If it were the case that my only method of determining distance were pacing out the distance between that building and my home, and I were completely ignorant of other methods, if I were doing as Sheldrake does with light, I would entertain the idea that I am actually seeing the building moving back and forth. What to do? Determine the imprecision of my measurement by statistical methods, and not consider the measurement any more precise than that.

    That said, should this talk be "banished?" No. Was it unfortunate that Sheldrake was selected for TEDx? Yes. TED should, instead, offer up a rebuttal by an expert on statistics to clarify where Sheldrake has made a misleading logical inference. It would be a great science lesson.
  • Mar 7 2013: Of course science does not operate the way Sheldrake suggest it does. How can you ask this question seriously. And why are we asked to respond seriously to this rubbish. I was a great fan of TED but I am afraid I have to watch the older conferences that had greater quality.
    I am writing from Italy where we are very tired of clowns. To see one again with this laughing public of idiots is making me sick.
  • Mar 7 2013: Just watched this video. Its really bad. TED is supposed to be a filter delivering high quality content that I can rely on to be informative. If you keep allowing in content this risible then I will have to unsubscribe much as I was forced to with Big Think. There's just not enough time in my day for this sort of spam.
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      Mar 7 2013: So you need someone else to make up your mind for you? Join a cult! Or have Mom vet your internet use. But don't advocate censorship. Cause one day you might have something to say that isn't popular. Do you want the right to express your own opinions?
      • Mar 8 2013: You seem quite emotional about this. First, I will clarify that I am not demanding, nor supporting, censorship. I have no interest in this video being removed. I do, however, expect a certain level of quality from TED. Sheldrake falls well below that level in a way that others who express somewhat similar views (e.g. David Chalmers w/r/t consciousness) do not.

        As far as I'm concerned TED can put whatever nonsense online they want but if the signal:noise ratio continues to degrade I will unsubscribe. I have already wasted too much time on this chap. There are plenty of other sources of "Ideas Worth Spreading" and I will support those who meet that simple requirement.
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          Mar 8 2013: I think people should be "emotional'" about freedom of speech. It's something not to be taken for granted.

          As far as the quality of the talk goes, the arguments against it have been pretty week. I'm not seeing any evidence aimed at his actual speaking points for the most part. What I am seeing is members of CSI and JREF, which are very vocal fringe organizations that don't reflect the views of the majority of scientists, trying to dictate what others can watch. It's akin to letting the local Star Trek club decide what will be shown in the theater from now on. (How many times can you watch Wrath of Khan?)
  • Mar 8 2013: Well that is the point isn't it. Your acceptance is circular. You will only trust "repected" experts and your definition of "respected is "agrees with me and my view of what is consensual and correct. You say that you work onthe basis of evidence, but there is no funding for the investigation of other views because funds are administered by the establishment. Peer review is unreliable because the peers, like you , are all prejudiced about what constitutes evidence. The deck is stacked, and everything that you say justifies Sheldrake's viewpoint. Sheldrake frequently provides evidence, but people like you repeatedly refuse to accept its validity.
  • Mar 8 2013: "A TEDx talk can be removed from the TEDx archive if the ideas contained in it are wrong to the point of being unscientific." If that's truly the TED standard, then Sheldrake's talk should go.

    Sheldrake's talk is clearly pseudoscience. It meets the definition of pseudoscience because 1) he uses the rhetoric of science and presents himself as a scientist, but 2) the entire goal of his talk is discredit science as it is currently practiced. It's not a focused surgical strike on particular types of "bad" science, but a massive philosophical broadside that, if accepted at face value, would force all scientists to recant most of what they think they know. Sheldrake's central message is that science is largely wrong and that mainstream scientists should be distrusted. Intentionally or not, it plays into and reinforces unfortunate lines of thinking that can have dangerous consequences, from poor environmental regulation to the fatal mistreatment of disease.

    It's not a question of censorship. Sheldrake and his fantasies about telepathic rats will live forever on YouTube and elsewhere. (Long live the telepathic rats!) The question is whether his ideas deserve the TED seal of approval -- whether they rise to TED's initial standard.

    It comes down to what TED is all about. Are these talks supposed to be the best distillations of the best learning achievements of the best modern thinkers? Or is TED a place for society-wide brainstorming, in which everybody tosses out their ideas (good, bad, or crazy) to see which ones have the staying power to survive as memes?

    If TED's purpose is the former, some serious housecleaning is in order (and not just with Sheldrake). If it's the latter, Sheldrake and his ilk can stay on the stage, but many of us will continue to downwardly revise our expectations of your institution.
    • Mar 8 2013: "Sheldrake's central message is that science is largely wrong and that mainstream scientists should be distrusted."

      Not at all. He claims that the materialistic philosophical position is mainly taken for granted and that influences the way science is done in a way we might not suspect. Science as it is done now works very well in a vast majority of domains and I don't hear that Rupert Sheldrake has problems with that.

      But on some specific issues, like consciousness for example, he explains why the materialistic philosophical position may prevent us to do science as it should be done.

      But be sure that if is talk is removed, it will illustrate perfectly what he just said!
    • Mar 8 2013: Based on your description, you did not watch the same video that I watched.
      • Mar 9 2013: I guess it depends on our bias...
  • Mar 8 2013: Minority voices like Sheldrake's should be heard. The fact that most of us don't agree with him on how science works is the point of the talk. We should be able listen and make up our own mind about the vaule of his ideas.
    • Mar 8 2013: Sheldrake has not voiced any science though, he just pretend he has. The verdict on his ideas is in, and they have no success, no value, within science.

      Why would anyone want to pay a scammer money?
  • Mar 8 2013: Let me try to present some simple, sceptical and scientific comments as to why this talk ought not to have taken place under the TED banner. Given all the woo-ey comments already put up here, this will be an uphill battle, and this makes me fear for the future of TED, but I am obliged to try.

    Factual fallacies:
    Science as a philosophical worldview - in my opinion an invention by Sheldrake. Science is a (highly successful) way of finding out the 'truth' or, how things work.

    In his 'refutation' of scientific dogma he utterly fails - I don't have nearly enough space to refute his Gish Gallop of wrongs. And if the TED editors themselves don't see this, than woe be them and I weep for TED.

    One obvious one is his 'second dogma' that 'consciousness does not exist'. That is emphatically not what science says and I have no idea where he pulled that from.

    The collective memory theory is 'not even wrong', simply put. There is literally zero evidence for it.
    Some dogmas - 'materialism' - are easily refuted: show memories, and inheritence, without matter, and we can talk.

    His misunderstanding of how physical constants work is just funny. In short, we are constantly observing vast amounts of space around us. If laws of physics changed locally, we would have noticed - like when you're on a ship bobbing on the waves looking at other ships and faraway shorelines. This is easy to understand but RS fails to do this.

    There is NO, ZERO, credible evidence for 'influencing on a distance'. ZIP. Science would actually welcome such findings as this is exciting stuff, like Higgs Bosons or 3 trillion dwarf galaxies. Alas, without evidence we must conclude it does not exist.

    I hope the editors will look at the quality of the arguments presented here in the comments - all the positive ones seem to say "well I like what he said" or "yeah scientific dogma, bad, waffle" or "we must be open to like, stuff", which is thin in actual arguments.
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      Mar 8 2013: Insulting other posters with words like "woo-ey" is inappropriate.

      Are you seriously saying that science shouldn't be open to questioning? That's the gist of Sheldrake's talk, and it isn't such a controversial idea.
      • Mar 8 2013: "Woo-ey" is not inappropriate but appropriate if it can be substantiated. Volker did that.

        Are you seriously saying that science should consider unsubstantiated woo? That scientists shall publish is the gist of science, and it isn't such a controversial idea.
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          Mar 8 2013: Insults are not appropriate in a civil scientific forum. It's appropriate to state something is factually incorrect so long as you can provide evidence, but that is not the same as saying something is "bad" or "woo" or "stupid". It is appropriate for me to disagree with you. It is fine for me to suggest you are making factual errors. It is not OK for me to say you are stupid, whatever my opinion on that particular matter might be.

          I understand that the term woo has been popularized in the forums of certain fringe organizations as a way to classify anyone who disagrees with the dogma promoted by those groups. That doesn't make it appropriate to use at TED.
    • Mar 8 2013: A few responses to this...

      "One obvious one is his 'second dogma' that 'consciousness does not exist'. That is emphatically not what science says and I have no idea where he pulled that from."

      I have no idea, either; probably because he never said that. In any case, some mainstream philosophers argue that consciousness does not exist. Their position is called 'eliminative materialism.' Most scientists and philosophers, however, believe it exists, but assume that it can be reduced in some way to brain function. Sheldrake - and a growing number of others (such as philosopher Thomas Nagel, though to be fair, I doubt Nagel is interested in psi phenomena) - takes issue with that assumption.

      "There is NO, ZERO, credible evidence for 'influencing on a distance'. ZIP. Science would actually welcome such findings as this is exciting stuff, like Higgs Bosons or 3 trillion dwarf galaxies. Alas, without evidence we must conclude it does not exist."

      A lot of skeptical commenters in this discussion have made this claim. It's not true. There's a vast experimental literature. In an earlier post I suggested the recent book "Debating Psychic Experience: Human Potential or Human Illusion," which has essays by proponents and skeptics, as an entry point into this literature. Of course, this would require reading journals like the AAAS accredited "Journal of Parapsychology," which some here have claimed – prejudicially, in my opinion – is not a science journal. This bias reinforces a circular loop that keeps such people from even the most superficial examination: Parapsychology journals are not reputable nor are they scientific; ergo, anything published in them is not scientific and no evidence exists.
      • Mar 8 2013: Sheldrake said that "matter is unconscius" et cetera. You and Sheldrake's obsession with philosophers instead of science here is odd, but still anti-science woo.

        As for 'influencing on a distance', there is a lot of physics evidence against. And there are exactly zip evidence for "anomalous cognition". That parapsychology journals can't do the heavy lifting and establish a testable science is not the fault of science. Do the homework.
    • Mar 8 2013: “I hope the editors will look at the quality of the arguments presented here in the comments - all the positive ones seem to say "well I like what he said" or "yeah scientific dogma, bad, waffle" or "we must be open to like, stuff", which is thin in actual arguments.”

      I hope so, too. Especially because a lot of the negative ones are negative without giving any indication of a thoughtful engagement with the evidence for anomalous cognition.
  • Mar 8 2013: Thankyou...it's nearly evening here now!
    Perhaps I should phrase a TED question about this, it seems a large topic. But I'll try and give a few salient points, especially about the difference Ive most observed between the English and Americans :

    When my sister attended a short dance course in New York, she couldn't believe the culture difference. She observed that everyone took every little thing so seriously, didn't smile, failure was to be avoided always, intensely.

    It's not that the English aren't just as serious, - we' re very serious and deep, and independent! But we don't wear it on our sleeve, so to speak. We are more reserved (I know we're speaking generalisations), more likely to keep our own counsel, especially about important things, and are quite able to have a veneer of toleration for something we inwardly take with a pinch of salt. It's not a bad trait...it allows things to mellow out and find their rightful level, often.
    In conversation we are often brief and full of irony and other quirky or subtle humour. We are used to eccentricity, everywhere. It's allowed. There are more eccentric polymaths around here than anywhere else I know.

    From what I have read of RS's book (and I take it as seriously or not as I wish), it is written in the style of a friendly English conversation....more like talking to people who are already his friends in a ancient village hall - sharing his enthusiasm for all he is involved with, without actually presenting much of the nuts and bolts of a scientific paper in the usual academic sense.
    We're great natural philosophers and speculators, it's a national hobby we all share, wondering about everything. We have a hard won right to think for ourselves, and we do. I feel the book was written in this spirit, ....I can't quite put my finger at the moment on why, more than this, but I definitely feel we are not reacting to it, by and large, in the same way as many of our American cousins.

    Hope that gives a bit of a window
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      Mar 8 2013: That's an interesting view of Americans. I would add that there is a great deal of variation going from state to state. New York isn't exactly typical of what you would find in Texas, for instance. As a Canadian who has lived in the states, I would have to say that open conversations about controversial subjects are much more difficult there than in Canada or the UK. When my husband was posted to the US, we were warned about certain aspects of US culture. It is much more violent than Canada or the UK. Political and religious POVs tend to be much more polarized. I enjoyed my time there, and still enjoy visiting the US from time to time. But I have to say that living in the US gave me a much greater appreciation for the freedoms and opportunities I enjoy as a citizen of Canada.
      • Mar 8 2013: Thankyou sandy.
        I have run out of recommends!
        That is interesting. All friends who have visited the States have mentioned the violence, (but then I'm sure there are more violent pockets in the UK too.)
        I will try and formulate an interesting question along these lines, as perhaps what we learn from it may help to 'oil the wheels' of our TED conversations.
        Even the way we use words, and what we mean by them varies, often subtlety but importantly.
        I think it is one of the exciting potentials of TED, that minds from all over the world can meet. I would be sad to see that clipped.
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          Mar 8 2013: I've been to London, and I have to say I felt quite safe wandering around as a newcomer to that city. I can't say the same of American cities, where I've personally witnessed violent acts take place. I've never seen that kind of violence in Canada, where I've lived most of my life. I've lived in isolated rural areas as well as in major cities here, so I have a pretty good cross-section of experience to draw upon.
    • Mar 8 2013: (Pssst ...you forgot to mention the "Pint or two" ...in the part about "ancient village hall")

      And By the Bye ...you've outlined beautifully why Eckhart Tolle loves O'England.
      • Mar 8 2013: why I love it!
        I am English, but was brought up abroad. I developed a greater appreciation of it I think.
    • Mar 9 2013: Brilliant post Reine!! and I absolutely resonate with your post both about British and Americans. I was having exactly this discussion with someone no more than a month ago.

      I am Australian myself and we are very similar to the English. We have a very similar sense of humour as well to the British and I work in an industry where I spend a lot of time with British, American and Canadians.

      The American sense of humour is most definitely different to ours, but their culture on everything from guns to political correctness is so far apart what I am used to that they may as well be on another planet!

      What we find funny they find offensive... and it is almost in a way like political correctness or lifestyle in the US has taken all the fun out of the people living there. It is most definitely a different "vibe" in the US that I have to admit I don't particularly enjoy.
  • Mar 7 2013: Some people here (Jerry Coyne, Bill Hoffman, Jeffrey Johnson, Tom Spierckel) seem to be advocating that Sheldrake should not be given a platform in TED because his ideas are unscientific. I think it is vital to distinguish between two senses of the word “scientific”: referring to methods and to particular theories.

    Scientific inquiry is a method where we come up with good explanations of what we observe, then try to falsify those explanations. This kinda goes against the grain of human psychology. We like to be proven right; science would have us prove ourselves wrong. That's not so controversial; most philosophers of science agree that falsification is important and that theories must be subject to criticism. Confirmation bias is well recognized in psychology.

    BUT there is a danger here. Human psychology wants certainty and for its ideas to be verified, and scientists are as human as anyone. When a scientific theory is adopted, it often gets put on a pedastal, and criticism gets suppressed. Thomas Kuhn has shown that data that contradicts accepted theories either gets dismissed as fraud, ignored, explained away with ad hoc addenda, or violently attacked. As I said, human nature seems to resist alien ideas.

    This theory-worship is dogma and the exact opposite of scientific inquiry. BUT lay people, the media, and Joe Scientist who does not understand the philosophy of science, tend to label the current theory “science”. After all, this theory's scientific; everything that contradicts it must be unscientific, right?

    Mrs Salustri, Coyne and 'Dark Star' – please explain to me what you mean that Sheldrake's claims have "no evidence"? A literature search shows plenty of experiments on ESP etc. he's published. I'm not saying it's good evidence or bad, but he does research.

    Sheldrake's ideas are “unscientific” (they contradict scientific theories), therefore they are consummately "scientific" (they attempt to falsify what we know).
    • Mar 8 2013: It's bad evidence. That's what we mean by "no evidence" - no credible evidence.
      • Mar 8 2013: Which specific evidence are you referring to and what specifically is bad about it?
    • Mar 8 2013: There is plenty of room for unscientific information. Much can be said about psychology, economics, sociology or art and music. The problem with Sheldrake is bad information. If an alternative economist stood up and said he had the solution to everyone's economic problems, including the government, and that it would be painless and cost nothing, but he can't share the details, and that all of mainstream economics is wrong and ignores his solutions, what would you say? That is what is being done here, except with respect to science rather than economics.
      • Mar 8 2013: " There is plenty of room for unscientific information. Much can be said about psychology, economics, sociology or art and music. "

        "The problem with Sheldrake is bad information."
        I agree that some, but not all, of his information is bad. For example, I am unconvinced by the evidence that rats will learn something faster if other rats have already learned it. On the other hand, I can't find fault with his telephone telepathy experiments; maybe you can.

        "he can't share the details"
        Do you mean in the 18 minute talk, or at all? What details are you referring to? I'll see if I can dig them up for you.
    • Mar 8 2013: Fine. In place of "no evidence," please read "no reproducible/reproduced accurately verified experimental data that compellingly supports his claims."
      • Mar 8 2013: I think that his telephone telepathy experiments are in principle reproducible, as are his experiments on pets anticipating their owners' return, on the sense of being stared at, and on animals learning faster if other animals have learned the same thing. Am I wrong in thinking these are reproducible experimental data?

        If we grant these experiments are acceptable in principle, we should turn our attention to the other two adjectives you demand: "reproduced" and "accurately verified".

        Have Sheldrake's experiments been reproduced? I've done a little research; someone better-informed can probably furnish more data. I found two replications of his telephone telepathy experiments. One by Schmidt et al. found a negative result (http://www.uniklinik-freiburg.de/iuk/live/forschung/publikationen/RemoteStaring2004.pdf) and one by Lobach and Bierman shows a positive result (http://www.metapsychique.org/Who-s-calling-at-this-hour-Local.html). Richard Wiseman replicated his experiments on an allegedly psychic dog called Jaytee; I haven't had a chance to look at the results of this yet; I'll check next time I'm in the library.

        I would like to see much more replication, but there is some.
        • Mar 8 2013: Replication is a key.
          But another aspect of the whole notion of experimentation is whether meaningful predictions can be made that themselves can be falsified by experiment.
          One of the admitted problems with, for instance, string theory, is the lack of falsifiable predictions (as far as I know).
          One of the reasons why evolution is so well accepted is that its predictions *are* verifiable via experiments that could falsify it - and yet do not falsify it when studied experimentally.
          I'm unaware of any falsifiable predictions that are made by any of Sheldrake's "work."
      • Mar 8 2013: "I'm unaware of any falsifiable predictions that are made by any of Sheldrake's "work." "
        Well, isn't the claim that psi phenomena are possible (one of the 10 points he mentions) a fasifiable prediction?
        • Mar 8 2013: No it isn't. What *exactly* does he mean by psi? The term is too vague to be useful. Others have posted links to articles published in reputable journals on phenomena that fall under the rubric of "psi research." Some of it has supported the hypothesis of some atypical phenomenon; others have falsified it - making the matter a relatively open question. But their specificity and detail distinguish them from the clap-trap that is typically found in Sheldrake's work.
      • Mar 8 2013: Sure, "psi" is a broad term, as is "chemistry". If the word is problematic, discard it; the observations are still there.

        I rather prefer Sir Richard Francis Burton's term: "extra-sensory perception". That gets the point across very clearly: organisms acquire information (perception) with a faculty other than sight, hearing etc.

        If people guess way above probability who is on the other end of a ringing phone, with no conventional sensory or inferential means of knowing, if a dog consistently acts in a certain way when the owner is doing something kilometers away, and never acts that way when the owner is not, these observations are interesting, and they seem to me to be anomolous to certain materialistic theories of perception.

        What makes you think that Sheldrake's telephone telepathy experiments lack "specificity and detail"? A lack of specificity definitely diminishes some other research in the field. With remote viewing experiments, for instance - you can say what the 'receiver' described looks a bit like what the 'sender' saw, but that's not rigorously quantifiable. On the other hand, guessing which of 4 people is on the other end of the phone is completely quantifiable and specific, allowing statistical analysis. What exactly do you mean by "specificity and detail"?
        • Mar 8 2013: Those phenomena you mention are at most just that. Phenomena. They must be measured and studied, and I have no problem with that. If they are found to actually exist and resist falsification by reproducible experiment, then then next step is to find a theory that explains them without violating anything else.

          What I was trying to say was that the bald assertions made by Sheldrake in the TED video subject of this discussion lack specificity and detail. He provides no evidence for his claims, and his reasoning is faulty.

          Look at TED presentations by honest scientists. You should be able to see the differences.
      • Mar 8 2013: Well, as Steve Stark, Ben Goertzel and several others point out above, there are seperate issues: denying materialistic-realist-Platonist-nomological philosophy of science is what the TED talk is about. That is mostly a philosophical issue, so the arguments won't be as testable. If you are saying that his philosophy of science points aren't testable, then we agree.

        "What I was trying to say was that the bald assertions made by Sheldrake in the TED video subject of this discussion lack specificity and detail"
        Then I misunderstood. When you said "any of Sheldrake's " work" " and "the clap-trap that is typically found in Sheldrake's work", I got the impression that you were talking about his work as a whole, not the talk. I agree that the talk is generally not in the realm of empirical testing, (with some exceptions, like the brief references to psi etc.)

        I'm getting a bit confused here, maybe.
        At first I thought you believed that Sheldrake does not offer anywhere in his body of work reproducible experimental data to support his claims. This is not supported by my reading of him.
        Then I thought you were saying that he does not offer any falsifiable claims in his works. This too seems to me contrary to the content of his writings.
        Now I understand your argument to be that his points in the talk against the metaphysics of materialism are not empirical. This seems to me a reasonable conclusion, and one that I discuss in comments above.
        • Mar 8 2013: Sorry, I guess I wasn't clear. I'm concerned only with the video. In the video, Sheldrake makes statements about science and scientific knowledge that are just plain wrong, as has been highlighted by many others besides me.

          If he's on about metaphysics (which I'm not sure about), then he still has to ground his metaphysics in the real. If a metaphysicist says that scientific knowledge is wrong just because it disagrees with his own metaphysical stance, then that's just bollocks.

          If the metaphysicist goes further and makes errors of fact (like the claims about 'c' or 'G' that Sheldrake makes), then he's just being irresponsible.
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    Mar 7 2013: I just watched the talk and thought it was very good TEDx material. I am a practicing research scientist and I know first hand science is not all it is craked up to be. Any of us that use statistics in the course of our research must confess that there are ways we can massage our equations to get them to tell the stories we want to advance and mask the stories we don't. What we take as scientific truth is that which ends up published in our best research journals, but those journals are controlled by powerful gatekeepers that are not always entirely objective. The gatekeepers have paradigms that influence what does and does not get published, and this is often times confounded with economic self interest. For example, if you have done research on employee engagement, and that research has lead to consulting and speaking gigs on engagement, can you really be objective about data that might disprove your theory, fame, and business interests? Disproving established theory is by the way the real pursuit of science.

    Sheldrake suggests that we should continually challenge our dogma and paradigms. I find that utterly consistent with the message of TED. The only way you might be offended by that is if one of your favorite world views was mentioned in his talk. We have a bad habit of wanting to kill those that threaten our golden calves.

    I don't buy everything he had to say, but I find it intellectually stimulating. No less or no more offensive than the place in Dan Pallotta's talk at TED last week where he blamed the problems we have with charities today (a very valid observation) on the Puritans.

    I hope Sheldrake's talk remains online. It would be a great shame to have it removed.

    Just my humble thoughts.

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      Mar 7 2013: Are you talking about social science research here, Bret? You used the example of research into employee engagement in conjunction with management consulting. I can see that you are an Associate Professor of Management.
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        Mar 7 2013: Hi Fritzie: Yes, I am. You might be aware that many consider social science research merely pseudo science; nevertheless, we do try to follow rigid research principles while acknowledging the limitations of what we can really "know" and especially prove. Bret
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          Mar 7 2013: I understand, Bret. I too have a doctorate in social science. I just think when you write you are a "research scientist" and that you think the talk was very good, a reader might believe you are a specialist in the natural sciences.
    • Mar 7 2013: I was stimulated by the talk too. Stimulated toward depression. There must be gatekeepers with ethical standards of some kind, otherwise complete folly would follow. Charlatans without scruples would arrive on our doorstep merely to hawk their latest book.
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        Mar 7 2013: Hi Rick. Our gatekeepers are very well qualified, and of course believe their own ethics are above reproach - as most of us do. The peer-review system is very good, but it has limitations what we would be wise to be aware of.
        • Mar 7 2013: Peer review is just one aspect of scientific confirmation, but it seems foolish to me to try to defend Sheldrake because of the supposed weaknesses of scientific method. Sheldrake is appealing to total ignorance of the method not some subtle weakness. Besides, it is easy to criticize peer-review or consensus without offering an alternative. Sheldrakes alternative is hand waving - "data is already becoming available". If we subject Sheldrake to any sort of serious peer review, he'd drown in red ink. All he's done is publish a book. That's not peer review.
        • Mar 8 2013: " All he's done is publish a book. That's not peer review. "
          On a point of information: he has published 10 books and 80 peer-reviewed articles.
        • Mar 8 2013: If you're gate-keepers were well qualified, they would have known who Rupert Sheldrake is and never dreamed of letting him do a TED talk.
    • Mar 7 2013: It is interesting that TED would even post this question if they truly mean what they say "good ideas worth spreading"

      Key word that I read into this is "Ideas" the opposition here on this thread seems to think TED is somehow sharing "indisputable 'scientific' facts !!! I see nowhere in the TED intro where it says TED attempts to do this.

      I appreciate your stepping in here ....I from my perspective cannot understand why ...if Scientific American magazine can have an article on Sheldrake ...http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=ruperts-resonance........that a very very general information organization such as TED would not jump at the opportunity as well.

      Unless they are just testing the waters.
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        Mar 7 2013: Good points, Ed. I must admit after watching the video I too was a little confused about the objection. Not all TEDx talks are good, and some are crap. But some of what I think is crap others think is brilliant. That is the beauty of this forum - talks that push the boundaries and lead some of us to have to agree to disagree.
        • Mar 7 2013: Bret, you're being too generous. What you are saying is that in a forum that is supposed to be about ideas, anything goes.
        • Mar 7 2013: Bret and to that I agree!! ..
          .I don't come here expecting to "like" every talk what it does serve (and now this is bringing in Sheldrake’s subject "Morphic fields”) to observe the every day happenings Collective Consciousness because, very often, what shows up at TED as a topic has also arrived in such fields a Scientific American, Science, etc . No surprise to this and will be occurring more and more.

          A secondary aspect to these occurrences is that open opportunities such as ...working example...last ev I sat down to a restaurant meal with the current issue of American Scientist with it cover page "Math in Stitches" (Adventures in Mathematical Knitting)The server, a lady in her mid 50ies i would guess, immediately picked up the article and said ..."I saw this on TED-Talk and really liked it!!!" It opened to door to discussion and I think you can see that point.

          I close with this because ....well......i couldn't resist a good back door comment to all the naysayer’s on this thread


          Be Well Be Present
      • Mar 8 2013: At one time, TED had some credibility, which is more than you can say for Scientific American. If we're going to use Scientific American as our benchmark we might as well book Deepak Chopra and Jenny McCarthy.l
    • Mar 8 2013: There are different standards used in different disciplines for determining "truth." The standard for determining that the Higgs Boson was really found is *far* greater than the standards typically used in the social sciences. This is because no method has been discovered for performing the necessary experiments ethically. No problem there.

      I know about the power of journals. However, good ideas, presented well and consistently, and supported by good evidence, will in the long run get a fair hearing in the scientific community.

      On the matter of dogma: dogma is something people have. Science is not dogmatic; some scientists may be dogmatic. When Sheldrake talks of dogma, he is not challenging "science;" he is trying to undermine the confidence that the public at large should have in scientists. That is the ultimate ad hominem attack.
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    Mar 7 2013: I agree that it would be useful to have a quantum physicist offer a TED talk to clarify the WIDESPREAD misconceptions about what quantum mechanics does and does not suggest and specifically the difference between quantum physics and quantum woo. This way, in the spirit of science education, those who have little access to specialists are less likely to be fooled by sensible-sounding and confident people who promulgate false information, either for their own benefit or because they themselves have been taken in by pseudoscience.
    • Mar 7 2013: Or, since there are so many different opinions on how to interpret QM, stage a debate. It would be interesting to hear someone like Henry Stapp, who gives consciousness some role in QM, debate someone who thinks consciousness is unnecessary.
    • Mar 7 2013: It's worth bearing in mind that David Bohm endorsed Rupert Sheldrake's interpretations of quantum mechanics
  • Mar 7 2013: Sheldrake is a "maverick" and one of those persuasive, annoying people who are so clever that they can see that almost everybody else has got it wrong. He certainly misrepresents science, big-time, but sounds so reasonable and plausible that open-minded people who are not scientists, or have not worked with scientists, may well think that he might be on to something. There are grains of truth in what he says which he proceeds to sprout and grow, and twist into a magnificent straw man which he can then shine the spotlight of his immense intellect on, and destroy to show how clever he is. Well although he might lower the tone somewhat at TED, I would not silence him, but I would not file him under Science". Entertainment perhaps, except that he is not quite funny or entertaining enough. Is there a philosophy or religion category?

    His ideas are not "attacked" because he dares to question orthodoxy, but because ideas in science are always attacked, but if they have the powerful defence of being able to be backed up with fulfilled predictions and controlled studies, (rather than anecdote, metaphor and basically smoke and mirrors), they will be respected, and will persist enough to be passed on as the current best explanation. But if somebody tried to shield their ideas from questioning by claiming that the hitherto well-tested means of testing ideas is not applicable, well that sounds like special-pleading.

    To me it sounds like he is saying that scientists are closed-minded and trapped in a belief system, and that the fact that his ideas are not accepted proves this. Sounds like a circular argument.
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    Mar 9 2013: Removing this talk would be shameful. If person cannot suggest an idea because it may be wrong we would have very few suggestions indeed. Most of science would have a bit of an issue with that. As far as the factual error goes: It is not the main drive of his argument, but rather a misinformed support point. All of us have made mistakes I assume, so that should really not be grounds for removing this talk.
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    Mar 8 2013: I think science is strong enough to stand up to the sort of questioning proposed here by Dr Sheldrake. In fact, science will be stronger for it. Don't censor the talk. Don't silence the discussion.
    • Mar 8 2013: I agree with you Sandy. The problem is that there is a group of people who have appointed themselves as defenders of a particular worldview and these people are trying to hijack science. They have made it their religion, and their dogmatism means that they do not want their beliefs questioned. They have replaced good and evil with science and woo. Rupert Sheldrake is making the reasonable argument that science should not be held back by this type of dogmatism. It is funny, there are plenty of other TEDx videos on here that deal with controversial scientific ideas, but the skeptics are so angry with Sheldrake because he is questioning their most cherished beliefs. He is a heretic and they want him shut up.

      BTW - I would give you a thumbs up, but I'm spent :)
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        Mar 8 2013: I'd give you a thumbs up too... but I also ran out of them! :)
    • Mar 9 2013: So tell us: do you support the "teach the controversy" movement, to introduce creationism into high school biology courses?
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        Mar 9 2013: Is there any way to stop the discussion of creationism anywhere, it is endemic in our culture.
  • Mar 8 2013: It's sad how easy it is to for people to drag Rupert Sheldrake's name through the mud just because people are made uncomfortable by his words. Of course, it is always going to be easier for sceptics to go after his character rather than his claims. The problem is that most of us have gotten into the habit of just reading sound bites. This means that all a sceptic has to is do is a bit of handwaving, and call their enemy a scam artist, and there will be many other people who will just accept this as fact - they are not going to check the facts themselves.

    The thing that has surprised me much about the so called skeptics of Rupert Sheldrake is that their arguments have been so weak - even the celebrity skeptics like Coyne and Myers. It is like they have been caught with their trousers down, and they are just fumbling around in damage control mode. They want Rupert Sheldrake silenced because his arguments question their dogmatic beliefs, and they are incapable of dealing with these arguments. Easier to say that he is a "woo meister" than to actually tackle his claims about scientific dogmatism.

    My guess is that the TED people have already made their mind up about Sheldrake. I hope not. My post will likely be taken as a rant, but I'm just so annoyed by this attempt by a very vocal group to silence a legitimate argument. It is up to the people at TED to decide on what videos they wish to put their name to, but it seems to me that if they do decide to censor Sheldrake they will be damaging their own credibility. The arguments raised by Rupert are not going away.
    • Mar 9 2013: I would express the opposite view using similar words. TED tarnishes its credibility by associating with such people. Who is next? Perhaps they'll invite Mark Regnerus to speak about gay parents. After all, he has an opinion.

      There is not an equivalence between unsupported opinion, and evidence-based theories.

      If this speaker had better ideas than current science possesses, and could back it up with evidence, he would be rich, honoured with awards, and the leader of a horde of scientists all seeking similar riches and honours.

      The fact that so many TED viewers cannot even tell the difference between good science and woo shows what may be the most serious flaw in the 20-minute-or-less pizza-delivery sound-byte format promoted by TED. It's great for opinion, but not so great for getting at the truth.
  • Mar 8 2013: I think it ridiculous. Are you going to remove Rick Warren's talk because his world view revolves around the belief that God wrote the Bible and that we should do what it says? No. Because we are not trying to test the accuracy of the world view, we are here to learn from that world view. We can learn from Rupert Seldrake's world view, especially if it contains factual errors.
    If there are detractors in opposition to the message, let them do a TedX talk that addresses the issue with creativity and responsibility rather than division. Dan Dennett's response to Rick Warren is an example.
    If it is bogus, don't share it.
    If you are offended, create a well-spoken response.
    However, I find nothing to be offensive, derogatory, or harmful to another.
    If the content is inaccurate, it is only Sheldrake that suffers in the end.
    I can see no compelling reason to remove this.
    If Sheldrake's work ignites controversy. Good. Let the dialogue continue.
    That there is conflict about the quality and accuracy of the content. Good. Facilitate that discussion.
    Remove the talk. Bad precedent.
    There are thousands of TedX talks that contain controversial science, bad references or uninformed opinion, yet add to the dialogue and create conversation.
    Keep up the good work on promoting civil discourse that does not shy away from controversy. Thanks for changing the landscape of independent learning.
    • Mar 8 2013: You can't equate religion and science. In facty, that Sheldrake's talk inspire you to do so shows why it is harmful and should be retracted.
      • Mar 9 2013: I agree one shouldn't be able to equate religion with science, and Sheldrake would definitely agree with that too. However, it's a question of who the religionists are. Your attitude in the posts you have been making seems indistinguishable to me from that held by members of a number of fundamentalist groups I could mention: creationists, for example. Sheldrake offends you because he dares question your deepest metaphysical beliefs, and you are are coming across as if being engaged on a holy crusade, or a jihad, against him.

        TED has done a number of talks far more off-the-wall than Sheldrake's, but Sheldrake is one of the most articulate and popular critics of scientism, which is why pseudo-sceptics are out in force, making all sorts of unsubstantiated assertions. They feel particularly threatened by him.

        And they so they should, because he has marked their card. The truth really hurts.
  • Mar 8 2013: How utterly depressing that TED should even be considering censoring Rupert Sheldrake.

    The guy has a very strong intellect and has done plenty of orthodox scientific work in Biochemistry and cell biology. It's because he has this experience that he's able to identify and question scientific paradigms. He's also not a bad philosopher, and that's one area where many scientists are uneducated.

    These guys who are trying to dictate to me what I should and should not be able to see should be ashamed of themselves. If TED does censor the talk, that will be it for me. The sour taste in my mouth will likely prevent me from continuing to watch its talks, a few of which I haven't liked or agreed with, but which it never crossed my mind to seek to be censored.

    I have a science degree (zoology) and some postgrad research experience. Even the limited amount of that I've had enables me to see that the way science is conducted frequently leaves much to be desired, and there are certain organisations and prominent people within those who are the true woo-meisters, if truth be known. They are completely unable to see that the underpinnings of their views are as metaphysical as the inquisitionists, with whom they share quite a lot in common.
  • Mar 8 2013: On topic (1) philosophy, I submit that it is inconsequential whether science "really" operates as Sheldrake says it does. TED's job should not to evaluate the truth-content of philosophical perspectives, but to provide an open platform for their dissemination. Therefore, in their pending decision to remove one of these perspectives, I draw attention to the inherent controversy of the issue under debate. Those best qualified to speak on the the operation of science as a whole; who have gone into the history of it, and who have unearthed the evidence, are philosophers of science (e.g. Popper, Kuhn, Feyerabend, Hacking, etc) and they do not agree amongst themselves. Instead, they rather notably disagree, exemplifying the pluralism of opinion that abounds in philosophy—but with rigor, every last one of them.

    And yes, Kuhn would tend to agree with Sheldrake, while Popper, probably not. Better to err on the side of caution and present his viewpoint with the risk that it might be wrong than exclude it with the very real possibility that it was right.

    Also, I think it is essential to note the stance of Coyne, Myers, and company in this debate: they belong to a very outspoken group of humanists thinkers, and all consider themselves members of the "skeptic movement". As such, I believe it fair to say that they are not merely concerned citizens, but highly motivated advocates of a particular point of view; one predicated upon rejecting religion, the paranormal, and—as a general rule—any topic perceived as "not mainstream". It is therefore unsurprising that they would object to Sheldrake's presentation. But, though sympathetic to many of the ideas of humanism myself, I would hate to see their objection carried to the point of exclusion, and I certainly have no interest in listening only to humanist-approved talks, policed by a vocal minority of skeptic bloggers.
    • Mar 8 2013: It doesn't matter what "mainstream" thought is. Skeptics do not compare claims to one another, they compare claims to standards of evidence and reasoning.

      I'm a humanist/skeptic. The skepticism manifests as this: Sheldrake makes claims. Fine. Are those claims supported by compelling evidence? Are his methods and is his reasoning sound? The answer to both these questions is "No." Therefore, Sheldrake's claims can be dismissed.
      • Mar 8 2013: No, you CLAIM to be a humanist "skeptic", and yet you are here dispensing authorative proclamations on the work of Sheldrake, which I daresay you know very little about. You use no qualifiers because they are unnecessary to you. You "dismiss" rather than merely disagree. You advocate the removal of a viewpoint you reject by reflex.

        I would never campaign to exclude the videos or perspectives given by members of the skeptic community, even though they can likewise be accused of, at times, terribly bad science. The misrepresentation they make of the work in academic parapsychology, for example, is deplorable, on a consistent basis; if it were removed, the public might get a more balanced view of that field. But removing it would be the morally illegitimate way for proponents of psi to argue their perspectpive; instead, they would need to post their own videos in response, and fight back through the recognized channels.
        • Mar 8 2013: Please stop assuming you know anything about me or my background or what I may know of Sheldrake's work. I will not deign your comment with further attention.
      • Mar 8 2013: Most of the talk is dedicated to attacking claims, not making them.

        Is naive realism supported by compelling evidence? Are the methods and reasoning supporting a naive realist view sound?

        I think not, Sheldrake thinks not, Anton Zeilinger, John Archibald Wheeler, Niels Bohr and David Bohm think not.

        If a view is unsupported by reason and evidence, but still widely held, the word "dogma" can be used.

        It seems to me that Sheldrake is saying something like this.
      • Mar 8 2013: An engineer speaks about life sciences with authority, questioning the credentials of former Cambridge researcher into life sciences. I wonder whose viewpoint I should trust?
        • Mar 8 2013: Don't trust either of our "viewpoints." Trust the evidence and the reasoning.
  • Mar 8 2013: I think the overreaction to Dr Rupert Sheldrake's ascertion about the Science community.... is exactly the problem he is trying to help uncover.

    Sheldrake is 100% correct about the way Science operates... and that upsets people within the science community. They all want to believe they are highly intelligent, open and free thinkers but the reality is the community is nowhere near that.

    There is still a very dogmatic materialistic belief system being pushed by most scientists... and those that do go against the grain like Sheldrake, Radin etc. are called Heretics for dare suggesting there may be more to science than what Western science tells us is possible.

    Tedx should be about free open discussion. The only people who's feelings are getting hurt are the guilty ones.
    • Mar 8 2013: Well said Frank, all this fuss is because Sheldrake has the audacity to rock the boat. He is a heretic and he needs to be silenced, so that the materialists can remain comfy and smug within their belief system.
    • Mar 8 2013: Frank, it is precisely because scientists know they are not always "highly intelligent, open and free thinkers" that they have settled on an approach to discovery that does not require human perfection to work well. It's the scientific method, which Sheldrake does not adhere to. Yes, Toby, Sheldrake has audacity all right. Anyone as unscrupulous needs balls of brass to to show no shame for using TED in his marketing scheme.
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    Mar 8 2013: TED has given one million dollars to Mr. Mitra to build a school in the clouds and yet wants to censor Mr. Sheldrake's talk for lack of scientific rigour? Where are Mr. Mitra's double blind studies in a clinic to prove his theories? His results are based on observation and evidence which many scholars would scoff at. So instead of TED supporting a movement that MIGHT transform the way millions of underprivileged children learn and succeed, should we be waiting for decades for "proof" that could always be disputed?
    Our audience are not morons and they make up their own minds about what they hear. Cull out obvious transgressors but leave a wide margin.
    • Mar 8 2013: Brian, I agree that TED should be generous when vetting, but your recommended "margin", including Sheldrake, spans the Gulf of Mexico.
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        Mar 8 2013: Rick,
        I am but a simple man but when many others far more erudite feel Mr. Shelldrake has something to say, I would err to the side of his talk being left to stand on its own merits. Perhaps Lake Erie would be a better analogy. I heard a few talks last week at TED that made me squint (the one scientifically justifying polygamy comes to mind), but I am a grown up and choose to accept or decline the reasoning and then drive on.
        • Mar 8 2013: So you have said. Tell me this: what would you do if several scholars came to you insisting on allowing a representative of the Discovery Institute to speak in favor of teaching religion (creationism) in public schools?
  • Mar 8 2013: Years ago I read some of Sheldrake's books. I was prepared to take his arguments seriously at first but they finally became too absurd and not based on real evidence, merely supported just by assertion.

    However what I want criticize here are his factual errors. The whole question of whether fundamental constants are truly constant or not has been addressed by mainstream science. Sean Carroll the cosmologist summarized what's wrong with Sheldrake's argument about the velocity of light for Jerry Coyne's blog:

    "What the crackpots don’t understand is that (1) scientists would love to find that the speed of light has been changing, they’d be giving out Nobel prizes like Halloween candy; and (2) in some sense, the speed of light can‘t change. It’s a dimensionful quantity — it can only change relative to something else, and there aren’t any other absolute velocities in physics. (Indeed, today the speed of light is fixed by definition, not by measurement.) What people really mean when they talk about measuring changes in the speed of light is measuring changes in other related quantities, like the fine-structure constant or the mass of the electron. And there are better ways of constraining those than by measuring light propagation."

    On the question of the variation of the value of G the gravitational constant, many scientists have considered it. Dirac one of the greatest scientists ever to have lived was the first to have proposed it back in the 1920's. Has Sheldrake not heard of Brans-Dicke theory a theory of how G changes over time. However currently there is little observational evidence for a secular change in G over cosmological time.

    A good recent review on the theories of variation in G and their implications is:

    Jean-Philippe Uzan,
    "Varying Constants, Gravitation and Cosmology",
    Living Rev. Relativity 14,  (2011)

    The talk is just a collection of pseudo-scientific anecdotes and distortion of facts.
    • Mar 8 2013: I have read Sheldrake's books as well. If you are saying that they are based on assertions then perhaps there is a different Sheldrake you've been reading, because that's simply not true.
    • Mar 8 2013: I'm not sure he did say that constants change. I'd have to go through the talk again to be sure, but from what I remember he mostly said things like, "What if the constants change?" and "Maybe the constants change"
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      Mar 8 2013: And the evidence that supports String Theory is what exactly?
      • Mar 8 2013: Not a lot. Did I mention string theory? It is just a mathematically impressive hypothesis in need of evidence. On the other hand the Standard Model is supported by a massive amount of evidence. Every experimental test that has been done has been passed with flying colours. Yet it is wrong, we know it must fail at energies near the Planck Mass. If we had accelerators that could achieve those energy levels, we would know if string theory is right or not. We would be able to test it, but we don't not even near, so string theory remains a hypothesis. All scientific knowledge is conditional.

        Just as Newtons theory of gravity is wrong but still useful for rocket scientists, so too would the effective field theories that make up the standard model be useful for calculating all the behaviour of particles at the energy levels currently around in the universe even though it had been replaced by string theory or some better hypothesis that fitted the evidence from higher energy interactions.
        • Mar 8 2013: Bill, well said!
          I would suggest only one modification.
          It's not that Newton's theory of gravity is "wrong." It is quite right, within certain regimes of accuracy and sizes of phenomena. That is, at the meso-level where humans typically act and perceive, Newtonian gravity is fine. But it breaks down at the micro- and macro- levels.
          It's not "wrong;" it's just of limited applicability.
  • Mar 7 2013: I was actually physically nauseous when I saw that Rupert Sheldrake was giving a TED talk. Now all the airheads I know will hold this up to me as evidence of Sheldrake's respectability. The man is a dangerous voice in our modern world.
  • Mar 7 2013: I don't see how is this issue should be any different from the talk that Rick Warren gave in 2006. Simply have another speaker respond (like Dan Dennett did to Warren) and be done with it. There were certainly unscientific & philosophical errors in Warrens talk, and Mr. Dennett was able to address them for us. I am sure that there are plenty of credible scientists ready to address and dismantle any of Rupert Sheldrake's errors & philosophy as well.
    • Mar 7 2013: This would be a great way to treat topics that are actually controversial - i.e. that have two opposite yet equally well-reasoned and supported views. However, Sheldrake's views are those of a quack. Inviting quacks and then tearing them down still gives a venue to the quacks. What's the point, if it is well-known quackery? Better to have two really valid talks than one quack and one counterpoint.
  • Mar 8 2013: TEDx claims to be about "Ideas worth spreading", but Sheldrake, a token biochemist peddler of pseudoscience talks and books, has no science ideas about science worth spreading.

    Token biochemist - published a review once in biochemistry. [ Google Scholar]

    Peddler of pseudoscience - rejected parapsychology, untestable "morphic field".

    "Members of the scientific community consider Sheldrake's claims to be currently unfalsifiable and therefore outside the scope of scientific experiment. The "morphic field" concept is believed by many to fall into the realm of pseudoscience.[36][44][45]". [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rupert_Sheldrake ]

    Sheldrake indulges in character assassination of science, calling results painstakingly derived through hundreds of years as solid "dogma" and painting it with random philosophic ideas that science is not responsible for. And he is unashamed about doing so as transparently one of the many "Dawkins' fleas", sucking his book title from Dawkins' "The God Delusion".

    This talk is not about science and it is about selling pseudoscience, both enough reasons to withdraw the talk. Please do so!
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      Mar 8 2013: It is doubtful that you have looked at the data.
    • Mar 8 2013: "Token biochemist - published a review once in biochemistry."
      On a point of information: he published three articles in Nature and was a fellow of biochemistry at Cambridge. It does not matter, but I don't think we should let factual errors go uncorrected.

      The Ageing, Growth and Death of Cells, Nature, Vol. 250, No. 5465, pp. 381-385, August 2nd 1974
      Sheldrake, A. R. "Polar auxin transport in leaves of monocotyledons." (1972): 352-353.
      Production of Auxin by Detached Leaves, Nature (1968), 217, 195
    • Ben Kadel

      • +11
      Mar 8 2013: It's interesting to me that Torbjorn doesn't address the actual content of the talk so much as focus on character assassinations of Sheldrake (questioning his credentials, using other people's character judgements, etc.) and yet claims that Sheldrake is engaging in character assassination of science. What makes this even more bizarre is that "science" as a process has no character to be assassinated. The only way one could assassinate the character of science is if it was thought of as an entity, as Science with a capital S, which is exactly the point that Sheldrake is making. Torbjorn's defensive reaction proves Sheldrake's point.
  • Mar 8 2013: In my meager opinion, there was nothing bad in what Rupert said. Science is pure Objective Observation, Questioning, and a living Science should incorporate itself being under investigation otherwise it turns into a dogmatic "dead" science. I think we have all seen organizations topple due to the fact that they cannot accept patterns of change.
    The question at hand is, has science been turning into more of a statistical based observation and i think this is the point he was getting at.

    I dont think someone should be beat up over the fact that they want to question the mainstream perspective. He is a modern scientist who can "Think outside of the box" most people would be afraid to question the status quo.

    I think there is split in the field some people are comfortable with their Newtonian mechanistic sciences while others are looking for more fluidity as with quantum physics. I would be interested if some of the constants were reevaluated could they be actually cyclical but i guess that wont happen if nobody ever challenges the current idea. So my final thoughts are - Do not burn him at the stake, let me live
  • Mar 8 2013: Sheldrake might well take comfort for already having crossed the threshold of "credibility" by no longer being laughed at. Indeed he has moved on into the stage where the reaction turns furious, seeing a real threat to the prevailing dogma. If history holds true (of course, it's only a "habit" of history) the next phase of acceptance will see people clamoring for recognition for their contributions to Sheldrake's proposals. In any event, regardless of TED's decision, the talk will live on in You Tube and elsewhere. Not to worry, Rupert!
    • Mar 8 2013: yes, I think the contentiousness will increase or has increased the interest in Sheldrake's ideas.

      Sheldrake is not American, and I do think this matters. Not everyone outside USA sees the Americans in the same way they appear to see themselves. I expect that's true of any nationality, but is something that can be overlooked.
      I live in the same area Sheldrake is from. His ideas, mostly, are not new - they have been around for ages. As you say, they will be spreading now!
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        Mar 8 2013: Good morning, reine! Can you expand on your comment about Americans? Very interested in hearing more.
        • Mar 8 2013: Sorry, Emily, my reply seems to have gone into the main thread, above. I'm still getting used to this....
  • Mar 8 2013: It does not bode well for the future if this type of censorship is allowed to go ahead -shame on you TED for even considering such a thing. It is not right to shut scientists up just because their work conflicts with the narrow minds of those who want to turn science into a religion. Very disappointing indeed.
  • Mar 8 2013: On topic (2) factual accuracy, I believe most of Sheldrake's claims are well-researched, and as likely to be accurate as those of anyone else. I am completely unfazed, in fact, that Coyne was able to get Carroll to pull a chart from Wikipedia "discrediting" (to use Coyne's words) Sheldrake's several years of investigation into the variation of constants. Coyne is certainly jumping the gun—although his boldness is breathtaking.

    Wikipedia is often inaccurate for controversial issues. Moreover, it is subjected to constant supervision by members of the humanist skeptical community, who have made it an organized effort to edit wiki pages in their favor. See: http://guerrillaskepticismonwikipedia.blogspot.com/. Indeed, it would be very surprising if Wikipedia had data showing the speed of light varying significantly each year—at least without some prosaic explanation appended to it; it would mean that data presented on the Wiki explicitly supported one of Sheldrake's main arguments!
    • Mar 8 2013: And yet, the data shown on wikipedia is all derived from cited, real scientific work. I checked. It's easy. Wikipedia is only as accurate as the sources it itself cites. In this particular case, it stands up quite well.
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        Mar 8 2013: Seriously? You believe that? Do you have any idea how many students I've given failing grades to who used Wiki as a source?
        • Mar 8 2013: Based on your response, I imagine "too many" would be the correct answer.
        • Mar 8 2013: sandy, if you have students then would it be presumptuous of me to assume you work in some kind of teaching capacity? For if so, why do you keep repeating claims that TED is attempting censorship (if it removes this video) when it has been explained to you more times than enough that it isn't censorship but the application of published standards? I assume you downgrade your students for OT commentaries?
      • Mar 8 2013: Obviously. My claim is not that there is no cited, scientific work to support Wikipedia claims, but that what there is may not be all there is. In words, those who edit Wikipedia may simply not be aware of the other, cited scientific work that Sheldrake has gathered.

        File drawer effects work against more than just what we want to discredit.
        • Mar 8 2013: And yet if someone like Sean Carroll uses wikipedia, may we not assume that he, knowing a great deal about that particular subject, would have noted any obvious inconsistencies?

          Also, is it not reasonable to think that Carroll provided the wikipedia info because:
          a. it was readily available to him and to Jerry Coyne, and
          b. there were no copyright issues in reprinting it, and
          c. Carroll is probably a very busy person and wikipedia sources are easy to find and communicate to others?
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        Mar 8 2013: @ Barry,
        If TED succumbs to the bullying of special interest groups like JREF and CSI in their bid to dictate what others are allowed to watch, that is a form of censorship.
        • Mar 9 2013: No it isn't censorship. Could you please reference the specific posts from JREF and CSI that demand censorship? If Sheldrake's presentation fails to meet the standards TED sets for qualifying talks then it is removed. You can't seem to separate your hope that Sheldrake's talk won't be removed from the perfect justification for why it might be removed.
  • Mar 8 2013: Emily --

    Regarding your two questions

    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?

    This seems an ill-founded question. To ask that *philosophy* draw conclusions from factual premises, seems to presuppose that the way to judge ANY philosophy is according to some "objective" standard regarding what is factual !!

    But the very question of what constitutes "factual" evidence, is part of the scope of philosophy...

    Is TED really committed to a narrowly-construed, "naive reductionist" philosophy of science and the universe? If so, why?

    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 )

    I didn't notice any real factual errors in his talk.... Yeah, he engaged in some minor rhetorical exaggerations, but he is not the first TEDx (or TED) speaker to do that !!!

    You are right that governments fund research into alternative medicine -- but it's pretty minimal compared to what's spent on drug therapies. His statement as you cite it, is a minor rhetorical exaggeration, it's not as though he contradicted some recognized fact of science...

    From the way you have formulated these two questions, it almost appears you are grasping at straws, in search of some reason to ban Sheldrake's video. Certainly, if you were going to hold EVERY TED or TEDx talk to strict standards of

    -- no rhetorical exaggerations

    -- no statements not clearly drawn from premises accepted as factual by 95% of scientists

    then a heck of a lot of videos would have to be taken down!!!

    So why do you want to hold Sheldrake to a standard other than the common one?

    Because PZ Myers and some other extremist zealots want you to?

    Not a good reason!!
    • Mar 8 2013: I agree with you about the formulation of the questions.

      They read as if the viewpoint is already decided.
      I am new to TED, and I am sad and disappointed.
    • Mar 8 2013: Ben, when Sheldrake said in his presentation that the standard view of measurements of the speed of light were wrong, was he engaging in philosophy or making a scientific point?
  • Mar 8 2013: He just points out and highlights the world-views of science and then questions them.. It really doesn't seem very unscientific. He constantly uses the words "I think" and "hypothesis" and "suggesting" He isn't claiming to of proven anything. I don't necessarily agree with everything he talks about but there is certainly no need for censorship. He is not promoting anything unproven as fact. Don't censor his ideas just because he has hit a nerve. This kind of questioning is healthy and not dangerous. If he is wrong then prove him wrong, don't censor him..
  • Mar 7 2013: The talk by Sheldrake fails on both categories you refer: he confuses scientific and consistent observations with dogma, misrepresenting scientific endeavour completely! Plus, he incurs in factual errors, like the one you point out about CAM and the comments he makes on the speed of light (just to mention two).
    Over and over he makes extraordinary claims (like crystals have consciousness) and says there's evidence to back it up, but he shows none of that evidence! Only talks about his beliefs. That's not science at all.

    This talk should never have happened under the credibility umbrella of TED!
  • Mar 7 2013: Sheldrake says genes are over rated. They only account for the proteins not the shape and behavior of an organism? What?
    Proteins in the context of the cell determine the behavior of the cell. Cells and proteins determine the behavior and shape of the organism. His alternative is some sort of "collective memory"? Woooo. Sorry, not needed sir. I'll give him credit if he configures these ideas into a book of science fiction.
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    Mar 7 2013: RE: your statement, ". . . if the ideas contained in it are wrong to the point of being unscientific,. . . "Who defines what is "unscientific"? As an analogy, I could never prove you are lying if you alone are allowed to define Truth. Rupert impugns the 10 Commandments of Modern (Evolutionary) Science as defined by the Standard Model. If TED gets to rule that his methods are not consistent with those 10-commandments and are therefor to be kept from the people lest they be duped, then TED does two things: 1) They make the 10 dogmas unassailable, sacred even. And 2) Ted positions themselves as final judges of what the common readership is allowed to read. Both of those are contrary to intelligence and freedom. Let me hear the man. Trust me to separate the chaff from the wheat.
    • Mar 7 2013: It's not the fact that Sheldrake goes against the 10 Dogmas that raises eyebrows, its the fact that the idea that they are Dogmas misrepresents science. They are not "Dogmas" they are "working hypotheses" supported by copious amounts of evidence, and subject to change >given evidence.<

      I'm more than willing to entertain the idea that the speed of light is variable, that there is more to inheritance than genetics or epigenetics, or that we are able by virtue of some hitherto unexplained quantum mechanical method communicate via a kind of ESP, and so on. However it is vital that those propositions, being rather extraordinary, must run the gauntlet of publication, evaluation, peer-review, and further experimentation to be accepted just like all other science. PSI, Variable Light Speed etc,. simply hasn't done that yet. In the case of positive data, there are always serious systematic errors, it seems.

      Moreover, pointing to the ever increasing accuracy and precision in data collection, and drawing an inference like "the speed of light is decreasing" is jumping the gun. Giving the impression that scientists are engaged in a "conspiracy of dogma" is irresponsible.
      • Mar 7 2013: Just FYI, Jerry Coyne has published with permission an explanation by Sean Carroll about the speed of light thing. See http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2013/03/06/tedx-talks-completely-discredited-rupert-sheldrake-speaks-argues-that-speed-of-light-is-dropping/
        Punch line: There are only 2 ways Sheldrake could get it so wrong: woeful ignorance, or intentional malice. Either way, he's utterly wrong.
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          Mar 7 2013: I think there is at least a third explanation for clinging to pseudoscientific beliefs, not necessarily in his case but in some cases. There may be a great psychological need in some people for a coherent belief system while at the same time they are uncomfortable with faith-based belief systems. So science is distorted into service as supposed evidence.
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          Mar 7 2013: RE: "No other explanation. . . "
          Let's cut to the chase.
          Your accepted explanation for the existence and functioning of the Universe is that, "In the beginning of Time, for no reason, purpose, or cause, Nothing exploded and Everything in the Cosmos came into existence. The spectacular and unfathomable complexity of the Universe functions spontaneously with no reason, purpose, cause, or control." (That is the "one free miracle" Rupert mentions). And you say no other explanation has been offered that will compare to the scientific integrity of that? Look closer sir, the Emperor is naked. You are wrong to say there is no other explanation. "In the beginning God created the Heaven and the Earth."
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        Mar 7 2013: You are suggesting the problem is purely semantics? If we substitute " working hypohtheses" for "dogmas" the dilema goes away? I doubt it. The issue here is that one, out of several, possible explanations of how our universe functions is considered to be the only one worth allowing. That is very wrong and very unscientific. Surely you are not proposing that every word in this Talk is "factual error"? Sure, there seems to be some Philosophy in the talk, but why is that a bad thing, Isn't Philosophy a Science? Defend your choice, but do not disallow others the right to consider a different choice.
        • Mar 7 2013: Not at all. "Working hypothesis" implies the ability to change given new facts and testing. "Dogma" does not. And the idea that there is just one idea worth allowing is just plain wrong in most cases. If this were the case, science in general would never get anywhere. Stuff like Relativity, QM, Plate Tectonics etc., were all "out there" at one point, but proved themselves via testing and data collection. In other words, "they worked".

          The "other ideas" Sheldrake mentions may well have merit, but, they simply haven't proved themselves yet. I wouldn't begrudge someone testing the "changing light speed" hypothesis- more power to 'em- just as I wouldn't begrudge some other scientist for pointing out where the first one went awry. Sheldrake has gone awry in this talk.
        • Mar 7 2013: No other explanation of the universe that has been studied has been *demonstrably* validated by evidence that the "current" one. If that changes, it will be because the evidence will support another explanation.

          When QM (or whatever other theory you care to name) was "out there," it was still supported by evidence. The only reason QM/etc is still around is that the evidence has never indicated otherwise. Yet.

          The changing speed of light thing is quackery. Please see other comments in this thread for lots more info on that one.

          Sheldrake offers no evidence, grounds his suppositions in no evidence, and exhibits faulty reasoning. There's no reason whatsoever to take him seriously at all.
        • Mar 7 2013: Edward, I'm replying here to your "Let's cut to the chase." comment because I can't in-line.

          Would it surprise you to know that that is not at all what I think? Please stop making bald assertions about me or how I think.

          You wrote: ""In the beginning of Time, for no reason, purpose, or cause, Nothing exploded and Everything in the Cosmos came into existence."

          Do you think so? I don't. I don't know how it happened. No one does. All that exist about the "big bang" are, at the moment, hypotheses. But we will figure it out, someday.

          You wrote: "The spectacular and unfathomable complexity of the Universe functions spontaneously with no reason, purpose, cause, or control."

          "Spectacular" and "unfathomable" are subjective, human terms. Just because we don't understand something now doesn't mean there isn't a simple explanation.

          You wrote: "And you say no other explanation has been offered that will compare to the scientific integrity of that? Look closer sir, the Emperor is naked. You are wrong to say there is no other explanation. "In the beginning God created the Heaven and the Earth.""

          That, sir, is bollocks. God is a fairy tale. Get used to it.
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        Mar 7 2013: RE: "Not at all."
        We agree then, do not censor the Sheldrake talk!
      • Mar 8 2013: "It's not the fact that Sheldrake goes against the 10 Dogmas that raises eyebrows, its the fact that the idea that they are Dogmas misrepresents science. They are not "Dogmas" they are "working hypotheses" supported by copious amounts of evidence, and subject to change >given evidence.

        Brad, I admire your commitment to rationality and critiquing ideas. I am sure you would agree that such open inquiry is only an ideal and real-world science often falls short of it, right? Things done as "science" by people whose job title is "scientist" can sometimes be as irrational and human as any other activity. It would be nice if scientists were totally open to criticism, totally undogmatic, always followed evidence and had complete flexibility of thinking, but it simply ain't so. Scientists are human and humans like to defend their beliefs. The scientific establishment has safeguards against human irrationality, but they're imperfect.

        Sometimes scientists behave rationally; sometimes they behave dogmatically. Which are they doing when they believe that all events are causally determined, or that Platonic laws govern the universe, of that the brain creates consciousness?

        Five of the doctrines* (#1, #2, #3, #5, #7 and #8) seem to me to be the philosophical assumptions that many scientists hold (just the materialists, not the instrumentalists, nor quantum theorists who follow Bohm, Bohr, von Neumann or Wheeler). Philosophical assumptions are not scientific theories; they are the epistemological-ontological framework within which the theories are framed.

        [ * I am lying here to keep you on your toes; only 4 of these 5 are philosophical assumptions. Which ones?]

        1. The universe is machine-like
        2. Matter is unconscious
        3. The universe is governed by Platonic laws
        4. Total amount of matter-energy is the same
        5. The universe is atelic
        6. Heredity is material
        7. All memories are material
        8. Mind is inside head
        9. No psi
        10. Mechanistic medicine is the only kind that works
      • Mar 8 2013: "It's not the fact that Sheldrake goes against the 10 Dogmas that raises eyebrows, its the fact that the idea that they are Dogmas misrepresents science. "

        You are misrepresenting Sheldrake.

        At the beginning of the talk, Sheldrake makes a clear distinction between the dogmas that are part of the "scientific worldview" and the actual practice of science, and clearly states that the "scientific worldview" is in conflict with the practice of science. You seem to have missed the whole point of his talk.
    • Mar 7 2013: There is a difference between saying "who decides what is a good movie", and "who decides what is unscientific". Films, books, and art are cultural objects and people are welcome to their personal opinions. But you should feel a bit nervous if your dentist tells you "who defines what is good dentistry" as he fires up a chainsaw. If you were as qualified to validate scientific claims as you are to judge your dentist's work, Sheldrake's claim to present valid alternatives to science should make you equally uncomfortable.
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        Mar 7 2013: This is not about degrees of discomfort sir. This is about declaring a person's ideas unworthy of expression in an open forum. Supporters of the Standard Model are dictating what is scientific and what is not. If Rupert flies in the face of some or all of the Evolution/Big Bang working hypotheses is he to be censored? He says the Emperor is naked. . . hmmm.
        • Mar 7 2013: I don't say he should be censored. He has books, he can put videos on You Tube, and he can make his own web sites. My point is that he lacks the quality of information that should be accorded the respect of being aired in the TED forum, unless TED is to become a laughingstock that can't be taken seriously.

          This is not science dictating. How silly it would sound to you if I said "who has the right to dictate to my dentist that he can't use a chain saw as his primary tool". Sheldrake is using tools that are outside the scope of scientific validity, and providing nothing in exchange beyond science fiction. If people take him seriously because he is given a TED platform, they may as well allow that dentist with the chainsaw to double as their brain surgeon as well.
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        Mar 7 2013: Sorry, I don't get your dental analogy. What I do get is your opinion that ony supporters of Evolution and the Big Bang should be allowed to participate in TED activity. You are wrong about that sir. May I suggest you revisit your understanding that only correct, truthful information is contained in TED activities. I mean no disrespect to TED, but bad info. can slip through anytime. You and I should be able to separate the good, the bad, and the ugly. I don't need my food predigested, thank you.
        • Mar 7 2013: I like to digest my own food as well. But when I go to a nice restaurant, I hope the chefs have prepared something good, not swill and slop fit for pigs.

          You seem to be saying you are willing to accept swill because you don't trust the chef's recommendations. If you were scientifically literate or a culinary expert, you could be right.

          Being independent minded is fine, but you have to be willing to consume a lot of very bad meals. I suppose if one likes to eat pig slop, who's to say it's a bad meal? Rupert Sheldrake's uninformed fairy tales are not valid critiques of science. They are a very bad meal that no self-respecting person should swallow, except as entertaining science fiction. Sadly Sheldrake pretends his ideas are not science fiction.
  • Mar 9 2013: Barry --

    About the speed of light: He seems mainly to be arguing that, due to the way the scientific community arrives at its consensus beliefs, the possibility of changes in the speed of light is not being considered as seriously as it should be..... There is evidence regarding different measurements of the speed of light, but detailed discussion of this evidence would have gone beyond the scope of his sort talk. (FYI, my current best guess is that the speed of light is not changing...)

    About consciousness: that is a weird issue at the border of philosophy and science, and there have been other TED and TEDx talks treating it in various ways -- all over the map. Stuart Hameroff's talk on quantum gravity and consciousness, mentioned elsewhere in this comment thread, is just one example...
  • Mar 8 2013: I would suggest that Sheldrake's opponents who claim his points have no validity simply have a public debate on the matter. The issue that Sheldrake addresses is the dogmatic nature of the present scientific environment. It's quite amusing to see him brought to trial so to speak. I say, let him have a chance to defend himself.
    • Mar 8 2013: But there is nothing to defend. In short, debating Sheldrake would look good on his CV of woo, not so much on scientists CV when engaging crackpots.

      Sheldrake has all the opportunity in the world to do experiments on his ideas and publish them in peer review. He has failed to do so. Case closed.
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    Mar 8 2013: Not all ideas -- including not all scientific ideas -- are equally meritorious. And not all ideas are scientific (empirically testable/falsifiable) ideas. Physical propositions (propositions which CAN be tested empirically) and metaphysical propositions (propositions which canNOT be tested empirically) are NOT the same and cannot be made to be the same, yet Sheldrake (who certainly SHOULD know enough to know better) conflates the two, and a stunning number of others who've commented here (and who ALSO should know enough to know better) cannot seem to recognize that. Sheldrake's "analysis" of the results of historical efforts to measure the "speed" of light from which he concludes that c must be changing over time is precisely equivalent to studying photographic archives in a museum and concluding that The World must have been black-and-white prior to the 20th Century! I read this thread of discussion and am APPALLED by the revealing of a great failure of public science education. Bottom line: ideas that are RIGHTLY freely expressible in open public arenas are NOT ALL rightly entitled to EQUAL time (nor ALL even to ANY time) in SCIENTIFIC forums. IF TEDx is not intended to be a forum exclusively for presenting ideas having scientific merit, THEN fine -- my mistake -- Sheldrake's TEDx waxing is appropriate and I simply need to move TEDx from my list of scientific venues to my list of non-scientific venues.
    • Mar 8 2013: Some of the difficulty in this area is that there are different interpretations of what is "empirical" and what is "testable". I wonder whether questions about the philosophy of science are legitimate inside a scientific forum or whether they have to take place outside of it, and who is entitled to make that decision. Since Mr Lovell is holding up a Karl Popper book, I feel that my point is made.
      Buckminster Fuller - a better scientist than probably any who are posting here argued very elegantly for the ercognition of metaphysics over physics. There are assumptions being made in these arguments about the nature of "reality" itself that are at the root of alternative views of science.
      Sheldrake may be wrong in some of what he says but that would not make him wrong in ALL that he says. Nor would he be the first scientist to get something wrong. The attempt to remove him from the "science" category is driven from a desire to marginalise his views and not from a truly scientific mindset. It is, as Chris Parish is saying, ideological.
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        Mar 8 2013: Jon...if I bet a hundred dollars that as of today you have not yet cover-to-cover thoughtfully read Popper's OBJECTIVE KNOWLEDGE or his CONJECTURES AND REFUTATIONS, would I lose that bet?
        • Mar 9 2013: Frank, if I bet you that you have not read a list of the books that I have read, or reviewed the evidence that I have reviewed, would I lose that bet? I did study philosophy at Oxford before I moved into the sciences and I have probably read at least as much philosophy as you have. I suspect I have read a broader range of science too.
          The significant question is not whether I have read that specific book, but whether I have read and thought about what consitutes evidence, what defines reality, what is provable and not provable, and what is evidence in various different arenas of study. Judging by photos we are of a similar age. This is not a competition about who has read what. It is a discussion about who is open-minded and who believes that some discussions are closed. The evidence for my viewpoint is overwhelming and the philosophical underpinnings are as strong as Popper's. My book is almost 400 pages long and will be published in a few months. You won't like it. But the evidence and reasoning will be there - enough for people who have open minds and a willingness to think scientifically. And in ten or twenty years my views will be mainstream science. Yours on the other hand, will have gone the way of Phlogiston and a geocentric universe. You can apologise then for your high-handed and dismissive response. Please allow your hundred dollars to accrue compound interest.
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        Mar 9 2013: Wow.

        Lessee, Jon...in my photo avatar I'm holding a copy of a Popper book. In a reply to my initial comment, you make a point that different folks having different interpretations of what is "empirical" and what is "testable" introduces "difficulty" (well, duh!!). Then you write, "Since Mr Lovell is holding up a Karl Popper book, I feel that my point is made."

        I read that, and unable to imagine anyone possibly disagreeing that "difficulty" is introduced into a discussion when two correspondents have different interpretations of terms they use, I could not think WHY you would make an oblique reference to my holding a Popper book as making your point (a point that I couldn't see even needed to BE made). And I wondered why you think my holding a Popper book makes your point or says anything that in any way relates to or invalidates my original comment -- and so, not knowing you really or much about you (my crystal ball is "in the shop" for calibration) I asked a question to see if you had even read Popper yourself (legion are those who have not).

        Instead of replying that yes, I would have lost that bet, you launch into a strange-ranging rant which includes oblique pejorative innuendos aimed at me personally and predictively assert a to-be-ultimately-demonstrated superiority of your "viewpoint" (whatever the heck your viewpoint might be, I don't know -- my crystal ball has never worked worth a darn) over my phlogiston- and geocentric-like perspectives (??? -- here's the best advice you'll get this whole month: take YOUR crystal ball in for calibration, STAT!).

        THEN you tell me what I can apologize for!

        Wow. Such rare, charitable graciousness!

        What I WILL apologize for is my missing the sign that says "Caution, insecure, supersensitive KNOWITALL inside - DO NOT RATTLE CAGE." Sorry 'bout that.

        Good luck with your upcoming book; I'll watch for it, for I look forward to learning what a bright, knowledgeable fellow you are and how irredeemably stupid I am.
    • Mar 8 2013: Hi Frank,

      I saw the TED talk too. I think what I heard Sheldrake say was that the experiments that were carried out came up with different values for "c". I think I heard him suggest that the data be made available, so people who are interested can analyze the data further. That doesn't seem too drastic, does it?

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        Mar 8 2013: But Mandeep -- ALL the results of efforts to measure the "speed" of light in a vacuum published in the scientific literature ARE available [...where? Why, in the published SCIENTIFIC LITERATURE!...] for folks to analyze!

        Did you not know and understand that? Can it really be that Sheldrake did not know and understand that???

        As measuring techniques and technology improve over time, the surprise would be if the different techniques did NOT give different measured values for the "speed" of light in a vacuum!

        I repeat from my initial comment: I read this thread of discussion and am APPALLED by the revealing of a great failure of public science education.
  • Mar 8 2013: We still haven't addressed the most important question about this video: is Sheldrake even wearing shoes at all?
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      Mar 8 2013: That is a really funny observation that I also thought of, but that is more of a societal norm issue, than a point that helps progress this discussion.
  • Mar 8 2013: |
    Biologists and neuroscientists can talk about how memories are stored etc., and that's fine, but I think there are bigger issues here, issues about the philosophical assumptions scientists make.

    I'd like to be clear on the difference between philosophical assumptions and scientific hypotheses -

    Say a scientist influenced by materialist/realist/Western philosophy measures the distance to the Sun. He concludes that there is a material object called the Sun, a material object called the Earth, and an objective distance of 93,000,000 miles between them.

    Say a scientist with Hindu assumptions makes the same measurement. To him he has explored 'namarupa', that aspect of his sensory experience that has name and form, and a pattern in sensory experience is that whenever you make that measurement, you see a number around 93,000,000 on the meter.

    Could we really say that the philosophical assumptions of materialism were corroborated? I think not; it seems to me that the Hindu and materialist interpretations are equally valid. Nearly all scientific experiments are like that; they don't corroborate, prove, disprove, support, or touch the philosophical assumptions they're built on.

    Western/materialist/naive realist philosophy (none of these names are really satisfactory, but you know what I mean) includes assumptions like:
    - Matter is the ultimate reality
    - The universe obeys laws
    - Consciousness, if it exists at all, is an epiphenomenon of matter

    I'm not against these assumptions. I'm not saying they're wrong. I do think we should question them. 99% of experiments say nothing either for or against them, but there are a few experiments that seem to me (and many much better informed people) to challenge these assumptions. Schrodinger concluded the philosophy of the Upanishads was a better fit for scientific findings than materialism [What Is Life, 1943]. Zeilinger et al. wrote that experimental evidence has "shattered" realism [Nature 446, 871-875 (19 April 2007)]
    • Mar 8 2013: Interesting analysis. The difference between the philosophical, and scientific approach includes the idea that science is essentially pragmatic methodology. Materialism as an assumption of science allows for efficient discovery. Otherwise, science would flounder, as philosophy seems to do. Materialism imposes the fewest assumptions. Occam's raizor comes to mind. Also, materialism, from what I understand (not a philosopher) has largely been accepted by modern philosophers and many of the historical speculations of philosophers have been set aside. My guess is that fewer philosophers, for instance, hold to dualism. This is because many speculations were originally suggested when there was a lack of understanding of the physical world. Daniel Dennett is an example of a philosopher who filters philosophy based on modern science.
      • Mar 8 2013: "Materialism as an assumption of science allows for efficient discovery. Otherwise, science would flounder, as philosophy seems to do."
        Well, perhaps you are right. Could you give me an example of where assuming an objective material reality allows more efficient discovery?

        I don't think I'm misrepresenting the Copenhagen interpretation very much if I say it asserts the exact opposite: assuming a material, mind-independent reality damages science. I've never seen evidence that the Copenhagen interpretation has caused science to flounder, but perhaps it has.

        " Also, materialism, from what I understand (not a philosopher) has largely been accepted by modern philosophers "
        I would not say that.

        "My guess is that fewer philosophers, for instance, hold to dualism. "
        I can't find a single philosopher who holds to strong/Cartesian/substance dualism. But that's not to say they're all materialists.
        • Mar 8 2013: Assuming material reality allows the investigator to formulate an effective experiment. To assume a supernatural (or unspecified force, i.e. Morphic resonance, ID ) event that could change the experiment "at will" would mean predictions of outcomes would not be possible. The scientist must specify a result in advance that would disprove the hypothesis. If a chemist thinks that combining A with B will result in C, but only if supernatural forces do not interfere, then he's wasting his time.

          I tend to equate monism with materialism. Perhaps that's too easy. What other schemes are you thinking of in the context of Sheldrakes baffling remarks?

          I think a key notion about modern philosophy is that many ideas that animated debate for centuries still have to account for our experimental science. Science and its findings are at least part of reality. Old frameworks that cannot account for a round earth, a heliocentric solar system, the germ theory of disease, mans place in nature as an evolved mammal, have been shed. Neuroscience is making the idea of souls, spirits, ghosts, demons, and gods, less likely.
  • Mar 7 2013: Please don't lend R. Sheldrake's unscientific ideas credibility by hosting his talk.
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      Mar 8 2013: It was already hosted. You are asking for censorship. No offense, but I don't know you well enough to give you the responsibility to decide what I should be allowed to watch. I can make up my own mind. I'm sure you could too if you tried really hard.
      • Mar 8 2013: No, he's asking for TED to enforce their own policies, which is that any scientific claims in a talk should be backed up with evidence.
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          Mar 8 2013: Read Sheldrake's books and papers before suggesting he has no evidence for what he says. I may not agree with everything he says, but I'm willing to go through it to see if there is anything of value there.

          I'm not ready to drink the kool-aid being handed out by Coyne and Myers. Some very valuable scientific discoveries have come from highly disputed, even goofy, ideas. Look at the history of the no-cloning theorem (the basis of today's quantum encryption technology - a billion dollar industry). That particular discovery was made multiple times by independent physicists who were all trying to refute the idea that a faster-than-light communication device was plausible. If the original "goofy" idea had not made it into the literature, the subsequent valuable discoveries based on that work wouldn't have occurred when they did. (See Kaiser's "How the Hippies saved Physics", pages 196-197).

          A goofy idea can hold potential. There is no potential in censorship.
  • Mar 7 2013: I am fairly new to TED, having discovered it only a few weeks ago.
    I am isolated at home, and was delighted to find a forum, with the Talks, that have a level of intelligence ,interest and questioning that I can respond to.

    I think it would be a great shame to remove Sheldrake's Talk. I believe TED should trust the intelligence and independent thinking that its members are capable of.
    I agree with someone else, this is not about how we judge Sheldrake, or his work, or his worth. It would be about how TED is re-defined, and, in my opinion, limited unnecessarily.

    It is not at all an easy thing to achieve - a truly neutral, unbiased, open-minded, questioning, progressive forum or space. But it is such an important thing to attempt.
    I have noticed that there are subtle differences in approach, attitude and cultural assumptions even between us English thinkers and our American cousins, (for want of another description.) This increases when including people from all over the globe.
    Inclusivity and tolerance need to be as important as intelligence and logic - not less or more, but as - in defining the platform. At least, that is my humble opinion, and my biggest feeling, if this Talk were to be censored, would be disappointment.
    I have watched talks which come under, presumably, the auspices of 'Entertainment' as they concern issues in the Arts. I did not agree with one at all, either in its presentation, which I felt was loose and ill-defined, or its topic, which remained for me a subjective assertion - not a distilled principle, as it were. Yet because it is an Arts Talk, it does not seem to be being exposed to the same scrutiny or tight standards.

    TED needs to ask itself : do we wish to represent a safe establishment, or are we prepared to be a bit braver than this? Shall we trust our audience?
    To be honest I don't care whether TED 'approves' of Sheldrake or not. I don't, especially. That is, I see the limits. But TED is richer for allowing it .
    • Mar 7 2013: It's all well and good to be open minded and to be nice to everyone. But TED loses its value if it provides a forum to everyone with no standards. If TED is inclusive and tolerant without limit, then it would be overrun by the limitless supply of imaginative crackpots with a book to sell and who are willing to stand up and spout any kind of foolish nonsense in order to gain exposure and notoriety.

      There is a very strong case to be made that TED is most valuable if the audience can rely on knowing that every video will be of high quality, vetted by experts in the chosen field who can certify that the speaker is conveying valuable information. We can rely on viewers with even basic levels of scientific knowledge to recognize what is wrong and what is dishonest in Sheldrake's performance, but not all TED viewers expecting to be educated with quality information are equally capable of making these distinctions.

      TED should not just become another You Tube. Sheldrake is welcome to deposit his videos among the vast wasteland of random submissions on You Tube. TED will greatly diminish its value as a resource if it uncritically accepts every presenter's own representations of their work. This will make it too difficult for those exploring TED to locate quality. Rupert Sheldrake claims to be presenting valid alternatives to current scientific consensus, but he is not doing this. He is misinforming the unsuspecting.
      • Mar 7 2013: I understand that it is a TEDx talk?

        Which is different from a TED Talk, if I have understood correctly.
        Perhaps this is enough for differentiation in standards.

        I find at the moment that there is variation of quality in different TED Talks. I am quite able to sift out the ones I value.
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        Mar 7 2013: Jeffrey, you raise an important issue in this statement: "We can rely on viewers with even basic levels of scientific knowledge to recognize what is wrong and what is dishonest in Sheldrake's performance, but not all TED viewers expecting to be educated with quality information are equally capable of making these distinctions." And "He is misinforming the unsuspecting."

        I would only qualify, perhaps, what you mean by "scientific knowledge." Some people gather vast collections of information on a subject, some valid and well-supported, some speculative, and some absolute bunk, and completely misunderstand and misinterpret what it all means. So I'd argue that people can know quite a bit and even sound to a reasonable person as if they know quite a bit, but they still understand a discipline very poorly.

        There are choices to make, then, in any venue. Does there need to be a screening out of pseudoscience in that particular venue to protect people? Does there need, rather, to be a caveat to the unsuspecting listener that pseudoscience is not being screened out? Or is it to be left to the listener to realize that you shouldn't believe everything you hear or read on that site and to be honest with himself when he doesn't have the background to judge?
  • Mar 7 2013: Morphic resonnance? Anti-ESP dogma? Technology Entertainment Design, TED. Does Rupert's talk fall under Entertainment? Some may consider his content to be scientific in nature. Needs a rebuttal, removal from TEDx or reclassification as TED-eXcised.
  • Mar 7 2013: I have not read Sheldrake's books, but I saw the video with his 10 postulates, only some of which he had time to discuss. To many they will seem strange, but the historical record shows that sometimes what seems strange to contemporaries will be commonplace to their futurity. I am prepared to give Sheldrake the benefit of the doubt, and salute TED for inviting him to talk.

    In particular, I have some qualifications to discuss his last 4 postulates that relate to the brain. In 1980 an article by Roger Lewin in the journal Science, described the brain scan studies by John Lorber of adults who had been treated for hydrocephaly as a child. One of these had higher degrees in mathematics and was socially normal, but only had 5% of the normal volume of brain tissue. This was greeted with much scepticism, but has recently been independently confirmed in other subject by researchers in France (2007), and in Brazil (2012). One of the hypotheses to explain these strange observations, albeit seeming far-fetched, is that proposed by Sheldrake. For more on this please see the "End notes" to a paper in the Journal of Theoretical Biology (2009), which may be accessed by way of my webpages: http://post.queensu.ca/~forsdyke/mind01.htm
    • Mar 7 2013: Whether or not he’s right about, say, the speed of light being variable, his method of demonstrating it- that is, by looking at the very noisy historical records of the measurement of the speed of light and spotting a trend in them despite the fact that those methods changed and increased in precision and accuracy- doesn’t demonstrate this.

      One can be completely right about something (“the earth is not at the center of the solar system”) and still not be doing science (“because a magical dragon set it spinning about the sun!”)
  • Mar 7 2013: Rupert Sheldrake questions the fundamentals of what is considered to be a scientific fact, which can be an assumption, based on previously achieved assumptions. What's wrong with this ? Science is the only explanatory system that has a mechanism inbuilt in it to prove that it was wrong . Otherwise science is a record of dead religions.
    Rupert Sheldrake's vision of nature as alive, and a new understanding of the soul of the world fits ( in my understanding ) to the quantum description of the world, holographic principle, fractal geometry, the theory of chaos...and maybe many other things. His "Things are as they are because they were as they were " is a breakthrough, despite all his critics' claims to the contrary ! His theory of morphogenetic fields is scientific but belongs to the science that will and should be.
    Maybe he will live as many of the greats do, spending their lives trying to explain the implications of their experiments and theories yet ridiculed by their colleagues in the field, but when science finally catches up he will be acknowledged as a great.
    • Mar 7 2013: And yet there is (a) no evidence for his position, (b) very substantial evidence against his position, and (c) he presents no cogent argument as to *why* his ideas are better than the current body of knowledge. This makes his positions untenable.
      His critics do not merely "claim to the contrary" - they argue rationally and present valid, reproducible evidence to the contrary. Indeed, it is Sheldrake himself who *only* claims to the contrary.
      • Mar 7 2013: Who is right/wrong is not the point. The different opinion should be heard. Ideas should compete fairly.
        Maybe you know that the theory of evolution for the first 2/3 decades was called the Darwin/ Wallace theory of evolution. But soon the name of Russel Wallace was forgotten. What he pointed to and what was largely overlooked was the idea of ' field '
        Here is the passage of Wallace's famous 1858 paper:

        "The action of this principle is exactly like that of the centrifugal governor of the steam engine, which checks and corrects any irregularities almost before they become evident; and in like manner no unbalanced deficiency in the animal kingdom can ever reach any conspicuous magnitude, because it would make itself felt at the very first step, by rendering existence difficult and extinction almost sure soon to follow."

        Here is the the connection between natural selection and R Sh's morphogenetic field. "Things are as they are because they were as they were " Now some scientists explore the connection between natural selection in Wallace's interpretation and systems theory.
        Re : *why* his ideas are better than the current body of knowledge.
        Because, having Rupert Sheldrake's ideas in mind it's possible to make sense of the Universe we inhabit.
        Thanks for responding !
        • Mar 7 2013: Who is right or wrong IS the point. This is about facts, not opinions. Sheldrake makes errors of fact.
        • Mar 7 2013: This is not a question of "opinion" - it is a matter of evidence and critical thinking. Sheldrake fails on all counts.

          Evolution has grown tremendously since Darwin and Wallace first worked on it. Talking about evolution in terms of Darwin & Wallace's version is rather like talking about medicine as if we'd not discovered germs.

          Sheldrake's ideas "make sense"? No, that's the point. They don't make sense, of the universe or anything else.
      • Mar 7 2013: Nathan, there is no such thing as uninterpreted fact.
        • Mar 7 2013: Seems to me that this is an oxymoron. A fact is a fact. There's no interpretation in water being H2O, the speed of light being 300,000 Km/s (approx.) or evolution happening.
        • Mar 7 2013: There are lots of uninterpreted facts.
      • Mar 7 2013: Maybe you've missed my point, the theory that was developed
        was Darwin T of E.
        Wallace's idea has reemerged recently and it's a perfect realignment.

        Re :Sheldrake's ideas "make sense"? No, that's the point.

        How far we can go with this attitude ? :)
        • Mar 7 2013: Much farther than if we have to stop and waste time and effort to respond to every quack that comes along.
      • Mar 7 2013: Sorry for wasting your time ! :)
        • Mar 7 2013: Hi nn!!!!

          this is almost as much fun as Harleys's "TED is Evil" thread awhile back :-)
      • Mar 7 2013: Re : There are lots of uninterpreted facts.
        Maybe, but you can't prove it. Any fact that you can use as a proof is interpreted by the very fact that you use as a proof.
        It's the example of self-referential conundrum , that shows the limitation of logic : )
        • Mar 7 2013: That's nonsense. You can prove that water (at sea level) boils at 100 degrees Celsius. You can prove that the earth revolves around the sun. You can prove that humans and chimpanzees have a common ancestor.
      • Mar 7 2013: Nathan,
        accepting a radical new belief system almost always requires the release or loosening of a previous belief system.
        What you think you know is your coherent belief system, that doesn't allow you to believe in anything else.
        I have no chance to succeed :)

        Best to you !

        Filippo Salustri , sorry for using your reply button.
        • Mar 7 2013: I cannot tell what belief system you're talking about.
          Is it the belief system the contents of which is "scientific knowledge"?
          Or is it the belief system that "science, as a method, works"?
        • Mar 7 2013: Reality isn't a belief system.
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          Mar 7 2013: Where do facts come from? Science? Religion? Science is theory, which can never be indisputably. Oh wait no thats wrong science purest belief is that is can be disputable. Other wise we wouldn't be having this debate. Why is there more then one definition of what a fact is if it is indisputable?
      • Mar 7 2013: Filippo and Nathan ,
        I would recommend you to listen to this talk
        Enjoy !
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        Mar 7 2013: Facts boys are conventions, not truth.

        @Nathan You do not believe in reality then?
        • Mar 7 2013: A fact is "A thing that is indisputably the case."
          Alternatively, for a longer definition, see http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/fact or any other dictionary.
        • Mar 7 2013: Where do facts come from? Science? Religion?

          From left cerebral hemisphere :) Which is mainly responsible for creating belief system, be it religious or scientific.
          The right brain hemisphere is always challenging the status quo, but if beliefs are too strong , it may not succeed.
          That is the core of the problem. A scientific fact/theory can be disputable and should, but it's not easy to part with the comfort of the illusion of understanding ! :)
  • Mar 8 2013: Rupert Sheldrake is a "controversial figure". What does that mean? Is he controversial because he's a pseudo-scientist heck-bent on damaging the integrity of scientific discourse and needs to be quashed? Or is he controversial because he boldly speaks the truth about a scientific establishment whose thinking has gone a bit stale?

    What is TEDxTalks to do? It has inadvertently touched paths with one of the more deep-seated, often-times unpleasant, yet important and exciting controversies extant in science today. Should it opt out by declaring Sheldrake guilty-as-charged, thereby appeasing those who want his head......

    ......or should it invite Rupert Sheldrake and his “opponents” to a series of TEDx sponsored debates?

    I cannot think of a “hotter” ticket, both in terms of its relevance to science and its crowd-pleasing potential.
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    Mar 8 2013: Sheldrake's gross distortions of those of us who value and engage in science and reason, and his own unsupported assertions, brings to mind another section which you might consider adding to TED - a fact-check page to accompany each talk. This could be open and done by interested volunteers akin to the Wikipedia process. It wouldn't be perfect, but it would go a long way towards assuring future speakers didn't wander off into the twilight zone.
    • Mar 8 2013: Your suggestion does not typically work well with insanely controversial topics and people such as psi and Rupert Sheldrake. Typically, the victory goes to the most obsessed, which are almost always the skeptics. That's not how you discover the truth.

      Your own comments about unsupported assertions are a demonstration of the problem. You are clearly making unsupported assumptions yourself. You have strong opinions, but have given nothing else.

      Sheldrake is a careful scientist who follows (and provides) the evidence. I wonder if you've read anything he's written.
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        Mar 8 2013: If you found his opening two or three sentences compeling, well, good for you. For me they marked him as biased and wrong-headed to the extreme. Those first few comments were flat assertions of a serious nature. And, yes I have read him, but so what?

        I am not in favor of making an example of him, though, or holding him as some sort of singular offender of main-stream scientific sensibilities - that would be rdiculous. TED has had many good speakers, many so-so, and many poor speakers, and will have more poor mixed in, but I am willing to hear them out for on occasion a jewel will emerge.

        Rupert fell flat for me, but maybe he stirred others. It happens
      • Mar 8 2013: Re " Typically, the victory goes to the most obsessed, which are almost always the skeptics. "

        Well said! this imediately brought up images of dear old Dawkins and co.
        • Mar 8 2013: Skeptics organizations are to a man devoted to a science base, read CSICOP and TAM et cetera constitutions. You mean "skeptics", which are all anti-skeptics (and anti-science).
      • Mar 8 2013: It is painfully obvious that Sheldrake has published no "careful" science:

        "Members of the scientific community consider Sheldrake's claims to be currently unfalsifiable and therefore outside the scope of scientific experiment. The "morphic field" concept is believed by many to fall into the realm of pseudoscience.[36][44][45]". [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rupert_Sheldrake ]

        Indeed, Google Scholar shows he has published one (!) review (!!) as a biochemist. Nothing else outside of "psi research".
  • Mar 8 2013: Craig, I am well aware of reputable scientific journals and the workings of peer review. Unfortunately the Journal of Parapsychology is not a qualified journal to offer legitimacy, insight or adjudication for the issues Sheldrake raises.It isn't a science journal at all. However, the fact that you see it as reputable explains why you don't understand the scientific issues that are involved here. Of course a journal is only as good as the editors and scientists who contribute and no journal has a perfect record.
    • Mar 8 2013: The Journal of Parapyschology is published by The Parapsychological Association, which has been an affiliated organization of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) since 1969. It most definitely is a rigorous science journal. The fact that you think it offers no "legitimacy, insight or abjudication for the issues Sheldrake raises" strikes me as prejudicial.
    • Mar 8 2013: Barry,
      The Journal of Parapsychology is a good example of where real science and the irrationality of skepticism meet. Besides what Troy said, which is true, the studies that are published are about 85% double blind, which is far and away more than any other branch of science. They publish more opposing views than most journals and act in every way as one of the most reputable journals in all of science.

      But you dismiss this with a wave of the hand. You are doing what so many skeptics do: walling off evidence that you find inconvenient to your world view.
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      Mar 8 2013: Parapsychology is slowly working it's way into mainstream journals. There are articles in Nature, Science and IEEE, to name a few. That being said, most of the science literature I read is in smaller more specialized journals (ie. The Journal of Paleolimnology) that concentrate on specific areas of study. The Journal of Parapsychology also concentrates on a particular area of study and it's peer-review process is no less stringent than that of other peer-reviewed publications.
      • Mar 8 2013: Troy, Craig and sandy, affiliation of the Journal of Parapsychology to AAAS confers zero status on the organization at all. Claiming it to be a rigorous Journal is pure assertion. The key question is whether, through the work of parapsychologists they have been able to define.articulate, test and repeat an overarching scientific theory of psi/esp/ghosts/ghouls and goblins? Please point me to this because this is where serious science starts.

        To the credit of the Parapsychology Association, they are now doing a much better job of policing the field and have made more effective strides at filtering the complete nonsense and fiction that caused the most egregious methodological errors or years past. But they have produced zero by way of evidence or theory that stands rigorous scientific scrutiny.

        But this is all really irrelevant. This is not the organization that gets to adjudicate and decide on Sheldrake's claims on, for example, consciousness or the speed of light. I am sure Sheldrake will find many supporters in that organization...but it isn't science when they talk about it.

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          Mar 8 2013: Your claims that the Journal of Parapsychology is flawed have yet to be substantiated. Do you have specific examples of articles being published without proper peer-review?

          You are entitled to your opinion, but lets not confuse that with presenting factual evidence.
      • Mar 8 2013: sandy - I'll wait for your answer on the overarching theory. Nothing else really matters.
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          Mar 8 2013: Freedom of speech matters. So does the ability to have an open debate unimpeded by special interest groups. I'm hopeful TED won't be bullied by such groups into censoring Sheldrake's talk. That's what matters to me.
    • Mar 8 2013: One of the challenges here for someone who sees himself as a scientist (in terms of thought process and evidence base) but has actually had psychic experiences (too many and too far outside conventional explanation to ignore) is that there is nowhere that I could possibly find legitimisation for my experience that would be accepted by scientific skeptics. The very nature of the phenomenon is placed outside of the domain that their views of what constitute "science" will allow. They define the rules of evidence such that even a thousand people having a thousand experiences like mine, would not be acceptable. Oh dear - I have just categorised myself as "woo". Must be time for me to leave this debate.
      • Mar 8 2013: Jon, science doesn't advance on the basis of personal anecdotes, however frequently they have occurred to you and however real you thought they were. However, if there are "a thousand" people out there claiming the exact same experiences as you this is definitely a testable phenomenon, assuming it is something that has impact on the natural world. Being skeptical about your claims isn't an extreme position that nasty scientists take because they disagree with you, it's because that every time these claims have been studied they have been found wanting. Some of the claims have been incapable of study because they are not scientifically verifiable. So your belief of those rests on faith. You might see yourself as a scientist, but you don't reason like one.
    • Mar 8 2013: Yes that is exactly my point Barry. Would you please show me how, within the ways that science is currently set up and funded, it would be possible for me to take my repeated "anecdotal" experiences, and those of the many others I know who are much more skilled in these areas than I am, and turn them into something that you would accept as proof. Better still, how would it be if you and those like you were to review material like that from the Princeton PEAR unit which provides substantial hard evidence of such phenomena? The problem that I have is not that there is a demand for ecidence, it is that when evidence exists, it is ignored, or treated as "this must be wrong because it doesn't fit our theoretical framework. When will science do the genuinely scientific thing and accpet that if the evidence contradicts the theory, there must be a flaw in the theory? My "belief" does not rest on faith. It rests on evidence. It is not belief it is knowledge. The PEAR studies are evidence. My experience may not have bveen gathered under laboratory conditions but it does meet the scientific criteria of being repeatable - not in exact terms but in generic ones. We treat meteorology as a science even though it never works with exactly the same conditions twice. We treat evolution as a science even though it is not carried out in a laboratory and relies on forming patterns from relatively limited evidence trails. All I am asking is for the same standards to be applied, but when it comes to a claim like "psychism" the bar is raised to the absolute highest. There is no justification for this and I do not accept your statement that I do not reason like a scientist. You have no right to have made it. Your choice to dismiss what I know as "acecdotal" is exactly the kind of cheap dismissal that Sheldrake complains of. It is coled-minded and based on assumptions about me, what I know, what I have studeid and how I think that are unjustified and basically insulting.
      • Mar 9 2013: Jon, there is nothing in my post that treats your views unkindly or insults you. The term "anecdote" is a legitimate descriptive term to describe a single experience. That is exactly how you described your experience - as something that happened to you. There is a broader discussion to be had about what constitutes evidence. You personal experience is exactly that - experiential. It is certainly a form of evidence that has huge significance to you, but it counts very little in science. When I observed that you "do not reason like a scientist" it was because you were using the term without making that distinction clear. It isn't "insulting" to point this out, merely factual. Had you corrected yourself in your reply i would have credited the error, but you simply proceeded to argue from authority by referencing the PEAR data. What you fail to point out with the PEAR studies is that the effect size, while statistically significant, was extremely small and almost certainly caused by publication bias (Radin, D.; Nelson, R.; Dobyns, Y.; Houtkooper, J. (2006). "Reexamining psychokinesis: comment on Bösch, Steinkamp, and Boller". Psychological Bulletin 132 (4): 529–32; discussion 533–37. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.132.4.529. PMID 16822164.).

        You appeal for a level playing field but what you fail to appreciate is that you are actually making special pleading for psi. The simple matter is that when all psi studies are put to the same rigorous evaluation as studies in natural sciences, they fail. That doesn't diminish what you feel about your experiences, but it does show that the psi field has a long way to go before it even gets to the starting line in scientific terms. This isn't natural science bullying psi or being unreasonable to it, but requiring standards of evidence that they have so far failed to meet. The fact that you fail to account for this is another reason my comment that "you don't reason like a scientist" is justified. I respect your view, but it's not scientific
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    Mar 8 2013: Hello fellow Tedsters.

    Initially, after reading most of the insightful comments below, I would like to know why there are always highly insightful people that only participate for a heated debate and basically not exist for any of the other conversations on Ted. It would be more beneficial to all if these people would keep a Ted account for more than one heated debate because it seems that some people have a lot of insights, but they do not seem to share the ideas as fervidly, and often, as they seem to in this debate.

    Any who, I believe that Rupert Sheldrake should be given a chance to rebuttal or at least extensively prove a few of his points in his video. The person being scrutinized seems to be the perfect individual to address issues with, if he has credibility, like he appears in his Tedtalk, then he should be given an opportunity to clear his own name with unfiltered comments from the public.

    If, and only if, he successfully backs his claims, then his current video should be removed or archived, then let him give a Tedtalk involving his explanations of his murky ideas in his current Tedtalk. Some might say this is too generous, but I try to think in terms of "what if I had been in this person's situation, then I think I should have the opportunity to redeem myself or make some type of statement".

    Regarding the legitimacy of the contents of Mr. Sheldrake's talk, then I am not as knowledgeable, but it was interesting to hear some of his points. I did come to the conclusion that he seems to have been promoting his book more than proving his ideas to be true, so maybe Ted could add some type of disclaimer for that type of material or not.

    Quack or not quack, but Sheldrake is just another human being that can affect the people within his life as well, and I'd like to give these types of people the satisfaction that they tried, fail or succeed, so they won't feel bitterness towards an unforgiving and non-understanding crowd. I try to look at domino affects.
    • Mar 8 2013: Hi Derek, I've never posted on here previously, but I am a glutton for TED videos. I signed up to make comments here today because I feel so depressed by the calls to have Rupert Sheldrake censored. As far as I can see, the arguments given by those who want him silenced have barely risen above personal attacks – he has certainly not been debunked.

      I'm agnostic in regards to the claims of Sheldrake, but he most certainly has interesting things to say. I like the idea of him doing a proper TED talk, but if they remove this video I will be looking elsewhere for educational content. I don't want to be browbeating into what I should believe by a group of people who are trying to police scientific knowledge. I’m disappointed that TED would even consider taking this step.
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        Mar 8 2013: It is fascinating that there are so many experts on such a breath of knowledge when it comes to something controversial. It seems that people just sign-up to nay-say and that makes me think whether someone is credible or not, but luckily some nay-sayers bring up good points, though others are definitely exhibiting a narrow scope of their world.
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    Mar 8 2013: Physicist Brian Greene explains superstring theory, saying "In the year 1919, a virtually unknown German mathematician, named Theodor Kaluza suggested a very bold and, in some ways, a very bizarre idea. He proposed that our universe might actually have more than the three dimensions that we are all aware of. That is in addition to left, right, back, forth and up, down, Kaluza proposed that there might be additional dimensions of space that for some reason we don't yet see. Now, when someone makes a bold and bizarre idea, sometimes that's all it is -- bold and bizarre, but it has nothing to do with the world around us. This particular idea, however -- although we don't yet know whether it's right or wrong, and at the end I'll discuss experiments which, in the next few years, may tell us whether it's right or wrong -- this idea has had a major impact on physics in the last century and continues to inform a lot of cutting-edge research.

    Might this be said of the talk by Sheldrake, who suggests bold and bizarre ideas. These particular ideas however, while we don't yet know whether it's right or wrong, may at some point in the next few years, point us in a new direction. Will these idea have a major impact on physics in the last half of this century and continues to inform a lot of cutting-edge research? Will it?

    What is the theoretical differences between Sheldrake and String Theory, both sciences still lack proof, evidence.
    We allow one but not the other? Why?

    And it seems this discrimination applies only to science. Religion is presented without evidence and complains about science: Rev Billy Graham said at TED, "You see, the Bible teaches that we're more than a body and a mind. We are a soul. And there's something inside of us that is beyond our understanding. That's the part of us that yearns for God, or something more than we find in technology." Is this vastly differ from Sherldrakes in its critical views?
    • Mar 8 2013: Ahhhh but didn't you know Theodore... Science only looks at claims that can be proven using baking soda and vinegar...... /sarcasm ;)
    • Mar 8 2013: Yes, Graham's drivel is very different from Sheldrake's drivel. Graham comes in as an evangelical theist; it is natural for him to (unsuccessfully) try to undermine science. Sheldrake pretends to be a scientist. The duplicity of his stance makes his ethics questionable.
  • Mar 8 2013: And can I also thank Tedx for this particular conversation.... the timing is immaculate.

    Only last night I was discussing with my science friends exactly this point... that science is full of these dogmatic materialstic radical extremist narcissists who make it their lives work to try and discredit real free thinkers. Tey were adamant it did not exist in science and that if we haven't proven PSI/Telepathy/Presentiment etc it is simply because the evidence is not there, not because there are radical extremist scientists blocking the rest of the free thinking science world from knowing about it.

    Then I wake up to find this beautiful article and conversation talking about Tedx... a respected science resource.... considering muzzling Rupert Sheldrake's heretic views based on the ramblings of radical extremist scientists that have you conned as "experts" on something they do not know the first thing about.

    It's like you handed me everything I was trying to convince them about on a platter and gift wrapped it for good measure.

    I sincerely hope you don't muzzle Sheldrake for having the balls to make the general public and the science community aware that in his words "The foundations of science are rotten at the core".
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    Mar 8 2013: If TED does decide to censor Dr Sheldrake's talk, I hope scientists will boycott the site in protest. It doesn't matter if you agree with him. Do you agree that the ability to freely express new ideas is important to facilitate progress in science?
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    Mar 9 2013: PZ Myers has called for the video to be removed. He is an aggressive spokesperson for the political atheist movement. I haven't seen any reasonable arguments made that justify removing Sheldrake's talk. Just ad hominem attacks from people who don't seem to have bothered actually watching the talk or reading his work.
    • Mar 9 2013: Exactly... and why would Atheists be against Sheldrake's work? For one very good reason.

      Sheldrake and the likes of Dean Radin are trying to find if there is such a thing as telepathy, PSI, Presentiment, and ultimately a consciousness that exists outside of what neurological science tells us occurs in the physical brain. Their results tell us there IS something going on that science cannot account for and that further studies warranted.

      The reason Atheists like PZ Myers hate that.... is that if you prove consciousness exists outside the brain, you are starting to validate the existence of a soul.... and therefore an afterlife.

      Doesn't bode well for the religion that is Atheism does it. That's why we have these fundamentalist radical Atheists trying so hide to discredit anyone who doesn't automatically accept materialism as a religion.
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        Mar 9 2013: I'm glad you pointed this out, Frank. Many people don't understand the political implications of something like psi. I wasn't raised in a religious family, so I've never really thought about if there is a god. I don't think it really matters one way or the other. But it seems like certain outspoken politically motivated atheists spend a lot of time thinking about god. It's true, the existence of psi certainly doesn't prove the existence of god, but it opens the door a crack for the possibility.

        That shouldn't stop anyone from following the data and finding out if psi actually occurs, but sadly, it does. Worse than that, there are people out there actually trying to suppress research and stop such dangerous ideas from being presented in forums like this one.
        • Mar 9 2013: Yes well somewhere along the line Atheism and Materialism seemed to be joined at the hip.

          It gives Atheists validity for their "religion"... they can point to materialism as evidence for their beliefs... and discredit other religions because they are only based on "faith".

          Like you said PSI doesn't prove the existence of god but if you can predict future events before they happen and show an effect as Radin has done with his presentiment studies, what does that say about time and space and what science knows? What does it say about consciousness that they can show 2 people telepathically communicating with each other from different sides of the planet? It starts to lend credibility to the non materialistic viewpoint that so much of science lives on.
      • Mar 9 2013: Please define "fundamentalist radical atheists" as opposed to other atheists.

        Or are you simply trying to demean the whole group, or those who speak up?
    • Mar 9 2013: Can you cite the location where PZ Myers does this? His post (as currently displayed at Pharyngula) does not appear to contain such a request.
  • Mar 8 2013: This discussion seems pointless, since this is not the first time TEDex has been under fire for hosting pseudoscience. The quality and standards of these talks should be met beforehand, not as an afterthought.

    I'm all for keeping the video on your archives. It can teach someone something about anti-science thought in the future. I cannot, however, say I will follow the talks of TEDex with interest or regard them as "an idea worth spreading"
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      Mar 8 2013: "Pseudoscience" as you put it, starts with bias such as yours. Real Science looks at the data objectively. Have you done that?
      • Mar 8 2013: No one "starts with bias" on pseudoscience (even though we know there are patterns), all of it has to be tested against science.

        Here we can see that scientists have asked Sheldrake for evidence and he has produced none. "Members of the scientific community consider Sheldrake's claims to be currently unfalsifiable and therefore outside the scope of scientific experiment. The "morphic field" concept is believed by many to fall into the realm of pseudoscience.[36][44][45]". [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rupert_Sheldrake ]

        Skeptics looks at the facts objectively. Why didn't you do that?
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          Mar 8 2013: A "Skeptic" by definition is someone who is habitually doubtful:

          from Merriam-Webster: "1. an attitude of doubt or a disposition to incredulity either in general or toward a particular object."

          This represents a bias and since you haven't looked at the data (not as you say "facts") your posts are closed minded, unscientific and hypocritical.

          P.S. Who requested data that wasn't provided by Sheldrake?
  • Mar 8 2013: If PZ Myers and Jerry "I therefore spent a fair amount of time Googling stuff like “epistemology” and “ontology” (I can never get those terms straight since I rarely use them" Coyne want to be philosophers, and want to assume the role of public gatekeepers of "proper philosophical thinking", then let them attend a university and study the subject. https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2012/10/31/sean-carroll-assesses-the-stockbridge-workshop/
    • Mar 8 2013: There are graduations of expertise at work here. Attending a university and studying a subject are not necessary prerequisites for having an educated opinion on a subject. While Myers & Coyne & others may not be philosophers, they have likely forgotten more about philosophy than most lay folk will ever know. This arises naturally from being scientists; anyone who has spent enough time in the sciences will have had to grapple with a variety of philosophical issues.
  • Mar 8 2013: I enjoyed the talk, and find many of the arguments and points he makes very interesting. It is certainly true that science is rife with examples of being unwilling to change old ideas, after all scientists are humans and humans seem to be programmed to resist change. There was time when everyone “knew” that the earth was flat; it was as plain as the nose on your face. For eons, it never occurred to anyone to question it. There are no doubt many things that we similarly take for granted today because we lack the imagination to seriously ask the question that to everyone else has an obvious answer. Do plants experience pain? Maybe or maybe not, but the biochemical reactions when you cut into a plant are very similar to those of an animal in pain. Now most people just “assume” that rocks have no consciousness, because it seem silly to even ask the question, but there are cultures who believe that everything has some form of consciousness. Everyone except Sheldrake assumes that physical constants are constant, but are they? Humans once passed law requiring the number pi to be exactly equal to twenty two sevenths. How different is that from metrologists proclaiming that big “G” is constant when it is measured all around the world and has changes in value? What stops them from publishing the data?
    One has to ask why serious scientists spend so much time trying to debunk Sheldrake, what are they afraid of? It is not like he is trying to change the school agenda to teach intelligent design alongside evolution. Shakespeare said it well centuries ago: “he who doth protest too much”.
    So in summary, I welcome challenges to any way of thinking that may be stuck, and even if it turns out Sheldrake is full of balony, that is not a reason to close down discussions and shut out ideas. Scientists should be ever-challenging their own ideas.
    Disclaimer: I have not done any fact checking.
  • Mar 8 2013: Let us agree to remove Sheldrake's talk from the Tedx archive. He is an embarrassment to it.
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      Mar 8 2013: Another advocate of censorship? That's sad.
      • Mar 8 2013: sandy stone - I am sorry to keep reading that you believe removing Sheldrake's talk equates to censorship. If an organization like TED publishes standards against which talks/videos are adjudicated and described, then it isn't an act of censorship to admit that error and remove the offending video because it later realizes that it failed to meet those standards. It doesn't matter whether you agree or disagree with those standards, or whether you think that Sheldrake is a brilliant person or a crackpot.

        Do you understand?
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          Mar 8 2013: What I understand is that PZ Meyers is a member of a small but vocal fringe group who don't represent the majority of scientists, but who do what they can to try to influence what the public is allowed to see. There is already so much censorship in science these days. I'm not eager to allow any such organization dictate what I can see.

          Give the viewers some credit. Let them make up their own minds.
        • Mar 8 2013: Nice strawman, Barry Conchie, but it is not the reality of the situation. Emily McManus has stated:

          "Sheldrake is on that line, to some commenters around Twitter and the web."

          TED is under pressure from a group of dogmatic fundamentalists to remove this talk, and they are now looking for opinions from viewers/readers. It is not a clear cut case of 'mistakes were made' because that has not yet been determined.
      • Mar 8 2013: Censorship is the suppression of information. An organization like TED that has rules and guidelines that qualify certain talks as meeting certain standards has a responsibility to uphold those standards or tell us why it is prepared to allow them to be broken. It really doesn't matter whether you agree with the standards or not. It is not an act of censorship to remove talks that violate those standards. TED isn't a "free speech" venue or organization where anything goes. I have seen no comment from anyone criticizing Sheldrake that his views should be subject to censorship? He has every right to publish books and videos.

        Neither sandy stone not Toby Randel appear to understand that fact. The decision to allow or deny a video isn't taken because of a baying pack of detractors or advocates, but on the basis of adjudicating against the standards of TED. A "strawman" argument is one that involves twisting a position to something that does not resemble the original argument in order to knock it down. Toby Randel believes i am guilty of such an argument. However, as Emily McManus states, "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." Don't you think it is very clear the basis on which this talk might be removed?
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          Mar 8 2013: Actually, no. His ideas are not "wrong to the point of being unscientific." He doesn't misrepresent the scientific process either. The only reason I can see that this talk is being singled out is the fact that PZ Meyers is involved with a fringe organization that makes a point to attack, and in this case censor, POVs that don't agree with that organization's fundamentalist beliefs. TED shouldn't allow itself be used to promote any particular dogma or takes sides in scientific disputes.

          Quite honestly, the fair thing to do would be propose a debate between Sheldrake and one of his detractors, and air the results on TED!
        • Mar 8 2013: The claim that Sheldrake is being unscientific has not been supported – if you believe I’m wrong please supply evidence for this assertion. The nearest that anyone has got to actually challenging what he says is to claim that he is a "woomiester", and that he 'has an agenda' by pointing out that the measurements of light speed have changed over time – Sheldrake’s claim was not been debunked and just making this claim that it has is an act of willful ignorance.

          I don’t know about you, but I want to see some evidence that his ideas are bunk. Simply insulting the man does not go anywhere to disproving his arguments. Most of the arguments on here seem to boil down to the fact that people do not like what he is saying, so they want him shut up – that is not science.
        • Mar 8 2013: However, as Emily McManus states "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." -----------------------------------------------------------------

          I don't see anywhere that Rupert Sheldrake has "misrepresented the science process" at all. All he is stating is that there is a minority within science that hold science back from what it should be about. Nobody can deny that.I mean you want evidence watch the google talk that Professor Dean Radin gave on "Science and Taboo of PSI". He shows that there is actual evidence that there is a taboo within science and a misrepresention in reporting when it comes to PSI.

          This is precisely the sort of point Rupert Sheldrake also makes about science.As Rupert Sheldrake said himself... there is a problem within science when 2 people from the same university are interested in PSI and had nobody they could talk to about it... and had to go to Ireland to a scientific conference on PSI... only to meet a colleague who worked down the corridor from them that they had no idea was also interested in PSI.

          I mean if that isn't showing you right there that there is a problem within the science community to "come clean" about what they believe and practice free thinking when it comes to non-materialistic science then I don't know what does.
        • Mar 8 2013: I agree with Barry.
          And if the rest of you still think there is no evidence for Shldrake's misrepresentation of science and facts, just read previous comments. For example, the list Dark Star provided.
      • Mar 8 2013: Sandy, do you believe that a judge in a court of law has the right to rule that certain evidence is inadmissible and should be discounted or debarred, or do you see this as an unacceptable form of censorship?
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          Mar 8 2013: Science doesn't work like a court of law. You don't get to pick and choose your data to suit your POV. You don't even get to pick and choose your data to be politically correct or to be fair. You are stuck with the data as it is and you have to deal with it. If you can't follow the data, you aren't much of a scientist.
        • Mar 8 2013: Judges in a court of law deal in witness testimony as well... last time I looked science didn't. You are comparing apples with oranges.
        • Mar 8 2013: Sandy Stone wrote: "Science doesn't work like a court of law. You don't get to pick and choose your data to suit your POV."

          Do you really think that courts & judges work by "picking and choosing" data?
        • Mar 8 2013: To Frank Matera: witness testimony is used as a secondary source, because, sometimes, there just isn't a way to get real "data." This is a known shortcoming of every judicial system, but it is designed to work more often than not. The justice system simply cannot not work to the same level of accuracy and precision as science. Therefore, it uses different methods. For instance, the notion of "reasonable doubt" is just a more qualitative form of the statistical significance measures used by scientists.
      • Mar 8 2013: Sandy, as you clearly understand the difference between science and law, and as you correctly argue that science follows data, you and I are in full agreement. Now, the concern that scientists are expressing about Sheldrake is that he is making claims about science that are based on no data. Indeed, they are saying that some of his claims are unscientific. Not a single scientist has been able to cite any of his work in replicated experiments. None has been published in a reputable journal. Reaching definitive judgments, as Sheldrake does, without the evidence to support them is putting the cart before the horse. We call this pseudo-science. It is on this basis that TED will determine whether his video is removed and that's why it isn't censorship.
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          Mar 8 2013: Who is this "we" you claim to be? JREF? CSI?

          Sadly, there are fringe groups out there that are doing their best to censor opposing POV. What would be so terrible about having Sheldrake openly debate Meyers on TED, rather than allowing these fringe organizations to dictate what we are allowed to see?

          Did you even listen to this talk? He questioned accepted beliefs held by many scientists... but it's good for science to be questioned. As soon as we sit back and say everything is figured out, you just know some bright kid is going to show you that you're wrong.

          He is arguing against complacency. Science is becoming dogmatic and that's a bad thing. How many scientists have ever taken a history of science or philosophy of science course as part of their undergraduate degree. Very few. It isn't usually required. That's unfortunate because we are facing a generation of scientists who don't know that they are basing their work on assumptions that may or may not be correct. They take things on faith, and they shouldn't. Sheldrake is arguing for more accountability, more questioning and more understanding of what science is all about. We need to hear these things.
      • Mar 8 2013: Another example of Sandy Stone refusing to understand the difference between censorship and an organization's obligation to provide a forum to anyone - none. That's sad.
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          Mar 8 2013: TED shouldn't take direction from organizations such as JREF or CSI, unless it identifies itself as having that connection so that people will be aware of the bias in what it presents to the public. If TED wants to clearly identify itself with the political atheist movement, then it should do so. I can understand why JREF and CSI don't want to post Sheldrake's work on their webpages, because it goes against what they stand for. What does TED now stand for? Openness in dialogue, or censorship of ideas?
      • Mar 8 2013: Sandy, "we" are a group of hedonistic co-conspirators who are trying to suppress free speech and free expression in order to control the internet and take over the world. But we are trying to keep it quiet so people don't figure this out until it's too late.
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          Mar 8 2013: Nice of you to come clean, Barry. :)
        • Mar 8 2013: Wait... I thought we were going for the whole galaxy.
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      Mar 8 2013: Wasn't this the sentiment and the same narrow minded views the cause Galileo his troubles: Galileo was condemned by the Catholic Church for "vehement suspicion of heresy"

      "Despite taking care to adhere to the Inquisition's 1616 instructions, the claims in the book favouring Copernican theory and a non Geocentric model of the solar system led to Galileo being tried and banned on publication. Despite the publication ban, Galileo published his Discourses and Mathematical Demonstrations Relating to Two New Sciences (Discorsi e Dimostrazioni Matematiche, intorno a due nuove scienze) in 1638 in Holland, outside the jurisdiction of the Inquisition."
      • Mar 8 2013: Aw, a Galileo gambit. How cute. "They laughed at Galileo. They laughed at Newton. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown." Or, see my blog post http://againstjebelallawz.wordpress.com/2011/01/25/cranks/
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          Mar 8 2013: Are we the real "Bozos", when we permit Bozo onto the TED stage but deny Gailieo?
      • Mar 8 2013: The Catholic Church was (and still is) founded *entirely* on dogma. Galileo at least had *some* evidence (a lot by his day's standards).
        If anything you have the roles reversed: Sheldrake assumes the role of the church, trying to undermine the scientists of the day (Galileo) with tripe.
  • Mar 7 2013: Censorship may be wrong but refusing to showcase someone isn't censorship.
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      Mar 8 2013: It's too late to refuse to showcase Sheldrake. It was already done. The only way to remove this talk is via censorship.
  • Mar 7 2013: I am disgusted by this attempt at censorship. It reminds me of a similar attempt in 2006 to quash a panel on parapsychology at the meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. When asked by Sheldrake if he had read any of the literature of parapsychology Professor Peter Atkins – one of the scientists who tried to keep Sheldrake, Peter Fenwick and Deborah Delanoy from speaking – replied, “No, and I would be very suspicious of it.” I don’t pretend to know whether or not Professor Coyne has ever looked at the evidence deriving from, say, the ganzfeld experiments, but, to borrow Atkins’s phrasing, I would be very suspicious of it since a few posts down he confidently declares there to be “no evidence” for anomalous cognition.

    Personally, I don’t find ‘Morphic Resonance’ compelling as a theory for either ESP or evolution. But I think Sheldrake hits the nail on the head with some of his ‘dogmas.’ In a blog post, Coyne dismisses ‘panpsychism,’ apparently unaware that there is a small, but growing, number of philosophers of mind who take this possibility seriously. Materialism itself has recently been questioned by Thomas Nagel, prompting howls of outrage from physicalists. (Nagel is not alone in his skepticism, but his prominence has made him the most visible.) Finally, there is quite a good deal of evidence for anomalous cognition, psi, what have you, and blithely stating that there is no evidence or trotting out quotes from James Randi or Richard Wiseman does not make it so.

    The rub here is that parapsychology explores forces that seem to imply that the mind is more than the brain. To many materialists this brings up the specter of religion. It is as true today as it was a hundred years ago when people like G. Stanley Hall and Hugo Munsterberg attempted to discredit William James’s interest in psychical research by linking it, rhetorically, to superstition. ‘Woo’ seems to be the new pejorative term of choice.

    In any event, removal of S
    • Mar 7 2013: "Finally, there is quite a good deal of evidence"

      Care to share those evidences? Just stating that there is evidence is not evidence in itself, you're aware of that right?
      There's a great deal of world fame and nobel prizes to gain in presenting compelling evidence for woo. Until then: what is presented without evidence can be discarded without evidence.
      • Mar 7 2013: Research into the paranormal has been going on since the late nineteenth century, so it would be impossible to summarize in a post.

        If you're at all interested in the evidence a good book to start with is "Debating Psychic Experience: Human Potential or Human Illusion," which presents evidence from proponents and skeptics. It is almost exclusively focused on the laboratory results.
        • Mar 7 2013: Well, research into gods have been going on for millennia. Doesn't make their existence anymore true.
        • Mar 7 2013: Yes, research into the paranormal has been going on that long, and they still haven't found anything.
      • Mar 7 2013: I can't reply to your comment on gods below, so I will do it here:

        Don't be daft. Your comment just reinforces my point that a lot of resistance to this work comes from the support it appears to give to traditionally religious tenets, such as mind being irreducible to brain function.

        In any event, "Debating Psychic Experience" is a good entry point into this controversial science, and presents up-to-date arguments from both proponents and skeptics. The bibliography and notes lead the reader to actual journal articles.
      • Mar 7 2013: "Care to share those evidences?"

        Here are a selection of peer-reviewed studies Sheldrake has published on telepathy. (Don't be put off by the fact that some links are to Sheldrake's website; they're all from journals, just conveniently collected at his site.)

        The "Sense of Being Stared At" Does Not Depend On Known Sensory Clues, published in 'Biology Forum' : www.sheldrake.org/Articles%26Papers/papers/staring/pdf/sensoryclues.pdf

        A Dog That Seems to Know When His Owner Is Coming Home: Videotaped Experiments and Observations, published in 'The Journal of Scientific Exploration' : http://www.scientificexploration.org/journal/jse_14_2_sheldrake.pdf

        The Sense of Being Stared At: Experiments in Schools, published in 'Journal of the Society for Psychical Research' : http://www.sheldrake.org/Articles%26Papers/papers/staring/pdf/schoolexp.pdf

        Testing a return-anticipating dog, Kane, published in 'Anthrozoös' : http://www.sheldrake.org/Articles%26Papers/papers/animals/pdf/dogkane.pdf

        Experimental tests for telephone telepathy, published in 'Journal of the Society for Psychical Research' : http://www.sheldrake.org/Articles%26Papers/papers/telepathy/pdf/experiment_tests.pdf
        (This one's the most interesting to me; people were able to correctly guess 53% of the time which of 4 friends was calling them before they picked up the phone. Statistical analysis shows a 99.99999999999999% chance that something other than chance is happening - it could be that Sheldrake is a liar, his subjects are cheats, there was some sort of leaked cues that no one has explained, or else ESP is real.)

        A filmed experiment on telephone telepathy with the Nolan sisters, published in 'Journal of the Society for Psychical Research' : http://www.sheldrake.org/Articles%26Papers/papers/telepathy/pdf/Nolan.pdf

        I would love to hear what critics think about the limitations of Sheldrake's research, but it seems weird to claim that there's "no evidence".
        • Mar 8 2013: Conor O'Higgins - you have mentioned several times that Rupert Sheldrake has published over 80 "peer reviewed" articles. I assume you mention this and highlight some of his papers as a means of somehow backing up his assertions. However, his published papers that are supposed to be the evidential basis for his TED speech are in largely disreputable journals whose adherents fail to live up to the standards of scientific enquiry. The "Journal of the Society for Psychical Research" is not a credible scientific organization or journal. It's very title presumes that which it believes to be true. It is akin to Answers in Genesis claiming "peer review" because the papers of its proponents are published in the "Creation Research Society Journal" - a publication they have set up themselves and police themselves.

          The reason for Sheldrake standing accused of having no evidence is because he fails to meet even the basic "sniff test" of credibility that would remotely attract the attention of a credible journal. Claiming that he has that evidence because it is published in a rag that already accepts its conclusions on no evidence isn't acceptable scientific evidence.
      • Mar 8 2013: "you have mentioned several times that Rupert Sheldrake has published over 80 "peer reviewed" articles. I assume you mention this and highlight some of his papers as a means of somehow backing up his assertions"
        Well, no. I said "80", not "over 80", and I said it once, not "several times", and I said it in response to someone who said that he had not been peer-reviewed. (I apologise if all this sounds pedantic; I've found that being very specific allows clearer thinking on subjects where there's potential for controversy.)

        "adherents fail to live up to the standards of scientific enquiry."
        Which standards are you referring to? Reproducability? Blinding? Reporter bias? And which adherents?

        "he fails to meet even the basic "sniff test" of credibility that would remotely attract the attention of a credible journal."
        Exactly. That's the point he himself makes throughout the talk.
        • Mar 9 2013: I am sorry I missed your response to my comment Connor. You picked out a couple of quotes that obviously interested you but failed to address the substantive issue of peer review in reputable scientific journals - those journals who are in the business of publishing on precisely these issues. So, when you look at Sheldrake's papers (and I mean the ones that he might cite to support the assertions he made in his TED video), none were in journals who routinely publish from acknowledged experts in the field. He has not a single citation from a study in a respectable journal that has tested and/or replicated his findings.

          And two of your posts have referenced the "80 published papers", not one. I am generally not pedantic but circumstances can draw it out of me when required.
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    Mar 7 2013: Rupert Sheldrake is an extremely competent scientist with a massive amount of experience in the nature of physical things, who dares to question.
    The way his ideas are attacked is very much like the way in which the church and religions in general have been known to attack those who dare to question the established ideas. It doesn't matter that these ideas may be completely wrong, only that they are established.
    I am amazed at the tiny minded reaction to his talk. I've seen people making vicious comments about his talk and threatening the credibility of TED because they invited him to talk.
    These people are no different from many religious people who have chosen to believe in a prescribed set of ideas, and then get very angry when they feel that someone may be suggesting that what they think they know as fact could actually be incorrect.
    Ignorance or the suggestion of possible ignorance makes some people very frightened, and with that fear comes the hate, the anger, the attacks and the attempt to crush and bury whatever/whoever it was that caused that little spark of fear in them.
    That is not rational or scientific, that is in this case as Rupert Sheldrake says, the "science delusion".
    TED should be applauded for having Rupert Sheldrake give his talk.
    Those that attack TED or Rupert because of his daring to question things are most often those arrogant and egotistical types who believe themselves to be very scientific in their thinking simply because they are capable of remembering a bit of information from scientific books and regurgitating what they have accepted as fact (because it was written in a book) at any possible opportunity.
    When in reality, constant fearless questioning, rather than this limited mentality of believing we already know certain things and that those things will always be so, is the true spirit of science.
    • Mar 7 2013: Whole Heartedly agree......and add if TED wants to survive they will have to start including more of the same. Thos with "science" ( and yet have no involvement in any of the "sciences" themselves) have very sort memories and are fickle participants. If they don't her what they want to hear they storm out the door. Their limited perspective also makes for limited subject potential and boring repetition........A survey of TED's archives provides all the proof necessary for this pointer.
    • Mar 7 2013: Ignorance is something that every good scientist craves - in the sense of looking for things that were theretofore unknown - because that is where science advances.
      Questioning is never bad, unless it is just gainsaying without evidence. That's what Sheldrake does, and due to his flawed reasoning, he even does that poorly.
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    Mar 8 2013: Well, one day we are going to see a talk on the third gender and the so called ungendered child. It suits the current en vogue agendists for this day and age to begin pushing it, in a few years we will see it but i prefer Sheldrake,atleast he talks of human perception. If in the end some people are extremely sensitive to pheromone out put and can pick up on someone staring at them then yes....That's fine. I can pickup on some woman's scent if one can call it that, where is, no one else can smell anything, it's not every woman but i realized it has to do with normal biological changes that some people go through. It's the most useless gift i was given and it drives me out of the room if a lady is emanating on that day, It has nothing to do with sex as it is a whole body thing, A metallic oldish onion smell that sometimes makes my eye's water.....strange? I'm sure their are people here who can see clearer in the dark than others or can hear a pin drop on a bus or breathe any air where others are fainting.
    • Mar 8 2013: You are right. My son can see slightly into the infrared. It helps to avoid deer on the roadways at night.
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        Mar 9 2013: You're joking right Barry? You're making fun of me? It's all right, no one has ever believed me, not my doctors or family or anyone so, i'm used to it......just in case you're throwing a humorous curve ball. I don't tell anyone any more as it has led to an embarrassing situation where an innocent comment to a wrong person made me leave a job once.
        • Mar 9 2013: No joke. It is very useful at night.
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        Mar 9 2013: Well then, that's a testable trait and one that science can measure, that's far more useful than having a useless sense of smell that only happens once or twice a year. Ah! To have that trait. sigh, Lol
  • Mar 8 2013: Never destroy evidence. I'm not in the least sympathetic to Sheldrake's approach and listening to them just strengthens my negative opinion of his work. TED lectures are not any kind of guarantee that the material is true or 100% accurate. One is being exposed someone's work and ideas. Not all ideas work. Sheldrake is a very clever contrarian but his followers and the results of his "work" have produced what? A career for him, some publishing contracts and not much else. How narrowly he understands science is instructive. It's like being a thinking man's creationist (if that's possible). Leave it up. Ten talks by reasonable experts dealing with each of his "dogmas" would more than make up for whatever damage he has done and that frankly, isn't all that much.
  • Mar 8 2013: I hadn't considered that factor, ma reine! Yes, that could make a difference.
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    Mar 8 2013: Is Dr Sheldrake invited to comment here as part of this discussion?
  • Mar 8 2013: Just one more thing: I am quite curious to see whether there is someone reading these comments who believes, in all honesty, that science has not one dogma worth drawing attention to (science, the human enterprise, not science, the idealized method).

    If that happened, we would have at least one.
    • Mar 8 2013: Science-the-human-enterprise is a human activity and therefore prone to all the foibles of humans. That's not the point, because one may say that about *any* human activity, including those pseudo-scientific "fields" in which Sheldrake peddles his woo.

      Science as a method, however, is designed to put in checks and balances such that, over time, those foibles are found out and corrected. It is a slow and careful process. Much slower than the modern addiction to near-instant gratification typically accepts. That's just too bad. Finding the best possible answer to a question requires meticulous and time-consuming work, and that takes time.

      One characteristic of "dogma" is that which is taken as incontrovertibly true. Ultimately, science simply provides explanations for the phenomena it studies and nothing more. We call the 2nd law of thermodynamics a "law" because no case of its violation has ever been rigorously identified (I'm including statistical thermo here too). Most scientists work on the premise that it is incontrovertible because there is no reason to even suspect that it isn't. They will use this notion as a short form for discussion and communication because to do otherwise would make communication intractably complex.

      And there are some, I'm sure, who would take it as incontrovertible even in the face of compelling evidence to the contrary.

      But most scientists would, in due course, follow the evidence. And, over time, all would join in.
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    Mar 8 2013: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iIyEjh6ef_8&playnext=1&list=PLF2801046CBEDC8E1&feature=results_video

    "Dr. Hameroff's research for 35 years has involved consciousness - how the pinkish gray meat between our ears produces the richness of experiential awareness. A clinical anesthesiologist, Hameroff has studied how anesthetic gas molecules selectively erase consciousness via delicate quantum effects on protein dynamics. Following a longstanding interest in the computational capacity of microtubules inside neurons, Hameroff teamed with the eminent British physicist Sir Roger Penrose to develop a controversial quantum theory of consciousness called orchestrated objective reduction (Orch OR) which connects brain processes to fundamental spacetime geometry. Recently Hameroff has explored the theoretical implications of Orch OR for consciousness to exist independent of the body, distributed in deeper, lower, faster scales in non-local, holographic spacetime, raising possible scientific approaches to the soul and spirituality."
    • Mar 8 2013: Theodore, I have to wonder what you are trying to do with these links.

      Hameroff is one of the principal organizers of the world-renowned consciousness collective in Tuson, Arizona, and his theory has been developed jointly with Roger Penrose (mentor of Stephen Hawking!), a mathematical physicist of impeccable reputation. He only had 10 minutes to present his ideas; in my opinion, several hours would scarcely suffice!
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        Mar 8 2013: Could the same be said of Sheldrake? He had 18 minutes.
        This work is all theoretical also, with very little evidence, like Sheldrakes, correct?
        • Mar 8 2013: Yes, you are correct. I know both Hameroff and Sheldrake personally, and they are both serious scientists and deep thinkers with out of the mainstream views.

          However, Hameroff has not personally gathered empirical data in favor of his unorthodox perspective, though he has studied and marshalled evidence gathered by others.

          Sheldrake has actually done a lot of empirical science on his own, both conventional stuff, and more recently stuff related to his controversial ideas.

          If you dig deeper you will find loads of speculative ideas in TEDx and even TED talks.

          Why is Sheldrake being singled out? Just because there is an anti-psi mafia, which is more active and rabid than any, say, anti-consciousness-as-quantum-gravity mafia that exists...

          This is stupid .. and worse than that...
        • Mar 8 2013: No, unfortunately incorrect. Sheldrake has done his very best to amass experimental evidence for his ideas; dozens of his scientific papers are listed here: http://www.sheldrake.org/Articles&Papers/papers/

          As for Hameroff, he has papers too, though of a more theoretical nature. Like any scientist, he tries to make testable predictions, and gathers all the observational data he can. But in an area where absolutely no one at all can observe the subject of study (consciousness) directly, lack of experimental evidence should not be too surprising. Like in foundational physics, distinguishing between competing theories becomes more a matter of considering the theory's respective contributions to science; their relative elegance in explaining the same experimental facts; and other subtle factors, not direct falsification.

          Notably, however, a team of scientists in Japan has gathered evidence suportive of one of his theory's most essential components: quantum behavior in the microtubles of cells. This is an exciting development, demonstrating that further pursuit of ORCH-OR is important.

          EDIT: oops, looks like Ben and I just posted at the same time. See the amusing contrast. But I agree with everything he said; my only qualm was the wording that the work of these two scientists was "all theoretical" and had no experimental evidence.
        • Mar 8 2013: Have you read Sheldrake's work? It is filled with evidence.
    • Mar 8 2013: It is one thing to propose a speculative idea as such; to point out interesting bits of evidence and how one theory or another can account for that evidence. It is quite another to take highly speculative material, like Sheldrake's woo, and peddle it as if it were outright truth.
      • Mar 8 2013: The fact that you repeatedly describe Sheldrake's woo indicates that you have probably not actually read it and that you are making assumptions about it. It certainly indicates that you have made your mind up to dismiss anything that he says. In spite of that I am taking the trouble to respond. For the benefit of othres who may still have a chink of openness in their minds.
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    Mar 8 2013: Does this talk represent the lack of science? Vieten mentions that it is on the scientific fringe

    Cassandra Vieten at TEDxBlackRockCity
    On Noetic Science
    Visionary: Cassandra Vieten, PhD
    Watch IONS Executive Director of Research Cassandra Vieten, PhD, give her TEDx talk at Black Rock City in the Nevada Desert for Burning Man 2012, where she was working with colleagues on an experiment in collective consciousness. In addition to talking about the experiment they were doing, Cassandra also shares the value of Noetic
    Sciences and why she disagrees with critiques of Noetic Sciences that researchers often encounter. Along with this video of the talk, included below, is a more detailed follow-up phone interview that Cassandra did with one of the TEDx producers.


    Cassandra Vieten, PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist, Director of Research at the Institute of Noetic Sciences, co-director of the Mind-Body Medicine Research Group at California Pacific Medical Center Research Institute, and co-president of the Institute for Spirituality and Psychology.

    Funded by the National Institutes of Health, the State of California, and several private donors and foundations, her research has focused on spirituality and health; development and pilot testing of mindfulness-based approaches to cultivating emotional balance (primarily in the areas of addiction and pregnancy/postpartum well-being); and factors, experiences, and practices involved in psychospiritual transformation to a more meaningful, compassionate, and service-oriented way of life. Her primary interest lies in how psychology, biology, and spirituality interact to affect experience and behavior.

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      Mar 8 2013: I would hate to see this talk singled out for censorship along with Sheldrake's. It's ill-advised to bring too much attention to ideas that CSI or JREF would like to see quashed.
  • Mar 8 2013: There are some serious factual errors in this.
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      Mar 8 2013: There are some serious factual errors in your statement? That's possible, but unless you provide the evidence, you haven't made much of a point.
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    Mar 8 2013: If TED does decide to censor Dr Sheldrake's talk, I hope scientists will boycott the site in protest. It doesn't matter if you agree with him. Do you agree that the ability to freely express new ideas is important to facilitate progress in science?
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    Mar 8 2013: What I understand is that PZ Meyers is a member of a small but vocal fringe group who don't represent the majority of scientists, but who do what they can to try to influence what the public is allowed to see. There is already so much censorship in science these days. I'm not eager to allow any such organization dictate what I can see.

    Give the viewers some credit. Let them make up their own minds.
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    Gail .

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    Mar 7 2013: Continued #4"

    By the way, those who study the matter do not think that gravity is constant. Gravity decreases with altitude and changes with density. Measure the gravity in the same location on each floor of a 100 story building, and you will get 100 different measurements. Gravity on a mountain top is different from at sea level, and at the equator is different from at the poles. The earth’s ever shifting molten core may have further effect, and I agree with his desire to measure it constantly in many places. Why does he laugh at using a constant?

    Granting gravity a constant in spite of known variances allows for conversation. If the gravity for a specific location were an essential part of a scientific experiment, then it would be accounted for in order to honor scientific method. His jeers were unnecessary.

    I found the temporary drop in speed of light fascinating. But scientists have discovered that the speed of light is faster at the outer reaches of the known universe and slower when telescopes are pointed in the opposite direction. On one hand, the “fix” that he laughs at makes great sense because quantum mechanics is showing that “time” is not what we have thought it was. It even allows for instantaneous transference of information (Bell’s Inequality) that bypasses time altogether.

    I would really like TED to have a quantum physicist (who is following research into science of mind) speak about the amazing things we have learned about ourselves and our world.

    This talk was factually incorrect to the point of distorting and destroying the factually correct parts - in the minds of this listener.
    • Mar 7 2013: I think you are confused.

      The big G constant is NOT a measure of gravitational force at a specific point in spacetime, that absolutely varies, tremendously. G is the gravitational constant: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gravitational_constant it is NOT known to vary, it is known to be very difficult to measure precisely - because of measurement error it can only be verified to a certain precision. But here is absolutely ZERO credible evidence that G is variable. If it is variable it is beyond our limit to measure it currently.

      It's fine to TEST such hypotheses (and people have) but it is utterly dishonest and irresponsible to make claims that cannot be supported.

      >> But scientists have discovered that the speed of light is faster at the outer reaches of the known universe and slower when telescopes are pointed in the opposite direction

      The vacuum speed of light? Citation please
    • Mar 7 2013: As far as we know, Bell's inequality does not really allow for the transfer of data instantaneously. Two particles can be linked via non-locality, and measurement in one does affect the other instantaneously. However, the theory goes: since the two particles that are linked are, until they are measured, in a superposition of states and can unpredictably wind up in one or the other state by the act of measurement, one does not transfer any data in the act of measuring one particle. All one sees is: "Yep, this photon ended up right-hand polarized here in our lab when we measured it, so that other one at Alpha Centauri must be left hand polarized." Since one cannot >force< a photon to assume one state or the other, all one gets is a random stream of particles of one flavor or another. No information is passed from one spot to the other.

      Granted, this is all provisional (like all science), but superluminal communication has not yet been demonstrated via quantum entanglement. And, confirmation of quantum entanglement after the fact is always limited by the speed of light.
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    Gail .

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    Mar 7 2013: Continued (#2)

    6. BIOLOGICAL HEREDITY IS MATERIAL: Not having done in-depth study in biology, I can’t comment on what the underlying beliefs in the field are. But I can understand why rats in different parts of the world seem to learn from one another despite the distances. His resonance theory, though ineptly articulated and worded differently than I am used to hearing, is finding its supporters.

    7. MEMORIES ARE STORED IN THE BRAIN: Again, this is sounding more like a theist/atheist discussion in disguise. Because of stunning discoveries in quantum physics, a new field of science that studies consciousness and mind (as opposed to brain) has emerged, and it is pointing to new conclusions. He mentions studies, but should have elaborated. But had he done so, he would have had to change the name of his book.

    8. YOUR MIND IS IN YOUR HEAD: That is exactly what those who study mind are saying ISN’T happening, and quantum mechanics is showing possibilities of how and why the evidence can be seen.

    9. PSYCHIC PHENOMENA ARE IMPOSSIBLE: There have been studies done under strict scientific protocols that prove that psychic phenomena are common, unrecognized, everyday occurrences.

    10. MECHANISTIC MEDICINE IS THE ONLY ONE THAT WORKS WHICH IS WHY GOVERNMENTS ONLY FUND THAT TYPE: Governments fund mechanistic medicine because mechanistic medicine is profitable and holistic medicine is not. (Just like why governments funds wars that are VERY profitable and are now keeping our faltering economy afloat. Peace is free so it won’t pay the bills. Recent studies show that group meditation reduces violence – even in war zones. So why isn’t our government, who studied the studies and agrees with them, not encouraging group meditation? Meditation is like a miracle drug and is free – compared to drugs like blood pressure lowering pills that cost money and help pharmaceudical companies stay profitable to fund politial campaigns.)
    • Mar 7 2013: Every single statement in that post is incorrect.
    • Mar 7 2013: I'm far from an expert but touting Quantum Mechanics like that doesn't render ideas more credible.

      QM can't be applied to everything or every scale. I really don't think it applies to neurons for example.

      Because of the queerness of it, people are often drawn to weird interpretations of QM. But it is still the most precise scientific theory we have at the moment with the most precise calculations and confirmed predictions. QM is also very complicated to grasp and usually (not always, I agree) people talking about it in an informal setting get it wrong. Ask Deepak. ;)
    • Mar 8 2013: TL, I suggest you look at those so called "supporters" and "those who study mind" and see if they don't publish in popular magazines or produce books in pseudo scientific shelves of the book store (you know, where Sheldrick belongs). If anything, modern neuroscience seems to be going the other way. It has been piling up evidence for materialism for over 100 years with out more than an occasional hiccup.
  • Mar 7 2013: Re: " if the ideas contained in it are wrong to the point of being unscientific, and that includes misrepresenting the scientific process itself."

    I will be amused but not surprised if TED removes this talk.

    Who pray tell ..wether trained by identified by accepted Institutions and therefore called a 'Scientist' has the right to be called the only authority of Science / Consciousness / the nature of Nature ..be it HUman or otherwise ???

    Whatever the decision / remove / do not remove / you will only be further defining who and what TED is..nothing more nothing less.....or in the terms Sheldrake used ..."Intellectual Phase-Locking" - TED-style
    • Mar 7 2013: It's not about the authority or reasoning of the person, but about the authority of the evidence and the validity of the reasoning. The evidence is overwhelmingly against Sheldrake, and the reasoning he uses is seriously flawed.
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    Mar 7 2013: I would agree that measurements of "constants" should be supplied regularly to the public and scientific community. Showing some sort of pattern in data could support his theories about fluctuations in speed of light and big "G". Using modern technology to measure constants could not only improve accuracy of the data but also improve the technology to measure it as well. Sampling constants more frequently then every ten years could also help young scientists discover new details and innovations through the research, too.
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    Mar 9 2013: I would tell them to submit their applications and we will get back to them. That the role of a TEDx curator
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    Mar 9 2013: Hi all --

    After extending this conversation for an additional day, I'm just sending a quick reminder that it'll close in about 5 hours.

    And to say an early THANK YOU -- this has been a truly fascinating conversation to be part of. I've read every word and so have some of my coworkers. We won't be able to make a decision that pleases every single flavor of opinion on this thread, but: You have been heard.

    And in fact, the quality of this conversation has inspired some of my coworkers to think about an interesting new project for TED.com (stay tuned...).

    Until the clock runs out, please keep chiming in -- especially if you have a new twist to consider, like reine de violettes' fascinating opinion on American communication methods earlier today: http://www.ted.com/conversations/16894/rupert_sheldrake_s_tedx_talk.html?c=618581
    • Mar 9 2013: Hi Emily, I hope that when you and your colleagues are making your decision that you will remember that this "truly fascinating conversation" would not have happened without the Rupert Sheldrake video. If he were just some quack or scam artist I doubt that this conversation would have been interesting at all. I think TED and science will ultimately benefit from this type of content.
    • Mar 9 2013: I agree with Toby. Rupert Sheldrake has introduced a whole new community of people to Science who thought previously science was made up of stuffy nosed know it all ego's, that simply understood more than the "common man" did and revelled in making that point to win their argument.

      The comments in here from the anti-Sheldrake brigade only further prove how right he was. So many assumptions and proclamations about Sheldrake's work, yet not the first shred of evidence to back up their claims about Sheldrake. It is basically character assassination to try and silence the heretic.

      This quote which basically explains the history of science, says it all:

      "All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident." - Arthur Schopenhauer

      It's sad that we have so many of the Anti-Sheldrake brigade stuck in the First and Second stage... holding back humanity and real science... just like so many of their ancestors did 100s of years before them.
      • Mar 9 2013: Sure, it's a cute quote. But you're forgetting that nonsense also goes through the first two stages. Sometimes it even makes it to the third stage before being booted back down to stage one.

        Being opposed doesn't mean an idea is right.
        In most cases, it means the bulk of the evidence shows that some other idea is better.
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      Mar 9 2013: I agree with Toby. No one would have shown up to defend a scam artist or some quack. I never comment on these talks, even though I do watch them. But in this case I made an exception because I think this kind of material is worth considering.
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      Mar 9 2013: If TED were to decide to pull this talk from the TEDx YouTube page, who has the rights to the talk?
      This talk is currently posted at Sheldrakes website also.
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    Mar 8 2013: Emily, The public comments quickly turn into ad hominems with some sprinkled facts. I am not smart enough to debate the facts of the topic ... so please allow me to put it in my own way.

    I learn and grow through TED discussions: I only knew and accepted what the schools taught me about Lincoln. In a TED conversation posted by Pat Gilbert ... I questioned what I had been taught. I opened my mind and did my own research and found that there were other facts about Lincoln that I had not been exposed to. There were things occuring that I had never associated with the Civil War decision making. This did not make me love or hate Lincoln. It did make me more aware and even more appreciative.

    In the same fashion I knew little of economics ... or the models Keynesian .. or .. Austrian. I developed a better understanding because a TED conversation made me go to the books and arrive at a informed decision based on MY research after hearing other arguments and evaluating them.

    Mr Sheldrake's talk gave me a message. In the first minute he said my book .. title .. and in the USA is called .. title ... and then proceded to tell me why I should buy it.

    I will probally check on the speed of light changes and the variances of big "G". But doubt if I will buy the book.

    In short ... If TED does not consider this an IDEA WORTH SPEADING then TED should not host it. To be honest the main idea here was to sell the book. TED is not a literary agent .... is it?

    Thanks for listening and thanks for the opportunity to provide input. Bob.
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      Mar 8 2013: So all authors should be taken off the list of potential TED talks then? Seriously?

      Should TED be given the responsibility to decide for us which ideas are "worth spreading"? Or is it a forum for an interesting exchange of ideas? You were capable of making up your own mind about this talk. Let others have the same privilege. The fact is, this talk has sparked some interesting discussions. That in and of itself suggests there is some value to it.
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        Mar 8 2013: I expressed a opinion ... mine. You made an assumption ... yours.

        What I took away was not what you saw. As you say there was some interesting discussions but there was, IMO, more people attacks and name calling ... a turn off and non productive.

        The site is called TED and that IMO gives them the option to sponsor a talk on THEIR site or not. If a site called SANDY appears I will give that site the same support.

        Thank you for your reply. I wish you well. Bob.

        There is value to everything ... even a stopped clock is right twice a day.
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          Mar 8 2013: I'm glad you had the freedom to express your opinion on the TED site. It would be nice to give Sheldrake the same privilege, otherwise there will be no conversations. There will only be a single POV... a dogma.
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    Mar 7 2013: Science is based on assumptions that is why what was once true can always be proven wrong. You know what assuming does right?
    • Mar 8 2013: Yeah, I know what "assuming does." It lets me get a working hypothesis that I can then test and try to falsify thereby allowing me to find a better direction for my subsequent working hypotheses, which eventually lead to truth.
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        Mar 8 2013: or it makes an ass-u-me

        also starting with the answer is never the best way to prove your answer
        • Mar 8 2013: That's only true if one takes the assumption as necessarily true.
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        Mar 8 2013: I thought you said it lead to "which eventually lead to truth"

        did you say fact was definitively true
        • Mar 8 2013: An assumption can be used to start a line of investigation. I didn't say anything about the assumption remaining in place by the time the truth is discovered. It may or may not, depending on how the line of investigation turns out.
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        Mar 9 2013: Whether found to be convention or not its still an assumption
        • Mar 9 2013: Now you're on about conventions? Are you moving the goal posts?
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        Mar 9 2013: I dont know what you mean by goal post.

        I am saying is that facts are conventions. You said that a fact is indisputable. then you say "An assumption can be used to start a line of investigation. I didn't say anything about the assumption remaining in place by the time the truth is discovered. It may or may not, depending on how the line of investigation turns out."
        then you said " That's only true if one takes the assumption as necessarily true" which is what you said fact or conventions are indisputable

        I feel like you are just talking in circles.... I am sorry if that is the wrong assumption

        • Mar 9 2013: No; facts are not conventions. Please look these words up. The nature of "fact" was discussed a long time ago on this forum.

          Also, yes, making an "ass out of u and me" happens when an assumption is taken as incontrovertible, because assumptions are NOT incontrovertible and it is an error in reasoning to think otherwise. A fact is not an assumption; nor is it a convention.

          A convention is fact by fiat, which is an *entirely* different situation.

          What is so hard about this? These are very simple concepts and terms.

          Moving the goal posts is a rhetorical tactic used by some to distract from the issue of the discussion. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moving_the_goalposts.
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    Gail .

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    Mar 7 2013: Continued #3

    My biggest problem with this talk occurs when he speaks of the “dogmas” or “default worldview among most educated people. I would like to know what he means by the word “most”. Is it 99%? 88%? 56%? Is he talking about biologists who give speeches that refer to quantum mechanics? Is he speaking of educated people who are not keeping up with all of the astounding discoveries that are changing our understanding of how reality works and who and WHAT a human is within our realities. Then he should say so.

    So my take on this is that it is inept in form but not in substance (except for the “nature is purposeless” dogma). Rather than attack, he could easily have explained some of the amazing things that are happening that have changed the world in the minds of those who follow them.
    • Mar 8 2013: You are right TL. He speculated widely but explained nothing. I think, though, that this approach was deliberate. He raised, in a skeptical tone, 10 issues, any one of which he could have addressed more specifically, but instead, he skimmed through his analysis. He's casting about for an audience to buy his book, methinks.
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    Gail .

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    Mar 7 2013: Post 1:

    As to Sheldrake’s “Dogmas” that appear (feels like) a theory that he wants to support creationism, I have the following to say:

    1. MECHANICAL UNIVERSE: Einstein and some of his buddies strongly believed this. Einstein also thought that if he was wrong about that, his entire theory must be thrown out. But it is becoming obvious that reality is more organic. Bell’s Inequality shows that there is no inherent DNA (predictability of outcomes) in quantum particles. Information transmits without regard to the speed of light. The universe is not mechanical in the way he thought. Reality is most likely a system of probabilities.

    2. MATTER IS UNCONSCIOUS: Within the system of probabilities, matter is increasingly seen as being required to be conscious, and there are many, if not most Q physicists who already accept the sentience (to some degree) of atoms. There is plenty of evidence in quantum mechanics to support this. It has been known since the 1970s that plants are sentient.

    3. LAWS OF NATURE ARE FIXED – MATHEMATICAL: He doesn’t appear to understand what a “law” of nature is. Evolution appears to be a “law of nature” – even when it pertains to consciousness. This does not detract from the seeming mathematical underlying nature of reality.

    4. TOTAL AMOUNT OF MATTER AND ENERGY IS ALWAYS THE SAME: I don’t understand what he is getting at in saying this. Need more information, but this is one of those “Dogmas” that he didn’t have time to explain.

    5. NATURE IS PURPOSELESS: Such a statement is not within the purview of science. It is certainly within the purview of religion/philosophy and it sounds like something a theist would say about an atheist, or an anti-theist would say to a theist in sport. It’s not something I have heard in scientific circles. Science doesn’t look at ultimate purpose. It can’t. It’s not possible.
    • Mar 7 2013: >> Bell’s Inequality shows that there is no inherent DNA (predictability of outcomes) in quantum particles. Information transmits without regard to the speed of light

      Bell's inequality (which hasn't been 100% confirmed) would imply local realism is wrong, not that information can be transmitted faster than light.

      etc etc
    • Mar 8 2013: "Science doesn’t look at ultimate purpose. It can’t. It’s not possible."

      So, if, in the future, someone somehow determines that nature does in fact have a purpose, then science becomes irrelevant?
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    Mar 7 2013: For some reason, only the first four minutes would play in my browser.

    To some degree, the context of a talk is important and the theme of the event. For example, were there also talks at the same event by academic scientists specializing in the areas of science he used as cases for his complaint? A biochemist, for example, would not have the expertise of a professional physicist in matters of physics and not be as well equipped to represent the theories and methods of disciplines of science outside of his particular training.

    Misconceptions when a person talks outside his field of training are common, in science as well as in other fields. So having experts around to clarify or offer counterpoints is valuable.

    But, then, I felt something like this to hear Colin Powell in his TED talk recommend pedagogy that goes entirely contrary to what research in education suggests are best practices. He could certainly present what he believes based on the anecdotes of his experience, but his conclusions could not have the vaildity of a scholarly approach to the same question.