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Emily McManus

Editor, TED.com, TED


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Rupert Sheldrake's TEDx talk: Detailing the issues

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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    Gail . 50+

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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.

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