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The debate about Rupert Sheldrake's talk

Please use this space to comment on the debate around Rupert Sheldrake's TEDx talk, as described here:



Closing Statement from TED

Thanks to all who participated in this conversation on TED's decision to move Rupert Sheldrake's talk from YouTube to TED.com. It was scheduled as a 2-week conversation, and has now closed. But the archive will remain visible here.

We'd like to respond here to some of the questions raised in the course of the discussion.

Some asked whether this was "censorship." Now, it's pretty clear that it isn't censorship, since the talk itself is literally a click away on this very site, and easily findable on Google. But it raises an interesting question about curation. Should TED play *any* curatorial role in the content it allows its TEDx organizers to promote? We believe we should. And once you accept a role for curatorial limits, you have to accept there will be times when disputes arise.

A number of questions were raised about TED's science board: How it works and why the member list isn't public. Our science board has 5 members -- all working scientists or distinguished science journalists. When we encounter a scientific talk that raises questions, they advise us on their position. I and my team here at TED make the final decisions. We keep the names of the science board private. This is a common practice for science review boards in the academic world, which preserves the objectivity of the recommendations and also protects the participants from retribution or harassment.

Finally, let me say that TED is 100% committed to open enquiry, including challenges to orthodox thinking. But we're also firm believers in appropriate skepticism, or critical thinking. Those two instincts will sometimes conflict, as they did in this case. That's why we invited this debate. The process hasn't been perfect. But it has been undertaken in passionate pursuit of these core values.

The talk, and this conversation, will remain here, and all are invited to make their own reasoned judgement.

Thanks for listening.

Chris Anderson, TED Curator

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    Mar 20 2013: PART THREE

    This kind of very highly developed (“highly mature,” as experts in adult development would say) postformal cognitive intelligence brings forth a different, much broader and complex view of science, and it challenges the clichés that predominate in the formal operational constructions of science by transcending and including their essential elements in a more integral, holistic, comprehensive view. This view itself evolves through time and produces increasingly complex and abundantly mature philosophies, epistemologies, and scientific paradigms (i.e. practices).

    Thus, we have to see that, first and foremost, the question is not whether Rupert Sheldrake crosses the line of science (which science?). The question is that we have to become more aware of both the postformal philosophies of science and the postformal psychologies of scientists themselves (and here is where Rupert Sheldrake as a philosopher and social criticist of science acts spectacularly).

    Sheldrake is not the only one who in the second decade of the 21st century decides to move on and address some of the dogmas of science. Another brilliant thinker Thomas Nagel has authored a book which he named “Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False” (Oxford University Press). He advances a variation of panpsychism (the idea that consciousness is inherent to the universe), and, of course, the proponents of formal operational science are outraged.

    I think the idea that science is a highly complex endeavor that involves both the objects of scientific inquiries and the subjects that do the inquiry, with the latter being prone to various epistemological prejudices and biases, is an idea worth spreading and investigating.

    Eugene Pustoshkin

    Specialist in clinical psychology (a graduate of St. Petersburg State University, Russia)

    Bureau Chief / Associate Editor for Russia at Integral Leadership Review http://integralleadershipreview.com
    • Mar 20 2013: Thank you Eugene.
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      Mar 20 2013: Very well argued Eugene. In fact, it's so well said I need to do a bit of reading to fully comprehend you. I can, for example, guess what formal-operational thinking is but I'd rather have an explicit definition. Your references should serve that purpose. Thanks.
      • Mar 20 2013: Sabastian you can start with Wilber's work. Eugene is brilliant and has translated quite a bit of Wiber's work into Russian. A Brief History of Everything is a good place to start, it's where I began.
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        Mar 20 2013: Thank you, Sebastian! Formal operational cognition is a classical stage researched by Jean Piaget, one of the most famous developmental psychologists of 20th century.

        You can read some introductory information here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piaget's_theory_of_cognitive_development#Formal_operational_stage Note that Piaget studies the development of children, while there is a field of adult developmental psychology which found that humans can continue psychological development in adulthood into what is called postformal stages (because they come after formop or formal operations). Various researchers call these stages differently (dialectical thinking, network-logic, vision-logic, etc.).

        One of the best sources on the overall adult development theory, in my opinion, can be found in the works of Susanne Cook-Greuter (she’s done her doctorate research at Harvard). Google her official website, much of her work can be downloaded there.
    • Mar 20 2013: Bringing development into this discussion is a vital move. I have not read in these ongoing debates about an acknowledgement of adult development. Stages of development as a model shows that how we interpret a person, or an idea comes from a certain level or “holarchy” as it is referred to in Integral theory(see Ken Wilber). Pustoshkin is pointing out that Sheldrake is not throwing traditionalist science out and replacing it with his own brand of science. No, Sheldrake is showing/telling us a challenging view on the areas in which the realm of science effects everyday, rote understanding of our world. That in which we take “for granted.”

      The adage, “You can prove anything with facts” should be taken seriously. This is clearly shown to be true by the TEDx and TED authorities, and their followers. However, if facts are testable and measurable then isn’t it in the best interest of humanity to review that evidence? What kind of research has Sheldrake done? Clearly, if one were to look into what Sheldrake has done there would be evidence of scientific research. It is the glory of empirical data!

      Sheldrake should be added to the pantheon of scientific theory and theorists.

      Thanks again Eugene!

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        Mar 20 2013: Thank you, Scott!

        Incidentally, a colleague sent me a reference to a recent article published in peer-reviewed Journal of Consciousness Studies which seems to support Sheldrake’s questioning regarding consciousness being merely a byproduct of the material substrate of the brain:

        Non-local Consciousness A Concept Based on Scientific Research on Near-Death Experiences During Cardiac Arrest

        Pim van Lommel

        Journal of Consciousness Studies. Jan/Feb2013, Vol. 20 Issue 1/2, p7-48. 42p.


        “In this article a concept of non-local consciousness will be described, based on recent scientific research on near-death experiences (NDEs). Since the publication ofseveral prospective studies on NDEs in survivors of cardiac arrest, with strikingly similar results and conclusions, the phenomenon of the NDE can no longer be scientifically ignored. In the last thirty years several theories have been proposed to explain an NDE. The challenge to find a common explanation for the cause and content of an NDE is complicated by the fact that an NDE can be experienced during various circumstances, such as severe injury of the brain as in cardiac arrest to conditions when the brain seems to function normally. The NDE is an authentic experience which cannot be simply reduced to imagination, fear of death, hallucination, psychosis, the use of drugs, or oxygen deficiency. Patients appear to be permanently changed by an NDE during a cardiac arrest of only some minutes duration. According to these aforementioned studies, the current materialistic view of the relationship between consciousness and the brain as held by most physicians, philosophers, and psychologists is too restricted for a proper understanding of this phenomenon. There are good reasons to assume that our consciousness does not always coincide with the functioning of our brain: enhanced or non-local consciousness can sometimes be experienced separately from the body.”
        • Mar 21 2013: Pim van Lommel came to one conclusion and one conclusion only, that there seemed to be consciousness from patients who showed no brain activity on equipment that was monitoring the patient.

          That is all. Of course you can speculate that perhaps consciousness is not localized in the brain, just as you can speculate that perhaps the instruments do not monitor all brain activity (activity known to us yet to be discovered)

          Of course NDA can not be ignored. Why would it. But that does not mean the possible explanations are facts.
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      Mar 21 2013: Thanks Eugene
      I appreciate your well reasoned framings of the TEDx Sheldrake discussion within an Integral context.

      As I've read the stream of postings since TED's first intervention, I have been struck with what a perfect Case History (for studying paradigm shifts) has been created. Such a Case Study has the data here to examine through an integrating lens:
      1. the inteded focus(?) of the discussion
      2. the TED comments
      3. the TED actions
      4. the TED curatorial policies and practices
      5. the subscriber comments, belief systems, worldviews +++
      6. Sheldrake's talk, comments, philosophy

      It seems to me there is massive confusion because of the (mostly undifferentiated) mixture of :

      Ontologies: (subjective, intersubjective, objective, interobjective)
      Epistemologies: (subjective, intersubjective, objective, interobjective)
      Scales: individuals, organizations, collectives, cultures
      Developmental Psychologies: subject/object maturities
      Levels of discourse development: modern, post-modern, post-post modern
      Value systems: systematic, strategic, social, systemic (not to mention espoused and lived)
      Worldviews: ego, ethno, eco, global
      Typologies: as filtering mechanisms for what is noticed
      Change States: calm, agitated, defiant, blocked +++

      With such a mixture of Intentions, Actions, Cultures, Systems and an explosion of energy from all involved we have a perfect storm of dissonance AND a spectrum of perspectives - each offering a partial view of reality.

      It is for this reason that I support Eugene's suggestion that we consider Kegan's & Wilber's approaches to understanding the qualities of our messengers, and the substance of our messages and Beck's approach to emerging coherence from the Tower of Babel we have constructed before our very eyes. With an Integral Methodology to curate the discussion, perhaps, we could recover the dignities and let go of the disasters in our meme war? Now those ideas would be worth spreading imho.

      Marilyn Hamilton PhD, CGA, CSP
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        Mar 21 2013: Thank you, Marilyn!

        You provide a great framework for considering all the numerous perspectives that are involved in the panoramic picture of these events.

        This is important in order to be able to differentiate various undercurrents and make informed decisions regarding our interpretations and further actions in this and most other cases.
      • Mar 21 2013: TED did this with other speakers they removed. But for some reason with mr Hancock and mr Sheldrake they don't.

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