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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:

http://blog.ted.com/2013/03/19/the-debate-about-rupert-sheldrakes-talk/

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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 22 2013: According to this hypothesis, everything in nature has a kind of collective memory. Resonance occurs on the basis of similarity. As a young giraffe embryo grows in its mother's womb, it tunes in to the morphic resonance of previous giraffes. It draws on that collective memory, it grows like a giraffe, and it behaves like a giraffe, because it's drawing on this collective memory. It has to have the right genes to make the right proteins, but genes, in my view, are grossly overrated. They only account for the proteins that the organism can make, not the shape or the form or the behavior.

    Every species has a kind of collective memory. Even crystals do. This theory predicts that if you make a new kind of crystal for the first time, the very first time you make it, it won't have an existing habit, but once it crystallizes, then the next time you make it, there'll be an influence from the first crystals to the second ones all over the world by morphic resonance. It'll crystallize a bit easier. The third time, there'll be an influence from the first and second crystals. There is in fact, good evidence that new compounds get easier to crystallize all around the world just as this theory would predict.

    It also predicts that if you train animals to learn a new trick, for example, rats learn a new trick in London, then all around the world, rats of the same breed should learn the same trick quicker just because the rats have learned it here. And surprisingly, there's already evidence that this actually happens.

    Anyway, that's my own hypothesis in a nutshell about morphic resonance; everything depends on evolving habits, not on fixed laws. But I want to spend a few moments on the constants of nature too, because these are again, usually assumed to be constant. Things like the gravitational constant, the speed of light are called the 'fundamental constants'. Are they really constant?

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