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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: I'm going to take first the idea that the laws of nature are fixed. This is a hangover from an older worldview before the 1960s when the Big Bang theory came in, people thought that the whole universe was eternal, governed by eternal mathematical laws. When the Big Bang came in, then that assumption continued, even though the Big Bang revealed a universe that's radically evolutionary, about 14 billion years old, growing and developing and evolving for 14 billion years, growing and cooling and more structures and patterns appear within it. But the idea is all the laws of nature were completely fixed at the moment of the Big Bang like a cosmic Napoleonic code. As my friend Terence McKenna used to say, modern science is based on the principle: 'give us one free miracle and we'll explain the rest'. And the one free miracle is the appearance of all the matter and energy in the universe, and all the laws that govern it, from nothing, in a single instant.

    Well, in an evolutionary universe, why shouldn't the laws themselves evolve? After all, human laws do, and the idea of laws of nature is based on a metaphor with human laws. It's a very anthropocentric metaphor. Only humans have laws; in fact, only civilized societies have laws. As C.S. Lewis once said, to say that a stone falls to earth because it's obeying a law makes it a man, and even a citizen. It's a metaphor that we got so used to, we forget it's a metaphor. In an evolving universe, I think a much better idea is the idea of habits. I think the habits of nature evolve, the regularities of nature are essentially habitual. This was an idea put forward at the beginning of the 20th century by the American philosopher C.S. Peirce. And it's an idea which various other philosophers have entertained and it's one which I myself have developed into a scientific hypothesis, the hypothesis of morphic resonance, which is the basis of these evolving habits.

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