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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: What I do in my book, The Science Delusion, which is called Science Set Free in the United States, is take the ten dogmas or assumptions of science and turn them into questions, seeing how well they stand up if you look at them scientifically. None of them stand up very well. What I'm going to do is first run through what these ten dogmas are, and then I'll only have time to discuss one or two of them in a bit more detail, but essentially the ten dogmas which are the default worldview of most educated people all over the world are -

    First, that nature is mechanical or machine-like. The universe is like a machine, animals and plants are like machines, we're like machines. In fact, we are machines, we're "lumbering robots" in Richard Dawkins' vivid phrase, with brains that are genetically-programmed computers.

    Second, matter is unconscious, the whole universe is made up of unconscious matter. There's no consciousness in stars, in galaxies, in planets, in animals, in plants, and there ought not be any in us either if this theory is true, so a lot of the philosophy of mind over the last hundred years has been trying to prove that we're not really conscious at all. So, matter's unconscious.

    Then, the laws of nature are fixed. This is dogma three. The laws of nature are the same now as they were at the time of the Big Bang and they'll be the same forever. Not just the laws but the constants of nature are fixed, which is why they're called constants.

    Dogma four: the total amount of matter and energy is always the same. It never changes in total quantity except at the moment of the Big Bang when it all sprang into existence from nowhere in a single instant.

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