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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 27 2013: You know science is great, it can take a tree apart and tell you exactly how it works!
    It just can't put it back together as a tree. Nor can it tell you how to enjoy the shade of that tree on a bright, sunny day!
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      Mar 27 2013: how do you know that the shadow of a tree can be enjoyed on a sunny day?

      (emphasis on how. not if you are sure. it is a little mental exercise.)
      • Mar 27 2013: Are you saying that the "how" I enjoy it is simply a mechanistic response of my physical nature? Or are you suggesting that the process in my brain/ mind is also mechanistic in nature and only interpreted as enjoyment because of specific training/cultural refinement?

        Memory of past experience and logic suggest that future like endeavours will be at least equally as enjoyable.
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          Mar 27 2013: no, my question was aimed at how do you know it, in advance? or in general? i understand how do you know if you are under a tree, and feel it. but i suspect that you are in a room, and if it is on the northern hemisphere, and far from the equator, you are not in position to sit under trees comfortable these days.

          yet you know that this is a good way of spending some time. where does this knowledge come from?
        • Mar 27 2013: Not from science, that's for sure. Unless cats also do science.
        • Mar 28 2013: Steve's point about cats doing science is a stroke of genius. Combined with what Noah said about induction - does this mean cats do inductive reasoning?
      • Mar 27 2013: Because I've experienced it regularly, since childhood. What kind of a question is this? Do you not sit in the shade of trees where you're from?
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          Mar 27 2013: so you inferred a rule of nature using observation. you discovered that there is a connection between shadow and some feelings.

          this is science. other definitions like reproducible experiments and such are just overcomplications. science is the conscious mental process of looking at the world, and discover patterns.

          so in fact science told you how to enjoy your time under the tree. it is rather rudimentary, the evidence is poor, the method is weak, but it is still science.
      • Mar 27 2013: Krisztian, I don't think randompHactor was speaking about that level of science. You're just playing with words. There are many words that could be used to describe the way we learn about the world through direct experience of it, and I don't think science is high on many people's lists. That's your preference only.
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          Mar 27 2013: there is only one science, and it is what i explained. we all use it every day, thousands of times. just we don't realize.
        • Mar 28 2013: I don't seem able to reply to Krisztian,Lewis, so I'm popping on here to do so! Apologies!

          I just wanted to say that that definition of science is so loose and broad as to almost meaningless. Learning how to be potty trained becomes science within those guidelines. Indeed any learned activity does. A baby becomes he ultimate scientist. The effect is render the concept of science completely unexceptional.

          Further, science is an abstract noun. It has no volition. It doesn't 'do' anything for people independent of those people. Until the Scientific Method was developed, it was a term used to describe something we do.
      • Mar 27 2013: Science is just a concept, or a model. You can't tell people that they are using it or not and be right in any really universal sense. That's just, like, your opinion, man. Not everyone thinks about what they're doing in the way you do.
        • Mar 27 2013: It appears Krisztián is alluding to induction in general, not science per se. I agree that all knowledge may in fact be inductive, but I'm really not sure why it's necessary to belabor this point.
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      Mar 27 2013: let's be very literal:

      - Science cannot take a tree apart, it is a human that can do that
      - After long research we know better and better how a tree works. (after a lot of experiments)
      - We don't know exactly how a tree works, but we know a great deal about how it works, and we know how it does not work
      - We know how to grow trees, and what we destroy when taking trees apart. We know that if we carefully take a tree apart that we can put it back together and it will heal and be as a tree again. we know how to use the seeds to plant them and grow new trees, while the previous one is grained and put on the soil as support for the new tree (that grows mostly by amassing carbon from the air)
      - we do know how shadow is formed
      - we know quite a lot but not everything about humans
      - we know, by observation and query and maybe even brain-scans that people tend to enjoy leisure time in the sun.
      - we know something about our reward systems in our brain (dopamine, region of activity...)

      - we can advise people on how they should sit or lay down in the shade in order to get better chance of enjoyment.
      - we know that individual preferences and lack of measurement and too many unknown variables cause us to be agnostic about how a specific individual will enjoy the shade of a certain tree on a given day with given brightness

      - We can lie in the shade of a tree on a bright sunny day, pondering all of the above, and getting more (or less) enjoyment out of it as someone who is completely oblivious to all that knowledge.


      I really don't understand what you meant to say
      but don't blame science when you dream away
      under a tree on a bright sunny, lazy day
      • Mar 27 2013: Exactly what I said!
        Thanks!
      • Mar 28 2013: We may know much about how the tree works from science, but is it all about work? Work is only half of life, so let's play! Let's sing for the tree, hug the tree, dance around and around the tree... come on, come on, come on is such a joy, come on is make it easy, come on is take it easy, take it eaaaaaasy!!!

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