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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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    Apr 2 2013: It's been 95 years since the publication of "Occult Chemistry" by Annie Besant and C.W. Leadbeater. Maybe it's time for a sequel: "Occult Biology".

    Occult Chemistry
    • Apr 2 2013: What do you make out of this? Do you think Sheldrake is looking into a crystal ball to get his experimental data?
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        Apr 2 2013: I honestly don't know. Maybe it's divine inspiration, but then maybe not.
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        Apr 2 2013: "'Well,' he says, 'I still say the Lord's Prayer every day. It covers a lot of ground in our relation to the world. 'Thy will be done', that sense that we are part of a larger process that is unfolding that we do not comprehend.'"
        • Apr 2 2013: I believe the common translation is rather bad.

          What about this poetic variation:

          O Cosmic Birther of all radiance and vibration!
          Soften the ground of our being
          and carve us a space within us
          where Your Presence can abide.

          Fill us with Your creativity
          so that we may be empowered
          to bear the fruit of Your mission.

          Let each of our actions bear fruit
          in accordance with our desire.

          Endow us with the wisdom to produce and share
          what each being needs to grow and flourish.

          Untie the tangled threads of destiny that bind us,
          As we release others from the entanglement of past mistakes.

          Do not let us be seduced by that which would divert us from our true Purpose,
          But illuminate the opportunities of the present moment.

          For You are the ground and the fruitful vision,
          the birth-power and fulfillment,
          as all is gathered and made whole once again.

          Or this one (only from the first line):
          1. Our Birth in Unity

          Abwoon d'bwashmaya

          (King James V version: Our Father which art in heaven)

          O Birther! Father-Mother of the Cosmos,
          you create all that moves
          in light.

          O Thou! The Breathing Life of all,
          Creator of the Shimmering Sound that
          touches us.

          Respiration of all worlds,
          we hear you breathing--in and out--
          in silence.

          Source of Sound: in the roar and the whisper,
          in the breeze and the whirlwind, we
          hear your Name.

          Radiant One: You shine within us,
          outside us--even darkness shines--when
          we remember.

          Name of names, our small identity
          unravels in you, you give it back
          as a lesson.

          Wordless Action, Silent Potency--
          where ears and eyes awaken, there
          heaven comes.

          O Birther! Father-Mother of the Cosmos!
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        Apr 2 2013: Nice.
    • Apr 2 2013: ": It's been 95 years since the publication of "Occult Chemistry" by Annie Besant and C.W. Leadbeater. Maybe it's time for a sequel: "Occult Biology".

      Occult Chemistry

      More straw men and appeal to ridicule. Use of such fallacies is not intellectually honest.
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        Apr 2 2013: Straw men? Appeal to ridicule? This is a classic work on psychic phenomena, almost certainly regarded today the way that Sheldrake's will be in another century.
        • Apr 2 2013: More appeal to ridicule.

          That is not based on scientific experimental evidence. Sheldrake's work is. You have not read it, you have not read the clarification of mis-perceptions. You merely spread sophist noise, imagining yourself to be especially clever.

          Chris Carter, in the item I linked to above, noted another denialist tendency in such issues:

          "I’d like to read something from my book here where I briefly discuss that. It’s in Chapter 1 and I say, “The deniers and debunkers tend to be militant Atheists who are motivated by allegiance to an obsolete worldview by ignorance of the implications of the new physics and by a hatred of religion and superstition. If they admitted to the reality of psychic abilities such as telepathy and of the near-death experience as involving a genuine separation of mind from body, then the materialistic foundation of their worldview would crumble. The deniers fear that the demise of materialism would usher in a return of an age of religious persecution and irrationality.

          This fear is evident in the apocalyptic strain of some of the Committee (Committee for Scientific Investigation) writing. For instance, the announcement of the founding of the Committee for Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal stated, ‘Perhaps we ought not to assume that the scientific enlightenment will continue indefinitely. Like the Hellenic civilization, it may be overwhelmed by irrationalism, subjectivism, and obscurantism.’” ...
        • Apr 2 2013: "... Then I go on to say, “But these fears seem to be absolutely groundless. As mentioned above, surveys show that most scientists accept the likely existence of psychic abilities. Among the general public, belief in the reality of psi phenomena is widespread. But polls have also shown that over 90% of the public regard scientists as having considerable or even very great prestige and many of the leading near-death experience researchers are respected cardiologists and neuroscientists. And so I conclude society is unlikely to return to the Dark Ages because of widespread interest in psychic phenomena and in the near-death experience.”
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          Apr 2 2013: How many of Sheldrakes revent books have you read?
        • Apr 2 2013: "And so I conclude society is unlikely to return to the Dark Ages because of widespread interest in psychic phenomena and in the near-death experience.”

          Well, that's hopeful.
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          Apr 2 2013: I've not heard of this book before - thanks to John Hoopes. Looks like a very informative source, no doubt highly relevant.

          While I'm at it, I'd extend collegial welcome with distinction - to a well-respected disciplinary specialist, joining discussion (in progress).

          I for one, have learned a great deal from Prof Hoopes, about 2012ism, the McKenna allure or charismatic influence (or whatever) etc.. As a 'vibrant' yet little-studied movement in our milieu - I think 'neo-psychedelia' (my term) is vital context for any perceptive, genuinely informed understanding of this little tempest.

          There's been hardly any critical research on McKenna and his inspired following (a fairly exclusive one), as a function and presence in our milieu's subcultural underbelly. Almost no critical questions about its social, political, ideological etc significance have been researched, -- or even realized to pose. It seems to me a major gap - a mile-wide empty space - prevails so far, between what's systematically known, understood - and what there is to know.

          Given Sheldrake's shout-out to the McKenna-minded choir or movement - such questions strike me as profoundly critical for clear understanding of core issues, inherent to the 'somethin' happenin' here' ('what it is ain't exactly clear ...').
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        Apr 2 2013: Thanks, Brian. I'm glad to see your participation in this vigorous and informative debate. You also bring a lot of relevant expertise to the table, along with a refreshingly light style!
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          Apr 2 2013: Thanks John!

          That's a humbling compliment from one such as yourself - with unique depth of knowledge and specialized understanding (AKA the Right Stuff). As I'm well aware. I'm obliged as well as delighted now, you've weighed in.

          Under really dark conditions, all it takes is a candle - to shed a whole lotta light. And it enables all to see (if they want to); not just the candle bearer. Kudos and grats.
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        Apr 2 2013: By the way, if you don't know this other book by Besant and Leadbeater, you should:

        Thought Forms

        The science isn't so hot, but it may well have sparked Abstract Expressionism.
    • Apr 2 2013: John - see this response to misconceptions about Sheldrake. It clarifies much in this conversation: http://www.ted.com/conversations/17189/the_debate_about_rupert_sheldr.html?c=640514

      In response to the above, I have read "Morphic Resonance" and parts of "Science Set Free", and listened to many of his talks.
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        Apr 2 2013: Thanks. I won't forget "militant immaterialism."

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