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The debate about Graham Hancock's talk

Please use this space to comment on the debate around Graham Hancock's TEDx talk, as described here:

http://blog.ted.com/2013/03/19/the-debate-about-graham-hancocks-talk/

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Closing Statement from TED

Thanks to all who participated in this conversation on TED's decision to move Graham Hancock'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 23 2013: Thanks Amrita Bhohi for your comments explaining the thinking and mindset of the people who organized this Tedx event and set the theme for the speakers.

    I hope there’s more organizers out there like you, wanting to explore these challenging areas (human consciousness) which so many of us find fascinating.

    The real problem we have in front of us now though, is that a science board has critiqued a talk which is about consciousness, something science knows almost nothing about. The tools of science just can’t yet test or measure consciousness. We have a gap in our knowledge in this area. Science calls consciousness “the hard question” because it doesn’t yet know what consciousness is, how the brain creates it, or even if the brain creates it.

    Some well known scientists are starting to explore this area. Two who are probably making the most headway right now are Sir Roger Penrose and Stewart Hameroff with their Orch Or Theory. Here’s a link for anyone interested. It’s not yet proven nor disproven for the reasons already mentioned above.
    www.youtube.com/watch?v=3WXTX0IUaOg&feature=share Sheldrake also dares to go here too.

    Richard Faynman, one of our greatest scientists famously said years ago that the very first step in creating any new laws of science is to “make a guess”. After that comes the hard work of trying to prove that guess. We are still somewhere in the middle of that process when it comes to the kinds of issues Hancock addresses and explores in his talk. This is why removing the talk on the basis of a scientific assessment of the material is wrong and has caused so much upset.

    Please, let’s see these talks go back onto the main Ted platform. Further debate can go on there. More importantly though, Hancock’s talk encourages further discussion and understanding of what it means to us to be human beings, exploring our personal, subjective and universal experience. Asking the big questions just as science does but using different techniques.
    • Mar 23 2013: "Making a guess" is what fuels the scientific process. We guess... we throw an idea out there and then we violently strive to disprove that guess... falsification.

      To suggest that one person's guess is worth less than somebody else's is dangerous. Especially considering that many of the greatest strides made in science started out as a guess that was thought to be crazy, out there, unreasonable, etc. Even today, when we listen to a talk on quantum physics, new ideas - new interpretations - come up constantly. We find in the mathematics some predications - for example, that there are perhaps multiple universes, different or relative realities... pretty crazy stuff if you ask most people.

      The vast majority of us are completely clueless about the science behind things like String or M-theory, but we indulge in the wondrous possibilities it opens up... and we've done so on TED!

      Most of it remains, at the end of the day, guesswork - our interpretation of things as they stand. Ideas the likes of Mr. Hancock's makes us think... make us explore new paths... allow us to throw a new guess out there.

      Long story short, Kristen mentions our, and our scientific tools' inability to approach the event of consciousness, and that Mr. Hancock is asking one of those 'big questions'... 'but using different techniques'. Very good insight, Kristen. In this case, experience, subjective as it is (or is said to be, who knows?), is what compels Mr. Hancock's enquiry, as opposed to a discovery in a lab (as I elaborated on in an earlier post).

      A guess is a guess, no matter what brought it about. What remains is Mr. Hancock's great concern: that the very thing which we cannot explain - our consciousness - is given even less of a chance at being explained in a context where we are not able - not allowed - to explore and examine 'it'.

      This, to me, is a very real and reasonably concern. So, yes please...' let’s see these talks go back onto the main Ted platform'!
      • Comment deleted

        • Mar 23 2013: Almost as laughable as it is to guess what it's like to be a bat.

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