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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 20 2013: Dear TED stooges,

    If you are coming in here to debate if TED has the right to remove videos from their website, just stop. Obviously TED can do what ever the hell they want with their brand. This is not the point, and you know it. Seems like all of the pro TED comments are about TED's right to manage their brand. What ever. We get it.

    The REAL debate is:

    Is this talk interesting?

    Is this talk worthy of honest consideration?

    If so, why?

    If not, why?

    Is the gesture of labeling Mr. Hancock "pseudoscience" appropriate or valid?

    Were TED's actions to remove this talk actually the right thing to do?

    The actual topics Graham tried to highlight in his talk ( Consciousness, The War on Consciousness, The State of Humanity and the Planet )

    These points are debatable, not TED's right to censor. Just because TED has a right to manage themselves as they see fit does not make it right.
    • Mar 20 2013: Dear Moe,

      Is it interesting? In the same way that watching some of the December 21, 2012 or Nostradamus "documentaries" was interesting.

      Worthy of honest consideration? Nope. Because there is no basis on which to expect that anything he says has any substantial relationship with the real world. Sure, you'll accuse me of closed-mindedness and rejecting exciting possibilities and perhaps even of being "afraid" of something or other, but in fact there's nothing in his talk that's potentially within the realm of reality. No evidence. Nothing that even lends itself to rational debate. He says there were telepathic communicating non-corporeal entities. I say I've got the (cliche) invisible dragon in my garage. Each statement has equal validity, and each is equally worthy of honest consideration.

      I don't know if it's pseudoscience, because definitions are difficult. It's certainly not science, though.

      TED shouldn't have had to remove it because it shouldn't have been there in the first place. They set themselves up for this ludicrous debate, because once it was there it was certain that quite a few believers would object to its removal.

      The "War on Consciousness." Geeez.
      • Mar 20 2013: You again seem to have missed the point. Hancock makes no claims as to the reality status of the entities, only that they are part of the phenomenological content of the ayahuasca experience. This is well attested to in the literature on the topic, and is in stark contrast to your dragon. If you have a genuine complaint, then, then let's hear it. If not then you're wasting everybody's time by inventing false allegations about stuff not said. Thus there is nothing in your comments that is potentially within the realm of reality or potentially in the real of being relevant to this discussion.
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        Mar 20 2013: No basis because it is not there, or YOU have no basis because you do not have any education or experience in Ayahuasca? The proof may be in the pudding. Maybe you should educate yourself first and try the Ayahuasca experience before you claim someone's idea or conversation is unworthy. Maybe?
        • Mar 20 2013: As a matter of fact, I *have* tried the ayahuasca experience, as I mentioned earlier. I know exactly what I'm talking about. And there are real scientists, unlike Graham Hancock, exploring the use of DMT and other psychedelics for real reasons. Not for adolescent woo-mongering like that proposed by Hancock.

          Sure, one can say Hancock is making no reality claims, but he's "not making reality claims" with a wink and a nudge, so that "enlightened" people like so many of his supporters in this discussion can pretend that what he's peddling is worthy of serious consideration.

          He's welcome to his ideas. But it's not accurate to call them "Ideas Worth Spreading."

          Every legitimate scientific idea has to cross a threshold of basic rational plausibility before it's worthy of serious consideration. Sometimes scientists have to labor to get their ideas accepted by the mainstream. In this case, there are already, as I just said, real scientists doing real work with these substances because they have cleared that bar. Hancock not only doesn't reach a level of necessary legitimacy, he doesn't even seem to realize that such a thing exists. That's why he's a crackpot and that's why TED was wrong to give him a platform in the first place. Hancock has staked his place. On The History Channel.
      • Mar 20 2013: Ah, so your complaint is not based on what Hancock actually said but on some nudges and winks that only you can detect/decode. Well, never fear, since only you can detect/decode them there's no danger of anyone getting the hidden message you feel so sure is there. Or perhaps we should use the following disclaimer:

        "Viewer discretion is advised since the slippery Hancock is believed to be using secret signals to transmit secret messages to his army of believers. Take not this man at his word. See Patrick Moore for details."

        I'm up for it.
        • Mar 20 2013: OK. This has dragged on long enough. Certainly it has taken more time than Graham Hancock's ideas are worth. But I'm left curious about one thing. From you or any of his other advocates here.

          Precisely what in your view is Graham Hancock's Idea Worth Spreading?

          And to perhaps avoid the need for further posts, I'll say that my problem with him is that he hasn't got one. An Idea Worth Spreading, that is. His idea, as far as I can tell from the talk is something like: "Take ayahuasca and you'll get in touch with invisible telepathic entities." Or perhaps, if you prefer, "Take ayahuasca and you can get in touch with another dimension of reality." Or something.

          Unless you've got something more than that, he's wasting everyone's time. That's not an Idea Worth Spreading. I understood that idea, along with many many others, 40 years ago. And it's a dangerous idea. Not dangerous to "the power structure." Dangerous to anyone who takes him up on his idea. Currently, real scientists are working on that idea, with no help from Graham Hancock. Sounds to me like he's just another old guy trying to be hip and sell a book. He needs to be in a dorm room somewhere rather than on TED.
      • Mar 20 2013: Hancock's idea that is worth spreading is this:

        The human mind is the most extraordinary thing in the known universe, and we all have the capacity to investigate the extraordinary realms within. And yet, while governments are willing to spend billions of your tax dollars inventing new ways to kill and main, or even, more laudably, to find out what the surface of Io looks like, they will lock you away for a very long time if you try to explore your own mind in your home whilst hurting nobody but (possibly) yourself. Moreover, given the destruction of the world, and given the particular message on that topic that ayahuasca seems to impart, the situation is not only scandalous, and dangerous, but potentially species ending.
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          Mar 21 2013: And this:

          “I stand here invoking the hard-won right of freedom of speech to call for and demand another right to be recognised and that is the right of adult sovereignty over consciousness. There’s a war on consciousness in our society, and if we as adults are not allowed to make sovereign decisions about what to experience with our own consciousness while doing no harm to others, including the decision to use responsibly ancient and sacred visionary plants, then we cannot claim to be free in any way and it’s useless for our society to go around the world imposing our form of democracy on others while we nourish this rot at the heart of society and we do not allow individual freedom over consciousness.”
      • Mar 21 2013: Patrick, it sounds to me as if you've essentially missed the point of Graham's talk and instead spent your time nit picking the elements which betray the paradigm you live by.. Graham is encouraging people to think for themselves and advocating freedom in an area people may not have even realised they were lacking it in - consciousness itself - and I and many others here it seems resonate with this view quite strongly.

        Also, if you do some quick searches and look into people's experiences with DMT and ayahuasca you'll find that "telepathically communicating entities" are actually an extremely common phenomena experienced with these substances... I have personally had this experience a number of times with smoked dmt (and also psilocybin mushrooms) and I know many others who have too. The notion of telepathically communicating entities is probably hard for you to grasp simply because you have not experienced it.. it is a concept in your mind which you have built your own image around-which more than likely differs a great deal from the actual experience itself.

        I think Graham is a wonderful man who is doing the world a lot of good and I reckon your being pretty harsh on him merely because you sit on the other side of the fence and find his views challenging.

        I do have a question for you.. how would you go about measuring the claim of "telepathic entities"? ... if they did exist, would it even be possible to do so? There is a level of subjectivity that needs to be taken into account with these experiences. just because you yourself do not experience or believe in the phenomena does not mean that it is not possible for others to.. you can't get inside other people's consciousnesss so how can you really claim reality of other people's experiences?
        • Mar 21 2013: I guess you haven't been following the discussion. I've actually drunk ayahuasca. My experience was somewhat different in that I didn't actually sense entities, but did sense what seemed to be "the power of eternity," as I described it then, among other hallucinatory colors, shapes and odd animals. I can personally vouch for ayahuasca's efficacy as a purgative. So I know what Hancock is talking about at least as well as you or anyone else in this discussion.

          I've already said I'm a strong supporter of legitimate investigation into the properties of psychoactive substances. Just last month I urged my father-in-law, not for the first time, to pursue participating in one of the current MDMA studies being conducted, hoping it would help him with his Vietnam PTSD. (If that makes the timeline seem off, it's because my wife is a few years younger than I am.) So don't lecture me about "my paradigm" and don't smugly assume what is "hard for me to grasp."

          Your question? I wouldn't "go about measuring the claim of telepathic entities." Given my personal experience coupled with any reasonable notion of prior plausibility I'd say they don't exist, so there's nothing to measure. That's not, of course, to say that Hancock and others don't "experience" them. That I didn't doesn't mean others don't. But it's not a "real" physical phenomenon. So nothing to measure. Any more than, as I also said earlier, one can measure the (cliche) invisible dragon my garage. Those claiming reality of these things will have to do the measuring.

          So go on. Explore consciousness to your heart's content. Just don't do it as a pseudoscientist. Don't claim reality of things which you can't provide evidence for, much less prove, and which are virtually certainly not true. Hancock's no doubt a nice man who loves puppies, but he has a long history of promoting pretty much any fringe notion that comes down the pike. He's not progressive, original, or a scientist. And he's not doing the world a lot of good.
      • Mar 21 2013: I point you to the work of Dr. Rick Strassman who's research substantiates the extensive anecdotal evidence of the experience of 'entities' during the DMT or Ayahuasca experience.

        Hancock's experience of these entities is subjective, but it is a phenomenon shared by many. He didn't just make it up.
      • Mar 25 2013: Thank you, Mr. Moore, for your fine contributions.
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        Mar 20 2013: Good points Mrs. Gallagher. Pretty easy right? Thanks for playing nicely
        • Mar 20 2013: So anyone who agrees with you is "playing nicely." Hilarious.

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