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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 24 2013: Our current society's relationship with paradigm altering substances such as Ayahuasca is clearly a muddled stew - both among its adherents and its opponents. An effective medicine should be prescriptive. No one would walk into a pharmacy and start downing -say tetracycline pills - off the shelf simply because they'd heard some rumor about the drugs' curative powers. The Greek and Egyptian priests (some of them at least) seemed to know what they were about. In those ancient societies (as should be the case with our more gifted South American Ayahuasceros) the drug is only a part of a cohesive and complex spiritual system - whole cloth. A Greek pilgrim might take months undergoing various purification rites before making the trek to Eleusis. A half century ago Tim Leary (among others) was all for dumping LSD in the public water supply. Aldous Huxley, horrified at the thought, cautioned about the need for the proper 'time, place and situation.' I might add that TED, while acknowledging its value, is as much a product of our collective perceptions of this world (both good and bad) as Monsanto, Ghandi, Mother Teresa or Hitler.
    • Mar 25 2013: It's important that these substances are taken seriously, but it's also important that avenues exist for anyone who wishes to experience them and integrate them into their lives. If a complex system is required for the effective use of these substances, people need to be able to develop their own.

      So long as these things remain prohibited, whether to everyone or to everyone but a special class, people will establish illegal alternative communities and the world will remain divided.
      • Mar 25 2013: As has been argued elsewhere, the problem with making these plants illegal is that you're in effect making the experiences illegal, meaning that they cannot be credibly subsumed into any official theory, scientific or otherwise -- they're off limits. This is arguably incongruent with the enterprising spirit of scientific inquiry.
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      Mar 25 2013: I like your comments, Barnard Voorhees. And the only difficulty I see in this latest one is that you'd prefer that chemical alteratives to consciousness would *only* be prescriptive. The challenge there for the United States are the endemic corruption in big pharma and a congress which would derail any sanely-used substance because it's freely available.

      Yachts and empires are easily built by corporate executives on the bodies and poor health of their countrymen, and it's business as usual. For decades the US has had an Illness-Profit system, *not* healthcare. And I don't see any good reason to make it worse by capitulating to an FDA that's completely in the pocket of giant corporations - to take a chance on a small, short term goal. People instead need to find different, more compassionate means of making grand fortunes which do no harm and instead help everyone.

      And I don't see any different scenarios with substances like ayahuasca happening any time soon. The group consciousness of our species isn't far-sighted, and never has been. We have continually allowed millions and billions of our own kind to continue to exist in suffering, or even intentionally exacerbating their suffering while better alternatives are often possible. But, the future I can't predict, so I'll wait and see what we actually do.
      • Mar 25 2013: Wow, is that ever the truth Michael. You nailed it.
      • Mar 26 2013: Michael, I agree it would hardly be an improvement to make Ayahuasca prescriptive, an unfortunate use of the word. I did want to point out there is a comprehensive - what might be called - 'spiritual technology' involved that, while seemingly understood in the ancient world, very few these days are aware even exists, much less are privy to. This includes most South American shamans, good as their work may be. The current interest is, to my mind, a very positive thing, bringing insights and self revelations to countless people - but it is only the potential tip of an iceberg which is why Graham's talk was so important and why I'm even involving myself. The danger in all this is that 'priests' have a history of using whatever 'special knowledge' they may or may not have for power tripping. This has happened throughout history - the Vedic tradition (which is why Zoroaster came along), the Jewish tradition, the Christian tradition and currently with too many of our scientists, among others. There are a great many practicing shamans today who at least understand their role is really that of guide (not exactly the right word, but close). A slippery subject, as slippery as the human ego.
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          Mar 26 2013: Barnard Voorhees: Very cool. Danke schoen for the clarification and expansion. Lovely to know there are others of like mind around.

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