There’s a shadowy group lurking in the squeaky clean corridors of the scientific information conglomerate known as TED. Here in the cockles of this monolithic shaft of Copernican cocksuredness hides a gloaming collection of secret scientists who decide the fate of the information you’re allowed to hear. They have no name, so we shall call them the Anonymous Society of Scientist (A.S.S. for short). We may have never known of A.S.S.’s existence if not for the hell raised over the removal of two popular TEDx Whitechapel speeches by Scientist, Dr. Rupert Sheldrake and best-selling author, Graham Hancock.
Both Dr. Sheldrake and Graham Hancock’s talks revolved around the idea that consciousness is not necessarily limited to the physical human body, but that it may extend far beyond in ways not yet fully understood. In light of the present paradigm of scientific thought which supposes we are actually “lumbering robots” as Richard Dawkins famously stated, the contrarian claims of Sheldrake and Hancock are not considered suitable for public consumption – so think the veiled harbingers of A.S.S. who were consulted on whether or not to allow Sheldrake and Hancock to besmirch the good name of TED with their ‘pseudoscience’.
Graham Hancock was additionally isolated because of his blatant affinity for psychedelics and his bold assertion that adults should be allowed to explore their own consciousness by consuming whatever sacred compounds they wished as sovereign human beings in pursuit of expanded consciousness. His moving story of quitting a 20 year cannabis addiction as a result of his Ayahuasca journey was of little scientific value, despite his citing of historical research that evidently claims that hypnogogic patterns found in 50,000 year old cave paintings lends credence to the idea that psychedelics have been with us as a mystical source for the larger part of what is seen as our conscious history.
After over 150,000 combined views between Sheldrake and Hancock on the TED YouTube page, the videos were removed, thus whipping the unscientific rabble of their fans into frenzy. This sparked a rabid debate on the Internet over what should and should not be seen under the TED banner. Dr. Sheldrake characterized the situation this way:
“This discussion is taking place because the militant atheist bloggers Jerry Coyne and P.Z. Myers denounced me, and attacked TED for giving my talk a platform. I was invited to give my talk as part of a TEDx event in Whitechapel, London, called “Challenging Existing Paradigms.” That’s where the problem lies: my talk explicitly challenges the materialist belief system. It summarized some of the main themes of my recent book Science Set Free (in the UK called The Science Delusion). Unfortunately, the TED administrators have publicly aligned themselves with the old paradigm of materialism, which has dominated science since the late nineteenth century.
TED say they removed my talk from their website on the advice of their Scientific Board, who also condemned Graham Hancock’s talk. Hancock and I are now facing anonymous accusations made by a body on whose authority TED relies, on whose advice they act, and behind whom they shelter, but whose names they have not revealed.”
The primary reason cited for removal of Dr. Sheldrake’s TED talk was his reference to the mechanistic view of the world as part of an overall science “delusion”. One of the reasons cited by A.S.S. to remove Dr. Sheldrake’s talk is stated as follows:
“He suggests that scientists reject the notion that animals have consciousness, despite the fact that it’s generally accepted that animals have some form of consciousness, and there’s much research and literature exploring the idea.”
Sheldrake responded to this accusation by clarifying that he was speaking distinctly toward the dominating mechanistic viewpoint, saying:
“Materialist philosophers and scientists are still in the majority, and they argue that consciousness does nothing – it is either an illusion or an ”epiphenomenon” of brain activity. It might as well not exist in animals – or even in humans. That is why in the philosophy of mind, the very existence of consciousness is often called “the hard problem”
The backlash to the removal of the controversial videos grew to such a degree that Chris Anderson, Curator of TED Conferences sent a message to Graham Hancock accusing him of inciting a web riot and calling Hancock a pseudo-archeologist:
“It would help your cause to let this whole discussion calm down a little. You seem to have whipped your supporters up into a bit of a frenzy. There’s no conspiracy out to get you. We just have certain guidelines for our TEDx events that weren’t fully implemented in this instance, and it’s OK to have a public discussion about that.
So here’s a suggestion. While I reach out and see if any of our advisors is able to go into more depth in answering your specific questions, perhaps you could help me understand why your work is widely characterized as pseudo-archeology, as in the current version of this Wikipedia?”
Of course Graham Hancock did not take this sitting down and promptly replied:
“Chris, your reply is very strange and does no credit to you in your role at the Curator of the TED Conference or to TED as a whole.
Quite simply the issue is this: TED has defamed me by making a number of accusations against me in this public forum on the TED website – accusations that are highly damaging to my reputation as an author and public speaker. I have asked you to substantiate those allegations, which surely should be a matter of the highest priority to you if you have a genuine commitment to science and to truth. Yet instead of doing so you dodge my reasonable request for substantiation by telling me you are attending an event in DC, posing a number of irrelevant questions to me, making a reference to Wikipedia, and asking those you see as my “supporters” to “calm down a little.” This is all sleight of hand.”
So to sum this up:
Jerry Coyne and P.Z. Myers didn’t like Rupert Sheldrake and Graham Hancock’s TED talks. They complained to TED and TED summoned A.S.S. to stew over how they might justify removing these two specific talks on the grounds that they are unscientific. They posted broadly generalized reasons for calling both talks ‘pseudo-science’. The good people of the Internet went into an uproar and TED stuck with A.S.S. for a while until not even A.S.S. could keep the controversy from growing out of control. Dr. Sheldrake and Graham Hancock both posted full refutations of their talks, addressing every accusation.
TED responded to Hancock and Sheldrake by putting a line through the refuted claims of A.S.S. So in the end, Dr. Rupert Sheldrake and Graham Hancock have been partially vindicated, at least in the court of public opinion and TED has been put in check for now. But beware! A.S.S. is ever watchful of pseudo-science and will not let anything unscientific to be posted on TED! Now, enjoy this TED talk with Evangelical Christian Crusader, Billy Graham! http://youtu.be/90mj79GqWhc
Would you like to see Graham Hancock and Dr. Rupert Sheldrake speak together for the first time about TED? Come see me host a discussion between them at the Matter & Psyche Symposium on September 12-14 in Joshua Tree, CA. Get tickets at matterpsyche.net
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