Scientists Intervene in TED Controversy

There was a stunning intervention in the TED controversy by 19 leading scientists.
In brief it looks like TED Curator Chris Anderson opened Pandora's Box — further details below — when he authorised the removal of talks by myself and Rupert Sheldrake from the TEDx Youtube channel. Rupert's talk was entitled "The Science Delusion", my talk was entitled "The War on Consciousness", and both can be viewed, in context — scroll down on this TED blog page

The reason the talks are still on the TED website at all (even if sequestrated to the blog) is because of the internet furore that erupted following the removal of the talks from the TEDx Youtube channel. Let me put on record here how deeply grateful I am for the solidarity and intelligent, well thought-out intervention of many members my online community. Without this I believe TED would have been able to sweep the whole matter under the carpet. And I note how dismissive and insulting TED were: "Graham Hancock put out an immediate alert that he was about to be 'censored' [and] his army of passionate supporters deluged us with outraged messages". See here.

There's a lot to be learnt about TED's attitude towards the general public from that short phrase, which does not recognise the intelligence, integrity and independent thought of the thousands who wrote to them but instead lumps all together as an "army of passionate supporters". I for my part feel honoured to have been given that support but I recognise that it was never about me; rather it was about the ideas and principles that are at stake. Even so, TED demonstrated its contempt by refusing to answer the appeals that I and Rupert Sheldrake made for an open, live debate on the core issues (see here, and here) and by ignoring all the thousands of posts put on their blog by members of the general public (SEE HERE: 

Perhaps by turning a deaf ear to criticism TED hoped they would get away with it. But it is clear now that they are not going to be allowed to do so.

The mainstream media picked up the story on 7 April with this article in one of Britain's leading national newspapers, the Independent on Sunday. The article also appeared in the Belfast Telegraph three days later on 10 April.

Then the following happened in quick succession:

(1) On 18 April an open letter to TED deeply critical of TED's decision to remove talks by myself and Rupert Sheldrake from the TEDx Youtube channel was published in the Huffington Post. The letter was written by Deepak Chopra, MD, Stuart Hameroff, MD (Professor of Anesthesiology and Psychology, Director of Consciousness Studies, at the University of Arizona), Menas C. Kafatos, Ph.D (Fletcher Jones Endowed Professor in Computational Physics, Director, Center of Excellence, Chapman University), Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D (Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Neurology at Harvard University and Director of the Genetics and Ageing Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital), and Neil Theise, MD (Professor, Pathology and Medicine, Beth Israel Medical Center — Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York). 

(2) On 19 April Ted Curator Chris Anderson replied in the Huffington Post with some slick, evasive PR-speak (coupled with a pinch of the give-away sneering and high-handedness that he has resorted to again and again throughout this controversy).

(3) The same day, 19 April, Chopra, Hameroff, Kafatos,Theise, and a stunning array of 15 other immensely qualified and experienced scientists, came back with a devastating response to Anderson's letter.

All in all it is becoming obvious that there is a BIG story here. I'd like to emphasise that it is NOT AT ALL a story about me and Rupert Sheldrake. It is instead a story of what has been triggered, exposed and catalysed by TED's treatment of our talks. The controversy has brought to light a fundamental fault-line that is emerging in the science of consciousness between the OLD PARADIGM of materialist reductionism (represented by people like Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and others) and a NEW PARADIGM of non-local conscious. The new paradigm, represented by all the major scientific figures who wrote to the Huffington post on 19 April is open to the revolutionary possibility at the centre of both my talk and Rupert's talk, namely that consciousness may not be generated by the brain but rather "transceived" by the brain (I address this specifically in my talk between 10:18 and 10:42) — i.e. that consciousness may be a fundamental "non-local" property of all dimensions of the universe and that rather than being an "epiphenomenon of brain activity" it may instead be that the brain acts as an interface that allows consciousness to manifest "locally" on the material plane.

If the NEW PARADIGM proves to be correct, and it is intriguing to see these powerful voices raising that possibility, then the issue is by no means limited to consciousness but calls into question many of the fundamental assumptions on which Western science has been built for the past 400 years. It is a revolution in the making, spearheaded by quantum physics and consciousness studies, with implications for our understanding of reality that are likely to be at least as profound as the implications of the dismantling of the Ptolemaic model by the Copernican revolution from the 16th century onwards. In this respect it's worth remembering how militantly the proponents of the Ptolemaic model held on to their positions — even burning their Copernican opponents at the stake — and how well the Ptolemaic model did seem to explain the apparent movements of the celestial bodies for so long, with additional "epicycles" etc being postulated to explain away anomalous observations, until finally the weight of the new observations overwhelmed the Ptolemaic model completely and swept it aside ushering in a new age of science. I suggest the same is happening in the early 21st century around the question of consciousness, that the eminent scientists who have written to the Huffington Post today recognise this, and that what TED has inadvertently revealed by its censorship of the talks by Rupert Sheldrake and myself has all the signs of a stunning scientific revolution in the making.

My part in this is small. I am no scientist, just a writer. But I am encouraged, after facing years of relentless scientific attacks on my work, to have been identified as one of the "divergent ants" by Neil Theise, Professor of Pathology and Medicine at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, who writes in his statement to the Huffington Post today: "Sheldrake and Hancock may be wrong in their ideas, but we do not yet know. Even if they are, the creativity of their work and their insistence on looking at aberrations and exceptions is certainly of value, at least to point the way to the kinds of creative explorations TED hopes to foster. They are ideas worth spreading precisely because of their bravery, creativity and care." Likewise I was touched by the words of Christopher Holvenstot who wrote: "Experiential approaches, including Graham Hancock's exploration of alternative states, represent an important aspect of our subject matter, and therefore our research. We are saddened to see his brave and very personal contribution disparaged as 'pseudo-science'."

Even more encouraging than the statements by Theise, Holvenstot and others, however, has been the vigorous defense of the freedom of ideas mounted by this online internet community. I will never forget it.

Image by Parksy1964, courtesy of Creative Commons licensing. 

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