After my rant on Free Your Pen about censorship and ISP filters we come rather predictably to the TED controversy. TED is a non-profit organisation which runs conferences and talks about ideas that may end up changing the world. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design, and their stated mission is Ideas Worth Sharing. But recently TED was engulfed in an online spat over censorship after they removed a couple of talks from their website. Evidently, certain ideas don’t fit their criteria.
The Science of Delusion
In his talk The Science of Delusion, Rupert Sheldrake challenges scientific dogmas and assumptions, and asks reasonable questions about the nature of science and how it is conducted. All well and good, you might think. But TED disagreed and took the talk down from their website, despite the TEDx event in question being called ‘Challenging Existing Paradigms’.
Sheldrake’s talk was removed on the say so of TED’s scientific board. Unfortunately we don’t know who these people are because the board is anonymous, but it transpired that notorious militant atheist PZ Myers was involved. TED claims to be protecting us from bad science and has a long list of criteria the TEDx community are expected to follow when booking talks. What these criteria amount to is the inhibition of any idea that isn’t accepted by mainstream science.
Sheldrake has since pointed out that neither Einstein or Darwin would have been accepted for TED talks because they don’t fit the criteria: neither held university posts and both came up with ideas far beyond the scientific establishment of their times.
Scientific Hypocrisy or Blind Spot?
Freely available on the TED website is a great talk by neuroscientist Stuart Firestein called The Pursuit of Ignorance. In this talk he discusses how little we really know about the world, quoting George Bernard Shaw:
“Science is always wrong. It never solves a problem without creating ten more.”
Firestein says that what we don’t know makes for good questions and states the geneticist’s maxim as a warning: you always get what you screen for. In other words, you tend to see what you want to see, unless you ask the right questions. This is precisely Sheldrake’s position. So why hasn’t Firestein’s talk been banned?
One of the questions Firestein asks is: What is the most difficult thing for a brain to do? His answer surprised me. I was expecting him to say: create conscious thoughts. But no. He was more concerned with how we manage to walk on two legs, citing the problems encountered building a robot that can do what we do without even thinking about it. Although it seems they’ve cracked that one now; a fully conscious robot, however, remains elusive. He then went on to talk about how we turn molecules into perception; how our sense of smell works, for instance. This is interesting stuff and an area well worth researching. But is that really the most difficult thing a brain can do?
It’s almost as if our incredible ability to be conscious of ourselves is completely hidden from science. Consciousness is acknowledged in neuroscience as the ‘hard problem’ – basically, how does consciousness arise from inert matter – but nobody is able to explain it or devise an experiment that would actually prove anything, so it gets ignored. Consciousness then becomes invisible. We can’t study it because it’s subjective, so we’ll ignore it.
Why is Firestein able to question science openly and label this noble profession a pursuit of ignorance, while Sheldrake is shunned and put, as he said, on the naughty step of science simply for raising the same questions? The answer is simple: Firestein is a mainstream scientist and a materialist. Sheldrake is not.
War on Consciousness
This brings us to another banned TED talk. Anyone who has seen this talk will understand why it caused so many people to get their knickers in a twist, but in the War on Consciousness Graham Hancock relates his battle with marijuana addiction and what happened when he visited a shaman and drank the psychotropic plant ayahuasca.
He also argues that the way we think is shaped by what is deemed acceptable in mainstream society. Certain ways of thinking are considered wrong or dangerous, and we are discouraged from asking questions that might take us beyond so-called normal consciousness.
There is more to reality than we can see with our ‘normal’ consciousness. Most of the really big breakthroughs in science came from individuals willing to go beyond conventional thinking and question the assumptions we all live by: Copernicus, Einstein, Darwin…
Science as defined by TED seems to be more about upholding ancient and creaking 19th century materialist dogmas than genuinely questioning how the world works.
As Sheldrake has pointed out, dogma is seen as the Truth by the people who believe it. The most dangerous ideas are the ones we don’t even know we have, the ones that operate from our unconscious mind.
The backlash against TED reveals that people no longer automatically accept what any given authority claims as truth. The materialist assumptions of mainstream science are under siege. The world is waking up. The paradigm is shifting.