Rupert Sheldrake and the banned TEDx talk


Rupert Sheldrake’s recent Tedx Whitechapel talk was withdrawn from the Ted website in response to some criticism. This spawned a huge Internet debate. Ted made a hasty call that they are no doubt regretting. Skeptico’s Alex Tsakiris pointed out the irony of the situation. (image from John Ratcliffe’s blog)

A reputable scientist publishes a book claiming that science is dogmatic and is then censored by an anonymous scientific board. What does this say about how science can be dogmatic without even realising it is dogmatic?

Ted fielded complaints from people that Rupert Sheldrake identified as “militant atheists”. They labelled his talk “pseudo-science” and factually inaccurate. It soon becomes apparent that a bigger game is playing out. Rupert Sheldrake’s talk was analysed for any real or possible flaw. The object was not to examine the truth, but to engage in a contest. Any thought of moving to a greater understanding of the matters under investigation became casualties of the contest. And this is mirrored in the comments wars appended to the dozens of blogs discussing the issue.

The bigger picture

Rupert Sheldrake makes some excellent points about the paradigm shift happening in this Skeptico podcast. The wider discursive battle is about human consciousness. One one side, the materialists assert that human consciousness is a product of the human brain, on the other Rupert Sheldrake and others assert that consciousness transcends material reality. For the materialists, a human is a little like a machine. When the machine breaks, there is no more output. Rupert Sheldrake prefers the metaphor of the television set – the set might get broken, but transmission continues. What Rupert Sheldrake calls morphic resonance, I think of as spirit and soul.

I see this as the ongoing tension between science and religion. From the beginning of time the vast majority of mankind have believed in something beyond the material world. The enlightenment changed that. From the 17th Century thinkers began to question orthodoxy. In the late 1700s Baron d’Holbach began to advocate atheism.  Over decades, many more came to see religion as a scourge.  By the Twentieth Century, religion had effectively been displaced by science as the dominant system of knowledge. Ironically, atheism has become as dogmatic and fundamentalist as some of the more fundamentalist religionists. The strident voices of the fundamentalists on both sides, dichotomise these two great knowledge systems. The protagonists are more interested in identifying what is wrong and proving a point.

Are we seeing a paradigm change? Rupert Sheldrake comments that he has been pleasantly surprised by the outcry in protest of Ted’s removal of his video from their website. As modernity continues to die out in an increasingly interconnected world we are being exposed to more diversity in culture and thinking. We are becoming more comfortable with ambiguity and we as we (ideally) become both more independent and diverse in our thinking, it becomes easier to collapse dichotomies and see truth wherever it resides.

We have to be prepared to leave percussive debate behind and to cease being blinded by our dogma. Bahá’u’lláh points us in this direction in The Hidden Words.

The best beloved of all things in My sight is Justice; turn not away therefrom if thou desirest Me, and neglect it not that I may confide in thee. By its aid thou shalt see with thine own eyes and not through the eyes of others, and shalt know of thine own knowledge and not through the knowledge of thy neighbor.

Based on Thomas Kuhn’s thinking, we know that when a paradigm change happens, initially the orthodoxy resists the change, and as more momentum for change happens their arguments become more strident. At some stage a tipping point is achieved and the new paradigm is established.

In other posts in this blog I have quoted `Abdu’l-Bahá appeal for the harmonising of science and religion.

Abdul Baha science religion bird photo by Chris Martin(Thanks to Chris Martin Photography for the use of this image).

Despite the benefits both science and religion generate in our world, the excesses of superstition and materialism create significant harm. Another metaphor for the harmony of science religion is hydrogen and oxygen – they are powerful and dangerous in each other’s presence but when combined into a stable compound the most precious resource on the planet is produced. I suspect the progress we will make when we realise the synergy of science and religion will far surpass our achievements to date.

I remain a fan of TED. Many of their talks, especially those in the sustainability space are inspirational. Here is the Rupert Sheldrake’s banned talk – if you dare.



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