UPDATES: In a move reminiscent of that “letter from 800 scientists who deny evolution,” Deepak has responded to Chris Anderson by assembling letters from more than a dozen “accredited scientists and the broader community of concerned professionals,” all of whom want TED to promulgate Sheldrake-ian and Hancock-ian woo to the public. The theme of many of those letters is the same: some correct ideas in science were once impugned. The apparent lesson is that TED should simply present all sorts of unvetted pseudoscience, science, and woo, and let the community sort it out.
Sorry, but the adjudication of accepted science doesn’t come from the public, but from the scientific community—largely through peer-reviewed publication. Let the woomeisters publish their hypotheses in reputable peer-reviewed journals, where many of the real paradigm changes (plate tectonics, quantum mechanics, etc.) first got noticed. Then we’ll pay attention.
Oh, and Deepity says this to Anderson:
TED has invited religious leaders to speak, but that’s not at issue. The “fusion of science and spirituality” that you warned against in your guidelines is the issue. The animosity of militant atheists against consciousness studies and their stubborn defense of conservative mainstream science seem to be the background noise, at the very least, that colored your warnings. It’s easy to envision that someone along the line at TED, seeing a talk entitled “The Science Delusion,” recognized an attack on Dawkins and chopped the limb off the tree.
Chopra, like many who want to defend the numinous against the harsh glare of science, has glommed on to the “militant atheist” trope. That seems to have become a euphemism for “I won’t engage your arguments, because I can’t, but I’m going to call you names anyhow.”
Oh, and thanks to reader Glenn for formalizing my new honor on his FB page:
. . at least I hope so, for disapprobation from Chopra is a huge badge of honor.
The Supreme Woomeister of the Universe, Deepity Chopra, wrote an open letter on PuffHo to TED decrying the “censorship” of the TEDx talks by Rupert Sheldrake and Graham Hancock. (If you’ll recall, those talks weren’t censored: TEDx sequestered them on a Site of Shame because they were deemed to contain substandard or questionable scientific claims.) The letter, called “Dear TED, Is it ‘Bad Science’ or a ‘Game of Thrones’?” (oy, what a cumbersome title!), is actually signed by the following:
Deepak Chopra, MD. FACP, ChopraFoundation.org/
Stuart Hameroff, MD, Professor of Anesthesiology and Psychology, Director, Center for Consciousness Studies, The University of Arizona, http://www.quantumconsciousness.org
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, Director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital
Neil Theise, MD, Professor, Pathology and Medicine, (Division of Digestive Diseases) Beth Israel Medical Center — Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York, http://www.neiltheise.com
Who they blame for the censorship? “Militant atheists,” of course!:
The decision to remove the two videos was apparently instigated by angry, noisy bloggers who promote militant atheism. Their target was a burgeoning field, the exploration of consciousness. For generations bringing up consciousness as a scientific topic was taboo. In the wildly popular fantasy novels by George R. R. Martin, “A Game of Thrones,” now running as an equally mad success on HBO, the mythical kingdom of Westeros is divided by a great wall 700 feet high. On the other side of the wall are lethal enemies and malefic magic. For centuries, no one has seen the zombie-like White Walkers who live on the other side of the wall, nor the dragons that once ravaged Westeros.
Even so, after magic and zombies fell into disbelief, a hereditary band of guardians swore an oath to keep watch at the wall, generation after generation. TED has put itself in rather the same position. What the militant atheists and self-described skeptics hate is a certain brand of magical thinking that endangers science. In particular, there is the bugaboo of “non-local consciousness,” which causes the hair on the back of their necks to stand on end. A layman would be forgiven for not grasping why such an innocent-sounding phrase could spell danger to “good science.”
The reason becomes clear when you discover that non-local consciousness means the possibility that there is mind outside the human brain or even outside material reality, that a conscious mind is in some way intrinsic to the quantum universe, and that we all are quantum entangled. One of us (Menas Kafatos) has devoted many years of research on the connection of quantum theory to consciousness. Four of us (Stuart Hameroff, Rudolph Tanzi, Neil Thiese, and Deepak Chopra) have devoted years of research to neuroscience, clinical studies and consciousness. For millennia it went without question that such a mind exists; it was known as God. Fearing that God is finding a way to sneak back into the kingdom through ideas of quantum consciousness, militant atheists go on the attack against near-death experiences, telepathy, action at a distance, and all manifestations of purpose-driven evolution.
. . . The real grievance here isn’t about intellectual freedom but the success of militant atheists at quashing anyone who disagrees with them. Their common tactic is scorn, ridicule, and contempt. The most prominent leaders, especially Richard Dawkins, refuse to debate on any serious grounds, and indeed they show almost total ignorance of the cutting-edge biology and physics that has admitted consciousness back into “good science.” Militant atheism is a social/political movement; In no way does it deserve to represent itself as scientific. Francis Collins, a self-proclaimed Christian, is an acclaimed geneticist who heads the National Institutes of Health. To date, Collins hasn’t let any White Walkers or dragons over the wall.
I will claim, with some justification, that I am one of the “angry, noisy bloggers who promote militant atheism” who lobbied TEDx to do something about those videos. But what Chopra & Co. don’t know is that other people, who don’t fit into his pejorative category, worked behind the scenes to oppose the serious presentation of woo at TEDx. I have no idea what influence I had on the talks’ sequestration—if any. But kudos for TEDx for standing up to the onslaught of misguided people who think that Sheldrake and Hancock are misunderstood geniuses.
How can I begin to answer this farrago of woo-ishness? Non-local consciousness? The claim that “we are all quantum entangled”? The argument that militant atheists decry Sheldrake-ian woo because we think that stuff like ESP, telekinesis, and the universal consciousness implied in the idea of “morphic resonance” let God in through the back door is simply stupid. All we want is evidence, not numinous claims without hard scientific support. (There’s a lot more to Chopra et al.’s letter, but you can read it yourself, preferably after a heavy slug of Pepto-Bismol.
But I don’t have to answer this letter, because Chris Anderson, a TED official, has answered the criticisms in a polite but firm response, also at PuffHo, called “TED, censorship, consciousness, militant atheists, and pseudo science.“ It answers a number of questions raised by the kerfuffle. Here are a few:
Is TED under the thumb of “militant atheists”?!
That’s another simple no (and a chuckle). We certainly have talks on our site from prominent atheists like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. We also have talks by religious leaders, including Pastor Rick Warren, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard and His Holiness the Karmapa, among many others. Religious scholar Karen Armstrong won the TED Prize in 2008. Benedictine Monk David Steindl-Rast will speak at TEDGlobal this June. When it comes to belief in God, and the practice of spirituality, a broad swath of beliefs are represented on TED.com, and also in our organization; our 100-person staff includes observant Buddhists, Bahai, Catholics, Quakers, Protestants, Jews and Muslims, as well as agnostics and atheists.
Should TED have a policy of asking its TEDx event organizers to avoid pseudo-science?
Your note implies we should not. We should allow “any speculative thinking…” and just let the audience decide. I wonder if you’ve really thought through the implications of that. Imagine a speaker arguing, say, that eating five Big Macs a day could prevent Alzheimer’s. Or someone claiming she was the living reincarnation of Joan of Arc. I’m sure at some point you too would want to draw the line. The only question is where (see below). The reason TED has been able to build a reputation is through curation. It’s through selecting great speakers with ideas worth spreading, and politely saying no to others. Our belief is that audience time and attention is a precious asset, and it would be hugely disrespectful and ultimately destructive to just say: hey, anything goes.
I especially like the last bit. Morphic resonance, after all, is just a Big Mac for the mind.
I have little to add to Anderson’s nice response, but here’s my own letter:
Dear Deepak and Co.,
You lost. Suck it up.
Advocate of evidence-based science
Oh, and fans of Sheldrake and Hancock: stop trying to post your endorsements of these Great Men on my website.
h/t: Amy, SGM