It’s unbelievable that TED, which claims a “radical openness” to novel ideas, has censored Rupert Sheldrake‘s and Graham Hancock’s fascinating and popular talks by removing them from its Youtube account, relegating them instead to an apparently unsearchable blog. TED’s claim that the two talks contain “serious factual errors that undermine TED’s commitment to good science” is simply not supportable if one takes the time to watch the talks (which are eighteen minutes each). I don’t know much about Hancock, but I enjoyed his presentation and I applaud his “call for . . . a new right to be recognized . . . the right of adult sovereignty over consciousness.” And Sheldrake’s ideas, while certainly unconventional, are far from unscientific unless we take science as fixed dogma, which is precisely what Sheldrake argues against. In fact, I’m struck by how careful both Sheldrake and Hancock are to frame their ideas as hypothetical, as speculative possibility about which more empirical inquiry should be done, and how blatantly TED ignores these rhetorical nuances.
According to Hancock, Sheldrake “is presently in India and hard to reach,” but Hancock has given a detailed and eloquent defense of his talk in the comments to the TED blog (while Kent Bye has traced a detailed history of how this censorship came about, also in the blog’s comments), so I won’t go into specifics here. What I will say is that this act of blatant censorship and then the “sleight-of-hand” denial of that censorship looks to me very much like one of many last desperate acts of a disenchanted (or “misenchanted” to use Matt Segall’s neologism) world view as the vast house of cards of rationality privileging scientific materialism begins to fall around us. Censorship doesn’t occur unless the ideas censored pose a real threat to the predominant belief system, so in a roundabout way, this incident seems to be an indication that discourse is heading in the right direction, that we’re perhaps even undergoing a collective “identity crisis” that may mediate a transition between world views. As Whitehead writes: “New epochs emerge with comparative suddenness” (Science and the Modern World, 1).