‘TED’ Sparks Paradigm War

Apr 19 2013

‘TED’ Sparks Paradigm War

TED Ideas Worth Censoring 2.13.47 AM

Internet video site TED has removed presentations by biologist Rupert Sheldrake and historian Graham Hancock because—according to TED—their ideas are “pseudoscience.”

What does this mean?

Well, simply, it means that one of the leading Internet sites for sharing intellectual ideas has shut out views that challenge deep-rooted dogmas of modern science—a decidedly unscientific act. It means the folks at TED buy into mainstream scientific materialism as the last word on what is “real” or “ideas worth spreading.”

So, what happened? 

The TED organizers have decided not to allow any TED or TEDx Talk that questions scientific dogma about the nature of mind or consciousness. The standard scientific story is that “obviously” mind is produced by the brain, and that all aspects of consciousness can be reduced to electrochemical events between neurons. Anyone who dares to suggest otherwise is obviously “woo-woo,” a “fraud,” a “pseudoscientist.”

Of course, nothing of the sort is “obvious” at all. No-one—no scientist, no philosopher, no self-appointed guardian of media “truth”—can even begin to explain how purely physical brain events could ever “squirt out” subjective experiences. In different ways, Sheldrake’s and Hancock’s talks explored the idea and presented evidence that consciousness exists beyond the brain. The technical term for this is “nonlocal consciousness.”

In the “Century of the Brain,” apparently the only acceptable way to talk about consciousness or mind is in the language of cognitive science or neuroscience. The mere whiff of any alternative needs to be suppressed.


I’ve been tracking the TED “paradigm wars” with growing interest. And I would like to support the chorus of voices challenging TED and the dominant materialist paradigm.

As a philosopher, it is frustrating to have to keep defending non-reductionist studies of consciousness. But it seems that no matter what anyone says (or how we say it) dogmatists such as the administrators at TED and mainstream materialist scientists and philosophers (Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett are prime examples) will not open up or change their minds. They simply refuse to even discuss alternative possibilities. Like many of us, they have so much vested in their positions—careers, academic reputations, funding, mortgages to pay, etc. . .). It takes courage (or a major shock to the system) for people to change their fundamental beliefs.

This is less a scientific than a metaphysical issue. As long as science clings to methods rooted in sensory empiricism (the idea that only what can be detected and measured by the senses counts as “real”), we will never have a science of consciousness. Neither neuroscience nor cognitive science study consciousness per se. As I and others have pointed out, studying the neural correlates of consciousness is not at all the same as studying consciousness.

Part of the problem is that few scientists today are sufficiently familiar with either the history or philosophy of science, and therefore lack the perspective needed to question their fundamental metaphysical assumptions.
“Paradigm wars” are, essentially, “metaphysical wars”—conflicts between fundamental assumptions about the nature of reality. Most people (including most scientists) are not even clear about what their own basic metaphysical assumptions are; and few seem equipped to question their metaphysical beliefs, even if aware of them.


Underlying the scientific paradigm wars lie deeper (often unconscious) metaphysical differences.

Over the years, I’ve come to realize that no amount of argument, no matter how coherent or robust, is ever likely to change someone’s basic metaphysical beliefs (more so, when their livelihoods depend on defending those beliefs). It seems we adhere to a set of metaphysical assumptions not because of either scientific “evidence” or philosophical “argument,” but because of some deeply unconscious emotional or aesthetic preferences!

Those preferences exist mostly as feelings (hence “aesthetic”), and, without deep, intentional, self-reflection, they hardly ever rise to the level of clear cognition or language adequate to express them. For the most part, we just don’t know why we prefer one set of metaphysical beliefs over some other.

It takes work—honest, intellectually and emotionally courageous work—to question ourselves at such deep existential levels. Yet this is precisely where great philosophy and spiritual practice meet. (Imagine having this discussion with a Dawkins, a Dennett, or a TED administrator!).

TED X - not2


Here’s where I face a dilemma: On the one hand, for the reasons I’ve outlined above, I feel compassion for anyone stuck in a metaphysical logjam (all of us?). Then, on the other hand, as a philosopher who belongs to a “recessive” paradigm (I use that term deliberately, as I will explain in a moment), I react with frustration (and, to be honest, a noticeable twinge of anger) when the “dominant” paradigm squelches the work that I and my “radical” colleagues offer to the world. All we want is a fair hearing. But, it seems, the zeitgeist is less and less open to any such inclusivity.

If, indeed, my intuition is on the right track—that our fundamental metaphysical assumptions are primarily aesthetic (rooted in preverbal feelings)—then I wonder if there might even be a genetic disposition to holding a particular set of metaphysical beliefs?

Crazy as it might sound, I sometimes wonder if at least part of the problem with “paradigm wars” lies in our genes, which, themselves, play a role in shaping our cultural memes. I view scientific reductionism and metaphysical materialism as dominant “cultural memes.” Idealists and panpsychists (like me) are “blessed” with a “recessive” cultural meme. I say “recessive” because at other times and places in the history of ideas, the kinds of metaphysical assumptions that today are ruled out of court by mainstream intellectuals were once culturally dominant . . . and, one day, may rise again to full expression.

To be clear: I am not suggesting yet another form of genetic reductionism. But I do suspect that, for whatever reasons, we are all constitutionally biased toward a particular set of metaphysical assumptions.

If this is so, then nothing anyone might say in response to TED’s intellectual myopia is likely to make a significant difference. Nevertheless, unless we stand up for our right to be included in the dialogue about the nature of consciousness (and the broader topic of the nature of reality), we implicitly support the entrenchment of the dominant paradigm that shuts us out.

Therefore, even though it is unlikely to make a difference, I am willing to “play the game” and add my voice to the chorus of people speaking out against (or about) the TED debacle.

I encourage anyone who reads this to reconsider if you wish to continue supporting TED, and to send them a clear message through your actions—for example, by refusing to watch any TED videos, declining to give a TED Talk, or, if you already have a video on their site, ask them to remove it.

Let them know you want a truly open and free exchange of ideas—and that you do not support what amounts to a modern-day, scientific version of the Inquisition.


TED: Thinking Extreme Dogma.


For more on this, check out my Facebook page
Consciousness for Life


Judge for yourself:

Here’s Rupert Sheldrake‘s BANNED-TED video:

Sheldrake on "Science Delusion"-4

and here’s Graham Hancock‘s BANNED-TED video:

War on Consciousess


More on this:

Dear TED: Is It ‘Bad Science’ or a ‘Game of Thrones?’ — by Deepak Chopra, Stuart Hameroff, Menas Kafatos, et al., in Huffington Post.

TED: A Choice Point — by Charles Eisenstein

An Open Letter to TED’s Chris Anderson — by Ken Jordan, in Reality Sandwich

TED Flirts With Scientism — by Larry Malebra, in Reality Sandwich

10 Responses to ‘TED’ Sparks Paradigm War

  1. Mystic Tuba April 19, 2013 at 1:34 pm

    I have long expressed it as a choice of what evidence to believe, plus one’s general level of fundamentalism, defined as how rigidly one clings to a belief once it is chosen. Some choose to believe in their preferred holy book, and others choose to believe in the data from physical measurements (most often as reported by others, which puts the data once again in the category of a holy book.) But the level of stringent adherence to belief has to do with how fundamentalist the attitude; both the extreme materialist and the extreme opposite can be as fundamentalist as the other. So I came up with the term “fundamentalist materialist” to describe those of my friends who are as closed-minded about their views as are the religious fundamentalists.

    • christiandequincey April 20, 2013 at 11:53 pm

      Hi there “Mystic Tuba” . . . and thanks for your comment. I agree: fundamentalism comes in many varieties—including scientific, philosophical, as well as religious (and, of course, political, economic, and social).

      In my work—especially my books Radical Knowing and Consciousness from Zombies to Angels—I invite people to not only examine their belief systems, but to be willing to move beyond all dogmas, and to cultivate “experience beyond belief.”

      Every belief (no matter what it is or who holds it) is automatically and inevitably a distortion of reality to some extent. Much better to trust our experience than our abstract beliefs as guides to what is real and how to live our lives.

      Thanks for sharing your voice.


  2. Suzanne Taylor April 19, 2013 at 6:22 pm

    Have a look at the whole Brother, Can You Spare a Paradigm? program that TED unlicensed two weeks before it was to go on: http://www.TEDxWestHollywood.com. We are referenced in all the references you’ve listed. Would that there would be more outrage about what TED did, which was costly to me. Either I had to make up for lost sponsorship without the TED imprint or trash what had been a year in the making, so I took it out of my own pocket for the show to go on. And it was a wonderful show. Have a look: https://new.livestream.com/newparadigm/newparadigmevent

    Adding insult to injury that’s a Livestream link that was acquired two days before that event, after TED got our original account — that had TED in the url — taken down. We had two days to get the word out, but fortunately have the archive and will spread the word about that. It’s the best illustration of TED’s insanity — they were quality talks by credentialed people.

    • Danielle April 20, 2013 at 8:43 pm


      Thank you so much for the courage and determination behind your commitment to bringing this important information to the world!

      Is it possible to put a donate button on the livestream page? I fully expected to pay to watch it when I clicked on the link.

      And Christian, fantastic contribution to the discussion!

    • christiandequincey April 20, 2013 at 11:34 pm

      Hi Suzanne and thanks for your commitment to full and open inquiry into the “paradigm wars.” Congratulations for not caving in to the TED “paradigm bullies” (and their cowardly, behind-the-scenes, anonymous “scientific” advisory board).

      I would loved to have been included as a participant in your event. For many years, I have been a vocal critic of the dominant paradigm of scientific materialism (see, for example, my book Radical Nature ).

      Perhaps next time?

      If you are not familiar with my work, you can get a sampling from my blog: iQ Noetic News.

      Keep up the good work.


  3. Suzanne Taylor July 10, 2013 at 3:13 am

    Christian — Am doing legal battle with TED — for reimbursement and for visibility for the program I delivered. I hadn’t seen this post of yours before. We’ve been brushing past each other for years. We should be in closer touch. Are you in L.A.?

    • christiandequincey July 10, 2013 at 9:02 pm

      Hi Suzanne,

      I’m in the Bay Area, in Half Moon Bay. I get to LA usually a couple of times a year. Let’s stay in touch and see when we can schedule a time to meet.

      Best of luck with your TED outcome.

  4. Richard Asmus July 11, 2015 at 4:07 pm

    I am greatly impressed with this article and would like to offer the author a bit of advice I’ve filtered out of my Tibetan Buddhist studies: Be neither frustrated nor angry with those who fear deeper thought. Try to tolerate their ignorance and realize that their “capital” side is simply heavier than their “spirit” side. Every drop you add to the vast ocean of consciousness has the eventual ability to tip their scales and bring more joy into their lives. But ultimately, the decision to enjoy or suffer… is theirs.

  5. J Licati August 22, 2015 at 7:00 am

    This debate is so near and dear to me I have a responsibility to join in. I am a contemplative artist born into a family of impatient dismissive medical doctors.

    First, in addition to Richards accurate view of the Ego nature. I say be detached from emotional drive when engaged with this age old but alive and well polarity. It is generously fueled from both sides and, possibly sooner than later, the tension will bring forth another fragment to describe spiritual truth that our Time is getting impatient for. Like, “…come on Truth of consciousness, quit holding out, reveal a little bit more because we are ready, already!”
    It is in the debate, as Tibetans love to practice, that the possibility of revealing truth can come forth.

    TED is merely one outlet for information and by censoring “they” show lack of confidence in the ability their audience has to debate. By dismissal, they create a more focused attention of the position of each side. Empirical practice is as involved as the deep and driven practice for Meaning. I must say it is unique for any person to dedicate themselves to either. Select few knew what a meme was until teenagers started seeing the term on social media, even fewer are interested in figuring out what their personal Metaphysical assumptions(convictions) might be. It could be in DNA archetype, that some upright sentient beings spend quite hours reviewing what the Greeks thought about our least common denominator, comparing it with modern quantum entanglement revelations and then making a personal realization that what the Greeks and the Physicists are describing is the Heart Sutra that Lama Tharchin Rinpoche was mumbling about at last summers retreat.

    Again, from my personal empirical knowledge of being dismissed by members of my direct gene pool….it’s a pisser. With a defensive attitude, I say, it is easier to toil at something elusive but incrementally provable/disprovable such as the Scientific geeks choose, compared with the difficulty in pausing the nature of conscious awareness long enough to maybe see it’s shadow.

    thank you for your dedication
    ~ June

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