Tag Archives: mind-brain

Apr 19 2013

‘TED’ Sparks Paradigm War

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. WHAT IS ‘TED’ AFRAID OF? 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. AESTHETICS AND METAPHYSICS 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!). IDEAS EMBEDDED IN DOGMA? 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: and here’s Graham Hancock‘s BANNED-TED video: 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

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