TED’s recent censorship of talks by controversial thinkers Graham Hancock and Rupert Sheldrake has sparked a public internet outrage and a fascinating debate
A violation of free speech?
Last week, TED – the US not-for-profit, media giant dedicating to “ideas worth spreading” – banned two fascinating and controversial TEDx talks by leading consciousness pioneers, Graham Hancock and Rupert Sheldrake, provoking a furore of public indignation.
TED has hosted talks by many of the world’s most prestigious global thinkers, including Bill Gates, Richard Branson and Al Gore, and the TED online talks have now garnered over 800 million views. At a TED conference, presenters speak for 18 minutes and their talks are made available as free inspiration on TED.com.
TED’s ‘TEDx’ platform provides a way for individuals or groups to organise local events around the world and so it was that Hancock and Sheldrake came to talk at a one-day TEDx conference in Whitechapel, London on 12th January, an event dedicated to “Challenging Existing Paradigms”, along with ten other leading edge thinkers.
Hancock’s talk, ironically titled ‘The War on Consciousness’, and Sheldrake’s ‘The Science Delusion’, went down a storm at TEDx Whitechapel before their removal last Thursday from the TEDx Youtube channel , with TED citing “factual and scientific errors”, none of which they were subsequently able to substantiate, sparking a public internet outrage.
TED’s management censored the talks against the expressed wishes of their own local TEDx Whitechapel organizers, who yesterday wrote an open letter condoning TED’s actions and calling for the talks to be reinstalled to the TEDx Youtube channel (see Facebook post). The letter was also posted on TED’s website blog.
Hancock’s talk, The War on Consciousness, drew on cutting-edge academic research to suggest that the emergence into fully-modern human consciousness, less than 100,000 years ago, may have been triggered by shamanism and visionary plants like ayahuasca. He criticised our society’s rejection of visionary and altered states, and criminalisation of hallucinogens like ayahuasca, saying he believed they could be a crucial catalyst for the further positive evolution of human behaviour. By contrast, he highlighted our society’s alarmingly wide use of “anti-depressant” pills, “attention-deficit” pills, coffee, tea, alcohol and sugar to alter consciousness, around which industries are built, suggesting a society based on this consciousness was not working.
Rupert Sheldrake’s talk The Science Delusion explored 10 existing scientific dogmas and their potential for limiting our human evolution; dogmas included the assertions of science that the laws of nature are fixed, that matter is unconscious, that nature is purposeless, that psychic phenomena like telepathy are impossible, and that mechanistic medicine is the only veritable medicine.
Why were these talks too controversial for TED? You can watch the films here and judge for yourself.
Graham Hancock: The War on Consciousness
Rupert Sheldrake: The Science Delusion
Following popular outcry in response to TED’s censorship of these talks, TED was forced to retract its position and put the talks back online in a “reserved” area of their website. By then, however, the controversy over their actions had already spread like wildfire with hundreds of people independently uploading Hancock’s talk to their own YouTube channels. One of these video posts has already reached almost 24,000 views in less than nine days since the ban (Hancock’s original presentation on the TEDx Youtube channel had reached 132,000 views before deletion by TED).
On Monday, TED finally publicly retracted their actions, by crossing out their original misleading statements about Hancock and Sheldrake on their website’s Blog Discussion page. They also opened up a new page for further discussion. On this page they honestly concede, that deluged with outraged messages, they: “…felt compelled to accelerate our blog post and used language that in retrospect was clumsy. We suggested that we were flagging the talks because of ‘factual errors’ but some of the specific examples we gave were less than convincing. Instead of the thoughtful conversation we had hoped for, we stirred up angry responses from the speakers and their supporters.”
The flood of comments in response to TED’s actions – both on the TED blog post and on Facebook – highlights the power of the internet and social media for lobbying with large powerful organisations.
An article on influential US blog website in5d.com neatly surmises that the controversy surrounding these talks is “about who in the public should be arbiter of ideas and about who should get to define the box we collectively think within”.
The blog concludes: “So, decide for yourself. Should these ideas be pushed to the backbins of our collective human conversation? Would the establishment indeed have something to fear if these ideas were to become mainstream? Are we, as a culture, brave enough to freely entertain ideas? Either way, the present established world order does indeed have plenty to gain by keeping the people of the planet in the dark about ideas that can lead to a revolution in human thought and behaviour.”
Hancock and Sheldrake have now both thrown open the gauntlet to a TED scientist (or Chris Anderson, TED’s curator) to take each of them on in a public debate to validate TED’s claims of “factual and scientific errors” in their talks. The requests, not surprisingly, remain unanswered by TED. But heated discussions about these two controversial presentations continue on the TED website, where they can be joined on these pages: