Banned TED Talk: The Science Delusion by Rupert Sheldrake

Rupert Sheldrake is a scientist who believes there is more to the world that meets the eye, and he’s written 10 books and 80 scientific papers to prove it. The Presence of the Past is a stunning one.

Consider this scientific presentation as a counter-point to Whatsblem the Pro’s piece “Everyone’s Unique Except Me – Why I Hate Magical Thinking

If you’ve ever wondered if you were in some sort of reality distortion field, at Burning Man or anywhere else; if you’ve ever wondered why most people experience deja vu, but conventional science can’t explain it…this talk will introduce you to the science of why and how that could be.

Burners, when he talks about “Constant Big G” in this talk, don’t get too excited. The fact that gravity changes as much as 1.3% , and varies from place to place and day to day, should be mind-blowing enough. The Universe is alive, pulsing. Doof doof doof. Question the dogmas, Burners.

And if you enjoyed that, try this one on for size from the other guy with the banned TED Talk

19 comments on “Banned TED Talk: The Science Delusion by Rupert Sheldrake

  1. I believe there is no frame-dragging effect of gravity on mass, only on electromagnetic energy!
    Curiously, the Lense-Thirring effect in Gravity Probe B has the same value than the geodetic effect of the Earth around the Sun.
    NASA error?
    An interesting experiment!
    Understanding Gravity Probe-B experiment without math

  2. Amazingly, even the most perfect gyroscopes in human creation, used for Gravity Probe B, suffer pretty serious margin of errors when talking about gravity, but that’s okay, Einstein was God, right?


    Feynman cautioned that to avoid becoming cargo cult scientists, researchers must avoid fooling themselves, be willing to question and doubt their own theories and their own results, and investigate possible flaws in a theory or an experiment. He recommended that researchers adopt an unusually high level of honesty which is rarely encountered in everyday life, and gives examples from advertising, politics, and behavioral psychology to illustrate the everyday dishonesty which should be unacceptable in science.

  3. Here is what the TED people themselves have to say about removing Sheldrake’s talk from their archives:

    “While TED does not vet speakers at independent TEDx events, a TEDx talk can be removed from the TEDx archive if the ideas contained in it are wrong to the point of being unscientific, and that includes misrepresenting the scientific process itself.

    Sheldrake is on that line, to some commenters around Twitter and the web. His talk describes a vision of science made up of hard, unexamined constants. It’s a philosophical talk that raises general questions about how we view science, and what role we expect it to play.

    When my team and I debate whether to take action on a TEDx talk, we think deeply about the implications of our decision — and aim to provide the TEDx host with as clear-cut and unbiased a view as possible.

    You are invited, if you like, to weigh in today and tomorrow with your thoughts on this talk. We’ll be gathering the commentary into a couple of categories for discussion:

    1. Philosophy. Is the basis of his argument sound — does science really operate the way Sheldrake suggests it does? Are his conclusions drawn from factual premises?

    2. Factual error. (As an example, Sheldrake says that governments do not fund research into complementary medicine. Here are the US figures on NIH investment in complementary and alternative medicine 2009-2010: )

    As a note: Please know that whether or not you have time or energy to contribute here, the talk is also under review by the TED team. We’re not requiring your volunteer labor — but we truly welcome your input. And we’re grateful to those who’ve written about this talk in other forums, including but not limited to Jerry Coyne, PZ Myers, Kylie Sturgess and some thoughtful Redditors.”

    • dude, gravity changes from time to time and place to place. Therefore it can’t be a constant. Therefore Newtonian mechanical science is a load of hogswash. Just because something happens 99.99% of the time with mechanical precision, doesn’t mean that inexplicable forces can’t intervene to fuck that up!

      • Of course gravity is a constant. It varies in perfect accordance with well-understood mechanisms. . . like, if you’re closer or farther from the Earth’s center of gravity. There’s no mystery there.

      • I suspect the confusion about gravity varying in the same place from day to day stems from the use of sensor hardware that is (A) not all that accurate in the first place, and (B) sensitive to changes in temperature, air pressure, humidity, etc. The cheap little MEMS accelerometer in an iPhone, for instance, would be liable to give you a different reading every day.

        Other than that, true variation in gravity is mundane and well-described mathematically. Altitude plays a role, and local mineral densities can come into play. The position of the Moon can make a slight difference, and even less so, the position of the Sun. Nothing mystical, nothing magical, nothing mysterious about the mechanics of it at all.

        Rupert Sheldrake can say anything he wants in a TED talk, although the TED people themselves may (and did) reject it if it simply isn’t rigorous and accurate. He’s not challenging the status quo and being hushed out of fear that he’ll topple the foundations that Newton laid; he’s playing silly buggers and being ignored out of disinterest for silly buggerisms. Let’s see him publish something under peer-review, and survive the rigor and thoroughness of the resulting rebuttals.

        From the TEDx rules on speakers:
        “Speakers must be able to confirm the claims presented in every talk — TED and TEDx are exceptional stages for showcasing advances in science, and we can only stay that way if the claims presented in our talks can stand up to scrutiny from the scientific community.”

        Sheldrake fails that test.

        I recommend that you read PZ Myers’ blog, PHARYNGULA.

      • I think the misunderstanding here is that location on Earth affects the gravitational force felt by the Earth. That is, the F in F = Gm1m2/r^2. But that’s not what’s being discussed here, Sheldrake is talking about the Big G. But here’s the thing, that equation has two measures (mass) that are dependent on gravitational forces to describe gravity. Just as the meter would change with the speed of light, the gram would change with Big G.

      • Sheldrake’s claims about gravity are ALL predicated on his assertion that, back in the 1920s, the speed of light was measured as being 20 meters per second faster than we measure it today. . . but while today’s measurements are accurate within 1.1 meter per second, the margin of error on the 1926 experiment that Sheldrake cites was ±4 KILOMETERS per second.

        Sheldrake is a fraud, or a damn fool, or both.

      • I think you mean preceded, not predicated. I didn’t hear any relation in those two separate arguments, although his presentation might lead one to think otherwise.

        Ignoring the fact that Sheldrake is absolutely correct that the speed of light, BY DEFINITION, is tied to the metric of the meter:, the nature of gravity, in 2010, is still not absolute. Gravity Probe B can only produce 95% confidence in Einstein’s model of gravity:

        That puts confidence around 3 Sigma, magnitudes of certainty away 5 Sigma level required for most particle physics:

        This video, while it may be subject to scientific error, I feel should simply remind scientists to keep questioning the status quo of science itself. To believe we have an absolute understanding of anything, even universal constants, is part of that status quo.

      • No, I said ‘predicated’ and I meant ‘predicated.’ I’m not referring to this TED talk, which I didn’t bother listening to. Sheldrake and his half-assed ravings are nothing new to me.

        To those who think something is being covered up: yes, the TED people decided not to include Sheldrake’s talk in the main body of TED talks. . . but if they were covering something up, they’d have deleted it and zipped their lips about it. Instead, they archived it where anyone can still get at it, and issued a statement about their reasons for archiving it.

        To those who think the scientists rejecting Sheldrake’s assertions should be busy at work proving or disproving them: that’s just not how it works. It’s up to Sheldrake to try to prove his assertions under peer review; the burden of proof is not on anyone but him. At that point, it would be appropriate for scientists to (A) critique his methodology and conclusions, and (B) try to reproduce his results, assuming his methodology seems reasonably sound. Since Sheldrake hasn’t done this, there’s no reason to listen to him prattle on about it. If scientists spent all their time trying to disprove the assertions of cranks, kooks, quacks, frauds, and con men, actual real science would grind to a halt while the scientific community wandered lost in a miasma of bullshit.

        To those who think that it’s at all likely that some garage tinkerer or media whore or rogue scientist working entirely outside of peer review might overturn all of the work done by Newton and Einstein: science is the authority that questions itself, by requiring reproducible evidence. There are no shortcuts around that process. If J. Random Nutbag really has something genuine derived from sound methodology that can be observed by others who reproduce that methodology, then it will survive peer review no matter how much it flies in the face of what is currently believed. That’s how science works, and if it didn’t work, you wouldn’t be sitting in front of a ridiculously powerful yet tiny computing device, connected to a worldwide network of similar devices, communicating with each other at near-instantaneous speeds. As Randall Munroe says: “SCIENCE: It works, bitches.”

      • I’m not debating whether science can have testable predictions, I’m debating dogmatic acceptance of previous experimentation. There are lots of alternative cosmologies given how little we currently know, some of them more rigorous than others.

        The Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, a very popular and very predictive theory, introduces non-locality at odds with special relativity, another very popular and very predictive theory. Obviously, something is wrong with one theory or the other, but neither shows any signs of being less predictive. Using either theory as simply a “current best practice” seems to make sense, until something better comes along.

        I simply wouldn’t be so quick to believe that scientists don’t possess subjective belief systems. But then I’ve also read this: (The Egg and the Sperm: How Science Has Constructed a Romance Based on Stereotypical Male-Female Roles)

      • You said:

        “I’m not debating whether science can have testable predictions, I’m debating dogmatic acceptance of previous experimentation.”

        The problem here is your inaccurate use of the word ‘dogmatic.’ If, as in Shmendrick’s case, you’re not actually challenging the standard model currently in use by presenting some kind of credible evidence that is verifiable via peer-review, then it’s hardly fair to say that the scientific community is being dogmatic about it. . . unless you think it’s dogmatic to insist on credibility itself, which is just silly.

      • So the scientific community has never defended models when presented evidence to the contrary? Never, ever, right?

      • You’re trying to trap me with a strawman argument. Of course that’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is that Schlubrock hasn’t presented any evidence.

      • Of course I was, and it would have been very boring had you fallen for such an obvious trap. And while Sheldrake’s challenges are unsupported, I feel the essence of what he’s pointing at is completely valid; “freethinkers” have replaced God with Science. And despite science (little s) evolving as new theories and evidence is presented, freethinkers stubbornly ignore philosophical issues Science can’t answer:

        Deterministic materialism leaves no room for free will. Quantum mechanics even less so, but the conscious mind subjectively persists and cannot be located by science. While anecdotal evidence may not be sufficient, I’ve experienced this to a small degree. I was diagnosed with walnut-sized glioma in my right frontal lobe. After having it excised, despite this being the “executive area” of the brain, there was no perceivable effect on my conscious self. Notably, this area of the brain tolerates full lobectomies with little to no effect on the perceived “conscious” mind.

        The non-magical thinkers would have me believe that I am a philosophical zombie, without presenting fact or evidence, without fully understanding the systems and processes in effect, without anything so much beyond “well, there’s nothing more rigorous than science, and magic is just silly.”

        Of course, even the best scientists have been averse to ideas that upend their world view. One of the most notable examples being:

        “God does not play dice.”

        Many agree that Einstein was unreasonably averse to a theory that was probabilistic and non-local. Yet, it’s the best model we’ve got to describe sub-atomic interactions.

        But perhaps this all stems from my own connotations with the word “magic.” Let me present Clarke’s 3 laws and then my own corollary to the third:

        1.) When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
        2.) The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
        3.) Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

        My corollary is simply the converse of the third:

        Any sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology.

        All of today’s “magic” may one day be common place technology and accepted science. To say that is impossible is not party of the scientific method. You may prove what is possible, you may have an idea of what is probable, but unless you know all of everything, science doesn’t get to say what’s impossible. And I support the scientific method as our best means of inquiry about Nature, but so few embrace its aspect of perpetual evolution and change.

      • I’m sorry, but your “of course I was [using a strawman argument], and it would have been very boring had you fallen for such an obvious trap” has robbed me of any possible interest I might have in discussing this further with you. If you can’t be intellectually honest, then there’s just no point in trying to reason with you. I can see all kinds of gaping holes in the rest of what you say, but there’s no point in enumerating them when there’s no reason to think you actually believe what you’re saying in the first place.

        The proper purpose of debate is to get closer to truth. If you’re a student learning how to debate, then scoring debate points is fine; once you’re no longer a student and have presumably mastered the fundamentals, debating to score points is a fundamentally dishonest act that obscures and obfuscates truth rather than illuminating it. I am not a student and do not wish to debate student-style with anyone unless I’m being paid to teach.

      • Okay, except I do believe what I’m saying, and have given numerous opportunities for you to refute those beliefs. I was simply trying to break the argument away from Sheldrake, which is the only thing you’ve been willing to discuss. You barely touched on any example I provided and just focused Sheldrake’s failings. Sure, that’s the OP, but I would prefer to discuss flaws in the scientific community, like confirmation bias, which is a real issue even in the presence of randomized, controlled experiments and peer review.

        Regardless, don’t feel obliged to respond. I’ve read your post in the link above and can take a stab at the holes you would enumerate. Thanks for sparking a fire though, I don’t often write on this topic.

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