The Weiler Psi

Parapsychology Journalism: The People, The Theory, The Science, The Skeptics

TED Psi Wars Double Bonus Round: Chopra Smacks Down Anderson


This post is a variation of a theme I’ve already covered, but this is such a good example that I have to share.

In a Huffington Post blog article by Deepak Chopra, MD. FACP, Stuart Hameroff, MD, Menas C. Kafatos, Ph.D., Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D., and Neil Theise, MD, these authors took TED to task for all the same things that have already been covered by what seems like a thousand people.  There was nothing particularly unusual about that; consciousness research is in their wheelhouse and this was a choice opportunity to take some shots at the intellectual equivalent of a training dummy.  Chris Anderson and TED have gone a course that is built upon an easily discovered lie and it is no great matter to point out that lie and get down to the business of delivering a good smack down.  There have been several incredibly eloquent examples of this.  (Ben Goertzel.); (Charles Eisenstein.); (David Metcalfe.)

In choosing to quash the mountain of consciousness research and all the people who support it, TED has instead given them a platform upon which to build their case.  It’s a very easy thing to use TED as an example of the legitimacy of consciousness research because all anyone has to do is ask TED to explain its reasons for pulling the videos and TEDxWestHollywood and point out how vacuous the reply is:  the response is always the same:

“I got nothing”

What set this encounter apart from the others was that apparently Deepak Chopra et.al. blogging on the Huffington Post was enough to goad Chris Anderson into responding with the same rather poor logic that he has been using all along.

Is TED under the thumb of “militant atheists”?!

That’s another simple no (and a chuckle). We certainly have talks on our site from prominent atheists like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. We also have talks by religious leaders, including Pastor Rick Warren, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard and His Holiness the Karmapa, among many others. Religious scholar Karen Armstrong won the TED Prize in 2008. Benedictine Monk David Steindl-Rast will speak at TEDGlobal this June. When it comes to belief in God, and the practice of spirituality, a broad swath of beliefs are represented on TED.com, and also in our organization; our 100-person staff includes observant Buddhists, Bahai, Catholics, Quakers, Protestants, Jews and Muslims, as well as agnostics and atheists.

Militant atheists aren’t bothered by religion, which they regard as simply the woo of belief in the bearded sky daddy.  They are, however, threatened greatly by serious consciousness research which undermines their belief that science, -which they consider to be the only source of truth- is firmly on their side.  Although this distinction is glaringly obvious to everyone who follows this stuff, Anderson just glosses it over.

Should TED have a policy of asking its TEDx event organizers to avoid pseudo-science?

Your note implies we should not. We should allow “any speculative thinking…” and just let the audience decide. I wonder if you’ve really thought through the implications of that. Imagine a speaker arguing, say, that eating five Big Macs a day could prevent Alzheimer’s. Or someone claiming she was the living reincarnation of Joan of Arc. I’m sure at some point you too would want to draw the line.

A humble college freshman could point out the flaw in this statement:  it’s a straw man argument.  Anderson has completely side stepped the hard problem of dealing with the evidence for non local consciousness by comparing that research to the reincarnation of Joan of Arc and Big Mac research.

But he or she should expect to face a robust standard of proof before their ideas take hold. And for every Galileo, there are thousands of people who just have bad, unscientific ideas. That’s why in our guidance to the thousands of TEDx organizers around the world, we ask that they steer clear of talks that bear hallmarks of unsubstantiated science.

Another straw man.  He is not not talking about consciousness research because that meets a robust standard of proof.  Anderson again steps away from the hard problem of the evidence by simply pretending that it doesn’t exist.

Anderson isn’t saying anything here that he hasn’t already said before; that is to say, copious amounts of nothing.  All he has given here are ridiculously vague statements that never specifically deal with the reasons for TED’s actions.  To claim that someone is practicing pseudoscience is, itself, a claim.  You have to provide proof for your statement otherwise all you have is this:

“Yeah, well, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.”

The point here, is that criticizing TED is ridiculously easy and when Anderson replies, Chopra responds in the best way possible:  he lets others do the talking for him.  I found this one the most compelling:

As a psychologist and professor who has spent years studying and teaching about consciousness at a public research university, I am alternately shocked and amused at the lengths people will travel to preserve an outmoded, materialist belief system in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. I have colleagues who know nothing about the complexities of consciousness studies yet who, in their ignorance and arrogance, snidely condemn it as “pseudoscience”, much as TED and its “anonymous” scientific advisory board have done. In response I have trained myself and my students to ask “What specific studies and data are you troubled by? What experimental procedures are you questioning?  Have you read Thomas Kuhn’s “Structure of a Scientific Revolution?”  Invariably the answer is silence.

The kind of backlash exemplified by TED has occurred again and again since Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake in 1600 for proposing what astrophysicists now call “the multiple worlds theory”, and it is always is at its most vociferous and vicious as a new way of thinking is emerging. But, as Thomas Kuhn reminds us, the old guard eventually and inevitably gives way to the new. I am currently teaching an upper-division undergraduate course entitled “Consciousness, Ethics, and the Natural World.” Among other works that we are reading is Rupert Sheldrake’s “Dogs that Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home.” Yesterday I asked my students what they thought about TED’s censuring of Sheldrake. Here are some of their thoughts:

“TED is starting to exclude the very minds that it was created to gather.”
“TED is behaving in a very immature way….just like middle school cliques.”
“TED has become a synonym for censure.”
“To which special interests will TED bow before next”?
“The scientists who pressured TED into censuring Sheldrake are afraid that accepting his perspective invalidates their own work and that they’ll be pushed aside. They don’t realize that there’s room for everyone in the Multiverse.”

These are students at a mainstream research university for whom Sheldrake’s ideas are common sense rather than “pseudoscience.”” Clearly, this latest scientific revolution is upon us.

Kathleen D. Noble, Ph.D.
Professor of Consciousness
School of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math
University of Washington – Bothell

The kids have this one figured out.

I keep emphasizing how easy it is to criticize TED and Chris Anderson because I want to demonstrate something important that has shifted in the Psi Wars.  There is nothing to fear from the skeptics.  I used the analogy of a training dummy earlier because they hit back with all the force of a four year old boy.  Once you get past their invective, insults and bad arguments you’re left with . . . nothing.  They have no intellectual position to stand on; they can’t prove that they’re right and they can’t prove that we’re wrong.  If you look at it from this perspective, you’ll see what I see: Chris Anderson has closed the gates and walled himself up in his castle because his arguments are too weak to march into battle.  As anyone who understands warfare will tell you, if all you can do is defend, then you have already lost; it’s just a matter of time.

It’s as if the skeptics have been viciously attacking us and we cowered at first, but then suddenly realized that they can’t punch hard enough to even bruise us.

You can see that happening here.  Deepak Chopra et al have no fear of Anderson or TED.  They know that the skeptics have no answer, no legitimate argument; no science to fall back on.  Everyone can march right up to their gates and debate them with only the most feeble responses in return.  Sheldrake and Hancock knew this when they challenged the science board to a debate.  Everyone knows what cards the skeptics hold:  They’ve got nothing.  They can’t give a good explanation of their actions, they can’t debate Sheldrake or even Hancock; they won’t respond to the open letter by Ken Jordan and they have no real answer to Deepak Chopra’s criticism beyond bland corporatese assurances that say all the right things but have no substance at all.

What I’ve presented here is a way of looking at what’s happening.  We can either be upset by the intransigence of skeptics and complain about how they distort everything or we can choose to view them as making desperate moves to shore up their defenses against rising tides.  The former is a defensive position that plays right into their hands, the latter acknowledges that we are taking the field and driving them back and forcing them to operate with a diminishing number of supporters and a shrinking space in which they can say what they please without having their poor arguments exposed.  As far as I can tell, this is what winning looks like.

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23 comments on “TED Psi Wars Double Bonus Round: Chopra Smacks Down Anderson

  1. Michelle Drake
    June 25, 2013

    THE MYSTERIES  :  
    Amongst other spiritual gifts, I am clairvoyant.

      Many things are presented to me in advance of actual happening, some due to collective telepathy, others far into the future are the work of God.

    What I voice and what I write down manifest themselves.

    Nothing new, it has been there for thousands of years.

    Such happenings have been given a label, “THE MYSTERIES”.

  2. Pingback: Favorite blogger Craig Weiler follows up on Deepak | TEDxWestHollywood

  3. Pingback: The TED Talks Controversy | Calculating Soul Connections

  4. Tom Blaschko
    May 7, 2013

    One thing that I find lacking in the consciousness research is agreement on a credible mechanism for the observations that are being made. My proposal is to add a fifth force, which is on a par with the four accepted physical forces. It has has names like chi or prana, but I prefer to use the English term “life force”. You can read more about it and it’s implications for how we all are connected together here: http://calculatingsoulconnections.com

  5. Pingback: TED's suppression of Rupert Sheldrakes and Graham Hancock talks still creates waves

  6. Christophe
    May 7, 2013

    I’m totally with Sheldrake and the whole thinking on new based ideas. I in fact gave a presentation at school about the quantum implications on neurology and psychology.
    But one thing we have to take in consideration is that we should not talk about those atheists, but I for one am a big atheist (am a Buddhist), but am totally following the thoughts of Goswami, Rama, Chopra and others, but instead of referring to them as the atheists, consider talking about the positivists because that is the issue at stake here.
    Talking about the ‘atheists at Ted’ implies that we are god believers… I mean come on. Let’s stay on track here.
    ‘god’ is a filthy and raped concept due to all the shite going on in the world and that has gone wrong due to religion.
    Stay of the god course, and all will be more accepted!
    I repeat:
    It’s positivism that we should counter!!

  7. Sly
    May 3, 2013

    You may enjoy reading the following related piece of opinion:
    http://plover.net/~bonds/nolongeraskeptic.html

  8. Anonymous
    April 26, 2013

    It was always going to be a only matter of time before Anderson had the tide turn against his decision. We are collectively conscious of such ignorance.

  9. Robert Bolman
    April 25, 2013

    I performed this piece at a poetry slam where I live in Eugene, Oregon:
    Rob

    Oh, how we must feel for all those career scientists shaking in their white lab coats and their intelligent, comfortable shoes.  Those scientists with their research grants, tenure and publishing.  For how they must suspect that the paradigm on which they have structured their careers is about to come crashing down.  For just as surely as various branches of the military have been training psychic spies since the early 1980’s and the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research Lab has demonstrated that people can influence streams of random numbers using nothing but their minds, and as countless telepathy studies have produced results defying odds of millions to one, we may rest assured that those scientists DO NOT want to be told, “Uh, excuse me.  As it turns out, the nature of the physical universe is actually several orders of magnitude more complex that what you’ve been believing all this time and it operates on the level that is so subtle that your most sensitive laboratory instruments are fully unable to detect it.”

    Ironically, it is medical science itself that has brought us countless near death experiences convincingly illustrating that it is possible for sentient consciousness to exist outside of a biological body. And when we concede THAT, all bets are off! There can be life after death. There can be angels and other nonbiological beings and indeed, yes, there can be an energetic field of intelligence that permeates all of creation – something that one may choose to refer to as “God”.

    So, the next time you see a career scientist in his white lab coat with a shirt pocket protector, be real nice to him. Treat him as a person about to lose a loved one, because indeed, everything his life is based upon is about to go “poof”.

  10. Mark
    April 24, 2013

    I can’t say that I agree that this is, necessarily, winning. I do think that we have to fight back, but not by just saying that they are going to win if we give this enough time, because that might not happen. I hope that it does, but even if we win this one by sitting back and waiting for the win to happen then we’ll have the same problem with pseudoskepticism when the next crazy-sounding, yet true, idea comes along. I don’t think that we can “rest on our laurels.”

  11. Rupert McWiseman
    April 23, 2013

    Some further thoughts, after reading the “skeptic” responses to Chopra et. al.

    1) Almost all the “skeptics” respond in an extraordinarily puerile manner – if they are trying to present themselves as embodiments of reason and rationality, they are doing a pretty poor job of it. “Woo-woo” name-calling seems to be almost compulsory – and it appears that even Sam Harris now engages in this practice. The “skeptics” convey a corporate image of aggressive, testosterone-fuelled, emotionally-driven, 15-year-old males. (As indeed, many of them probably are.)

    2) There is no engagement with the evidence other than unsupported statements such as “the latest brain research supports materialism”. No papers are quoted; one gets the impression that a lot of “skeptics” are simply repeating the opinions of their fundamaterialist gurus rather than thinking for themselves.

    (I am reminded of the classic example of remote-viewing researcher Stephan Schwartz debating militant atheist Daniel Dennett. The latter used the standard “skeptic” tactic of pontificating that ALL psi research was badly conducted, flawed, inconclusive, fraudulent, woo-woo etc.

    Schwartz then said to Dennett, “pick a paper we are both familiar with, and tell me why it’s flawed.” Dennett – without thinking – retorted, ” you don’t think I actually READ this stuff, do you?” The audience exploded with laughter; they had just learned a lot about “skeptics'” attitude to studying the evidence.)

    3) There seems to be an almost palpable, visceral fear amongst “skeptics”, concerning any link between quantum mechanics and spirituality. It is as if they sense that this is where the battle for their ideology will be lost.

    Again, blanket statements along the lines of “there is no connection, it’s all woo-woo” are given. There is no mention of those physicists such as Eugene Wigner, Amit Goswami, Casey Blood, Henry Stapp, Hans-Peter Durr and Richard Henry who insist that non-local consciousness is DEMANDED by quantum mechanics.

    (I am a layman and do not have the ability to interpret the implications of quantum mechanics. It appears that there are two schools of thought, BOTH of which are consistent with the data – one is a materialist explanation of the quantum world, the other is an idealist view. It MAY be that the materialist interpretation will prevail, but at this stage it is quite premature – to say the least – for “skeptics” to assert that this is a done deal.)

    In summary – I find myself in agreement with your views, Craig, that the “skeptic” community is presenting itself in an ever more desperate, emotional, immature and irrational manner. This surely speaks both to the steadily-accumulating evidence for non-local consciousness, and to the increasing ability of the educated lay person to see through the “skeptics'” sciencier-than-thou cloaking device.

    • i feel it takes quite a bit of stamina to actually read comments sections wherein the name-calling type of ‘skeptic’ troll about. i can’t handle it, personally. of course it may because i ‘can’t handle the truth’ but more likely i wince with revulsion at statements made by folks with seemingly little critical thinking abilities. i’m still holding out for polite society discussions about why something is or is not so. an athiest friend recently said to me (was he joking….i’m not sure) : “the proof that there is no god is god doesn’t exist”. my heart welled up with sympathy for someone i’ve known for many years and is exceptionally talented in many areas. oh, what a simpleton, i thought kindly.

      • Michelle Gibson
        April 23, 2013

        Totally agree, Billy, I myself try to avoid the comments sections in general, as it’s inevitable that at least *someone* will show up and start name-calling, bullying, etc. To sensitive people such as you and myself, it can be very emotionally upsetting. Sometimes, just being treated in a hostile manner online can get me down for quite a few hours.

        I don’t think it’s a case of you or I not being able to handle the truth. I, and I suspect you, would be more than happy to listen to opposing points of view if they are presented in a polite and respectful manner. It’s the rudeness and bullying that we find unpalatable.

    • Michelle Gibson
      April 23, 2013

      Excellent analysis, Rupert. (Also – assuming this isn’t your actual name – I like the way you’ve chosen an amalgamation of a proponent (Shedrake) and a sceptic (Wiseman.)

      The more I see of the name-calling and the bullying, the more it bothers me. I’ve come to feel that it’s nothing more than bigotry. We are to the pseudo-sceptics what Jews were to the Nazis, or what blacks are to white supremacists. That’s really how it feels sometimes. I get the impression that some of these people would herd types like you or myself into Auschwitz-style camps if they could!

      We live in a society where, thankfully, anti-semitism and racism are no longer tolerated. Yet prejudice towards psychics, mediums, occultists, etc is acceptable, as is openly expressing that kind of prejudice. I can’t stand seeing someone call an individual who is a psychic or a proponent of psi a “woo-ist.” It’s a bigoted slur and I’m coming to think that it’s as bad as calling a black person the N-word.

      I’d love to see psychics, spiritualists, etc take more of a stand for their right not to be bullied and to be treated with respect. You may remember on the Paranormalia blog, I referred to the idea of ‘Psychic Pride’ marches/events. It’s something I seriously think people ought to do. It’s helped the gay community out – maybe it will help us.

      • craigweiler
        April 23, 2013

        Michelle,
        You might like this post I did a while back . . .
        https://weilerpsiblog.wordpress.com/2011/09/14/psychic-people-the-last-quiet-minority/

        • Michelle Gibson
          April 25, 2013

          Already read it several times, Craig! It’s a great post…it’s actually what first got me thinking that psychic people are in a similar boat to how blacks and gays have been in the past (and sometimes presently.)

          May I make a suggestion, though? It might be a good idea to add a paragraph (maybe towards the beginning) stating that you’re not trying to say that psychics suffer the same prejudice that gay people have, and do, just that you are drawing up what you feel are similarities. The reason I suggest this is because I quoted some segments of the post to someone who is both gay and a psychic, and I think he was a little annoyed/offended, as he said he’d never experienced the kind of abuse, as a psychic, that he had as a gay man.

      • Rupert McWiseman
        April 24, 2013

        Hi Michelle,

        I tend to agree with you that a sizeable percentage of the “skeptic” community are – to judge from their online behaviour – people filled with hatred who need a target.

        With Jews, blacks, gays and women now being politically off-limits, these individuals have targeted believers in God, and proponents of psi, as the new Untermenschen.

        The irony is that if these “skeptics” investigated the inner teachings of religion – the Perennial Philosophy – they would discover a path leading them away from hatred.

        I can recommend to them (and to everyone else!) the essay “Loving Our Enemies: The Core of Jesus’ Vision in the Sayings Gospel Q” by Robert Perry (downloadable from mustardseedadventure.org). This made an immense impression on me; it should be compulsory reading for people on both sides of the god/psi debate. No woo-woo here, just the deepest compassion and wisdom.

        BTW you are quite correct about the origin of my username. It reflects my efforts to maintain genuine skepticism. (On another forum I appear as “Randi McSheldrake”!)

    • Thomas Jespersen
      April 25, 2013

      In the comments to the Huffington Post article there was a link to an article trying to explain their behaviour:

      http://thomassheridanarts.com/articles.php?article_id=82

      The brain part of it I cannot comment on, but the behavior he describes fits my observations.

    • Jason
      April 26, 2013

      Rupert,

      Sam Harris commented on the TED talks?

      • Rupert McWiseman
        April 26, 2013

        Jason,

        Don’t know if Dr. Harris commented on TED – I was referring to a response to Chopra’s TED letter by a “skeptic” who said (approximately – I don’t want to re-read the “skeptic” thread as it was a depressingly negative experience):

        “We should deal with Chopra the way Sam Harris dealt with him during a debate – kept calling his work “woo-woo”, it drove Chopra mad!”

        If this is correct, it’s a further indicator of Dr. Harris’ sad decline into fundamaterialist intolerance – his ill-tempered (and somewhat insulting) reaction to Dr. Eben Alexander’s NDE book has, for some people, already tarnished his reputation as one of the more thoughtful and open-minded “New Atheists”.

        • Michelle Gibson
          April 26, 2013

          Disappointing, as, while certainly no fan of organised religion, Harris has appeared in the past to be open to the possibility of some aspects of psi. Didn’t he once say something in defence of Rupert Sheldrake? He also seems to have something of an appreciation for Buddhism, or at least parts of it.

          I can’t stand the phrase “woo-woo” and I’m beginning to dislike those who insist on using it as a way to mock those of us who are interested in a spiritual reality. And what a childish way to respond to someone’s arguments – instead of treating them politely and offer their own opinions, counter-points and counter-evidence, they name-call, sneer and bully.

          I wonder how the pseudo-sceptics can fail to see how immature and, well, just plain *mean* they are being…but then I think to myself, “Perhaps that’s the point.” If, as I suspect, many of the bullying types are actively bigoted against spiritual people, in the same way that a racist is bigoted against a person of a different skin colour, then they don’t care about how childish or nasty their behaviour is – to them, it’s justified in some perverse way, because they see us as lesser specimens.

          It also demonstrates just how effective bullying and ridicule can be in swaying others to your way of thinking, or, at the very least, of intimidating those in disagreement into keeping silent. Most people don’t exactly want to be attacked and mercilessly mocked, so they can either adopt the same worldview as the bullies in an attempt to be a part of the “in crowd” and avoid being picked on themselves, or they can have spiritual belief but feel too threatened to openly express it.

          (Mind, I’m not saying that the bullying and ridicule are the *only* reasons someone would would adopt a materialistic atheist worldview – most, I believe, have come to their view in other ways – but the bullying behaviour can cause the scenarios I described above.

          Hopefully, more spiritualists, psychics, New Agers, etc will start to stand up for themselves more and make their views known. If we want to eradicate the prejudice, we’ll have to fight against it.

        • Jason
          April 27, 2013

          Rupert,

          Ok I got you…

          Yes I agree with you about Sam Harris… I am kind of disappointed in him… I kind of liked him before.. but not after that whole Eben Alexander thing…. now this doesn’t mean that Alexander is not without criticism… he could of went about it differently… but the way Harris went at it was intellecually dishonest and low… how are you going to trash someone in a blog… but you turn down a debate with them in public… then lie about in your next blog post… not only that he totality distorts NDE’s and the man book… if I saw this behavior from anyone even a proponent I could not take them that seriously……

  12. Rupert McWiseman
    April 23, 2013

    These are very disappointing and extraordinarily lame statements by Mr Anderson – the disturbing thing is that they sound EXACTLY the sort of thing that a “skeptic” would come out with: “We have to defend the Holy Temple of Materialism against the massed hordes of infidel woo-mongers. Burn their books and brand them as heretics”.

    One could be forgiven for thinking that Mr. Anderson is posting responses dictated to him verbatim by Messrs. Coyne and Myers – are these gentlemen now pulling TED’s strings?

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This entry was posted on April 22, 2013 by in Psi Wars, Skeptics and Skeptic Arguments and tagged , , , , , .
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