Tag: skepticism

237. Dr. Patricia Churchland Sandbagged by Near-Death Experience Questions

Click here for YouTube version Click here for forum discussion Interview with neurophilosophy expert Dr. Patricia Churchland reveals a lack of understanding of near-death experience science. Join Skeptiko host Alex Tsakiris for an interview with University of California, San Diego philosophy professor Dr. Patricia Churchland.  During the interview Dr. Churchland seems flustered over questions about near-death experience science: Alex Tsakiris:  Yeah, but I think we also have problems with the idea that consciousness is an emergent property of the brain thing? I interviewed Christof Koch from Cal Tech last year and he’s the guy who I sent people down this direction that we can no longer claim that consciousness is a product of the brain and we have to move towards this middle position where as he says, consciousness is ontologically distinct, but never really defining how consciousness begins, how consciousness ends, or exactly what the relationship is with the brain. I think a lot of people are more comfortable with Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins’ okay, consciousness is an illusion than they are with this middle ground. I don’t really know how that answers the big questions of what the nature of consciousness is other than just to repeat that consciousness is something that the brain does. That doesn’t tell us much. How does it begin? When does it end? What’s necessary and sufficient to cause consciousness? These are all questions that are unanswered by what you’re saying. Dr. Patricia Churchland:   Well, neuroscience hasn’t got all the answers yet. Alex Tsakiris:  But that’s just passing the buck. We don’t have the answers. Those are fundamental questions. If we don’t have the answers then we don’t have a theory of what consciousness is, right? Dr. Patricia Churchland:   That’s what your view seems to be, all right. Alex Tsakiris:  I’m just saying these are basic. When does consciousness begin? When does it end? What is necessary and sufficient to create consciousness? If we can’t answer those then what do we really have? What can we really say about consciousness? Dr. Patricia Churchland:   Well, I guess we can’t say anything. Alex Tsakiris:  Okay. I think we can say some things. Let me ask you this—I didn’t mean to throw you completely off. Do you want to get back to talking about your book? Dr. Patricia Churchland:   No, not really. Alex Tsakiris:  Okay. What do you think about near-death experience? You write quite a bit about that in your book and what is your general take on near-death experience? Dr. Patricia Churchland:   Well, I’m not sure that it really matters, does it? What does it matter for? Alex Tsakiris:  I think a lot of folks look at near-death experience as highly suggestive of consciousness somehow, in some way we don’t understand, surviving biological death, which would certainly falsify that other idea that it’s so tied to the brain and that consciousness ends at death. I mean, that would falsify that, right? Dr. Patricia Churchland:   Oh, I’m sorry. My dog just came in. No, no, don’t do that. No, no, no, no. Forgive me, I’m sorry. Okay. So yeah, okay, I guess I’ve never have actually had a near-death experience. Have you? Alex Tsakiris:  No. Dr. Patricia Churchland:   Oh, okay. Alex Tsakiris:  But you write quite a bit about it in your book. Dr. Patricia Churchland:   So why do you want me to talk about it? Alex Tsakiris:  Well, I guess one of the things I did want to ask you is in your book you ask the question, “Is there a neurobiological explanation for near-death experience?” Then you cite NDE researcher and a former guest on this show as answering that question with yes. You say that Dr. Pim Van Lommel believes the answer is yes. Is that your understanding of his research? Dr. Patricia Churchland:   Well, I think there’s certainly quite a bit of evidence that at least some near-death experiences have a neurobiological basis. Of course, we can’t be sure about all of them. Maybe you had one that doesn’t have a neurobiological basis. I wouldn’t really know, would I? Alex Tsakiris:  Well specifically, Dr. Churchland, you cite in your book that Dr. Pim Van Lommel holds that opinion. That’s clearly not the case. I mean, he’s written… Dr. Patricia Churchland:   Has he? Uh-huh (Yes). Alex Tsakiris:  Right. Do you want me to read to you what he’s written? He’s written that “The study of patients with near-death experience (and this is from The Lancet paper that you’re citing) clearly shows us that…” Patricia Churchland's Website Listen Now: Download MP3 (25 min.) Read It  Welcome to Skeptiko, where we explore controversial science with leading researchers, thinkers, and their critics. I’m your host, Alex Tsakiris, and for this episode of Skeptiko I almost feel like I need to issue one of those warnings that they put on the front of shows that have content that might be inappropriate for some viewers. You know, I’m always surprised when people are squeamish over confrontation, conflict, or debate of any sort. I get that on one level. We don’t want to see people squirm and we want everyone to be nice to each other and all that. I get that. But on another level, I want you to consider that in this interview with Dr. Patricia Churchland, who I’ve really been trying to contact for years. I have emails going back several years in which I tried to contact this woman. She is a well-respected academic, Oxford educated, also UCSD which is a prestigious university out here in California, highly regarded at conferences, gives speeches, and has blabbed about these ridiculous ideas about consciousness that she has.

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224. Dr. John Searle and the Science Bullies

Click here for YouTube version Click here for forum discussion Click here to post comments on AlexTsakiris.com Interview with esteemed Berkeley philosopher and consciousness researcher Dr. John Searle examines the state of academic consciousness research. Alex Tsakiris:  What we’ve been exploring is some of the evidence suggesting that consciousness may not be purely biological. We really started with parapsychology and folks like Rupert Sheldrake from Cambridge and  Dean Radin who used to be at Bell Labs and is at IONS. But put all that aside because the real kicker is near-death experience science. Here are these doctors, in hospital, carefully controlled experiments over and over again, and the brain you’re talking about, Dr. Searle, is gone. It’s non-functioning; it isn’t there; and yet some kind of conscious experience that’s able to see and recall what’s going on continues. That evidence is pretty overwhelming at this point. What do you do with that? How does that fit into your model? Dr. John Searle:   I don’t know. The stuff that I know about this tends to be rather anecdotal. Now maybe there is some really systematic, large-scale study of near-death experience that shows you can have consciousness without a brain but I don’t know of any such study. What I’ve heard is largely anecdotal. The mistake that people tend to make is they think, look, either these people are lying or there’s a miracle. Of course, both of those are probably wrong. People are perfectly sincere who report near-death experiences but it doesn’t follow that you can have consciousness completely separated from the brain; that this miracle is actually taking place. I’d have to know a whole lot more about it and see more systematic studies, as I said. The accounts that I’ve heard tend to be anecdotal. They tell a story about a guy who has had some unusual experiences. Alex Tsakiris:  There is actually a lot of published work on this. The best compilation is probably The Handbook of Near-Death Experiences edited by Jan Holden at the University of North Texas and Bruce Greyson at the University of Virginia, who is very well-known in this area. Dr. John Searle:   I don’t know enough about this stuff to have an intelligent opinion. Of course, it might turn out that 100 years from now we’ll have this conversation in heaven or in my case more likely the other place. The idea that you have to have a brain in order to be conscious, that’s a kind of silly idea people had back in the 21st Century. It might turn out that way; I don’t think it will. ---------- On today's episode I have an interview with Dr. John Searle.  Now, before we get to the interview I want to tee up a question for you.  As you know, I usually do this at the end of the show, but since the question relates to the quote you just heard,  and since the question relates to something else I want to talk about I'm going  throw it out there now -- How do you explain Dr. John Searle's willful ignorance of near-death experience science?  Moreover, why is he so clueless about parapsychology?  And most importantly, why does he think it’s ok to summarily dismiss all evidence pointing to any model of consciousness other than his hopelessly obsolete mind=brain clunker. Let’s consider near-death experience science since it's the most dramatic example of science that delivers an evidence-based kill-shot to the mind=brain carcass. How can a highly acclaimed, internationally renown expert on consciousness, who gives TED talks and is invited to scholarly symposiums on consciousness, how can that guy be less informed about the published peer-reviewed literature than your average Oprah Winfrey fan?  It's not like he doesn't understand what's at stake.  As you'll hear, he agrees the survival of consciousness question is central to all other scientific assumptions about consciousness.  So why is Dr. Searle shamelessly, unapologeticly ignorant of this science?  Well, that's the other thing I wanted to talk about before we get to this interview -- science bullies. Back in March of 2013, Robert McLuhan published an article on the organized effort of Skeptics/Atheists to rig Wikipedia (Guerrilla Skeptics).  By organizing themselves into a tight-knit team and dedicating themselves to making literally thousands rule-bending Wikipedia changes, these self-described Guerrilla Skeptics have had remarkable success.  For example, Parapsychology is a lost cause on Wikipedia. It's absolutely impossible to get anything close to a "neutral point of view" from Wikipedia on any parapsychology topic.  If you don't know what I mean, and you have a strong stomach, go to Wikipedia see for yourself.  If you're a listener to Skeptiko, and you have a really strong stomach, search "psychic detective." Now, if you are appropriately outraged, and have a strong masochistic streak, enter Wikipedia as an editor and try and straighten out one of those pages.  I mean, you're supposed to be able to do that, right?  Wikipedia is an open-source encyclopedia.  Anyone with knowledge of the subject is supposed to be able to edit, right?  But before you try and fix things over at Wikipedia read this blog post from Craig Weiler titled, The Wikipedia Battle for Rupert Sheldrake's Biography.  And then take a look at Dr. Rupert Sheldrake's article on the same topic (Wikipedia Under Attack). As a listener of this show, none of this is new to you.  You know the dogmatic craziness of these fundamentalist Skeptic/Atheist groups can rival any religious cult, but you might be surprised at the zeal with which these group are going after science.  Rupert Sheldrake after all isn't a bible-thumper.  He's not a creationist.  He hasn't taken a stand against, "a woman's right to choose", or called for a ban on gay marriage.  No, he's a Cambridge biologist who wrote a book about Dogs that Know When Their Owner's are Coming Home.  And followed it up with a book about how science might want to be a little less dogmatic about defending the materialistic status quo.  There are many highly esteemed scientists who think Sheldrake's ideas are brilliant and admire his willingness stand up to the attacks he's had to endure, but none of that matters to the science bullies. The biggest problem is not Guerrilla Skeptics on Wikipedia, or iTunes, or Reddit or any of the places  these folks go to try and heal their meaningless-by-definition lives (Atheist dogma, see: ep. 219, ep. 221).  The problem is the impact they have on Dr. John Searle.  Because you see, Berkley Philosophy professor, Dr. John Searle is not a professional Skeptic.  He's not a fire-breathing, you-are-a-biological-robot Atheist.  In fact, within the mainstream science community he's seen as a progressive because he's willing to reject the silliness of the "conciseness is an illusion" nonsense that still grips many die-hard materialists.  But when it comes to the tough stuff, the stuff that would truly set science free from the materialistic/reductionistic/atheistic dogma that cripples it, Searle is willfully ignorant.  Is it an ignorance borne out of a chummy academic life and a long list of accomplishments?  Perhaps.   But I think this ignorance is also a byproduct of a materialistic science culture that has been traumatized into complacency by Skeptical Bullies who push, shove, and spit insults any free-thinking academic who dares to challenge their status quo.  It's not that Searle is playing to the Skeptics; he's unwittingly absorbed their eyes-wide-shut worldview into his own without forethought or deliberation... and that's the greatest threat to science. So, let's hear from Dr. John Searle.  It's a short interview, mainly because I ran out of things to say to someone who thinks parapsychology died with J. B. Rhine in 1980 (continued below). Play It  Listen Now: Download MP3 (34 min.) Read It: Today we welcome esteemed Berkeley philosophy professor, Dr. John Searle to Skeptiko. Dr. Searle has a worldwide reputation for his acclaimed work on the philosophy of mind and language. He’s the author of over a dozen books and hundreds of articles and papers exploring issues of consciousness and mind/body mysteries. Dr. Searle, welcome to Skeptiko. Thanks so much for joining me. Dr. John Searle:   Thanks for having me.

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223. Dumbest Explanation Yet For Near Death Experience

Click here for YouTube version Click here for forum discussion Click here to post comments on AlexTsakiris.com Examination of recent research from the University of Michigan linking surge in brain activity of dying rats to near-death experience science. Join Skeptiko host Alex Tsakiris for a look at two interviews that shed light on recent reports suggesting a scientific explanation for near-death experiences has been discovered in the work of Dr. Jimo Borjigin, at the University of Michigan.  The study found a surge in electrical activity in the brains of dying rats.  Researcher and science writers offered this as a possible expatiation for human near-death experiences.  As we’ve seen in the past, research supporting a convention explanation for near-death experience receives considerable attention form the mainstream science media.  This study was no exception with stories popping up on the BBC, ABC, CBS, FOX, National Geographic and many other media outlets.  (continued below) NPR's report on the research Play It  Listen Now: Download MP3 (43 min.) Read It: Many Skeptiko listeners sent me this links to the various reports on this research, and I kept pointing them to a past interview I had done a couple of years ago relating to this topic, but since I never mentioned it on the show I thought I do so now. In June of 2011 I interviewed George Washington University Medical Center Professor, Dr. Lakhmir Chawla, who discovered a surge in the brain’s electrical activity seconds before death might in humans.  Here’s a clip from Skeptiko episode 140: --------- Alex Tsakiris: So, Dr. Chawla, in 2009 you published a paper with the surprising discovery that some of your patients who were very close to death experienced a final surge in brain activity and the paper has gained quite a bit of traction, media attention, mainly because of this quote of yours: “We think that near-death experiences could be caused by a surge of electrical energy as the brain runs out of oxygen.” It‘s been a while since that paper was published.  So first I want to ask you, do you still think that what you saw has anything to do with near-death experience? Dr. Lakhmir Chawla: Obviously all of the patients in our study passed away so there’s really no way for us to truly know if what these people were experiencing is, in fact had they survived, being the signature of a near-death experience. What we did notice which was very striking is that in all these patients--and in this study we reported on seven patients on which we had very good documentation. We’ve seen these electrical surges, EEG activity, at the end of life in over 100 patients and what we basically have, I hypothesize that when people pass away something occurs in their neural structure. We have a hypothesis for why this may be happening, that causes this large intensity of electrical energy. What we basically hypothesize further and speculate is that if somebody within the field, someone who’s having a heart attack, for example, and their heart stops and the oxygen to their brain went down and they have this sort of terminal surge of energy and then they were resuscitated and brought back, it’s very likely that they would recall that electrical surge. If they did recall that electrical surge, we hypothesize and speculate that that could be what people describe in their near-death experiences. The one thing that we’ve seen rather consistently when you read the literature of near-death experiences is that not everyone has the same imagery. Not everyone has the same experience. But the one thing that they all have in common is that the experience is very intense and very vivid. People can usually recall many, many years later on with great detail what they experienced. So it would take something that would be a very durable electrical event of energy for someone to have that. So we put those notions together and arrived at that speculation. Alex Tsakiris: Okay. I just wanted to confirm that and it’s interesting that you reference the near-death experience literature. I’ve had a chance to interview some of the world’s leading near-death experience researchers and gosh, I even went back and talked to some of them about this. I couldn’t find any of them that would even seriously entertain that kind of speculation. As a matter of fact, privately one of them told me, and this is pretty harsh, but he said, “It’s one of the dumbest explanations for near-death experience yet published.” So I guess I was really wondering exactly where you’re coming from, exactly what near-death experience research you’ve dug into that makes you feel like the speculation that you’re talking about would fit the broader research that’s been done into near-death experience. Dr. Lakhmir Chawla: No, I mean I’m not a researcher in near-death experience. That’s not my primary scientific interest. We are basically at the bedside taking care of very sick patients in the intense care unit. I don’t pretend to have any incredible insight into what these are or are not. All we are saying from our group’s scientific standpoint is that we see a very consistent signature for patients when they’re passing away. We are not the only investigators to report this; it’s now been investigated and reported by multiple investigators.

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Esquire Magazine caught lying. Dr. Eben Alexander’s NDE account prevails |220|

 Interview with Robert Mays reveals a disturbing pattern of misrepresentation and distortion in Luke Dittrich's Proof of Heaven expose published in Esquire Magazine. photo by Derek K. Miller Join Skeptiko host Alex Tsakiris for an interview with Robert Mays about his recently published article,  Esquire article on Eben Alexander distorts the facts.  During the interview Mays talks about  what his investigation discovered: Alex Tsakiris:   The Dittrich article in Esquire, it's extremely well-crafted. Let's give them that. And he builds this case with the facts that he has, but he really builds this whole thing around -- this guy's a liar.  He approaches it from a number of different angles, some of which are really substantive to the story like the coma thing, and these other things that he picks at, but they do kind of stick in your mind as you're reading the article.  Like the rainbow thing. Tell us what the rainbow thing is all about and then tell us what you found out. Robert Mays:   In the book, on Sunday morning according to the story that Dr. Alexander wrote, his sister, Phyllis, and his mother, Betty, were coming into the hospital and saw a perfect rainbow. They felt this was a sign. Dittrich took this as saying Heaven itself was heralding Eben Alexander's return. Dittrich then asked the meteorologist whether there could have been a rainbow then and the meteorologist said, “Well, the day was clear so there couldn't have been.” I said, “Well, wait a minute. Two people said they saw it.” So I called Phyllis Alexander and she said, “Definitely we saw a rainbow. Betty remarked that it was a perfect rainbow.” They talked about it. Then they went immediately up to Eben's room and there Eben was, sitting up. So that was the time that he had recovered. Alex Tsakiris:   And just to add a little tidbit that you talk about in your article that I thought was great and is the real kind of journalism that we would have liked to have gotten from Esquire is that you not only talked to these eyewitnesses, which he did not--he just went on some meteorological report--but they also had evidence. It was such a spectacular event that they had written an email. Robert Mays:   Right. That day Phyllis said she had written to friends in Boston who were praying for Eben. She said, “Eben has recovered and I saw a beautiful rainbow as I was coming into the hospital.” So there's that documentation, as well. So Luke Dittrich's argument there is empty. Alex Tsakiris:   It's shoddy journalism. If you're trying to debunk something, which I've run across so many times, that's one thing. You're a debunker. You're just out there throwing whatever you can against the wall and seeing what sticks. But if you're Esquire, who still has some kind of legitimacy as a journalistic enterprise, you have to do more than this. You have to talk to witnesses. You have to get their side of it. I think this lays a pattern for what else we're about to talk about. (later) Alex Tsakiris:   Here's what you get from Luke Dittrich's story in Esquire -- Dr. Laura Potter discredits Dr. Eben Alexander's story.  It couldn't have happened the way he described.  He wasn't really in a coma. He was delirious. So why don't you pick up from there, Robert? You've said you put a couple calls in to Dr. Potter at this point in the story. You haven't heard back. What happens next? Robert Mays:   I received, from members of the family copies of emails that they had been sending back and forth.  In that was a statement that Dr. Potter had made. Later I learned it was a statement that she had issued to a news organization. Apparently that news organization did not use it. In any case, that statement was that she was misquoted and taken out of context. So I said, “Whoa. This is really quite strange.” Alex Tsakiris:   In fact, she stated that her account was misrepresented, and that she felt like the questions weren't fair.  And this is backed up by what you heard from the family, right? Because the family talks to Dr. Potter and she's apologizing, saying “Gosh, I don't know how this happened.” That's what I took away from your article. Is that what you got from talking to the family? Robert Mays:   Right. And basically Dr. Potter expressed to the family that she had been misrepresented and that her words were taken out of context by Luke Dittrich and that he had led her to say certain things. The question that Luke Dittrich says he posed to her I don't think is a question he actually posed to her when she said, “Yes, conscious but delirious.” It would be very interesting to see what exactly happened in that interview and just understand what she was responding to. Alex Tsakiris:   I think it would be more than interesting. I think it's absolutely his responsibility, given the damage that this article has done and sought to do from the beginning. There's an added level of journalistic responsibility to get your facts right. These things being called into question this way demands that he really back up his claims. (interview transcript continued below) Robert and Suzanne Mays Website Click here for YouTube version Click here for forum discussion Commentary: Esquire article on Eben Alexander distorts the facts Read It: Today we welcome Robert Mays to Skeptiko. Robert, along with his wife, Suzanne, have been longtime researchers in the field of near-death experience and consciousness studies. They've published quite a few papers and have done presentations for both, the International Association of Near-Death Studies Conference, and the well-known Science of Consciousness Conference in Tucson, Arizona. So, anyone who's familiar with this field very well might have bumped into the work of these two very interesting and excellent near-death experience researchers. Robert is here today to talk about a new article they just published titled, “Esquire Article on Eben Alexander Distorts the Facts,” in which they tell about their investigation into the near-death experience account of Harvard neurosurgeon Eben Alexander, who last year published a blockbuster best-seller book titled, Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Near-Death Experience and Journey Into the Afterlife. So with that I'd like to introduce you to Robert Mays. Robert, thanks so much for joining me today on Skeptiko. Robert Mays:  Thank you. I'm glad to be here. Alex Tsakiris:   Before we dive into this article that you've published on Dr. Eben Alexander's case and then the book and the controversy that's stirred up around that, I thought you could tell us a little bit about the research that you and Suzanne have done. In checking out your website there's a lot of stuff that you guys have published in this field. Tell us a little bit about that.

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213. Earl Lee’s Shocking Theory Links Hallucinogenic Mushrooms to Christian Burial Rites

Interview explores theory suggesting that hallucinogenic substances were central to the development of religious thought and practices. Join Skeptiko host Alex Tsakiris for an interview with Earl Lee author of, From the Bodies of the Gods: Psychoactive Plants and the Cults of the Dead.  During the interview Lee talks about his theory: Alex Tsakiris:   In your book, you connect the use of hallucinogenic mushrooms by Shaman, depicted in these cave paintings, with some rather shocking ideas about how mushrooms might have been cultivated and used in early Christian. Take us through that. Earl Lee:   My theory is that in ancient times there were people who were identified as a Shaman, either male or female, who was the person who would consume the mushrooms in order to prophesize the future, whether it was good crops or they needed to travel to some other place, and that sort of thing. Over time, as a Shaman used the mushrooms, the mushroom spores would get on their clothing and then later when that person dies and is buried, I think there’s a very strong likelihood, especially if they’re in a shallow grave, and a moist grave, for those mushrooms to actually grow, living off of the mixture of the natural fibers plus whatever viscous liquids might be wicked up from the decaying body. The reason I think this is probably what happened is because I think that at some point the bodies were accidentally unearthed and people saw these mushrooms growing on these bodies and decided that this person was particularly holy and that the mushrooms that come from a corpse are probably particularly valuable in terms of communicating with the gods or the next world or the afterlife. That linked in people’s minds that this is what we use to communicate with the dead.  With the gods that listen to the dead.  And how we have visions of the next world. You can see that idea reflected, particularly in Egyptian religion, but in other religions, too. (continued below) Earl Lee's Blog Click here for YouTube version Click here for forum discussion Play It  Listen Now: Download MP3 (51 min.) Read It: Welcome to Skeptiko, where we explore controversial science with the leading researchers, thinkers, and their critics. I’m your host, Alex Tsakiris, and on this episode of Skeptiko I have an interview with a professor from Pittsburg State University where we explore his interesting theory that the origins of many of our religions, including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, can be traced back to the use of hallucinogenic drugs. He even has some startling evidence about the cultivation of those mushrooms but we’ll leave that for the interview. What I want to do before the interview is to add a little context to this dialogue, particularly since Earl Lee is an Atheist, a rather outspoken Atheist, and as much as I appreciate his scholarship on this topic and the information that he’s brought forth which is really important for understanding these traditions that are so much a part of our culture—I don’t care if you live in Europe and you think you’ve shed yourself from all religious trappings and all the rest of that. Hey, these Abrahamic traditions are woven deep, deep, deep into our culture and there’s no escaping that. So this kind of work, that aims at seriously re-writing or rectifying that history, I think is important to all of us. At the same time, I’m amazed how academics in general and Atheists in particular can’t look deeper into the psychedelic experience and what it points to in terms of extended human consciousness. I mean, all the current research we have with hallucinogenics, Rick Strassman, David Nutt, all the rest, suggest that hallucinogenics are pointing us not towards the same old mind equals brain paradigm but to this idea of extended human consciousness. Now, to Earl’s credit, I think he’s willing to go there more than most people are but it still amazes me that more can’t see how this little twist in the story from “tripping early Christians” to “early Christians who are achieving transformative spiritual experiences through the aid of psychedelic drugs”, why that little twist in the road isn’t more obvious. This was a fascinating discussion for me. I really appreciate the scholarship of Earl Lee, whose work continues to fly under the radar despite its massive implications. I hope you enjoy this dialogue with Earl Lee from Pittsburgh State University: Alex Tsakiris:   Today we welcome Earl Lee to Skeptiko as a faculty member and honorary professor at Pittsburgh State University. Now that’s in Kansas, folks, but it is called Pittsburgh State. Earl is the author of a fascinating book titled, From the Bodies of the Gods: Psychoactive Plants and the Cults of the Dead. Fascinating stuff. Earl, thanks so much for joining me and welcome to Skeptiko. Earl Lee:  I’m glad to be here.

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207. Rupert Sheldrake Censored by TED Conference’s Anonymous Scientific Board

Interview with Dr. Rupert Sheldrake about censorship of his Science Set Free lecture. Join Skeptiko host Alex Tsakiris for an interview with Dr. Rupert Sheldrake author of, Science Set Free: 10 Paths to New Discovery.  During the interview Sheldrake talks about the controversy: Alex Tsakiris:   The irony of this is, if not hilarious, certainly inescapable. A reputable Cambridge biologist publishes a book claiming  science is dogmatic.  He’s then censored by an anonymous scientific board.  You can’t script that any better. What does this say about how science can be dogmatic without even realizing it’s dogmatic? Dr. Rupert Sheldrake:   I think this whole controversy and the people who have weighed-in in favor of TED’s actions do indeed confirm what I’m saying. These dogmas are ones that most people within science don’t actually realize are dogmas. They just think they’re the truth. The point about really dogmatic people is that they don’t know that they have dogmas. Dogmas are beliefs and people who have really strong beliefs think of their beliefs as truths. They don’t actually see them as beliefs. So I think this whole controversy has actually highlighted exactly that. The other thing that is highlighted is that there are a lot of people, far more than I imagined actually, who are not taken in by these dogmas, who do want to think about them critically. One of the remarkable things about these discussions is lots of people are really up for the discussion of these dogmas. They really want it to happen, far more than I’d imagined, actually. I’m impressed by that and I think this TED debate has actually helped show that the paradigm is shifting. There’s no longer a kind of automatic agreement by the great majority of people to dogmatic assertions by scientific materialists. Dr. Rupert Sheldrake's Website Click here for YouTube version Click here for forum discussion Play It  Listen Now: Download MP3 (31 min.) Read It: Today we welcome Dr. Rupert Sheldrake back to Skeptiko. Many of you know the work of Cambridge biologist, Dr. Rupert Sheldrake, including his latest book, Science Set Free. But now you may have heard that this book has seemed to have struck quite a nerve because Dr. Sheldrake has found himself in the middle of a controversy surrounding the censorship of a video lecture that he presented and that was then posted on the very popular TEDx YouTube channel. It was then removed after—and get this—an anonymous scientific board deemed it unscientific. Rupert, welcome back to Skeptiko. Thanks for joining us. Tell us what’s happened here. Dr. Rupert Sheldrake:   Well, you summarized it more-or-less. I gave a talk at the TEDx series of talks in London in Whitechapel. The organizers were young women, students at London University, who organized a very lively event. It was called Challenging Existing Paradigms. They asked me to talk about challenging existing paradigms, which seemed just the right theme for my book, Science Set Free. So I did a TEDx talk for it. It was extremely popular; the event was sold out. There was a lot of lively discussion that was really fun. It went up on the TEDx website, as these TEDx talks often do, and all was well until it was denounced by two of America’s leading militant skeptics, PZ Myers and Jerry Coyne, who didn’t like it because it upset their rather dogmatic materialist worldview. So they called for it to be taken down and they said it discredited itself, etc. They put enormous pressure on TED and then they got armies of their supporters to send emails to TED and put comments on websites.

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