TED Relents, But Whose Hash Has Been Settled?

Originally Posted on Huffington Post – 4/22/2013

In the last go-round with Chris Anderson, the head of TED, I asked if he could locate and post the TED talk I gave in 2002 in response to a preceding talk by the militant atheist Richard Dawkins. Anderson has cordially complied, and for anyone who is interested, here are links to the pair of videos:

An open forum is all that I requested, and recognizing that TED is a private organization, they weren’t obliged to cooperate. It’s nice that they did, and I’m grateful.

In some quarters TED did me a favor by withholding the video of my talk, because I embarrassed myself and will draw even more ridicule from any scientists who view it. I am slightly embarrassed that I began by calling Dawkins a “fundamentalist and perhaps a bigot,” which sank to the level of discourse he specializes in. But the shocking part is that my points seem so eminently reasonable.

I held that modern science, although a great thing, makes the mistake of separating the observer and the observed. By positing a universe “out there” that can be measured at a safe distance, physics overlooks the obvious fact that we ourselves are part of the universe; in fact, we are an activity that cannot be separated from the total activity of the universe. This is by no means an outrageous claim. The eminent physicist John Wheeler argued passionately for a participatory universe, and the necessary link between observer and observed is part of the Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum mechanics.

That TED considers these ideas — which have far-reaching implications in every discipline — to be ridiculous underlines how out of touch their science board must be, or how enthralled by Dawkins-style propaganda. Atheism has nothing to say on these issues, anymore than believing in God or not has anything to do with the wavelength of infrared light.

My talk doesn’t promote God; I even have some skeptical things to say about religion and faith. But the moment I used hot-button words like God, spirit, intelligence, consciousness, and worst of all, design (not remotely in a creationist context), there was fluttering in the dovecote, Dawkins drew the wagons together at TED, and now, a decade later, the same dogmatism is in effect. The extent to which it is openly enforced remains TED’s business.

The affair that began with two suppressed tapes and open warnings to TEDx organizers that they must not step outside mainstream science has run its course. I imagine that TED now realizes there are more toes to be stepped on than Dawkins’. But I smiled at an anecdote that I began my talk with. A Christian fundamentalist was once conversing with the noted India spiritual teacher, J. Krishnamurti.

“The more I listen to you, the more convinced I am that you must be an atheist,” the fundamentalist said.

“I used to be an atheist,” Krishnamurti replied, “until I realized that I was God.”

The fundamentalist was shocked. “Are you denying the divinity of Jesus Christ?”

Krishnamurti shrugged. “I’ve never denied anyone their divinity. Why would I do it to Jesus Christ?”

That the audience laughed at this anecdote while militant atheists scowled, seeing an imminent danger to sanity, reason, science, and public safety, shows how far apart two worldviews can be. But I persist in believing that an expanded science will take consciousness into account, including higher consciousness. Until it does, our common goal, to understand the nature of reality, will never be reached. A universe that we aren’t participating in makes no sense, and our participation takes place at the level of consciousness, nowhere else.