Rupert Sheldrake reaches out for advice
In August of 2013 is when Rupert contacted me via an email, asking me for advice about what he should do about his ‘Wikipedia problem’.
Rupert never asked me to edit his Wikipedia article, nor did he pay me to edit his Wikipedia article. He wanted my advice and I freely volunteered after I investigated his claims that editors were being harassed on Wikipedia. Rupert asked me because of my expertise with social media and online consensus building and his scenario was exactly what I was looking for as a developer of collaborative processes and platforms.
I met Rupert Sheldrake once before this – about a year earlier in 2012 in Northern California where we briefly became acquainted. He mentioned he saw my TEDx talk Google Consciousness, and wanted to ask me some advice about his website and the use of social media, as his new book ‘Science Set Free‘ was being published in the US. So we met for tea. I always thought Rupert Sheldrake was a very interesting person and he was very pleasant to speak with.
Many of his questions were common ones for those unfamiliar with the landscape. Our discussion lasted about 30 minutes or so, I gave him the usual advice I would offer anyone at a cocktail party, far from a ‘content strategy’ which is normally what I provide.
I told him to reach out if he ever needed anything else. Not much came from that talk other than a question or two about Twitter, and I assumed Rupert was satisfied with my advice and we never spoke much more about it, until he emailed me regarding his problem with Wikipedia, informing me that skeptic editors were harassing other editors working on his article. This was my only relationship with him prior to editing on his Wikipedia article.
While I find Rupert Sheldrake a deeply fascinating person with some very interesting ideas, when it comes to the more ‘fringe’ concepts of psi, telepathy, and parapsychology, honestly the research and studies on those things have never been much of an interest to me and I am very unfamiliar with the territory. I’ve never read most of Sheldrake’s work in those areas until he contacted me . Since then I’ve read his ‘Science Set Free’ and more recently ‘The Presence of the Past’. I have since of course familiarized myself with many of Sheldrake’s ideas through his website and online videos, including his notable history of encounters with skeptics and the scientific community since editing his article on Wikipedia.
Personally, having met him and since the Wikipedia controversy spent more time in conversation with him, I can also say he is a wonderful human being, both him and his wife Jill. Rupert is genuine. I don’t have a science background, so I can’t offer any wisdom on morphic resonance as an hypothesis one way or another – I just find it an interesting elegant idea that was generated by an interesting and original thinker. True or not – morphic resonance is creative. I appreciate that. I find Rupert and some of his ideas genuinely interesting to me from a philosophical perspective.
I also found Rupert Sheldrake to be a formidable opponent to those he challenges, and speaks with an eloquence that I admire. In public debate, I believe he has done an amazing job simply ‘showing’ a bias that exists against mind/body subject matter, a certain bigotry exposed in the behaviors of the subjects detractors. Rupert responds to them rationally and calmly. His detractors seem aggravated, angry, emotional, abusive, and often over the top in their attempts to discredit him. This became a new field of discovery for me – and working with Rupert led me to meet some other interesting figures engaged in cultural battle for the ‘mind/body’ problem.
Why I helped Rupert
I’m a wiki idealist, and believe Wikipedia is amazing. I also believe Wikipedia is just a precursor to what is possible with large scale collaborative platforms. In my TEDx talk I gave in 2011, I spoke about how social media platforms like Wikipedia could evolve to a form of governance, and government as we know and use it today will eventually be replaced by such platforms.
Therefore – the ‘neutral point of view’ approach to the world’s largest encyclopedia is something I deeply admire. Many people want to treat Wikipedia as a vanity piece or biography – a way to promote their ideas and work. I learned that the hard way in 2006 and it was a valuable editing experience at the time. I’m personally against Wikipedia being used for those purposes and I was hoping this was not what Rupert was asking me because I would feel uncomfortable if I had to let him down. He informed me he was just asking my advice about what to do regarding editors on his Wikipedia page whom have taken it over and were bullying others away from editing. So I went to his page to check it out.
I was absolutely blown away, offended even, by the voice Rupert Sheldrake’s Wikipedia article was written in. It seemed to contradict basic neutrality, the core principle of Wikipedia. Although my Wikipedia practice was lazy, I never participated much I was a massive supporter. When I saw that some Wikipedia editors were vocal detractors of Rupert’s and appeared to have taken over his article. Anyone who disagreed with them was a ‘fanboy’ and was bullied away for any infraction they could find.
It was perfect.
For me this was a level of engagement with collective editing that always had a very strong appeal, consensus building, along with the natural allure of a very public ‘wiki war‘, which appealed to my nerdish sensibility. I wanted to experience that process on Wikipedia for myself. I never discovered an entrance into the process before Rupert’s request for advice.
When I went to Rupert’s page, I believed I finally found what I was looking for, a perfect entry place into Wikipedia consensus building. The subject matter seemed benign to me, nothing controversial from my perspective. This was an opportunity to make a contribution to Wikipedia as a dedicated editor that had a focus. I would commit to making a page more neutral all the way through every level of Wikipedia’s mediation process if necessary.
I responded to Rupert’s inquiry. I told him that I too was shocked and I wanted to do something here, but informed him that I viewed this as a project I would take on for my own personal interests. He did not have to advise me, pay me, or guide me. I informed him that I believed what was happening on Wikipedia was contrary to the guidelines, and all I would do was go in and create the arguments based on Wikipedia’s own policy.
UPDATE: Since the publication of Wikipedia, We Have a Problem in late 2013 I’ve been contacted by a few others dealing with Wikipedia editors who edit their biography pages, one of them Deepak Chopra. At the time Chopra supported the work I was doing with Wikipedia and online consensus building and gave me a grant to continue – then hiring me to negotiate his Wikipedia article and build an architecture for a library that could address the Wikipedia problem among other things for researchers in the mind/body area. Unfortunately – this did not end as planned and I am no longer affiliated with Deepak Chopra nor do I have any relationship with him. However – the work I did on Wikipedia under the grant he provided and the research that came from that operating as SAS81 is still apart of the study found on this site, soon to be published.