IS THE GLOBAL MIND REAL?
Large scale group consciousness’s effects in the physical world.
History changed course in late 2001, when the world watched in shock and horror as the World Trade Towers collapsed, destroyed by passenger planes turned into bombs by terrorists. It was a long moment of profound emotional sharing across the globe, with shock and fear turning to anguish and ultimately to compassion. In the midst of the tragedy many of us could see signs of humanity coming together as one. That was not to be, sadly. But for a moment, there was a powerful convergence of thought and emotion across the world that registered clearly in data from the Global Consciousness Project. Maybe this scientiﬁc instrument also picked up our coherence, the signature of a global mind startled awake by the intense synchronized activity of our local minds.
Broadly shared responses to events are increasingly common because our communication networks spread the word instantly when disasters strike. The great earthquakes in Turkey and the Tsunami in the Indian Ocean created tragedies that we all saw. The internet and mobile phones and high speed travel are making the world accessible and interconnected in ways that are new, but not strange. Humans are social animals and we naturally congregate. Nowadays we gather in ever larger numbers, even though global distances may separate us physically. As the New Year arrives in each time zone, we share the celebrations in Fiji, Hong Kong, Novosibirsk, London, New York, and share the anticipation of a singular midnight moment. The internet enables organized meditations that can bring a million people around the world into synchronized focus. And bad news travels very fast in the 21st century.
The Global Consciousness Project, or GCP, is an international collaboration of scientists running an instrument designed to capture possible effects of shared consciousness, much in the way that laboratory experiments have shown effects of intention on sensitive electronic devices that generate random numbers. In the lab, a person tries to change the behavior of a Random Number Generator (or RNG, though in our case we use a physical device, not a computer program) to produce smaller or larger numbers—the equivalent of ﬂipping a coin and getting an excess of heads—just by wishing or willing the change. The experiments show that human intention can induce small, but signiﬁcant changes in the output of an RNG. When we take the same instruments into the ﬁeld, we ﬁnd they also respond to special moments of group consciousness produced by shared experience in rituals and ceremonies, or inspired by great music or intense meetings of mind. The GCP instrument is a network of stations around the world where random data are collected. It uses the same technology as the lab and ﬁeld experiments, and asks the natural question: Is there non-random structure in the data when great events occur? By implication we are asking whether the RNGs might capture evidence of a global consciousness, but it will require years of work and thought to fully deﬁne this complex construct. For now we deﬁne research questions by describing what we do.
How it all started
The instrument and the questions both are the result of an organic processes. In the early 1990s, maturing technologies made it possible to take the electronic random devices used in the lab out into the world. Brenda Dunne, Bob Jahn, and I began a series of “FieldREG” experiments at the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research lab that were designed to detect something that could be conceived as a “consciousness ﬁeld.” We asked if groups of people brought by circumstances into resonance or coherence might share a group consciousness that would register in the data from our random devices. The answer was yes, even though there was no intention on the part of the group to change the data; we were simply monitoring the group environment. Over the next few years, other coincidences marked a developing vision of mass consciousness and ultimately global consciousness synchronized by engaging events. I was in the right place (the baths at Esalen) at precisely the right time to meet a couple who were organizing a global Gaiamind Meditation set for January 23 1997. That was a natural test case, as was Princess Diana’s funeral, which focused the attention and emotions of millions of people in September of that year. I asked friends in Europe and the U.S. to collect data from their RNG equipment during these global events. And, as in the FieldREG experiments, the composite data showed nonrandom structure associated with moments deﬁned by synchronized thoughts and emotions. In the fall that same year I invited colleagues in parapsychology and psychophysiology to gather in Freiburg, Germany, to share information I hoped would beneﬁt both ﬁelds. But there was a serendipitous outcome I had not expected: the coincidental metaphors of multi-point Electroencephalography (EEG) and multi-source RNG measurements coalesced as the notion of a “world EEG,” which was nicely formulated by Dean Radin.
I started talking with colleagues about making a permanent network of RNGs that would collect data at points around the globe, rather like EEG electrodes on a human head. By coincidence my son Greg had the high level programming skills and just enough free time to develop the architecture and essential programs for what would become the Global Consciousness Project. He suggested that, given the inspiration from brain studies using EEG, we might think of the new, world-spanning network as an ElectroGaiaGram, or EGG. The name stuck, of course, and we call the RNG device and software at each host location around the world an egg; consequently the software that collects and archives all the data on the Princeton server is . . . the basket. A few months later the GCP was ready to go. The universe smiled and provided the connections and funding required, and we began collecting data in August of 1998, prepared to create a history of parallel random sequences that could be correlated with the history of major events on the world stage. We knew some good questions to ask. Might there be something interconnecting us all, though we are unaware of it? Of course the sages have been saying so forever, but could we get evidence of it on paper in a scientiﬁc sense? Could the earth have some holistic response to what happens to her populations of living beings? Would we notice a global mind? In addition, there were more direct queries about the physical, social, and psychological parameters that might determine the effects.
These are difﬁcult but interesting questions that are not well represented in modern inquiry. They all require scientiﬁc clarity, but the ones about mind require also a zest for adventure in intellectual territories that have not been much explored. Since early in the 20th century, a small contingent of researchers in boundary areas of physics and psychology have been looking at the extraordinary capacities of human consciousness we refer to as psi. The GCP is an extension of this research, covering territory that isn’t possible for laboratory based experiments. We can, and do, ask whether distance matters, and whether the size of the event or the number of people is important, and we ask about the time it takes for an effect to manifest. We ask about social parameters, types of events, positive and negative valence, external vs. internal sources, depth of engagement, and more. With contributions from more than a hundred scientists, engineers, artists, and friends around the world, the project grew in a few years to about 65 sites hosting eggs, each reporting data continuously, in locations from Alaska to Fiji, on all populated continents and in nearly every time zone. The result is a research instrument built as a distributed network of devices which apparently can be affected by human consciousness under special conditions. Its purpose is to gather evidence and study indications of the subtle reach of consciousness in the physical world on a global scale. The general hypothesis we propose is that the array of random data from the GCP instrument will become non-random during “global events.” We predict departures from expectation when there is a widespread, profound sharing of mental and emotional responses. The proposition has been tested in a series of rigorously speciﬁed formal hypothesis tests. We have registered more than 280 formal experiments as of early 2009, looking at the special times described earlier. Our standard analysis measures the variability of data across the whole network during the event. This quantity is determined for each second, and then summed across the event’s duration. The resulting event score is compared with expectation to determine the signiﬁcance of any deviation. In other words, the GCP effect implies that the behavior of RNGs separated by global distances becomes correlated during events of importance to humans. This is a profoundly mysterious outcome that stretches our scientiﬁc imaginations.
The results conﬁrm our hypothesis in about 2/3 of the cases and show signiﬁcance for about 20% of the events (5% would be expected by chance). The composite result over 280 formal tests gives highly signiﬁcant evidence that something remarkable happens when we all are drawn into a community of interest and emotion. A bottom line for the 10-year experiment can be visualized in a chronological graph that shows the steady accumulation of differences of the formal data from expectation up to early 2009. If there were no effect, the jagged line representing the results would have a level trend, wandering randomly up and down. As the ﬁgure shows, the actual data have a steady upward trend. The overall statistics for the project indicate odds of about 1-in-20 million that the correlation of our data with global events is merely a chance ﬂuctuation, and we can exclude mundane explanations such as electromagnetic radiation, excessive strain on the power grid, or mobile phone use. Though this can’t be taken as proof of an awakening global consciousness, it is suggestive. In any case the results deﬁnitely present challenging conundrums for physics and psychology. We don’t yet know how to explain the correlations between events of importance to humans and the GCP data, but they are quite clear. They suggest something akin to the image held in almost all cultures of a unity or oneness, an interconnection that is fundamental to life. Our efforts to understand these complex data may contribute insight into the role of mind as a creative force in the world, able to manifest intentions and capable of conscious evolution. Perhaps it is possible to hurry the development of Teilhard de Chardin’s elegant vision for the future of man.
The GCP hosts a website with complete information about the history, technology, and methods of the project, as well as free public access to the database.
Roger Nelson is the director of the Global Consciousness Project (GCP), an international, multi-laboratory collaboration founded in 1997 to study collective consciousness. To know more about Roger Nelson, click here.