Connected: The Emergence of Global Consciousness, by Roger D. Nelson
Reviewed by Robert A. Charman
The author is a cognitive psychologist who was Research Coordinator for the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research (PEAR) laboratory at Princeton University from 1980 to 2002. In 1997 he founded and still directs the Global Consciousness Project (GCP) based upon a worldwide distribution of Random Number Generators (RNGs), also called Random Event Generators (REGs), now numbering some 141 whose location is listed in an appendix. These feed a continuous stream of timed digital data to a central server in Princeton that statistically analyses the binary ‘1’ or ‘0’ output of each RNG/REG to compute whether there are more ‘1’s or more ‘0’s (so correspondingly less of the binary opposite) during a given period in excess of what could be expected by random fluctuation. An increase in local or worldwide emotional group interest in a public event, such a local sporting event, Olympic Games, tragic accidents, New Year Day celebrations, presidential elections, terrorist attacks, especially 9/11 is first identified and then the RNG output during that event is checked to see whether there is a coincident reduction in random output resulting in more ‘1’s or ‘0’s than could be expected by random variation alone. If such a coincidental reduction in randomness occurs so consistently with identified events that it is considered to be beyond chance correlation it is taken as supporting the hypothesis that we are not mentally isolated as individuals but immersed within a global human ‘mindfield’ of varying ‘strength’ and ‘coherence’ that can, and does, affect otherwise random quantum fluctuation. This book is Roger Nelson’s personal and detailed account of how and why the GCP was set up, how it operates, his assessment of its statistical findings over its 17 years of operation as correlated with public events and the conclusion he and his colleagues draw from it as summarised in the subtitle. To understand the reasoning behind the GCP we need to go back to the completely unexpected beginning.
In the mid 1970s Robert G. Jahn, then Professor of Aerospace Science and Dean of Engineering, Princeton University, was asked by a student if he would approve and mentor her proposed, and very unusual, undergraduate project. She had read papers by Helmut Schmidt, a physicist at the Boeing Science Research Laboratory interested in the theory of randomness in which he claimed that during periods of willed intention by subjects to increase, or decrease, the number of RNG ‘1’s beyond chance fluctuation that this had actually occurred. This implied that mind was affecting matter known as the psychokinetic (PK) effect. An interested but rather sceptical Jahn helped to set up the necessary equipment and Schmidt based experimental protocol. The participant sat in front of a monitor screen on which a white spot randomly spiked up and down as it moved along a horizontal line with ‘1’s recorded as spikes above the line and ‘0’s below the line. During trial periods the participant willed the spot to move either in an upwards curve away from the horizontal line or below the line which it could do only so if the REG was generating more ‘1’s or more ‘0’s than expected by random chance alone. The effect, if it occurs, is very slight as according to Nelson it amounts to about one ‘1’, or bit, per 1,000 or 10,000 bits during an average trial, but when such minute deviations are summed up and chisquared over thousands of trials an upward curve or downward curve can be graphed. Jahn was so intrigued that he set up a laboratory for further studies in a basement room of the university that became known as the PEAR laboratory that ran from 1979 to 2007. He was soon joined by psychologists Brenda Dunne and Roger Nelson as well as interested physicists, statisticians and many others. The idea was to generate so much trial data over thousands of trials that a de-randomizing of output coincident with periods of willed intention would be agreed as a statistical fact beyond reasonable dispute by the main body of statisticians even if the theory as to cause was disputed.
Nelson says that ‘to study effects of consciousness it turns out that randomness is our ally. It seems that randomness is a field in in which mind and intention, wishes and prayers can play’ (p. 57). Like tossing a coin in which each head or tail outcome is independent of the previous outcome so is therefore unpredictable, the ‘white noise’ of radioactivity as recorded in terms of successive ‘1’s or ‘0’s is also unpredictable. There is no signal in undisturbed RNG noise, but according to Nelson, the random source is very labile and ’easily diverted from its random path’ if its output is influenced by an outside source. When this occurs the signal within the noise is the reduction in random output. Nelson proposes that an RNG can be considered as a ‘sink’ for ‘structured information’ (p. 57) that can slightly de-randomise the output during its period of influence. If willed intention as in the PEAR trials can affect the output of an RNG across space the implication is that consciousness is having an effect beyond the brain, so mind can be considered as a mental field of influence extending into space. Nelson states that ‘Our wishes, our intentions and moods, even if transient, are very highly structured’ (p. 57) so when millions of people are feeling the same emotions concerning a dramatic public event the global mindfield will be acting in resonant, structured coherence registered statistically as a decrease in randomised RNG output. By the mid 1990s Nelson considered that the PEAR results had demonstrated this hypothesised field effect as exerted by participant willpower beyond reasonable doubt. Based upon his reading of Eastern philosophies concerning the universal nature of mind and consciousness, and influenced in particular by the Jesuit palaeontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s The Phenomenon of Man (1955) in which Chardin proposed that the earth is enveloped by a noosphere of human mind, Nelson wondered if this concept could be put to the test by establishing a worldwide network of RNGs whose output, taken as sensitive to the hypothesised global mind, could be monitored to show if there was any RNG group deviation from the random mean during the days of publicly demonstrated emotional events, divided into similar Event Categories. During 1997 this line of inquiry became formalised as the Global Consciousness Project based upon an expanding worldwide network of REGs known as the FieldREG.
Through 28 chapters divided into four Parts and dozens of illustrative graphs showing summed deviations upwards from the random horizontal mean Nelson (pp. 108-109) takes the reader through how the GCP works, from the Network Variance, defined as the squared composite mean of the normalised deviations across the network of RNGs (the Stouffer Z), lists the statistical factors involved in the standard analysis and the factors in the control data. In Chapter 15: Event Categories and Results graphs of RNG deviations coincident with many named categories and dates of public events are then described and discussed. The complete technical details can be found at http://global-mind.org/egghosts.html The ‘egghosts’ refers to the FieldREGS being referred to as ‘Eggs’.
In Part Four: Interpretation and Meaning conclusions drawn from statistical analysis of billions upon billions of statistically sampled RNG trials are summarised by Nelson as follows (p. 258):
Consciousness has presence in the world.
Consciousness is extended and non-local.
Humans are connected at a deep level.
Mind can have effects we have not imagined.
Cooperative intention has consequences.
When we are coherent we create a Noosphere.
It is time to accept oneness as modern wisdom.
Nelson proposes that ‘we are swimming in a consciousness field that we cannot detect by any of our normal sense’ (p. 282) comprised of billions of extended individual mental fields that are normally chaotic in their interaction with each other so therefore cancel out, but when attention is focussed on a particular public event such as the O.J. Simpson trial or 9/11 that evokes a common emotional response, the resulting overall global field becomes resonantly structured, or coherent, and it is during this period that it influences the FieldREGs, imposing a coherent bias that slightly de-randomises the otherwise random ‘white noise’ of undisturbed radioactive output. It must be stressed that the hypothesised global mindfield is an inference drawn from the apparent correlation between the period of identified social events and apparent slight de-randomising of FieldREG output considered to be in excess of random variations about the mean.
Reading the book and looking at all the dozens of graphs illustrating rising curves on the Y axis during the times of the event duration along the X axis it all looks very convincing, and as it is based on the statistics of very large numbers one would expect these findings, regardless of their fieldmind hypothesis, to be accepted by other statisticians as indicating that something unusual is occurring. It therefore comes as rather a shock to find that after 40 years of combined PEAR and GCP inquiry as to whether willed intention or disturbances in the hypothesised global mindfield can influence RNG output their publicly available findings of apparently slightly de-randomised output co-incident with such hypothesised influences does not seem to have met with acceptance on statistical grounds by commentators not involved with the FieldREG programme.
To take the dramatic events of 9/11 as an example (discussed on pp. 139-148). This is probably the most viewed televised event ever witnessed with worldwide horror as it was happening. According to GCP theory it should have caused major coherent global consciousness pertubations with such an exceptionally large de-randomising effect on the 37 Field REGs then available that it would be beyond statistical argument, and this is certainly how it looks according to graphs timed with the succession of tragic events as the two aircraft separately struck the upper stories of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre in New York, the resulting flames and huge columns of rising smoke, the sight of people falling from the upper floors and then the horrifying collapse of one tower followed by the other tower played out over nearly two hours. The GCP graphs cover four days before the attack and four days after (September the 7th to 15th). They look very convincing and seem to confirm the hypothesised FieldRNG/Global Consciousness relationship as proposed by Nelson. In contrast, however, the Wikipedia entry for the ‘Global Consciousness Programme’ includes reference to a detailed statistical analysis by Edwin May and James Spottiswoode (2001), available online, of the published GCP results for the 9/11 period. Their analysis should be read with great care as they came to the opposite conclusion that ‘if our analyses and interpretations of the data are correct, then it is our view that the worldwide network of EGG’s did not respond to the terrible events of September 11, 2001’ (p. 18). May and Spottiswoode argues that the interesting results displayed by Nelson were due to fortuitous choices of time windows. All the reader can do is to come to his own conclusion after reading the arguments presented by Nelson and then reading the reasons why many commentators have consistently rejected their arguments.
Another point raised by some critics is that if, as claimed, mental intention can affect matter across space in a detectable and therefore measurable way, why go to all this huge and expensive statistical programme and the resulting endlessly unresolved statistical argument when all that is needed to settle the PK debate is an unequivocal yes/no test performed in tamperproof conditions? Why not, for example, record deflection of a compass needle placed in a nonmagnetic environment to an agreed degree of angle deflection east or west of north during the timed application of intentional PK? You will have your own view on this.
May, E. C., & Spottiswoode, S. P. J. (2001). Global Consciousness Project: An Independent Analysis
of the 11 September 2001 Events. Laboratories for Fundamental Research.
Robert A. Charman can be reached at email: firstname.lastname@example.org