- Explore GCP
By Roger Nelson
The history of controlled laboratory research on interactions of human consciousness with physical random systems tracks the development of microelectronics and computers. The first large database experiments were conducted by Helmut Schmidt, at Boeing Laboratories, in the late '60s and early '70s. The number of experiments and investigators grew over the next decade, and in 1979, Robert Jahn, at Princeton University, established the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research (PEAR) laboratory to focus on an engineering approach to the question whether sensitive electronic devices including random components might be affected by special states of consciousness, including strong emotions and directed intention. I joined the PEAR group in 1980.
At the PEAR lab, the primary experiment used a custom designed Random Event Generator (REG or RNG) incorporating a well-developed commercial source of electronic white noise. This bench-top experiment provided control over parameters such as the speed and size of the samples drawn from the random sequence of bits. For example, it might be set to collect a 200 bit sample at a rate of 1000 bits per second, and to register a trial each second consisting of the sum of the 200 bits. The equipment displayed the current output trial value and a running mean as feedback to the operator. The experiment used a tripolar protocol, with instructions to maintain an intention to achieve either a high or a low mean, or to let the machine generate baseline data. Over more than a decade this basic experiment yielded an enormous database, with a bottom line indicating a small but significant effect of human intention on random data sequences. A paper describing 12 years of research (pdf) at PEAR, using several different mind-machine interaction experiments, is available.
My job at PEAR was to coordinate the research, focusing on experimental design and analysis. An important task was to computerize the REG experiment for security and ease of data processing, and to allow greater flexibility in experimental design. I had proposed early on to record a continuously running random data stream, and to use that as a target for intention with a variety of timing and assignment schemes. Such a system was finally developed in the early 1990's, when John Bradish built the first of a series of truly portable REG devices, and York Dobyns wrote software to record and index a continuous datastream of 200-bit trials, one per second, hour after hour and day after day. The "continuous REG" was used as a direct focus for some experiments, with intentions identified in the index, but we also could mark and later analyse data collected while something else was going on in the room -- another experiment, or perhaps a small, intense meeting or group discussion.
Given portable REG devices and newly available laptop computers, we were inspired to take the experiment into the field, running a modified version of the continuous software called FieldREG. The name was a double entendre, since the purpose of the experiment was to monitor something that might be regarded as a consciousness field. The FieldREG experiment (1) did not have an intention, and indeed could be used to gather data in situations with little or no direct interest or attention from people. We looked for situations that might produce a "group consciousness" because people would be engaged in a common focus, resulting in a kind of coherence or resonance of thoughts and emotions. For contrast, we identified other, mundane situations we predicted would not bring people to a shared focus. A long series ofFieldREG experiments (2) produced striking, statistically significant results. As for those in the laboratory, the effects for these "field" experiments are small, but they have implications of substantial importance for studies of human consciousness, assuming the results represent what we believe they do.
Other investigators, including Dean Radin and Dick Bierman, began doing similar field experiments looking at a broad array of situations, and we set up collaborations. For example, Dean asked some colleagues to collect data during the O. J. Simpson trial, which was expected to garner attention from huge numbers of people. The combined data from several REGs showed an impressive departure from expectation at the time the verdict was announced. Other tests looked at data taken during the Oscars, with segregation of the data into periods of strong and weak interest. Again the difference was significant.
In December 1996 I met by chance two people who were organizing a global "Gaiamind Meditation". This meeting coincided with the developing idea of attempting to register some indication of a global consciousness, making a kind of FieldREG-style group consciousness experiment in the large scale. The coincidence led me to arrange a collaboration with colleages who could record REG data that might show evidence of a "consciousness field" during the Gaiamind event. The composite of data from 14 independent REG systems showed a significant effect.
This work was a prelude for an attempt to register effects of the world-wide expression of compassion at Princess Diana's funeral in September of 1997, which, coincidentally, was followed exactly a week later by the memorial ceremonies for Mother Teresa. These were prototypical "global events" for the Global Consciousness Project, in that they were the focus of a great deal of attention, and especially in the case of Princess Diana, also occasions for an unusually widespread feeling of shared compassion.
In November 1997, at a meeting of professional researchers in parapsychology and psychophysiology, the various component ideas for what ultimately became the Global Consciousnes Project (GCP) coalesced into a practical form. The technology was becoming available to create an Internet-based array of continuously recording REG nodes placed around the world. This would metaphorically resemble the placement of electrodes on a human head for Electroencephalogram or EEG recordings, though of course the data would not be fluctuating voltages, but randomly varying numbers. The resemblance led Greg Nelson, one of our sophisticated programmers, to suggest the network could be envisioned as an "Electrogaiagram", and we began to call it the EGG Project. We later adopted the formal name "Global Consciousness Project" but continue to use an efficient terminology based on the EGG acronym and associations.
The GCP recorded its first data on August 4, 1998. Beginning with a few random sources, the network grew to about 10 instruments by the beginning of 1999, and to 28 by 2000. It has continued to grow, stabilizing at roughly 60 to 65 eggs by 2004.
The early experiment simply asked whether the network was affected when powerful events caused large numbers of people to pay attention to the same thing. This experiment was based on a hypothesis registry specifying a priori for each event a period of time and an analysis method to examine the data for changes in statistical measures. Various other modes of analysis including attempts to find general correlations of GCP statistics with other longitudinal variables have been considered, and continue to be developed.
In the most general sense, the purpose of the project was and is to create and document a consistent database of parallel streams of random numbers generated by high-quality physical sources. The goal is to determine whether any correlations might be detectable of statistics from these data with independent long-term physical or sociological variables. In the original experimental design we asked the more limited question whether there is a detectable correlation of deviations from randomness with the occurrence of major events in the world.
The GCP is affiliated with the Institute of Noetic Sciences, which manages our non-profit logistics, and hosts occasional meetings. The project has been supported from the beginning by individual donations, and by generous contributions of time and expertise. A long list of people are responsible but I would like especially to note the help in various forms from Greg Nelson, John Walker, Dean Radin, Paul Bethke, Richard Adams, Peter Bancel, and Rick Berger. The full list is much longer, and includes the egg hosts as well.