Probing the Noosphere
The Global Consciousness Project
with GCP founder and director Roger Neilson
“The implications of our findings are that we are, in fact, a little bit bigger than we know. We extend not just to the surface of our fingertips but all the way across the table, and maybe all the way around the world.”
The Global Consciousness Project, based in Princeton, New Jersey, is a system of EGG (ElectroGaiaGraph) devices whose activity is correlated through the Internet.
These EGG machines, which were originally designed to reflect coherent conscious activity, monitor the effect of consciousness data worldwide on a continuous basis in order to detect the possible emergence of patterns during globally meaningful events.
In doing this, the Global Consciousness Project has uncovered, during certain world events, many instances of significant deviation from what would be normal, random static.
Here, Roger Nelson, the man who conceived and continues to lead and inspire this project, tells us about what they have proved, what they have not proved, and how he feels we can best use the project’s information to help expand Creative Consciousness in our embattled world.
Q: What got you interested in global consciousness?
Roger: I have practically forever thought that we are all interconnected. But the Global Consciousness Project itself actually began as a few outlines I made back in college upon encountering the work of Teilhard de Chardin.
Chardin was a scientist, a paleontologist, and a Jesuit who wrote a couple of remarkable books, including Phenomenon of Man and The Future of Man, where he talked about human evolution and asked the question, “Where are we going?”
Ultimately, he thought that we were not finished, that there was another level — at least one more — a kind of destiny to acquire layers of intelligence on Earth. He describes this as our “likely next future,” a coding of intelligence for all life on Earth. And he called that intelligence coding the “noosphere.”
Chardin’s noosphere is like an atmosphere, or an ionosphere, but it’s made out of intelligence.
Teilhard was a patient man, and he knew this next level wasn’t going to happen the day after tomorrow. I think he even suggested it might take as long as ten thousand years — although that’s not a long time in terms of Evolution.
But although he wrote only fifty years ago, I think we’re seeing some beginning signs that what Chardin predicted is happening sooner, including some signs that it must happen sooner or we’re in big trouble. We’re rapidly messing up the home that we live in.
So I think we’re beginning to see a tiny glimmer — the faint, faint, beginnings — of the process of forming a noosphere, and that it’s visible in the form I like to think of as Global Consciousness.
I think we are actually changing and coming to participate in a giant kind of global analysis, or global presence. And I think we do this sometimes without even knowing it.
We’re like neurons, in a way. Neurons don’t know anything about the brain or consciousness, they just know what they need to know in order to get the job done. If there is such a thing as a noosphere, we’ll be in the same kind of position as neurons are in. We’ll do the best we can to be good humans, just like neurons do the best they can to be good neurons. And the result in just being who we are will be a kind of interconnection among humanity that becomes comfortable at a greater level, at a deeper, more profound level, so that the Earth will have what Teilhard called a noosphere.
So as to what got me interested in global consciousness and in doing a project like this, I have been working toward it for a long time. And in that time, I have learned a great deal about human consciousness “at the edges” — what we are capable of; things that most people don’t even know how to name.
Among those things is what I think of as Creative Consciousness: the idea that when we pray, for example, it may actually matter in the world.
Q: How did you first develop the tools you use in the Global Consciousness Project — the machines that detect the presence of singlemindedness among groups — and how did that lead to the project as it’s now conceived?
Roger: In 1980, after several years as a psychology professor in a small Vermont college, I went to Princeton, where they were setting up a project to study what they referred to as the “lesser known aspects of human consciousness” (they didn’t want to say parapsychology or psychic research).
At Princeton, we developed a machine — a tool or a set of tools — that could be used to capture some aspects of consciousness directly. Not fingers manipulating buttons, but the direct influence of consciousness on what’s around it.
We took that technology out in the field — to meetings, church services, rituals of all kinds — I even took it to Egypt, to sacred places like Karnak’s temple. And the instrument worked. It could see something different when people came together and became a group consciousness — when they sacrificed a little individuality in order to participate in something larger, something that comprised the whole group.
Then, around the year 1996, I started to wonder just how big that group could be.
Of course the natural Big Group is the entire population of the Earth. And just at the time I was thinking this, about using our technology to measure Global Consciousness, I met a couple of beautiful people who were promoting a kind of global meditation called Gaia Mind Meditation.
We didn’t have a network at the time, but I called or emailed my friends and said, “When the next Gaia Mind Meditation takes place, let’s get some data.”
And it worked out just as we’d hoped. We saw a significant change in the way the data looked during the time that this broad-spectrum coalition had decided to meditate and think about Gaia for five minutes on a certain day.
This happened in January 1997. And it led, as a kind of prototype, to doing the same thing the following September, when Princess Diana was killed and when Mother Teresa died.
The data on the day of Diana’s funeral — which amounted to six hours’ worth — shows huge change, apparently because many millions of people, or even a couple billion, were all thinking about Diana. Because that’s how long the whole process took, six hours, the funeral, proceedings, ceremony, speeches…
We looked at Mother Teresa’s funeral, too, but there was no change in our data then. We had to figure that one out, because it was odd. And of course we are very creative when we confront data that doesn’t look the way we think it should.
We figured that our flat data for Mother Teresa’s funeral was because she lived a long and fruitful life and her death was not a tragedy. In Diana’s case, people were torn from their foundations by her death. During Diana’s funeral, people experienced the kind of resonant coherence of profound feeling and emotion that changes who we are.
Not long after that, I had a meeting in Freiburg, Germany, with people who were interested in psychic research and parapsychology. And a few of my friends and I were standing in the hall talking about how we were going to use the EGG monitors to pick up and measure psychic stuff.
By then, we had material we’d gathered from a dozen different places during Diana’s funeral. And we began to think that the EGG electrodes could be used in some strange way for the entire planet, simply by putting our monitors around the world and connecting them by way of the Internet.
So we realized then that we could make a world EGG. And we said, “Yeah! Let’s do that.”
Q: How do the EGG devices work?
Roger: They are what we call random event generators. They produce truly unpredictable strings of bits. It’s not based on a program, there’s an actual physical device that’s creating something like the computer version of white noise. The voltage is sometimes high and sometimes low.
Consciousness can affect the output of these devices. But if conscious activity is also “random,” then the output will still be random.
So we sample this output. Every second, we gather 200 of these bits — like flipping two hundred coins — and we count the bits.
How many heads do you get when you flip 200 coins? By random chance, you would expect to get, on average, 100 heads. Right? There’s a fluctuation, of course, what we refer to as “standard deviation.” The standard deviation on flipping 200 coins is plus or minus 7. So the range should be 93 to 107 heads out of 200 flips of the coin.
But sometimes the range of numbers we get on the EGG is more like 70 to 130!
So this is the data, and it’s what we record. In every host site around the world, we do this cumulatively. The devices keep outputting an unrolling tapestry of numbers that are close to 100. It’s endless. It goes on day after day. And the question we’re always asking is, “Does this unrolling tapestry have a pattern sometimes? Or is it always just random?”
If events have no effect on Global Consciousness, if there’s nothing larger changing the way these things run, then we will always get a kind of messy, undistinguished pattern of colorful dots in the range between 93 and 107.
But on days like Diana’s funeral, or September 11, or even New Year’s day, what we get are deviations in our data that cannot be predicated on random chance. In other words, the deviations are statistically significant.
New Year’s day is a really good time for sampling these kinds of patterns, because all over the world everyone is having fun and eating, and thinking things like, “I’m going to raise my glass in a toast,” or “I’m going to put my arms around this beautiful person.” Everyone is aimed in the same direction for a little while, and thinking about their interconnections.
So on those days when something draws everyone’s attention, rather than being unpredictable, the data becomes predictable, so to speak. Instead of staying close to 100, the numbers spread out. They show more deviation than you could get by chance. The “order” of the randomness collapses.
Q: I understand that for 9-11, the EGG machines began reflecting change before the event actually happened. How do you explain that?
Roger: It looks as though precognition may be going on, of course, and I think that’s what most people want to believe.
On the other hand, the terrorists knew beforehand that they were getting ready to commit themselves to God or Allah. That must have been very intense. Maybe our data registered so strongly when it did because the terrorists were so strongly engaged that they produced something our network could detect. That’s an explanation no one wants to look at.
Which answer is closer to the truth? I don’t really know.
Q: What about the “experimenter effect” — the idea that you and your colleages who measure the effects of world events may be causing those effects because you know about the machines?
Roger: This factor does make it difficult for our experiment to be responsible. We don’t even know how things like that might show up in our results. And of course we don’t want them to.
So what do I think? I think the results we are getting are caused by three or four different things, and that the nominal source comes first. For example, with the World Trade Center disaster, I think the nominal source of our data would be the consciousness of all the people watching it go up in flames.
Then the news spreads, and the next source would be all the people who know about it or who are interested in it.
But I think there’s another source, or contribution. And this has to do with what the American Indians call the Coyote. This Cosmic Coyote is something that keeps you on your toes. It says, “Don’t get all wrapped up in your theories and your limited understanding. The Cosmos still has a lot to teach you, and you have much more to learn.”
In other words, I think there are effects that come from sources we have not yet defined in our way of looking at the world.
Q: What about working with global prayer groups — like WorldPuja, for example? Have your data enabled you to come to conclusions about the effectiveness of these kinds of projects?
Roger: I have a concern in talking about this, in that I don’t want anyone to draw conclusions from either the presence or the absence of significant deviations when world prayer events are going on. If our data is flat, that doesn’t mean nothing is happening. If our data shows significant deviation, that doesn’t mean something is happening. Either conclusion would be a mistake. I think it’s a long-term matter to determine the effects of global meditation.
As to WorldPuja, I have never been able to get an accurate idea of just how many people are joining in their meditations. However, I do personally monitor them, because there does seem to be a fairly large number of people participating, so it seems to be a propitious time to do that. And sometimes our data shows positive, marginally significant results during WorldPuja meditations, and sometimes it does not.
I look at Transcendental Meditation events, too. But the thing about TM is, they say you have to do it their way. They say you have to meditate a certain way or it doesn’t work.
Well, TM did a meditation over the course of four or five days right after September 11. And the data, in my terms, spins off the chart. If you were to do a positive check averaging out all five days it wouldn’t look all that impressive — it goes down some days, and it goes up some days — but if you look at any one day, it’s amazing.
So does that mean the proselytizers for TM can say, “We’ve proved our way is best”? It’s not that simple.
That’s why I believe the old Cosmic Coyote has to be a part of the picture. There’s a lot more to learn about than we even know how to ask.
Q: Do you think you have at least proved that consciousness affects matter?
Roger: Well, I’m a little uncomfortable with that word “proof.”
I think we’re on the way to learning a great deal about that possibility. But I wouldn’t say we have proof of it for sure. There are many options and alternative explanations — random chance, or perhaps some sort of physical thing we don’t know about.
We know some things that are not causing our results. For example, we know it’s not about the electromagnetic fields of people using their cell phones. We’ve tested that. And we know a lot of other things like that.
It’s true, most people think of a hypothesis as a matter of proving something. But in my perspective, it’s about learning something. You set up a hypothesis, you have some data, and you test your hypothesis to confirm it or not. And in my view that teaches you something.
So I would say that we’re making steps toward a better understanding of how the world works, and of how consciousness can become “collective.” But we don’t know what we don’t know.
Right now, we want to start investigating correlations between the EGGs in ways that aren’t immediately obvious. And there are more things we want to know. What about relationships over time, for example?
So we’re looking for the first monetary backing. The project has been remarkably well served by volunteers, people who have generously given their time. But we have more data now, and more questions to ask of that data, than we can manage with our little volunteer army.
Q: What is your ultimate purpose, if it’s not really about proving anything?
Roger: The point, in my opinion, is to try to educate more people about the capabilities we have, and about being in the world as it is while actually creating the kind of world we envision.
That’s an uphill battle. Right now, it’s almost more than an uphill battle, it’s maybe even a losing battle. Still, I’m optimistic.
I think it could be important for people to know that we are connected to one another in ways that cross all boundaries and turn us into brothers and sisters.
I think it could be very important for people to know that their thoughts and intentions and issues and dreams mean something.
This project is a manifestation of those ideas. The implications of our findings are that we are, in fact, a little bit bigger than we know. We extend not just to the surface of our fingertips but all the way across the table, and maybe all the way around the world.
The Global Consciousness Project makes me pretty sure our human reach is around the World. I already thought so, but the data offers encouraging evidence that it’s really true.
Roger Nelson’s professional degrees are in experimental cognitive psychology, with a special focus on the lesser known aspects of perception. His primary work in design and analysis is supplemented by a background in physics, statistical methods, and multimedia production.
Until his retirement in 2002, Roger served as the coordinator of experimental work in the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research (PEAR) lab, directed by Robert Jahn. He remains connected with PEAR, but gives most of his time to the Global Consciousness Project (GCP), which he directs.
There is a wealth of information about the Global Consciousness Project at its website, Noosphere.princeton.edu, and on Roger Nelson’s own homepage at www.princeton.edu/~rdnelson. Roger may be reached via email at [email protected]
The Spirit of Ma’at wishes to thank Courtni Hale for conducting and transcribing the interview upon which this article was based.