God In The Machine
Let me take a moment to summarize what I believe spiritually. Normally, I'm not going to be talking about my spiritual beliefs, but they're relevant for this entry. To start with, I don't believe in God as a conscious entity. I don't liken God to some kind of guy who lives in the sky and looks down upon us, surveying things to see how we're doing. To me, God isn't a single conscious entity. What I do believe in is some kind of underlying force within the universe. The force might best be described as Love, as overromanticized as that may sound. I think that sense we get when we love someone is directly tied to this force, maybe is the force. So Love might be the best label to put on it, though I suspect it would be a simplification. Further, you might call that force God.
Let's say this force is the fabric of existence. I would say that our souls, as they have been labeled, are also tied to this force. In fact, they make up this force. But they are inextricably tied together, with all other souls. The best analogy I can come up with would be a lamp. Say you had a desktop lamp and you took a piece of black cardboard and covered the lamp head with it, so that no light shone through. Now poke a hole in the cardboard. The light that shines through that one hole is an individual's soul. It is distinct, a single soul, and yet it actually is part of a much greater light. The black cardboard is the material structures of the universe and our bodies, which are built up around the soul but are not, ultimately, a part of it. You poke more holes, you have multiple souls. Each one seems like an individual, but in reality they are simply a single portion of a larger, overarching force--one great universal soul, if you want to think of it like that.
Essentially, that is what I believe spiritually. I believe, as well, in reincarnation and multiple lives. I think we evolve on a spiritual level, moving closer and closer to a recognition of that overall force. This makes sense to me. My belief, though, is not absolute. I feel this is true, but I also think it may not be. I mean, I can certainly conceive of being wrong. More specifically, I have no doubt that it is a gross simplification at the very best. Matters of the spirit--if they do indeed exist--would surely be more complicated and ethereal than I could ever grasp while on this planet. I am too encased in the physical realities of world; I don't believe I could ever fully wrap my mind around the spiritual realities of the universe.
Okay, with that out of the way, let me tell you about something fascinating. There is a machine in Edinburgh--a small black box--that randomly generates numbers. The funny thing about it is that it seems to be influenced by people's thoughts and it may just be able to predict the future. Here's a long excerpt from an article at Red Nova:
One of these new technologies was a humble-looking black box known was a Random Event Generator (REG). This used computer technology to generate two numbers - a one and a zero - in a totally random sequence, rather like an electronic coin-flipper.
The pattern of ones and noughts - 'heads' and 'tails' as it were - could then be printed out as a graph. The laws of chance dictate that the generators should churn out equal numbers of ones and zeros - which would be represented by a nearly flat line on the graph. Any deviation from this equal number shows up as a gently rising curve.
During the late 1970s, Prof Jahn decided to investigate whether the power of human thought alone could interfere in some way with the machine's usual readings. He hauled strangers off the street and asked them to concentrate their minds on his number generator. In effect, he was asking them to try to make it flip more heads than tails.
It was a preposterous idea at the time. The results, however, were stunning and have never been satisfactorily explained.
Again and again, entirely ordinary people proved that their minds could influence the machine and produce significant fluctuations on the graph, 'forcing it' to produce unequal numbers of 'heads' or 'tails'.
According to all of the known laws of science, this should not have happened - but it did. And it kept on happening.
Dr Nelson, also working at Princeton University, then extended Prof Jahn's work by taking random number machines to group meditations, which were very popular in America at the time. Again, the results were eyepopping. The groups were collectively able to cause dramatic shifts in the patterns of numbers.
From then on, Dr Nelson was hooked.
Using the internet, he connected up 40 random event generators from all over the world to his laboratory computer in Princeton. These ran constantly, day in day out, generating millions of different pieces of data. Most of the time, the resulting graph on his computer looked more or less like a flat line.
But then on September 6, 1997, something quite extraordinary happened: the graph shot upwards, recording a sudden and massive shift in the number sequence as his machines around the world started reporting huge deviations from the norm. The day was of historic importance for another reason, too.
For it was the same day that an estimated one billion people around the world watched the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales at Westminster Abbey.
Dr Nelson was convinced that the two events must be related in some way.
Could he have detected a totally new phenomena? Could the concentrated emotional outpouring of millions of people be able to influence the output of his REGs. If so, how?
Dr Nelson was at a loss to explain it.
So, in 1998, he gathered together scientists from all over the world to analyse his findings. They, too, were stumped and resolved to extend and deepen the work of Prof Jahn and Dr Nelson. The Global Consciousness Project was born.
Since then, the project has expanded massively. A total of 65 Eggs (as the generators have been named) in 41 countries have now been recruited to act as the 'eyes' of the project.
And the results have been startling and inexplicable in equal measure.
For during the course of the experiment, the Eggs have 'sensed' a whole series of major world events as they were happening, from the Nato bombing of Yugoslavia to the Kursk submarine tragedy to America's hung election of 2000.
The Eggs also regularly detect huge global celebrations, such as New Year's Eve.
But the project threw up its greatest enigma on September 11, 2001.
As the world stood still and watched the horror of the terrorist attacks unfold across New York, something strange was happening to the Eggs.
Not only had they registered the attacks as they actually happened, but the characteristic shift in the pattern of numbers had begun four hours before the two planes even hit the Twin Towers.
They had, it appeared, detected that an event of historic importance was about to take place before the terrorists had even boarded their fateful flights. The implications, not least for the West's security services who constantly monitor electronic 'chatter', are clearly enormous.
'I knew then that we had a great deal of work ahead of us,' says Dr Nelson.
What could be happening? Was it a freak occurrence, perhaps?
Apparently not. For in the closing weeks of December last year, the machines went wild once more.
Twenty-four hours later, an earthquake deep beneath the Indian Ocean triggered the tsunami which devastated South-East Asia, and claimed the lives of an estimated quarter of a million people.
So could the Global Consciousness Project really be forecasting the future?
Cynics will quite rightly point out that there is always some global event that could be used to 'explain' the times when the Egg machines behaved erratically. After all, our world is full of wars, disasters and terrorist outrages, as well as the occasional global celebration. Are the scientists simply trying too hard to detect patterns in their raw data?
The team behind the project insist not. They claim that by using rigorous scientific techniques and powerful mathematics it is possible to exclude any such random connections.
'We're perfectly willing to discover that we've made mistakes,' says Dr Nelson. 'But we haven't been able to find any, and neither has anyone else.
Our data shows clearly that the chances of getting these results by fluke are one million to one against.
That's hugely significant.' But many remain sceptical.
[. . . ]
But for Dr Nelson, talk of such psychic machines - with the potential to detect global catastrophes or terrorist outrages - is of far less importance than the implications of his work in terms of the human race.
For what his experiments appear to demonstrate is that while we may all operate as individuals, we also appear to share something far, far greater - a global consciousness. Some might call it the mind of God.
'We're taught to be individualistic monsters,' he says. 'We're driven by society to separate ourselves from each other. That's not right.'
The article is fascinating and there's plenty more in it to read, including talk about the nature of time and the possibility that it does not just carry on in a forward, linear manner. The possibilities that it raises are very intriguing. It's entirely possible that this will all be debunked, but so far there seems to be some very concrete outcomes that are not easily dismissed or explained.
This is kind of cool, as well, in that it would support what I believe spiritually. Granted, that's not all that important to me. I mean, I have these general beliefs, but they're not actually that important a part of my life. It's just these thoughts in the background, where the main thrust of my living is based on being a decent person and trying to treat people with respect. But it's kind of cool to have something concrete that you can point at and say, "See? I could just be right."
Furthermoer, I've always believed in psychic phenomenon. The question for me has never been whether it exists, but to what degree it exists. I have no doubt that a large percentage of psychic claims--very possibly the majority--are fradualent or delusional. But I also have no doubt that there are legitimate claims. Hell, I've had moments of intuition myself--times when I predicted or suspected something in a manner that is not easily explained. I do think that people at least have some vague psychic abilities and intuitions.
It makes sense, then, that there is some kind of global consciousness. That is logical to me. And now we have a machine that is creating physical evidence of just such a consciousness. Understand, I know this isn't hard proof by any stretch of the imagination. These experiments aren't even close to scientific certainty. However, the mere fact that there is an avenue to study this--to potentially discover actual supporting evidence--is both fascinating and exciting. Who knows what will come of it, but perhaps we will eventually come to some sort of scientific terms with psychic phenomenon. There's no telling what the future might hold.
There are some other potential effects of a global consciousness, should it actually exist. Certainly, it would have great influence on art, culture and media. There would be huge impacts on society and on the way we think, on our moods and emotions and in how we interact with each other. It's a lot to think about and you're probably going to see me writing more on the subject as I sort through my thoughts on it.
(Update 2/27/2005: Perhaps a little skepticism is in order.)