Parapsychology Journalism: The People, The Theory, The Science, The Skeptics
One of the more fascinating area of parapsychological study that is being done at the moment is in the area of global consciousness. This is being done by The Global Consciousness Project
If you follow this link you’ll see a real time display and explanation of what you’re seeing:
Global Consciousness Dot
The way this works is this:
Computers are located all around the world constantly running random numbers. Before you start off on a lecture about pseudo-random numbers, let me assure you that the scientists involved in this project are quite aware of that problem and have dealt with it effectively. Follow the “Random Source” link on the main page for an explanation. (For some reason, none of the pages have their own address, so I can’t link to them directly.)
The random numbers are collected from all the different computers and measured for the presence of patterns, which are then calculated as odds against chance. It has been discovered that when human beings focus their attention in great numbers, small patterns form in these random numbers. The significance of the event is measured by calculating the odds against chance of the patterns happening. The higher the odds against chance, the more significant the event is likely to be.
Because the Global Consciousness Project has been officially up and running since 1998, they have a very large database of random events in the system, making it much easier to determine if an event is significant or not.
The events of 9/11 made a big showing in the data, but this data, by itself, is not sufficiently significant to automatically prove anything by itself. The Global Consciousness Project is a scientific endeavor and relies on a very large database of events to establish that patterns are occurring in the data where there should be none.
Here is a very informative interview with project director Roger Nelson. He gets into more detail than I’ve outlined here.
Like anything to do with parapsychology, it is not without its detractors. Very typical of the skeptical arguments is this article in Skeptoid where the Brian Dunning makes several points: (Please read his article for a complete explanation. It is lengthy and I have edited it somewhat for space considerations.)
1. What type of event qualifies as “significant”? They pick events themselves, without any defined criteria. When they choose an event, they fail to test if there are any other simultaneous events in other parts of the world that might override any effect. (…)
2. What type of effect in the data constitutes a result? Again, no criteria. They maintain no standards for what constitutes a correlation: whether it’s a trough or a spike or some other type of anomaly; (…)
3. The analysis is not blinded in any way. When something happens, they look at their data until they find patterns.
4. They do not look for alternate causes of their data anomalies.
5. They make claims of specific numbers for how they beat chance.
6. They make no attempts to falsify their theory. They should be looking for alternate causes of the anomalies they claim to find in the output from their eggs, such as sunspots or electromagnetic interference from other devices.
When this is matched up with the interview with Roger Nelson, the project director, it is clear that most of the skeptical arguments are baseless. The skeptic did not appear to fact check his assumptions using source material. When approaching a subject like this, no one in a scientific frame of mind can rarely make definitive statements, yet there they are, all over the place. The author declares
Now let’s talk about the elephant in the room. To any reasonable person, the whole concept of global consciousness is ridiculous at face value. This is true of many pseudosciences.
Also, this article has that annoying condescending tone so typical of skeptics. Anytime I see that, I just roll my eyes. Don’t those people understand how much that undermines their credibility?
The article does make mention of criticisms by Dr. Edwin May regarding data harvested on 9/11 and his opinions definitely carry more weight. He was involved in the CIA Stargate project which was an experiment using psychic abilities for intelligence gathering. He is not just another blathering mindless skeptic and you can find his conclusions here.
The data is slowly accumulating to make a strong case for global consciousness which in turn supports oneness theories of the universe like The Holographic Universe.
While this is one more area where parapsychology is demonstrating the importance of consciousness, public and academic acceptance of psychic ability will probably not come from that direction. The Global Consciousness Project is interesting, but what it will eventually prove remains to be seen. Having to sort through mountains of data accumulated over many years to prove a single point isn’t likely to capture the scientific world by storm. It’s another one of those areas of parapsychology where it’s easy to attack because the effects are small and hard to defend because the arguments are complicated.