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Our future, our universe, and other weighty topics

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Growing Evidence for a Mysterious Global Consciousness Effect

The Global Consciousness Project is a long-running project that started out at Princeton University. The project uses a network of more than 50 continuously running random number generators across the world, and records cases when the results from such generators deviates from chance during interesting or memorable moments in a year's events. The project has discovered ever-growing evidence that the results from such random number generators (which should be purely random) do tend to deviate from chance at important events during a year.

A random number generator is just a machine or a computer program designed to churn out random numbers continuously, a string of numbers such as 328532503463948235236120575239623663. A separate computer program can analyze such output, and determine how much it is deviating from what is expected by chance. There are various ways to do this statistically, such as counting up the number of 1's in the string of digits, counting up the number of 2's, and so forth. The program can then look for unusual spikes – something such as a case where 210,344 7's were generated during a particular unit of time, but 230,333 8's were generated during that same unit of time (a difference very unlikely to occur by chance). There are statistical algorithms that allow analysts to compute the exact probability of getting a particular random sequence of numbers that differs from chance.

Such random number generators, algorithms, and programs have been used by the Global Consciousness Project since the 1990's. The project compiles a list of significant news events, and keeps track of a deviation from chance in the output of random number generators operating during that event. A long list of such events can be found here. The list includes 497 events, and in each case there is a probability listed that is the chance probability of getting the particular random number deviation that was recorded. In most cases, this probability is not very low. For example, during the recent Charlie Hebdo incident, the recorded deviation had a probability of .143. During some events, the probability has been much lower, such as a probability of only .03 during the September 11 attacks in 2001.

But the real bottom line number in the Global Consciousness Project is the overall cumulative probability. This is the probability of getting all of the deviations from randomness recorded by the project since 1998, purely by chance. That probability is listed in the graph below, taken directly from the project's web site. The graph lists the overall cumulative probability as 3.343 e-13, which is a probability of .00000000000003343, or about 1 chance in 3 trillion, or 1 chance in 3,000,000,000,000. This is an overwhelming significant result. When scientists get a result like that in any other field, they trumpet it as overwhelming proof of the hypothesis they are testing. 

Global Consciousness Project

As time has passed since 1998, the overall cumulative probability associated with the Global Consciousness Project has grown smaller and smaller, meaning their evidence of a real effect has grown stronger and stronger. At some point early in the project, you might have been only able to say that the chance of getting such results was 1 in a million. Then years later you would have been able to say that the chance of getting such results was only 1 in a billion. Now, after the project has been running for some 16 years, we have finally reached the point where the bottom line is that the chance of getting the results is 1 in 3 trillion.

So this is a very important fact about the Global Consciousness Project. It has now accumulated very strong evidence for a mysterious anomalous global consciousness effect (or some similar and equally paranormal effect), and the evidence for such an effect keeps growing stronger and stronger with each passing month. The accumulated evidence thus far is evidence that would be accepted as rock-solid proof if submitted to back up any lesser claim such as a claim that some medicine has some curative power, or a claim that an accused person committed a particular crime.

Now, I think there is a typical series of events that happens when a skeptical person reads a post like this. The series of events goes like this: (1) the skeptical person reads a post like this one, leaving him unsettled and annoyed by reading something that doesn't fit in with his preconceptions; (2) the skeptical person then reads the wikipedia.org article on the topic, which has a 100% chance of being a completely biased, one-sided criticism of anything relating to the paranormal; (3) the skeptical person then feels much better, thinking he has gotten the “real story” on the topic by reading the wikipedia.org article on it.

But before you do such a thing by reading the wikipedia.org article on the Global Consciousness Project, let me explain why that article is not at all the “real story” on this topic, but instead merely a ridiculous, uninformative example of jaundiced “ax grinding.” The first reason is that the wikipedia.org article does not even mention the “bottom line” of the project – the overall cumulative probability of 1 chance in 3,000,000,000,000 stated in the graph above. The article merely says, “The GCP claims that, as of late 2009, the cumulative result of more than 300 registered events significantly supports their hypothesis.” I can guess what was going on in the minds of the skeptics who edited this article on wikipedia.org. It's as if they were thinking: let's not tell anyone the bottom line result of the project, because then people might be convinced by it.

It is also ridiculous that the wikipedia.org article focuses on criticizing the claim that the data of the Global Consciousness Project from around September 11, 2001 proves something paranormal. Such data is only a drop in the bucket of data that the Global Consciousness Project has accumulated in more than 15 years of operation. While their data from that one day may not prove anything paranormal, their overall results of 15 years of operation do supply very strong evidence of something paranormal, with an overall cumulative probability of 1 about chance in 3,000,000,000,000.

The wikipedia.org article on this topic is mainly just a series of putdowns by hardcore skeptics. The article ends by quoting someone who says “the only conclusion to emerge from the Global Consciousness Project so far is that data without a theory is as meaningless as words without a narrative." But that's an absurd claim. In many or most cases data is, in fact, quite meaningful even when there is no theory to explain it (such as the data that was accumulated on comets and supernova explosions before we had any idea what such things are). For example, if I get a terrible sickness putting me on the brink of death, I may collect data on my failing health, but have no theory to explain such data. But such data is very meaningful indeed, telling me that I need to see a doctor and may need to set my affairs in order in case I die. Even if I never see any doctor to give me a theory as to my symptoms, the data is meaningful, because it has important implications. Similarly, even though we have no good theory to explain the results of the Global Consciousness Project, the data is extremely meaningful, because it has important implications, one of which is that human consciousness may be something much bigger than we think it is (not to mention the implication that current reductionist materialist paradigms are on the wrong track).

Stripping away its vacuous putdowns such as the quotation above, the wikipedia.org article on the Global Consciousness Project provides no substantive analysis or facts that should cause anyone to doubt the importance or reliability of the project's findings.