An Interview with Roger Nelson
by Gina Lynne LoSasso and Christopher Michael Langan
Originally published in Ubiquity by the Mega Foundation on UltraHIQ
Vol. 3 Issue No. 1, Winter/Spring 2002
Do you believe in God? What about karma, intuition and psi?
Where do we draw the line between that which we are willing to believe, and that which seems so far-fetched that we deny it instinctively? Does the emotional or aesthetic appeal of a construct influence whether or not we consider it possible? What if we were to find compelling evidence of a global force influenced by human events...events like the fall of the Soviet Union, the death of Princess Diana, or the 9-11 attacks? What would such a discovery mean? This is what we asked Roger Nelson of Princeton’s Engineering Anomalies Research (PEAR) Unit about the controversial Global Consciousness Project.
The GCP team contends that research on the timing of certain mechanical anomalies demonstrates that human beings are in direct communication with not only each other, but the laws of physics themselves. They assert that our intentions may instantaneously influence reality over great distances despite the presence of hard physical barriers. Human consciousness, they theorize, sometimes produces something resembling a nonlocal field, individual conscious minds combining to generate dynamic fluctuations in the very fabric of spacetime. And this, they say, may prove the existence of a coherent worldwide entity...a
The GCP team has placed 38
eggs, quantum-effect random number generators that report their readings to Princeton at 30 second intervals, in various locations around the world. The results are carefully examined for correlations during worldwide events of high emotional magnitude. And if you believe these results, they are nothing short of amazing. (A report of the EGG response on 9-11-01 can be found at: Formal Analysis, September 11 2001)
We recently had the opportunity to discuss the Global Consciousness Project with its principle investigator, Roger Nelson. Some of the questions in the dialog were collected from Mega Society East and Ultranet members, while others were written by Chris Langan and Gina LoSasso. Many thanks to Dawn, Angell, Andrea, Ian and others who submitted questions and ideas, and a special thanks to Roger Nelson for taking the time to discuss this very intriguing project with us.
Chris Langan for the Mega Society East: Do you see any link between your work and that of Carl Jung, who described a
Roger Nelson: As is the case with practically all of language, the meaning is subtle in Jung’s attempts to talk about difficult, deep layers of the cosmos. To the extent I correctly extract from his metaphorical efforts what Jung felt in his heart of mind, we are interested in the same thing. Jung places his bets on static registries (but he would disagree if he could respond) and I place mine on growth and interaction and purposive will to the future. Yet, I think we really are talking about an entity with the same purposes and structure. What we talk about is much deeper and more complex than our constructions, and our metaphors are but the ears and tail of the elephant.
MSE: How do you envision the individual’s subjective experience of the GC? Will it be like inner voices, clairvoyance, precognition? How will it differ from individual psi effects?
RDN: Frankly, I have no way of predicting that. My best guess is that for now there will be no subjective experience beyond the feeling of communion we all probably have in
good meetings and shared aesthetic experiences. I imagine our direct experience might be modeled by that of neurons in a brain.
MSE: Will the GC constrain our wills as the will of the hive constrains the will of the honeybee, inducing a gradual, subtle, subjectively undetectable tendency for individual human volition to serve the utility of the collective rather than that of the individual? Or do you see it as manifesting primarily on the objective level, in the form of more frequent and more profound instances of synchronicity (both good and evil)?
RDN: Think of the brain/mind. Is the will of the neuron constrained by its participation in a network? Does the honeybee lose anything? Gain? Is what the honeybee does consonant with its nature. The first manifestations of a GC might be something like an intellectual appreciation that could lead to more sensible personal decisions and actions. If there ever is a GC in the grand sense I suppose we will know something about it because we are self-reflective, but I suspect it will happen because we have acceded to a natural (neural) role. It does not have an ominous connotation for me, but I recognize that the cowboy mentality so prevalent the US may work hard to reject consciousness in order to maintain a vaunted freedom.
MSE: How does this project fit into the work of Teilhard de Chardin? Do you see the Global Consciousness as approaching an
awakening? Has it been your observation that this phenomenon, such as it may be, is getting stronger or nearing a culmination...an
RDN: Teilhard urged us on to the future with great conviction and elegant, even poetic arguments. But he was such a patient man, and so deeply cognizant of vast histories that he saw clearly he was a little ahead of his time. He said be patient, it will be perhaps 10,000 years. I don’t see the Global Consciousness awakening, really, though I wish. Instead, I wonder if there is a glimmering, like a barely noted alteration in a long slumber, or the first few functional interactions that form in the
blooming, buzzing confusion of an infant’s mind. No, the timescale is much too long to observe any movement to an Omega Point.
On the other hand, we humans do have a choice between consciousness on personal, social, and cultural scales, versus the suicidal recklessness of self-deception and willful blindness to the needs for balance and design. It may be just wishful thinking, but I suspect that bending our energies to a peaceful and healthy life for all of us (which incidentally implies getting some sense into our reproductive heads) would immediately begin to amplify the glimmerings and accelerate us toward omega. Might take only 8,000 years.
MSE: You seem to see the human race as having 8 or 10 thousand years to muddle through its mounting difficulties, whether or not it receives significant guidance from a fully-awakened global consciousness. Yet, many people regard such an awakening as a necessity of salvation rather than an eventual outcome contingent on our long-term survival. Might the rising dangers faced by the human race, and by the planetary ecosystem that sustains it, serve to accelerate the awakening? Is the GC yet capable of any level of constructive or proactive response to human input?
RDN: There are many levels of consciousness in evolution. See Ken Wilber’s nice Brief History of Everything. I ponder what capacity the GC might have in helping us to wake up. It will be subtle, and will be in forms such as this EGG project I run. Here’s an image: The GCP/EGG project is a rivulet, running down its slope to join others to form a stream. That stream may combine with others into a river, and I pray that many rivers will reach the ocean and color it with peace and creativity. What you choose to do that is conscious of the future is another rivulet.
MSE: What possible explanations are there for this hypothetical phenomenon? Specifically, what do project members believe the Global Consciousness represents?
RDN: This is perhaps too long a story. I will take one of the possible intents of the question:
What do the GCP results represent? My first response is an indefinitely long list of alternative explanations: mistakes, poor experimental protocols, improper analysis, unconscious selection, deliberate fraud, coincidence, synchronicity, experimenter psi, projections of global consciousness, active future observer effects, active information actualized by need, the Coyote at work, the Earth saying
Please, wake up!
MSE: Regarding experimenter psi and future observer effects, have you made any attempt to run tests or take precautions that might rule this out?
RDN: It is on the list, but at this point we still are mainly focused on evidence that there is something to explain. We have not found any obvious tests, and do not know how these sources can be ruled out. On the other hand, inferential and logical arguments are possible, and they appear here and there, in the context, e.g., of asking about effects of geographical distance, which is often not the same as subjective distance.
MSE: Oh, and sorry for asking what may be an indelicate question, but do you mean that one or more GCP members believe that other members may have engaged in acts of scientific fraud?
RDN: My somewhat tongue-in-cheek list is a hodgepodge of
explanations that might be offered — not by me, but by variously motivated interpreters. Fraud is a favorite of skeptics, whether or not there is any possibility for it. No, I seriously doubt that people familiar with the GCP imagine anyone in the project
may have engaged in acts of scientific fraud.
As for the rest of the 70-odd people who are members in some sense, I can’t say, but it’s a good guess that we have about 70 opinions.
MSE: Is the GC experiment based on any particular motivating theory, e.g. the Penrose-Hammeroff theory of quantum consciousness?
RDN: No. The closest thing to
theory in the sense of your question is
hmmm, if psi works for one person, it should for groups. BTW, I think it is may be more Hameroff-Penrose. The fact that global consciousness is supposed to affect physical devices (the EGGs) seems to imply that the concept is being physically interpreted.
MSE: Does global consciousness, or for that matter any kind of consciousness, have a physical model?
RDN: No. We are far from good evidence that consciousness can
affect physical devices. Personally, I don’t think so at this stage of our development. But it isn’t necessary for the eggs or the GCP effects.
MSE: So you place no stock in psychokinesis? The term
Engineering Anomalies (as in the name of the Princeton Laboratory) almost seems to embrace the concept a priori. To what extent are you affiliated with, or sympathetic to the research and conclusions of, the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research Lab?
RDN: Psychokinesis is a word. We don’t use it much because it has unpredictable effects when heard by others. In my opinion the statistical anomalies we see can best be modeled in terms of information, not energy — which psychokinesis implies for many people.
Our measures are statistical; they are correlations; they do not require or imply physical effects. There is indeed considerable counter-evidence to such models. As for having a physical model for consciousness, there are stalwart efforts, but no, I don’t think we can say the search (or the creative effort) has met with success.
MSE: If great apes have higher intelligence and, in short, possess consciousness, is it your opinion that they (and perhaps other animals as well) could absorb, process, and perpetuate some part of the Global Consciousness?
RDN: Yes, and fish and birds, flowers and trees, and (gasp) rocks.
MSE: What method of randomness do the EGGs employ? Are they tapping into the
absolute randomness of the quantum level of reality through such quantum phenomena as radioactive decay? Is this randomness supposed to be the
input through which GC affects the devices?
RDN: Quantum indeterminate sources, including Johnson thermal noise and quantum tunneling in solid state junctions. No radioactive decay sources. Read the Web page and links for more detail. The last part of your question is harder, but the answer to what I think you are asking is yes in a sense. Randomness means un-determined, and may mean labile as well. There is a relationship to order and disorder, and hence to entropy. Possibly what constitutes an input, in your terms, is information that is somehow present in the world and related to our consciousness states, and that can somehow be absorbed into the
real statistical distribution generated by the random event generator. I think consciousness is a reservoir of order and information, and that it is active information. Where there is some need for it, a question it could answer, a disorder it could put right, that virtual information can be actualized.
MSE: Does distance between the location of a world event and individual EGGs located in various world locations seem to correlate with intensity of response?
RDN: Mixed results. In the cases we have analyzed, it seems distance matters in some, but not at all in others. I suspect we need a better question. The
distance that likely is most relevant is in consciousness space.
MSE: The term
space suggests the need for a metric. Do you have any ideas regarding the
metric of consciousness space?
RDN: Good question. I have ideas, but not formal ones. Consciousness space is nonlocal, it is the space of mind, which captures your mother’s face, the face of the moon, and the face of Taurus with equal immediacy in spatial terms. In consciousness terms, most probably your mother’s face (or some other loved one) is nearer because dearer, wherever she actually might be.
MSE: What do you find most convincing about your results so far?
RDN: Long term consistency.
MSE: Indeed, it is very hard not to be convinced on the basis of your graphs that the eggs must be sensitively embedded in some probabilistic medium that transmits veritable shock waves of correlation associated with the occurrence and reportage of important unexpected events. Have you achieved any subclassification of your results in terms of the various kinds of events generating the shocks?
RDN: Very informal. At some point, given a sensible matrix not informed by the results (which means I can’t create it), we can see if there are classes. Intriguing candidate subsets (e.g., natural disasters, shocking events, meditations, ...) begin to form in my perception/reading of the results. But thus far, the indications are a mixed bag, separable into persuasive clusters, but only by post hoc sorting.
MSE: The GCP is clearly not a mainstream scientific investigation. Do you feel that work of this type bears a stigma? How is Academia reacting to the study? How has this reaction affected its progress?
RDN: Yes, some people, especially scientists, suspect they know how things work, and when they confront a phenomenon without a reasonable fit into the standard models, they prefer the models. It is hard work to overcome a lifetime of direct, even if abstract, experience. Academia doesn’t know much about the GCP. I try to avoid publicity, including in the academy, though this must change at some point. There having been no reaction, the effect on our progress is salutory.
MSE: Are you optimistic regarding the chance that someone will come up with a new model of reality that more readily accommodates this kind of phenomenon, and thus hasten acceptance of your results throughout the intellectual community? Are you encouraged by the work of any theorists in particular?
RDN: I’m optimistic, but not holding my breath. There are a number of appealing attempts to stretch good models for the purpose, and any number of heartening interpretive modeling efforts that go a bit outside the box. I don’t expect any hastening of acceptance of my work on this ground, however. Progress in theory, while interesting to watch, is glacial. Empirical work is more persuasive of its own acceptability at this point.
MSE: How does the GCP differ from other paranormal research? Do you feel that the existence of paranormal phenomena is unequivocally supported by scientific evidence?
RDN: Not much difference from other professional, high-quality research (in any discipline). Bigger team, longer term, more startling question, otherwise science as usual. Ah, I should admit to fostering the aesthetic perspective more than I think is usual in research. The evidence for certain anomalous correlations is truly excellent. But I can’t tell what rings in your head when you hear
paranormal phenomena. So I can’t directly answer your question.
MSE: I was thinking of positive results that have emerged from studies undertaken at places like SRI and PEAR. What do you think of these studies, and the standards of validity applied to them?
RDN: I work at PEAR, so have the opportunity to see every aspect and every step of the way to experimental results. I began my professional involvement claiming to be 100% skeptical and 100% open minded. I would still claim that, but might now put open minded first. I know the PEAR results to be clean. As for SRI and other labs, I know and respect the people involved. Obviously I do not have the full-spectrum insight into their research, but I don’t doubt its validity in general. One of the best possible validity standards is correspondence or similarity of results across many independent labs and researchers. We have that.
MSE: Does the study endorse or rely on any particular theory of paranormal effects, for instance the DAT theory?
MSE: You expressed hesitancy about gaining publicity for this project. Why? Is there fear that publicity would somehow introduce confounding factors into the study?
RDN: Yes, not fear, exactly, because such a change will be part of the study. It is more practical: I wouldn’t have time to do the work that interests me most, and that is the point of the project, if I also am to be interviewed or be on radio shows, or to answer the flood of email inquiries that come with new people becoming excited by the project. I accept what grows naturally, and what (as is the case now) appeals to me as part of the path. I want to avoid the distractions of attention to the excitement, rather than the meaning.
MSE: If global consciousness is considered a quantum phenomenon, then what part does quantum nonlocality play in its explanation? If the phenomenon is nonlocal, then why is the geographic placement of the EGGs considered critical?
RDN: I don’t know about considering it a quantum phenomenon, though there are some nice qualities to that metaphor. Some sort of nonlocality appears to be necessary to account for the evidence in a large body of research. But leaping to conclusions that all the implications of current models in physics are applicable is not something I can do. I find having the eggs distributed over the globe is cool, and aesthetically pleasing. I also have a well-developed design for a one-room GCP. But the main point is that we do not know much, indeed we know almost nothing about the relationship of psi effects to geographic distance (despite what we professional researchers suggest as the best interpretation of our skimpy empirical base). I don’t consider the placement critical, as you seem to have inferred, but it does allow us to learn something about this question.
MSE: So are the eggs
randomly distributed, or are they aesthetically placed in locations that appeal to you?
RDN: They are opportunistically placed where a person expresses interest and a willingness to host an egg.
MSE: What reason is there for thinking that there should be a linkage of any kind between global consciousness and the EGG devices being used to detect it? Why should the GC
care about influencing these devices? Does the proposed linkage depend on the facilitative role of the EGGs in awakening global consciousness?
RDN: What reason... ? There are various meanings in your question, and as before, I will select one that appeals to me. On one level the reason is a development of steps: we think, we think we understand each other, we think we may even get non-sensory information from each other and the world, we think we may have an afferent channel too; we think it would be good to pay attention to unusual connections; we tell anecdotes that lead to research that makes us think more deeply ....
On another level the EGG is a natural and simple progression from laboratory work with individuals to field work with groups to the globe. As for caring, either the GC does or doesn’t care, and that isn’t relevant to the research, only to its interpretation. The latter will, as it always is, be flavored by each interpreter’s predilections. What proposed model?
MSE: If the GCP turns out to be a success, what reaction is expected from the mainstream scientific community? From the public at large?
RDN: I consider it a success, already turned out. But it is also a work in progress, and it has the goal of learning something, not success in the sense most people seem to have for that term. The reactions that I have had suggest that scientists will be interested in understanding more, or mortified by the threat to science depending on their previous attitudes to research in this area. The public at large is excited, some proportion are heartened, a very few are enraged by the invasion of some god’s territory.
MSE: Where do you see the GCP going from here? Will you retrace ground already covered in order to strengthen your results, or is there a plan for extending the research?
RDN: We will continue. It can be thought of as a replication database, but also as a resource for all manner of potentially instructive analyses. There are lots of plans for extending the research, mostly by implementing new analytical perspectives. What actually will happen depends on what grows organically, to a large extent. The GCP runs as a volunteer operation, so certain forms of planning are not present; instead we use envisioning, so to speak.
MSE: The members of our group thank you for taking the time to engage in this dialog.
RDN: The pleasure was mine.
If Global Consciousness is a measurable phenomenon, then what is it measuring? The effect has been attributed to cell phone use, fields generated by power lines, and just plain coincidence. We asked physicist Tom van Flandern what he thought of the phenomenon:
I am extremely skeptical ofstatistically significantresults that are so close to what chance would produce. There comes a point in any analysis at which systematic, rather than random, errors dominate, invalidating statistical conclusions. And when working so close to chance probabilities, it may be impossible to think of all the hidden ways that systematic errors might arise. To be intrinsically convincing, we need to see the result of a controlled, double-blind test that is well above what chance can produce. Until then, the default assumption must remain that no such phenomena exist.
What do you think? Researcher Roger Nelson can be reached for comments or suggestions at the GCP website www.global-mind.org
About the Authors: Chris Langan and Gina LoSasso are researchers and editors of two UltraHIQ journals, Ubiquity and Noesis-E. Together they co-founded the Ultranet and Mega Society East and serve on the Board of Directors of the Mega Foundation, a nonprofit charitable foundation for the gifted.