Have Scientists Discovered a Way of Peering Into the Future?
Written by Danny Penman
Deep in the basement of a dusty old library in Edinburgh lies a small
black box that churns out random numbers. At first glance the box looks
profoundly dull, but it is, in fact, the ‘eye' of a machine that
appears capable of peering into the future.
The machine apparently sensed the September 11th attacks on the World
Trade Centre four hours before they happened, and appeared to forewarn
of the Asian Tsunami.
"It's Earth shattering stuff," says Dr Roger Nelson, Emeritus
researcher at Princeton University in the USA. "But unfortunately we
don't have a box for predicting the future that we can sell to the CIA.
We're very early on in the process of trying to figure out what's going
on here. At the moment we're stabbing in the dark."
Dr Nelson's Global Consciousness Project - originally hosted by
Princeton University - is one of the most extraordinary experiments of
all time. It aims to ‘sense' whether all of humanity shares a single
unconscious mind that we all tap into without realising it. Some might
refer to it as the mind of God. But the machine has also thrown up
another tantalising possibility: that scientists may have unwittingly
discovered a way of predicting the future.
Although many would consider the project's aims to be little more than
fools' gold, it has still attracted a roster of 75 respected scientists
from 41 different nations. Researchers from Princeton - where Einstein
spent much of his career - work alongside scientists from universities
in Britain, Holland, Switzerland and Germany. The project is also the
most rigorous and longest running investigation ever into the
"Very often paranormal phenomena evaporate if you study them for long
enough," says physicist Dick Bierman of the University of Amsterdam.
"But this is not happening with the Global Consciousness Project. The
effect is real. The only dispute is about what it means."
The project has its roots in the extraordinary work of Professor Robert
Jahn of Princeton University during the late 1970s. Professor Jahn was
one of the first modern scientists to take paranormal phenomena
seriously. Intrigued by such things as telepathy, telekinesis and ESP,
he was determined to study the phenomena using the most up to date
One of these new technologies was a humble looking black box known was
a Random Event Generator. This used sophisticated 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 - can then be printed out as a graph.
Pure chance dictates that the generators should churn out equal numbers
of ones and zeros which produces a more or less flat line on a graph.
Any deviation from this shows up as a gently rising curve.
During the late 1970s, Professor Jahn hauled strangers off the street
and asked them to concentrate their minds on a 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, and to many it still is.
The results, however, were stunning and have never been satisfactorily
explained. Again and again, entirely ordinary people proved that their
minds could influence the machines and produce significant fluctuations
on the graph. According to all of the known laws of science, this
should not have happened - but it did. And it kept on happening.
Dr Roger Nelson, also working at Princeton University, then extended
Professor Jahn's work by taking the machines to group meditations,
which were very popular in America at the time. Again, the results were
shocking. The meditators somehow caused dramatic shifts in the 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 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 during the funeral
of Princess Diana something extraordinary happened: the graph shot
upwards and reached for the sky. It was clear that they'd detected a
totally new phenomena. The concentrated mental effort of millions of
people appeared to be influencing the output of random event generators
around the world. But how? Dr Nelson was still at a loss to explain it.
In 1998 he gathered together scientists from all over the world to try
and understand the phenomena. They, too, were stumped and resolved to
extend and deepen Jahn and Nelson's work. 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. The Eggs not only ‘sensed'
the moment that Princess Diana was buried, but also the NATO bombing of
Yugoslavia, the Kursk tragedy and America's hung election of 2000. The
Eggs also regularly detect huge global celebrations such as New Year's
Eve. Even more bizarrely, they sense the celebrations as they sweep
through the Earth's different time zones.
The project threw up its greatest enigma on September 11th 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 did they register the event as it happened, but the
characteristic shift in the pattern of numbers began four hours before
the two planes hit the Twin Towers.
"I knew then that we had a great deal of work ahead of us," says Dr Nelson.
The same happened with the Asian Tsunami. Twenty four hours before the
tragedy unfolded, the characteristic shift in the pattern of numbers
began. Curiously, it was at around this time that animals in the path
of the tsunami began fleeing for their lives. Very few animals were
killed in the tragedy, as you may remember, leading some to ask whether
they had somehow foreseen the disaster.
So does the Global Consciousness Project really forecast the future?
After all, cynics will quite rightly say that if you look at enough
data then you will find correlations with something. After all, our
world is full of wars, disasters and terrorist outrages, as well as the
occasional global celebration.
The team behind the project say that they've thought of this. Using
rigorous scientific techniques and powerful mathematics it is possible
to exclude these chance connections. And they believe they have done so.
"Good scientists will ask what mistakes we've made," says Dr Nelson.
"We're perfectly willing to discover that we've made mistakes. 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
chance are one million to one against. That's hugely significant."
The Global Consciousness Project may have generated an incredible
amount of compelling evidence, and garnered the support of eminent
scientists, but many remain sceptical.
Professor Chris French, a psychologist and noted sceptic at Goldsmiths
College in London, says: "The project has generated some very
intriguing results that cannot be readily dismissed. I'm involved in
similar work to see if we get the same results. We haven't managed to
do so yet but it's only an early experiment. The jury's still out."
Strange as it may seem, there's nothing in the laws of physics that
precludes the possibility of foreseeing the future. Time may not just
move forwards - but backwards too. And if time ebbs and flows like the
tides in the sea, it might just be possible to foretell the future.
"There's plenty of evidence that time may run backwards," says
Professor Dick Bierman, a physicist at the University of Amsterdam.
"And if it's possible for it to happen in physics then it can happen
inside our heads too."
As a consequence says Professor Bierman, forecasting the future may not
just be possible - it's something we do routinely without even
Dr John Hartwell, working at the University of Utrecht in the
Netherlands, was the first to uncover evidence that people could sense
the future. In the mid 1970s he hooked people up to hospital EEG
machines so that he could study their brainwave patterns. When these
people were shown emotionally charged cartoons, characteristic patterns
flickered through their brainwaves. Strangely, these patterns began to
emerge a few seconds before they actually saw the pictures.
But it was to be another 15 years before anyone else took this work
further. Dean Radin, working in America, connected people up to a
machine that measured their skin's resistance to electricity. This is
known to fluctuate in tandem with our moods, indeed, it's this
principle that underlies many lie detectors. Radin repeated Dr Hall's
work whilst measuring skin resistance. Again, people began reacting a
few seconds before they were shown the pictures. This was clearly
impossible, or so he thought, so he kept on repeating the experiments
and getting the same results.
"I didn't believe it," says Professor Bierman. "So I repeated the
experiment myself and got the same results. I was shocked. After this I
started to think more deeply about the nature of time."
Bierman then devised an experiment to settle his mind once and for all.
He decided to use a hospital brain scanner to peer inside people's
minds as they were shown a series of photographs. Each person was
randomly shown erotic or violent pictures, or neutral images of white
fluffy clouds. Each of these pictures produced unique patterns in the
patient's brainwaves. In effect, you could see inside the mind as it
reacted to each picture.
What is remarkable is that the patients began reacting 1-2 seconds
before they saw the images. This is clearly impossible, or so we're
taught to believe. And yet it happened time and time again.
Obviously sceptics would love to demolish Bierman's work but have so
far failed to do so. Nor is his research a one off that can be casually
dismissed. To make matters even more intriguing, Bierman says that
other mainstream labs have produced similar results but they are too
frightened to go public.
"They don't want to be ridiculed so they won't release their findings,
says Professor Bierman. "So I'm trying to persuade all of them to
release their results together. That would at least spread the ridicule
a little more thinly!" jokes the Professor.
If Bierman is right, then sensing the future may help explain such
things as deja vu, intuition and a host of other paranormal phenomena.
It may also open up a far more interesting possibility - enhancing
psychic powers using machines. Just as we have built machines to
replace muscle power, may we one day build a device to enhance psychic
Dr Nelson is optimistic - but not for the short term: "We may be able
to predict that something is going to happen. But we won't know exactly
what will happen or where it's going to happen," he says.
But for Dr Nelson, talk of psychic machines is of far less importance
than the implications of his work for ordinary people. We may all be
individuals, he says, but we are also part of something far, far
"We're taught to be individualistic monsters," he says. "We're driven
by society to separate ourselves from each other. That's not right. We
may be connected together far more intimately than we realise."