This story came to me from a discussion group, but it turned out it also originated on Slashdot.

It all begins with some scientists who have been experimenting with the so called random number generators. Such generator is simply a box which displays random numbers. Generating randomness is a broader theme, there are so-called pseudo-random number generators which are basically complex mathematical functions which yield results which seem random, but aren’t. However, in this case the source is electronic noise – presumably an effect of totally random interactions of particles at quantum (sub-atomic) level.

What is interesting is that it turned out that these boxes, which in theory should produce totally random numbers could be influenced by human consciousness. A team of scientists at Princeton University headed by Robert G. Jahn run a series of experiments back in the seventies, that suggested that conscious concentration could affect the output of a random number generator. This research, collectively known as PEAR was taken to a new level by the Global Consciousness Project which maintains a network of such boxes thought the world . These boxes, called EGGS transmit their output to a central server, where it is analyzed.

Researchers of the project claim that they can see disturbances (or deviation from randomness) in the output of their generators when large events occur like earthquakes, tsunamis or large terrorist attacks. The catch is that the deviations occur a few hours before the events take place. So, in case of the 9/11 attacks the disturbance happened four hours before the first plane hit the WTC – that is even before the terrorist entered their planes. Same happened before the recent tsunami in the Indian Ocean.

As one might expect such claims seem totally ridiculous in our presumably rational society. However, being a Buddhist I’m not surprised at all. Buddha taught that not only there is no division between me and other sentient beings, but also that on absolute level even the chair I’m sitting on is just another aspect of the same unlimited, clear space of mind.

Buddhists use the word “mind” in a very particular way. It is not used to refer to a single consciousness (presumably somehow connected to or anchored in a given brain) but to… well, everything. This unlimited space of mind is at the same time a container we are all in and the fabric everything is woven of. A fabric that weaves itself. An frequently used by Buddhist writers to explain the relationship of our consciousness with the rest of this space is that of currents in an ocean. A current in an ocean is hardly separate from it, yet it undeniably exists. Buddha said we are such currents that are so concentrated on themselves and all the other forms around them, that we believe that we and those other phenomena actually have an independent existence. Which is, of course, not true.

These concepts are rather hard to understand. They are in many cases hidden behind a mystical language which people with right intuition and trust (some say gained in previous lives) immediately accept but others have trouble with. In traditional Buddhists schools people were gradually introduced to those concepts, since most people are so attached to the idea that reality is, well, real that even a mere suggestion it is not causes them to stop listening – and thinking. Also, traditionally Buddhism practice leads to actually experiencing the clear unlimited space of mind as opposed to just intellectually understanding it. The method which leads to that experience is meditation and experience itself is widely known as enlightenment. There are many forms and flavors of meditation within the Buddhist world ranging from rich forms of Vajrayana (or Tibetan Buddhism) to simple yet hard path of direct insight meditation as practiced in Zen. But they all lead to same goal.

But intellectual understanding of these concepts is possible although not as powerful. Especially in our times it is easier than it was before. Buddha lived and taught 2500 years ago and so both the language he used and the way he taught were adapted to that period. However, in our century parts of the Buddhists outlook on reality don’t sound as revolutionary and odd. For example we already know that on a basic level we are indeed built from the same basic components of matter as everything else around us. We also know that on the subatomic level particles are composed mostly of… nothing, as elementary particles (quarks) are much, much smaller than distances between them.

So – the only thing that really surprised me about the this Global Consciousness Project is that people running it were able to actually observe what could be a side effect of the free play of mind as it forms and reforms bubbling with unimaginably huge number of streams running through it.

Of course, this research is still preliminary. The first event I thought of and checked were the terrorists attacks on 11th of March, 2004 in Spain. These were as terrible and traumatic to the Spaniards as 9/11 was to Americans. However, there are no significant deviations visible on the graph from that day (nor the previous day). The experiments with people consciously concentrating on changing the output of a box seem more convincing because it is easier to set up such an experiment in a proper, scientific way.

Nevertheless, I think people should look more closely at the ancient wisdom that seems to describe our reality so well.