We are accustomed to our lives being affected by machines -- either to bring comfort or pain. The 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks has once again brought forth repeated telecasts of the horrific images of the air-planes which became weapons as they were crashed into the World Trade Centre in New York.
But can human consciousness be monitored or mapped by machines? The answer appears to be a tentative yes.
One of the lesser know stories about 9th September 2001 is that some scientists saw the event as offering further evidence of a global consciousness that can be mapped on some machines.
Lest that sound utterly wild, here is a summary of why and how scientists are studying this subject.
In 1998 scientists from various disciplines brought together the Global Consciousness Project (GCP). This is an international effort aimed at exploring whether there is an interconnected global consciousness and whether it can be scientifically validated through objective measurement.
The GCP builds upon research done at the interface of human consciousness and machines since the 1960s. This research has shown that human consciousness interacts with random event generators.
The GPC is deploying quantum event based random number generators (RNGs) which produce completely unpredictable sequences of zeroes and ones. In other words the machines electronically flip coins hundreds of time each second and record the random patterns which emerge.
It has been observed that when major world events occur, like the 9/11 terrorist attack or the Indian Ocean tsunami, these random event generators display patterns that should not exist in truly random sequences.
Scientists working on the GCP are themselves mystified and uncertain about how to read this data. They step cautiously, struggling to remain within the accepted boundaries of science while constantly skirting the margins of their own understanding to explore if and how all of life and consciousness may be interconnected.
The GCP website says that: "Consciousness is created when coherence develops in an otherwise chaotic, random flux of subtle chemistry and faint electrical signals. In human terms, consciousness is usually associated with being awake and aware, possibly even self-reflective. Because we are here looking at a broader set of possibilities, our usage necessarily implies also the unconscious and subconscious aspects of the organized activity that defines the mental world."
But how is human consciousness affecting the behaviour of machines, those RNGs?
Even those running the GCP don't know. They admit that at present all explanations are weak and speculative. Even the speculations are difficult for lay people to grasp because they involve concepts like "quantum mechanical entanglement", "active information field" and "random phase relationship".
Could the RNG 'responses' be caused by mundane physical events like a fluctuations in the power grid or extraordinary levels of cell phone usage or the influence of an electro-magnetic field?
The extra cell phone usage would certainly explain why the RNGs deviated from the random patterns and showed deviations for almost two days following the 9/11tragedy.
However, such influences would have a geographical concentration -- in this case around New York and Washington.
But the RNG devices are spread across the world, at an average distance of about 4000 miles. Moreover, adds the GCP website: "The design of the research-grade instruments we use includes both physical shielding and a logic stage that excludes first-order biasing from electromagnetic or other physical causes."
As if this were not enough of a mystery, a challenge to our familiar sense of what is 'real', here is a detail that puts us deeper into the twilight zone.
The GCP recorded a deviation from random behaviour some minutes before the first plane dashed into the WTC. That is, before millions of people were glued to their televisions in horror!
Interestingly, when such research began in the 1960s its focus was on testing if human intention could impact machines. It was later that the enquiry shifted to looking at the impacts of human attention.
Thought this work was developed by Roger D. Nelson after two decades of experiments at the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research Lab the GCP is not a Princeton project.
It is funded by the Institute of Noetic Sciences, which was co-founded in 1973 by former astronaut Edgar Mitchell. This institute supports research on human potential, consciousness, psychic abilities and related areas.
Many scientists are naturally sceptical of these explorations. Critics of the GCP have questioned its methods of selecting and interpreting data and debunked the claims of correlation between human consciousness and the RNGs.
It will be a while before disputes on such work are settled among scientists. Meanwhile explorations like GCP fascinate those who want to believe that the real counter to terrorism is an expanding global energy in favour of peace.