An evening with Dean Radin

by Claus Larsen

I spent one of the last evenings of September 2002 attending a lecture by Dean Radin, author of “The Conscious Universe”, on the Upper East Side, Manhattan. Radin told about the Global Consciousness Project, which is described as:

“a world-spanning network of devices sensitive to coherence and resonance in the mental domain. Continuous streams of data are sent over the internet to be archived and correlated with events that may evoke a world-wide consciousness. Examples that appear to have done so include both peaceful gatherings and disasters: a few minutes around midnight on any New Years Eve, the first hour of NATO bombing in Yugoslavia, the Papal visit to Israel, a variety of global meditations, several major earthquakes, and now September 11.”

Global Consciousness Project

Around the world, random number generators (“eggs”) are producing a random string of one’s and zero’s, which are then recorded for later analysis. The theory is that a “global consciousness” can influence this random string of one’s and zero’s.

O.J.: A global event?
Radin gave several examples of how GCP had detected “global consciousness”. One was the day O.J. Simpson was acquitted of double-murder. We were shown a graph where – no doubt about that – the data formed a nice ascending curve in the minutes after the pre-show started, with cameras basically waiting for the verdict to be read. And yes, there was a nice, ascending curve in the minutes after the verdict was read.

However, about half an hour before the verdict, there was a similar curve ascending for no apparent reason. Radin’s quick explanation before moving on to the next slide?

“I don’t know what happened there.”

It was not to be the last time we heard that answer.

September 11th: A study in wishful thinking.
It was obvious that the terror attacks of that day should make a pretty good case for Global Consciousness (GC). On the surface, it did. There seemed to be a very pronounced effect on that day and in the time right after.

There were, however, several problems. The most obvious was that the changes began at 6:40am ET, when the attacks hadn’t started yet. It can of course be argued when the attacks “started”, but if the theory is based on a lot of people “focusing” on the same thing, the theory falls flat – at 6:40am, only the attackers knew about the upcoming event. Not even the CIA knew. Hardly enough to justify a “global” consciousness.

…during the days before the attacks, there were several instances of the eggs picking up data that showed the same fluctuation as on September 11th. When I asked Radin what had happened on those days, the answer was:

“I don’t know.”

This was explained as precognition: Tests have indicated that a person can anticipate whether the picture on a monitor will be “positive” or “negative”, e.g. a cute little bunny or a snake ready to bite. Radin did acknowledge that people react differently to pictures of this kind (he used the example of Jimmy Carter who was once attacked by a huge bunny and the herpetologist who would think the snake was “cute”), but the results do show that people react a little before the picture pops up. However, since these tests are done with the pictures popping up at regular intervals, it isn’t hard to imagine that people learn very fast to count the seconds until the next picture is visible.

These tests looked at people’s physical reactions. Unfortunately, there are no records of people being specifically “jumpy” during the two hours before the attacks. The level of surprise speaks its clear language. Nobody saw this coming.

It was not explained why there were no signs of this precognition in the other examples.

Another serious problem with the September 11 result was that during the days before the attacks, there were several instances of the eggs picking up data that showed the same fluctuation as on September 11th. When I asked Radin what had happened on those days, the answer was:

“I don’t know.”

I then asked him – and I’ll admit that I was a bit flabbergasted – why on earth he hadn’t gone back to see if similar “global events” had happened there since he got the same fluctuations. He answered that it would be “shoe-horning” – fitting the data to the result.

Checking your hypothesis against seemingly contradictory data is “shoe-horning”?

For once, I was speechless.

The Maharishi (Non)Effect
Radin then brought up the (in)famous 1993 experiment in Washington, DC.

“In 1993, there was a high profile demonstration of the Maharishi Effect in Washington D.C. A 27 member independent scientific review board included representatives from the Police and Washington universities. Predictions of reduced violent crime, improved quality of life, and higher approval ratings for government were lodged in advance with the review board. The predictions were supported during the assembly attended by 4000 TM-Sidhi participants. There was a 24% reduction in violent crime during the six week period of the assembly compared to the trend predicted by time-series analysis of preceding data.”

Natural Law Party Fact Sheet

Radin showed a graph which – again on the surface – showed that there indeed was a drop in violent crime during the period where the participants thought about peace.

One thing immediately caught my attention, but somebody else beat me to it: Some days before the experiment, there was a similar drop in crime, which looked percentage-wise about the same. When asked about what caused this drop, Radin answered:

“I don’t know.”

Spotting a pattern here, I called Radin on his methods of research: How could he say that the later drop in violent crime was caused by the Maharishi Effect, when he didn’t go back and check what caused the previous drop?

His answer: “This was a planned experiment.”

When I then pointed out that September 11th was not exactly a planned experiment, he went back to his previous stance: That it would be shoe-horning, etc., etc.

I asked him if he did go back and could not find anything that would qualify as a global event on those days that had the same fluctuation as his examples, wouldn’t that show the theory false?

His answer?

“Not necessarily.”

I don’t think he appreciated it when I used the phrase “You are selecting your data”. It was the only time his brow was furrowed.

I dropped it there and then. It was clear that Radin was selecting his data. He did not seek out alternative explanations for his theories. Shoe-horning indeed.

Regarding the Maharishi experiment, it should be mentioned that even though there did seem to be a drop in violent crime during the experiment, the data are flawed. Robert Park describes the event in his book, “Voodoo Science”:

“The weeks that followed seemed like something out of an old mad-scientist movie – an experiment that had gone horribly wrong. Each Monday morning, the Washington Post would tally the gruesome weekend slayings in the city. Participants in the project seemed serenely unaware of the mounting carnage around them as they sat cross-legged in groups throughout the city, eyes closed, peacefully repeating their mantras. The murder rate for those two months reached a level unmatched before or since.

At the end of the demonstration period, Hagelin, smiling his unworldly smile, acknowledged that murders were indeed up “due to the unusually high temperatures,” but “brutal crime” was down. One could only imagine that the murders were being committed more humanely – perhaps a clean shot between the eyes rather than a bludgeoning.

Over the coming year, Hagelin promised, the results would be carefully analyzed according to strict scientific standards.
As promised, Hagelin was back a year later with a fifty-five-page report of the results of the project. It was a clinic in data distortion. A beaming Hagelin announced at a press conference that, during the period of the experiment, violent crime had been reduced by a remarkable 18 percent. “An eighteen-percent reduction compared to what?” a puzzled reporter for the Washington Post asked, recalling the dreadful murder rampage of the summer of ’93. Compared to what it would have been if the meditators had not been meditating, Hagelin explained patiently. “But how could you know what the rate would have been?” the reporter persisted. That had been arrived at, Hagelin responded with just a trace of irritation, by means of a “scientifically rigorous time-series analysis” that included not only crime data but such factors as weather and fluctuations in Earth’s magnetic field.”

Source: Robert Park, Voodoo Science, p. 29.  

Bad, bad science!
The rest of the lecture was the same old rant against “established” science. Radin could not abstain from several jabs at the “established” scientific community: We got the well-known swill that scientists are afraid to think outside the box, that the results were ignored, we are on the threshold of a new era, blah, blah, blah.

Radin is right in as much as the scientific communities being somewhat conservative. He completely ignores that especially young scientists, eager to make their mark, would be thrilled to do this kind of research – just think of the funding, fame and glory, should they be able to prove anything paranormal!

Alas, such fame and glory only comes with the existence of real results. So far, we have seen none.

It should be said that Radin himself admits that none of all this is proof of a Global Consciousness. He calls it “indication”.

Roger Nelson, Director of the GCP also admits that no proof has been found:

“I want to acknowledge that I like the notion of Global Consciousness, but that this idea is really an aesthetic speculation. I don’t think we have real grounds to claim that the statistics and graphs representing the data prove the existence of a global consciousness. On the other hand, we do have strong evidence of anomalous structure in what should be random data, and clear correlations of these unexplained departures from expectation with well-defined events that are of special importance to people. The events share a common feature, namely, that they engage our attention, and draw us into a common focus.”
Global Consciousness Project

My overall impression of Radin is that he is sincere, albeit way too much infatuated with his theories. He clearly selects his data and is not all that interested in ways of falsifying his theories.

While it is humanly understandable, it is scientifically unacceptable.

Is something happening? If we can refrain from equating “anomalies” with “psi”, it does seem that something is going on. Whether it is flawed research or a real phenomenon is still out. But when we take into account that Radin and GCP are not all that eager to falsify their own theories (as well as quoting Sagan and Hyman out of context to support their own agenda when in fact neither do!), it is very hard for me to accept that a real phenomenon is happening.

But, hey, I could be wrong!

This article has also appeared on New York Area Skeptics.