THE BLOG
06/04/2007 01:53 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

The Mind Outside The Brain (Part 2)

If it is true that intelligence arises in a "mind field" that surrounds us on all sides, we must all be participating in it. Almost a century ago Carl Jung proposed that our participation takes place in a "collective unconscious," from which the human race derives its myths and archetypes. The fact that cultures widely separated in time and place produce the same kind of stories about questing heroes, transformation, and hidden worlds suggests that Jung is right. But what about active participation? Do we consciously use the mind field? One reads of Australian aborigines who view the world in "dream time" and map according to invisible "songlines" that cross the boundary between intuition and the five senses. There's an East Indian island culture in which the members discuss their dreams collectively every morning, with the belief that in this way they shape the events that will unfold for them in the future.

Everyday life in our society feels far from away form those examples. How do we use the mind field? Such a link was provided by Helmut Schmidt, a researcher working for Boeing's aerospace laboratory in Seattle. Beginning in the mid-Sixties, Schmidt set out to construct a series of "quantum machines" that could emit random signals, with the aim of seeing if ordinary people could alter those signals using nothing more than their minds. The first machine detected radioactive decay form Strontium-90; each electron that was given off lit up either a red, blue, yellow, or green light. Schmidt asked ordinary people to predict, with the press of a button, which light would be illuminated next.

At first no one performed better than random, or 25%, in picking one of the four lights. Then Schmidt it on the idea of using psychics instead, and his first results were encouraging: they guessed the correct light 27% of the time. But he didn't know if this was a matter of clairvoyance -- seeing the result before it happened -- or something more active, actually changing the random pattern of electrons being emitted.

So he built a second machine that generated only two signals, call them plus and minus. A circle of lights was set up, and if the machine generated a plus, a light would co on in the clockwise direction while a minus would make one light up in the counter-clockwise direction. Left to itself, the machine would light up an equal number of pluses and minuses; what Schmidt wanted his subjects to do was to will the lights to move clockwise only. He found two subjects who had remarkable success. One could get the lights to move clockwise 52.5% of the time. An increase of 2.5% over randomness doesn't sound dramatic, but Schmidt calculated that the odds were 10 million to one against the same thing occurring by chance. The other subject was just as successful, but oddly enough, he couldn't make the lights move clockwise. Hard as he tried, they moved counter-clockwise, yet with the same deviation form randomness. Later experiments with new subjects raised the success rate to 54%, although the strange anomaly that the machine would go in the wrong direction, often persisted. (No explanation was ever found for this.) In effect, Schmidt was proving that an observer can change activity in the quantum field using the mind alone.

Inspired by Schmidt's results, a Princeton engineering professor named Robert Jahn developed extremely more sophisticated trails, involving a machine that could generate zeros and ones five times a second. In the Princeton experiments, each participant went through three types of tests. First he would will the machine to produce more ones and zeros, then more zeros than ones, and finally he would try not to influence the machine at all. Each test was repeated until there was between 500,00 and 1,000,000 results, a staggering number that in a single day outdid all the previous trials done by Schmidt or various parapsychologists before him.

After 12 years of study, it was found that about two-thirds of ordinary people could influence the outcome of the machine, unlike in Schmidt's study, where only talented psychics were used. Yet like the psychics, ordinary people could will more zeros than ones, or ones than zeros, about 51-52% of the time. This seems like a slim margin, but it turns out to defy chance by a ratio of a trillion to one. It's the utter certainty of the outcome that is so staggering, since random chance is a bedrock of quantum physics, Darwinian evolution, and many other fields. (A dozen other studies, when wrapped into the Princeton ones, also came up with results in the 51-52% range.)

The assertion that we are embedded in the mind field seems more credible, and if that is the case, then it is more credible that everything we think and do is actually a fluctuation in the field.

(to be continued)

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