Research into Collective Consciousness at Burning Man (2012 & 2013)
On this page you'll find a short summary of an experiment looking at collective consciousness at Burning Man in 2013, followed by a more detailed report on a similar exploratory experiment that took place at Burning Man in 2012. For more background and context, please click here to go directly to the 2012 section.
Physical effects of collective attention at Burning Man 2013
Dean Radin, Joseph Burnett, Cassandra Vieten, Tam Hunt, Arnaud Delorme
October 3, 2013
At Burning Man this year, the attention of 65,000 minds on the playa moved into tight alignment as a highly anticipated event approached – the burning of the man. We took advantage of that event to see if the rise in mental coherence would be correlated with a rise in physical coherence, as measured by the outputs of truly random number generators (RNGs, electronic devices designed to generate maximum entropy, or randomness).
The RNG output was also used to control a powerful 10-Watt laser display in real-time, to fit in with the art and technology initiatives of the Burning Man festival.
We conducted a similar experiment last year, and we found evidence in favor of the predicted mind-matter relationship. For this year’s test, we collected data simultaneously from six RNGs located on the playa. In two of the RNGs the source of randomness was a quantum effect known as electron tunneling (the RNG is called the Orion); a third RNG was based on a similar electron tunneling phenomenon (Psyleron). The next two RNGs generated random events based on the timing between emissions of alpha particles from a source of mildly radioactive Thorium-232 (RM-60). And the sixth RNG monitored the random behavior of photons either passing through or bouncing off a half-silvered mirror (Quantis). The outputs of the RNGs were monitored by programs running on a Panasonic Toughbook PC and on two General Dynamics Itronic PCs. The three PCs, each hosting two RNGs, were located approximately equidistant from the Burning Man effigy, and all of the PCs ran on batteries during the recordings.
We expected that collective mental attention would reach a maximum when the man was ignited. That is what we observed at Burning Man 2012. But this year, the start of the burning ceremony was signaled by the man’s arms rising up a few seconds after 9 PM on August 31, 2013. The actual ignition of the man began a half-hour later.
Figure 1 shows the deviation from chance in the combined statistical output of all 6 RNGs. (Technical aside: The deviation is expressed in the graph in terms of a z-score, a convenient statistical way to measure deviations based on a bell-shaped curve.) In Figure 1 the statistical deviation is observed to peak just before 9:00 PM, within a few minutes of the man’s arms rising up, indicating the beginning of the ceremony. Figure 2 displays the same result in terms that may be in easier to understand: odds against chance.
Figure 1. The Burning Man event began at 9 PM (21 hours) with the raising of the man’s arms; the man was ignited at 9:30 PM (21.5 hours). The peak deviation across all 6 RNGs occurred within minutes of the peak collective attention of the 65,000 minds at Burning Man.
Figure 2. Odds against chance for graph shown in Figure 1.
These graphs indicate that there was unexpected order arising in the RNGs around the time when the big event began at 9 PM. To provide a quantitative assessment of this apparent coincidence, we conducted an analysis to see how often a deviation of the observed magnitude (or greater) would occur by chance as close to (or closer) to the moment of interest (9 PM). The analysis showed that the joint probability associated with the observed outcome was p = 0.002, indicating that the odds spike shown in Figure 2 was unlikely to be due to chance.
Further analyses are underway to see if all of six RNGs behaved in similar ways and to study the data for clues that might provide a physical model for how collective attention influences RNGs. If it turns out that all of the RNGs deviated from chance at about the same time (preliminary analysis indicates that they did), this would provide an important hint about the underlying mechanisms of mind-matter interaction (because the RNGs were based on different underlying sources of randomness). The details of these analyses will be published in a technical journal, and summaries will appear on the IONS website.
Deviations from Randomness Associated with Collective Attention: Burning Man 2012
Dean Radin, Cassandra Vieten, Joseph Burnett, Arnaud Delorme, Tam Hunt
We'll Do It Again in 2013
2013 Pre-Experiment article by Tam Hunt (3/27/13):
I Controlled a Huge Freakin’ Laser With My Mind! The New Science of Remote Causation
Dean Radin on Global Consciousness Project
Have you ever experienced a time when the collective enthusiasm of a large event seemed to rise to such a peak that you could almost feel a crackle in the air? Or felt a haunting sense in the air while visiting a place that caused sadness or suffering for thousands of people? Provocative evidence suggests that there are significant departures from chance expectation in the outputs of random number generators (electronic devices that produce truly random bits, or sequences of zeros and ones) during times of collective upheaval, global crises and major celebrations.
This year, the Institute of Noetic Sciences, along with several collaborators, conducted an exploratory experiment at Black Rock City, the temporary city created each year in the Nevada desert for the festival known as Burning Man. Burning Man is a week-long event that attracts upwards of 50,000 people. It is unique in its concentrated intensity, isolation, and collective intention, culminating with the burning of a large man-shaped effigy at the center of Black Rock City on Saturday night. See this article in the Atlantic magazine to get a feeling for the event, or these pictures in Rolling Stone magazine.
Our experiment tested the prediction that a random number generator (RNG) placed on the playa would demonstrate significant deviation from randomness during the period of highest collective intensity, i.e., during the burning of the man. In addition, the Global Consciousness Project (GCP) made a prediction that their global network of random number generators would also show a deviation from randomness. That prediction was based in part on a previously successful exploratory analysis that examined the average of eight years of global RNG data at the time of Burning Man (1999 – 2006).
The underlying hypothesis in studies of this type, dubbed “field consciousness” experiments, is that mind and matter are complementary aspects of a more fundamental, holistic reality. As an analogy, the idea is that subjective mind and objective matter may be like heads and tails on a coin. These two aspects of nature may appear to be quite different from one other when examined separately, but from a broader perspective they may be seen as part of an intimate relationship by virtue of being connected to, or part of, the same “substance.” Based on this proposed relationship, when minds experience a period of unusually high collective coherence, such as during the burning of the man, then perhaps matter will also show a period of high coherence. The latter effect might be detectable in an RNG through an unexpected arising of statistical order. To test this idea, we look for a synchronicity: a meaningful event at a specific time. In the present case the synchronicity would appear as a non-chance fluctuation in an RNG output close in time to the burning of the man.
Hypothesis 1 was that an RNG placed on the playa would demonstrate a statistically significant deviation from randomness at the time of the burning of the man. Hypothesis 2 was that the Global Consciousness Project RNGs would demonstrate statistically significant departures from randomness at the same time. Hypothesis 3 was that the RNG placed on the playa might demonstrate departure from randomness at the time of a second major burning event known as the Temple Burn, on Sunday night.
To evaluate Hypothesis 1 we asked the following question: How likely is it to observe the maximum odds against chance actually obtained within this two hour period within the time period between that maximum and the moment of the ignition? That is, say we observed a statistical deviation associated with odds against chance of 20 to 1 within two minutes of the moment of the ignition. Is that observation a meaningful deviation from chance given the data we collected, or is it consistent with chance?
Data were collected from Wednesday night August 29th, 2012 through Monday morning, September 3rd, 2012 using a Psyleron unit (a truly random number generator based on quantum randomness), with periodic small gaps in data collection due to brief power interruptions (the experiment was solar and battery powered in the middle of nowhere in the Nevada desert). Data were collected at a rate of 800 random bits per second. To compute the deviation from randomness, first we calculated a standard normal deviate (i.e., a z score) for each second of data (800 bits) , then we created a cumulative z score starting one hour before the ignition of the burning man to one hour after (i.e., a cumulative Stouffer z).
To answer this question, we used a computational statistical method called a bootstrap. To do this we selected a 2-hour block of data randomly from within the entire data stream collected on the playa. We found the maximum odds against chance and the distance in time to the center of the segment (which represented the moment of ignition). If the odds against chance during the random two-hour block were equal to or larger than that observed during the actual burn, and the temporal distance was equal to or less than that observed during the burn, then we incremented a counter. This process was then repeated 5,000 times, each with a newly selected random block of data. At the end of this process the counter value divided by 5,000 provided the probability of observing a statistical deviation equal to or greater than the one we actually obtained during the experiment. The same method was used to evaluate the Temple Burn event.
Data from the GCP was analyzed similarly. The only change for the GCP data is that that database consisted of 55 RNGs running simultaneously at different locations around the world. To provide a single stream of data to apply to our bootstrap technique, the 55 GCP data streams were combined into a single z score by creating a composite chi-square (sum of z-squares with degrees of freedom equal to the number of elements in the sum) across all RNGs, per second, and then converting the p-value associated with each chi-square back into a z score. The resulting sequence of z scores was then evaluated using the same bootstrap technique described above.
Hypothesis 1. As shown in Figure 1, the RNG located on the playa showed a statistically significant deviation with modest odds against chance of 57 to 1, based on two-tailed probabilities, some 8 minutes after the moment of ignition (the flames died down about 10 minutes after ignition). The bootstrap analysis showed that this outcome, or better, would have occurred by chance with a probability of p = 0.004, confirming Hypothesis 1.
Figure 1. Two-tailed odds against chance and minutes to ignition of the burning man, for the RNG on the playa, along with photos of what this event looked liked.
Hypothesis 2. As shown in Figure 2, the combined GCP RNGs showed a statistically significant deviation with odds against chance of 9,461 to 1 about 45 minutes before the moment of ignition. The bootstrap analysis showed that this outcome, or better, would have occurred by chance with a probability of p = 0.002, confirming Hypothesis 2.
Figure 2. Two-tailed odds against chance and minutes to ignition of the burning man, for the GCP RNGs.
Hypothesis 3. As shown in Figure 3, the playa RNG showed a statistically significant deviation with odds against chance greater than 108 to 1 about 30 minutes after the moment of ignition of the Temple on Sunday night. The bootstrap analysis showed that this outcome, or better, would have occurred by chance with a modest probability of p = 0.03, confirming Hypothesis 3.
Figure 3. Figure 3. Temple burn analysis for RNG on the playa.
The predicted synchronicities appeared in the RNG output on the playa and in the GCP network of RNGs at the time of the burning of the man and the temple burn. According to the bootstrap analysis, the statistical order observed in the playa RNG during the burning man event would be observed purely by chance only 4 in 1,000 times (p = 0.004). This means that if this same experiment were conducted at the annual Burning Man festival each year for a millennium, then the effect we observed would occur by chance alone on about four occasions. So we might have been lucky this time, but if we consider the results of all three tests combined (p = 0.004, 0.002, and 0.03), that outcome is associated with z = 4.28, p = 9.4 × 10-6, or odds against chance of 106,420 to 1. It now appears less likely that chance is a viable explanation, in which case something else must have been going on.
One “something else” interpretation is that sudden changes in the environment during the man and temple burn influenced the playa RNG in such a way as to cause a deviation from randomness. While superficially plausible, it is not very likely because RNGs are solid-state devices that are specifically designed to exclude influences due to fluctuations in line power, electromagnetic and ionizing radiation, temperature and vibration. Extremes in any of these factors might still influence the operation of the device, but an RNG that stops being random because say, a component fails, would by definition be producing order. That means bit sequences that have too many 0s or 1s. And systematic order of that type would be instantly obvious upon statistical analysis. But beyond this argument, we saw that the GCP RNGs – located in many cities around the world – also showed a significant effect (before the burning of the man), thus the likelihood that environmental factors alone are sufficient to explain the results further diminishes.
Another interpretation of the results is that the hypothesis of a relationship between mind and matter is pointing in the right direction, and that periods of intense collective attention focused may literally alter aspects of physical randomness. Strengthening the idea of a potential “consciousness field effect” that influences physical randomness, three of the four two-hundred-bit random samples that were collected per second by the playa RNG independently showed significant deviations from chance (p = 0.01, 0.03, 0.04, and 0.74).
Our original analysis examined cumulative changes in the data one hour before to one hour after the moment of ignition. This is a conservative approach because a systematic deviation is required to create a discernible shift in a cumulative plot. However, the duration of the burning man event is rather short: In 2012 it took only about 10 minutes from the initial ignition of the man to when the flames were dying out. So we decided to analyze the data using shorter duration sliding windows more compatible with the time-scale of the actual event. We tried 12 sliding windows ranging from 5 to 60 minutes in duration, with an expectation that a window of about 10 to 20 minutes would show the maximum effect. Because we conducted 12 tests, we are required to adjust the conventional threshold for declaring a “statistically significant” result from p = 0.05 or odds against chance of 20 to 1, to p = 0.05/12 = 0.004, or odds against chance of about 240 to 1. Figure 4 shows that 3 of the 12 window sizes resulted in significant deviations during the burning of the man, in particular for the 20 minute window. For the temple burn, none of the 12 window sizes resulted in significant deviations during the temple burn (Figure 5).
Figure 4. RNG on the playa odds against chance during the man burn, with 5 to 60 minute sliding windows.
Figure 5. RNG on the playa odds against chance during the temple burn, with 5 to 60 minute sliding windows.
For the GCP data, Figure 6 shows that 3 of the 12 window sizes resulted in significant deviations, with an especially strong result at a 15 minute window. Figure 7 plots the latter result in terms of z scores to better illustrate that deviation. The sharp drop in this curve a few minutes after the ignition of the man reflects a sudden collective drop in randomness generated by the 55 GCP RNGs during the burning of the man.
Figure 6. GCP RNG odds against chance during the man burn, with 5 to 60 minute sliding windows.
Figure 7. GCP RNG z score during the man burn using a 15 minute sliding window.
To check if the bootstrap analysis introduced an artifact that produced spurious odds against chance, we applied the same procedure to GCP RNG data 5 days before and 5 days after the burning man event. When adjusting for 11 tests, p = 0.0045 is required to achieve a conventional level of statistical significance. Table 1 indicates that this threshold was surpassed only on the day of the burning man.
Table 1. Date data was recorded (UTC time), maximum odds observed from one hour before to one hour after ignition of the burning man, duration in minutes to ignition for that maximum value (negative values mean before the ignition), and the outcome of the bootstrap analysis.
To add an artistic element to the 2012 IONS Burning Man experiment, the same computer that was collecting the data from the playa RNG was also used to control a multicolor laser. The laser beam pattern was designed to become more stable and coherent when the RNG output departed from random and less coherent when the output was closer to random. Unfortunately, conditions on the playa made it difficult to protect the laser from the ever-present dust and wind, so the artistic aspect of the experiment was fully functional only for one night. During that night the laser functioned as planned, but it was not powerful enough to be seen by most attendees, nor was it widely known that the laser was being controlled by an RNG.
The experiment was powered by a Sun Pods solar array donated by Black Rock Solar, which also provided funding for the experiment. Other supporters included Claudia Welss of the Gaiafield Project, Black Rock Solar, Tam Hunt, and fifty other donors who participated in a crowdfunding campaign on the website Indiegogo.com. The project team included:
- Cassandra Vieten, Executive Director of Research, Institute of Noetic Sciences
- Dean Radin, Senior Scientist and Laboratory Director, Institute of Noetic Sciences
- Roger Nelson, Global Consciousness Project
- Arnaud Delorme, neuroscientist at UC San Diego and visiting scholar at IONS
- Tam Hunt, Visiting Scholar, University of California, Santa Barbara and Aramis Productions
- Claudia Welss, Gaiafield Project and Global Coherence Initiative
- David Shearer, Board President of Black Rock Solar
- Joseph Burnett, Research Intern, Institute of Noetic Sciences
And thanks for additional assistance with the laser/art portion of the project to: Mark Janes and Brian Pinkham, PhotonicBliss Interactive Art
We've created a blog post about this experiment.
The Global Consciousness Project is an international, multidisciplinary collaboration of scientists and engineers. They collect data continuously from a global network of physical random number generators located in 70 host sites around the world. The data are transmitted to a central archive which now contains more than 12 years of random data in parallel sequences of synchronized 200-bit trials every second.