Given my love of science and advocacy of evidence-based medicine, people may have come to the erroneous conclusion that I hate all woo. Nothing could be further from the truth. I just want medical woo to be subject to the same scientific testing as conventional medicine, because I believe that there should not even be a difference between “alternative medicine” and medicine. There’s just medicine that has good scientific, clinical, and epidemiological evidence to suggest it works, and that’s all I care about. Heck, if someone produced good scientific evidence that there was something to previous topics of Your Friday Dose of Woo as far out as quantum homeopathy, DNA activation, detoxifying boots, liver flushes, or spiritually guided surgery, I’d take a second look and perhaps even change my mind.
It’s a pretty safe bet, however, that that’s not going to happen, given the level of woo demonstrated by those “treatments.”
However, sometimes I come across some woo that really intrigues me, woo that I could really get into, if you know what I mean. I’m talking about woo that sounds like so much fun that even the skeptic in me (who knows that it’s all woo) is still tempted by it. In fact, here’s just such an example, Global Orgasm:
The mission of the Global Orgasm is to effect change in the energy field of the Earth through input of the largest possible surge of human energy. Now that there are two more US fleets heading for the Persian Gulf with anti- submarine equipment that can only be for use against Iran, the time to change Earth’s energy is NOW! Read more about the fleet buildup here.
The intent is that the participants concentrate any thoughts during and after orgasm on peace. The combination of high- energy orgasmic energy combined with mindful intention may have a much greater effect than previous mass meditations and prayers.
The goal is to add so much concentrated and high-energy positive input into the energy field of the Earth that it will reduce the current dangerous levels of aggression and violence throughout the world.
Global Orgasm is an experiment open to everyone in the world.
The results will be measured on the worldwide monitor system of the Global Consciousness Project.
This is the First Annual Winter Solstice Synchronized Global Orgasm for Peace, leading up to Winter Solstice of 2012, when the Mayan Calendar ends with a new beginning.
I particularly like the comparison with “previous mass meditations and prayers,” which the GO people seem to be admitting to have been ineffective. In any case, this sounds like the latest variant of the old “Make love, not war” slogan so beloved of the Baby Boomers during the 1960’s while protesting the Vietnam War, except that, back then, there was none of this crap about “quantum fields” or “global consciousness” needed to justify it, just a desire not to be drafted to fight in Vietnam coupled with the normal hormonal surges universal to young people everwhere. In any case, if you truly want to get a flavor of this woo, you should check out this super duper introductory video, brought to you by the same people who brought you Baring Witness, in which large groups of people got naked to spell out “peace” and other such words with their bodies. I mean, what’s with all this emphasis on nudity as a means of combating war?
The Winter Solstice? I wonder why they chose that day. I mean, if warships are steaming right now, why are they willing to wait a whole five weeks from now? Action is required! It’s up to all concerned citizens to start getting naked now! Of course it’s utter bunk that we could stop war in the Middle East or change the the energy field of the earth by this method, but, then, who cares? It’s an excuse for some nooky; so perhaps it can’t be all bad.
Even better, It’s not just an excuse for trying to organize a global shag-off. It’s science, man. How do we know? The organizers tell us so:
The Global Consciousness Project (http://noosphere.princeton.edu), Princeton University, runs a network of Random Event Generators (REGs) around the world, which record changes in randomness during global events. The results show that human consciousness can be measured to have a global effect on matter and energy during widely-watched events such as 9/11 and the Indian Ocean tsunami. There have also been measurable results during mass meditations and prayers.
The Zero Point Field or Quantum Field surrounds and is part of everything in the universe. It can be affected by human consciousness, as can be seen when simple observation of a subatomic particle changes the particle’s state.
We hope that a huge influx of physical, mental and spiritual energy with conscious peaceful intent will not only show up on Princeton’s REGs, but will have profound positive effects that will change the violent state of the human world.
Now there‘s a use of quantum theory I hadn’t considered before. Sure, it’s just as bogus as the quantum homeopathy that I had so much fun debunking in the very first YFDoW, but, again, in this particular case, who cares? Not surprisingly, it seems to be coupled with work done by the very group that claims to have produced “scientific evidence” supporting the contention that human consciousness can affect external reality. Unfortunately, one of its claims (that human “intent” and thought can affect random number generation) is so full of holes, that I don’t have a lot of optimism that this project will produce any results. Indeed, the fact that Deepak Chopra likes to cite this work should tell you all that you need to know about it.
But the random number generator project is just one bit of dubious science that the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research (PEAR) project engages in. Let’s take a look at the project that the Global Orgasm dudes are referring to:
We have been collecting data from a global network of random event generators since August, 1998. The network has grown to about 65 host sites around the world running custom software that reads the output of physical random number generators and records a 200-bit trial sum once every second, continuously over months and years. The data are transmitted over the internet to a server in Princeton, NJ, USA, where they are archived for later analysis. Individual data create a tapestry of color. The dot below shows coherence.
The purpose of this project is to examine subtle correlations that appear to reflect the presence and activity of consciousness in the world. The scientific work is careful, but it is at the margins of our understanding. We believe our view may be enriched by a creative and poetic perspective. Here we present various aspects of the project, including some insight into its scientific and philosophical implications.
Like, wow, man. It’s, like, a tapestry, you know.
To put it in less woo-speak, what the GCP is doing is using random event generators much like the random number generator used in the experiments in which PEAR tried to determine if people’s thoughts could alter the frequency of zeros or ones occurring away from 50:50. Their results, as described before, were much less than stellar as far as people moving the ratio away from 50:50 (51-49 if you believe PEAR; 50.01:49.99 if you take a more skeptical approach, with most of the “positive” nonrandom hits coming from one operator). If you want an idea of why I look so skeptically at PEAR projects and data, just remember that Deepak Chopra eats this stuff up, whether to try to use straw men arguments and bad molecular biology to attack the primacy of genes or whether to use fallacious and woo-filled arguments to attack Richard Dawkins‘ statements that science is the most reliable way of knowing or to “prove” the existence of life after death. Come to think of it, I wonder what Deepak Chopra thinks of the Global Orgasm.
Fellow SB’er Mark deconstructed this aspect of PEAR’s work quite delightfully several months ago:
So they [PEAR] pick an event that they believe should affect the “global consciousness”. Then they take short time periods associated with the event, and search for a time period where the mean value from their random number generator is not exactly what it should be.
They have an extensive list of events on their site, which they claim are used “rigorously” to test whether there are anomalous patterns associated with events. For most of them, they were able to discover one second intervals that were “anomalous”.
What’s wrong with this?
Given a huge database consisting of sequences of random numbers, you expect to see small deviations. If it never deviated from the mean, you would actually conclude that the data was fake; you expect to see some fuzz. Now, take that huge quantity of data (they’re generating 200 bits per second at each of 98 different random number generators); and take a swath of time (minutes to hours) associated with an “event”, and see if you can find a one-second period of time for which the random numbers deviate from the expected mean. For any event, at any point in time, you can probably find a “significant” deviation for a couple of seconds; and they consider one second enough to be meaningful.
This is very similar to the problem in clinical medicine that I described with respect to Mark and David Geier’s bogus testing for abnormalities in lab values that to them might indicated “precocious puberty.” The more measurements that you make, the more likely you are to pick up anomalous values just by sheer random chance, and PEAR’s work generates so many values that it would be shocking if there weren’t anomalies, and a lot of them. Indeed, the number of values generated by PEAR is so copious, and its criteria for what constitutes an “anomaly” so lax, that it can find such anomalies almost anywhere it wishes to, almost regardless of what events that should “affect the global consciousness” it chooses. In other words, the entire PEAR project looks like an example of the Texas sharpshooter fallacy writ large all over the world. (In case you’re interested, Mark has also done a bit more deconstructing of the woo that is PEAR here, here, and here.)
You know, I almost feel like a spoilsport for pointing all this out. Even so, some questions remain. For example, why the winter solstice? Is there some significance to that? A more disturbing problem is the question of why they chose one day, rather than a shorter time period. If the frequency of people having sex were distributed evenly, then on any given day 1/7 of the sexual activity of the world would be happening anyway. If the Global Orgasm were successful and got everyone who could have sex and then some to get busy on December 22, it’s unlikely that it could increase the number of orgasms above the usual by more than seven- to ten-fold, and probably less. I say “probably less” because such activity is almost certainly not uniformly distributed. I have no data, but common sense would imply that the amount of nookie going on on Friday and Saturday nights is probably considerably higher than during the week; so the “spike” that would be produced by the Global Orgasm Project, even if every person on earth capable of getting busy did in fact get busy on December 22, would be spread out over a full day. And, of course, since so few people know about this (much less plan on participating), the real increase in orgasmic “energy” is likely to be negligible.
I admit that my assumptions and conclusions might be incorrect or flawed, but isn’t thinking about this scientifically fun?
Of course, the biggest problem is that the GO Project hasn’t defined exactly what it would consider to be a positive result. In other words, it hasn’t prospectively laid out its criteria for what would, to its promoters, constitute evidence that all this boot-knocking has in fact affected the “global consciousness.” Thus, one can’t help but wonder whether it will pick criteria that give it the result desired. Even if it doesn’t, as Mark pointed out above, during any 24 hour period there are likely to be significant anomalies in the output of the REGs by random chance alone. December 22 is no different, virtually guaranteeing a “positive” result. Moreover, the organizers seem to have no way of measuring whether there actually is an increase in getting freaky during that day, an important piece of information if you’re really serious about figuring out if billions of orgasms with “intent” can affect the “global consciousness” (whatever that is). It reminds me of the scene from Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain:
Narrator: Amélie still seeks solitude. She amuses herself with silly questions about the world below, such as “How many people are having an orgasm right now?”
Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending upon how you look at it), PEAR isn’t Amélie Poulain; it has no way of knowing whether their little stunt on December 22 “worked” without being able somehow to quantify whether an increase in sexual activity occurs on December 22 and, if it does, how large an increase.. Here are some ideas for them for surrogate markers for lots of gettin’ down on December 22: Perhaps the GO people could look for a birth spike nine months later. (No, on second thought, that probably wouldn’t work for only one day’s worth of extra nookie, given that the mini-“baby booms” claimed to occur, for instance, after blackouts tend to be urban legends.) A quicker way to get at the answer might be to look for a spike in cases of sexually transmitted diseases, a parameter that is likely to increase within days after any such global shag-off. Yes, you can criticize these suggestions, but at least I’m trying to be quantitative about this whole thing. My suggestions are surely better than the way the GO people are planning to do it now, which seems to be making analogies to the “harmonic convergence” and looking for a “return to diplomacy” after their love-fest.
Oh, wait, too late, it already looks like a return to diplomacy is already happening now, before December 22, thanks to James Baker being pulled back into service. It couldn’t have been those those pesky midterm elections or the fact that Iraq has turned into a quagmire, could it? Perish the thought! It was certainly the global consciousness anticipating the huge release of orgasmic energy that is to occur on December 22. Yeah, that’s the ticket. In fact, somehow after December 22, I’m guessing the Global O people will almost certainly be taking credit for the change in the Bush Administration’s Iraq policy as “evidence” that their woo worked.
Go, James Baker. (Or, should I say, G. O.?)
I apologize. Mentioning James Baker in the same breath as orgasms is a rather frightening thought to anybody but Mr. Baker’s wife. Please go back to your regularly scheduled shagging on December 22. It may not alter the global consciousness and it almost certainly won’t stop the war, but so what? At least it’ll be fun.