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There are a number of factors that have been examined due to their potential influence on the ME. This includes how much time may be needed for an effect to emerge and the duration of such an effect, as well as the impact of group size and experience.
Trying to understand how much time is needed for an effect to emerge and how long any such effect would last may help to shed light on the underlying processes involved. However, the pattern of effects is not always clear. For example, Orme-Johnson et al. (1988) reported a zero lag cross-correlation between war-related variables and the practice of TM. Such a finding is consistent with the notion of a sudden and system wide change, or phase transition, to a more coherent state. Importantly, this has not been the case for all variables assessed. For instance, Dillbeck (1990) found a decline in reported levels of violent deaths one week after the threshold level of 1% of the population practising TM had been reached, whereas Orme-Johnson, Dillbeck and Alexander (2003) reported evidence for both an immediate effect in two locations and a gradual effect occurring in a third. This gradual effect was evident two days after the beginning of the meditation assembly. They suggest this may be due to the way in which conflict was assessed and/or the overall severity level of conflict at that time. Hence, the potential time delay between the practice of TM and the emergent effect may depend on the nature of the variable measured as well as other factors, only some of which have been explored. In terms of how long these effects last, once they have emerged, the evidence seems to suggest a reasonably enduring duration. For example, Dillbeck et al. (1981) reported that the decreased crime rate associated with 1% of the population taking part in TM in 1973 continued to show a decrease over the following five years. More recently Hagelin et al. (1999) also found that the decrease in reported crime rates associated with a TM intervention remained ‘for several months before returning to predicted levels’ (p. 175) after the TM group had departed. This would suggest that the ME elicits an effect that may last for some time after the end of the TM session(s).
Size and experience
It has been suggested that the number of individuals participating in the meditative practice in order to generate an effect is between 1% and the square root of 1% of the societal group under focus. This would suggest a distinct threshold effect rather than a more linear effect where the impact of TM is directly proportional to the size of the group meditating. However, it may be that a certain threshold is initially needed and then a linear trend develops. Indeed, Borland and Landrith (1976) reported a positive effect when the average number of people participating in TM was only 0.97% of the overall population. It is not clear why the threshold of 1% is used and/or whether this has any clear empirical basis beyond the predicted claims of the founder of TM (see Borland & Landrith, 1976). Nevertheless, Borland and Landrith (1976) have suggested that there may be some form of threshold phenomenon whereby the effect emerges more strongly once a certain number of people join the mediation (see Figure 7.12).
However, others have found more linear type effects. For instance, Dillbeck et al. (1988) conducted a time series analysis on weekly crime figures from October 1981 to October 1983 and found increased group participation in TM was followed by reductions in violent crime. Dillbeck (1990) also reported a clear association between increasing TM group size and a corresponding decrease in the number of violent deaths reported. Hence, the pattern may not be as simple as originally assumed. It may also be influenced by the type of TM and the experience of the practitioners (Orme-Johnson et al., 1988). For example, Maharishi (1996) suggested that practice of the more powerful TM-Sidhi technique could produce society-wide benefits even when practised by less than 1% of the population. Indeed, the suggestion was that the square root of 1% of the population, if practising the advanced technique, would be sufficient to elicit wider changes. Such a view is consistent with the suggestion of Hagelin et al. (1999) who argued that stronger, more robust effects may emerge if the individuals are more advanced and practise the TM-Sidhi set of mental techniques.
Figure 7.12 Changes in group size (unbroken line measured in 100's using left-hand axis) and reduction in crime rate (dotted line measured in % using right-hand axis) over an 8-week period (adapted from Hagelin et al.. 1999).
Indeed, a review of the ME found that smaller groups could be as effective as larger ones if they practised the more advanced TM-Sidhi technique (Orme-Johnson, 2003).
The evidence from the various studies examining the ME seem to suggest that when groups of a sufficient size gather together to conduct TM positive effects occur in the nearby environment. However, there are many known variables that are likely to influence rates of crime, conflict and possible mortality. These include the weather, reporting levels, unemployment, population, economic variables, type of crime, age range of the population, educational level, general trends and time of year to name but a few. Orme-Johnson, Dillbeck and Alexander (2003) have argued that the researchers are fully aware of such potential confounds and make attempts, where possible, to control for them. Nevertheless, Schrodt (1990) has argued that there are a number of methodological weaknesses that limit the interpretation in favour of TM having a discernible effect and that such weaknesses provide a more obvious interpretation of the results. According to Schrodt (1990) there are problems with the fact that the measurements used to identify the number of active TM practitioners are unclear and incorrect, treatment and controls are often not randomly allocated to conditions, and the reported effects may have been the result of the statistical tests used. In terms of incorrect measurement of the number of TM practitioners Schrodt (1990) argues that the population figures used are often defined using political boundaries as opposed to geographical boundaries. According to Schrodt (1990) if ‘one uses distance rather than political boundaries the square root of 1% threshold was never reached’ (p. 748). The second point is that the lack of controls means that it is not possible to eliminate a possible reverse causality. That is, if participants taking part in the TM technique were interested in the outcome they would be likely to monitor crime/violence or the focus of the intervention and as information showed these moving in the desired direction they would then be more likely to participate. Hence, for example, it is the awareness of the general reduction in violence that leads to an increase in TM participation and not the TM itself. Finally, Schrodt (1990) has argued that the statistical tests used simply identify probabilities that are not equal to zero, and do not test whether the model is correct or not. As such, it is more likely that spurious significant correlations will occur.
However, researchers have responded to these criticisms by pointing out that the measurement of TM group size was consistent with both theory and prior research. For example, Orme-Johnson, Alexander and Davies (1990) argue that prior successful research utilised a quantification of the number of TM participants based upon political boundaries rather than simple geographical distance. Furthermore, they point out that these represent community boundaries and are likely to elicit greater homogeneity and closeness, which would engender a greater spread of the predicted coherent effects of meditation. As such, Orme-Johnson et al. (1990) argue that these community or political boundaries would be more likely to influence the spreading effect of the collective consciousness. In terms of a possible inverse effect whereby a reduction in conflict led potential practitioners to engage in meditative practice, Orme-Johnson et al. (1990) point out that the counterintuitive assumption would also need to be made that if/when conflict increased such individuals would remain at home. They argue that such a view would seem at odds with the assumed motivations of those taking part in such meditative practices. They also point out that the meditations invariably took place in the morning and the afternoon, often before reported crime and conflict took place. Hence, such information would be unlikely to influence engagement in prior meditations. In terms of randomly allocating individuals to conditions Orme-Johnson et al. (1990) argue that such a process is not logistically feasible or practical. With regards to the robustness of the statistical techniques used Orme-Johnson et al. (1990) point out that a re-analysis of their data using different specifications produced the same results. Also, when incorporating randomised pseudo-intervention periods to see if any spurious effects were found they report ‘no significant autocorrelation structure in the randomised’ (p. 765) control conditions. They argue that these findings strongly support the use of the methods adopted and the original findings reported.
This chapter has reported on two areas of research that elicit similar effects. That is, the coherent emotive response of many people to a global event produces a synchrony in the feelings and shared consciousness of those involved. This in turn influences the network of the GCP. In a similar way, the ME is the result of an increase in coherence and harmony of the collective consciousness of the meditators. Two models have been put forward to account for the GCP data: the first is a selective model and the second a field-based model. Less research has been carried out on developing models for the ME; however one recent attempt suggests a form of holographic entanglement.
The idea here is that the findings from the GCP are largely the result of experimenter psi (May & Spottiswoode, 2011). More specifically, that Nelson used psi, either implicitly or explicitly, to select trials from the database to confirm his hypotheses.
Such a proposal fits nicely within Decision Augmentation Theory (DAT), which relates to the idea that decisions to select one or more trials over another are augmented by implicit psi to achieve the desired outcome. Psi in this instance could act via precognition based on the feedback obtained in the future that the chosen trials show the expected outcome. May and Spottiswoode (2011) argue that because the devices do not respond in a symmetrical manner to similar events a more parsimonious interpretation is that the experimenters, and in particular Nelson himself as a key researcher in the field of GCP research, are responsible for the effects.
Unsurprisingly, Nelson (2013) disagrees, and argues that attempting to account for the GCP data in terms of experimenter psi is both unconvincing and simplistic. He admits that it is possible that experimenter effects may contribute to the outcome but they are an inadequate explanation for the structure found in the data. Nelson (2011b) has also pointed out that no claims regarding the symmetry of GCP data have been put forward and as such this is a strati’ man argument (i.e., putting forth a weak argument because it will be easy to knock down/refute, etc.). Furthermore, the data and the deviations have an internal structure that makes the ‘effect’ more compelling and much less likely to be the result of mere selection (Nelson, 2011a, 2011b). Nelson and Bancel (2009) agree that the data do not fit an experimenter model effect. Indeed an analysis of the GCP data by Bancel (2011, 2014) rejected the selection model idea with a high level of confidence (see also, Nelson, 2010, 201 la). They argue that the data, which contains an inherent structure, is more accurately described with reference to field-like models.
However, Bancel (2017) later changed his mind and argued that the GCP data were due to what he called the goal-oriented selection effects of individuals associated with the project, in particular, the notion that those involved in the research have the freedom to select or restrict the parameters of interest - what Bancel (2017) refers to as self-referential fine tuning. This is not thought to be the result of a conscious process but rather an anomalous effect based on the experimenter’s actions which include the design and implementation of the study. Again Nelson (2017) disagrees with this view and thinks such a suggestion is both preliminary and incomplete. For instance, he points out that many questions examined via GCP were post hoc and as such were not part of the experimenter’s initial expectations or intentions. There are other points Nelson (2017) highlights that are also incompatible with a goal-oriented model. For example, the internal structure of the data, including both distance and temporal effects, are more consistent with a field-oriented model.
In mainstream science many ‘at a distance effects’ have been accounted for in terms of the existence of underlying fields. Hence, many have argued that both the GCP data and the ME could be accounted for in terms of a field of consciousness extending from the mind of each individual interacting with the extended fields of other minds creating various levels of coherence and interference depending on the intentions and level of shared engagement of the individuals in question (Dillbeck et al., 1987; Hagelin et al., 1999; Nelson, 2010, 2015; Orme-Johnson, 2003; Orme-Johnson & Oates, 2009; Radin et al., 2017). In general, during normal waking life individuals are all busy with a multitude of separate thoughts and feelings and as such any interaction between such fields of consciousness is likely to be random. However, during a shared event or experience the various thoughts, feelings and emotions of those taking part become more coherent and constructively interact, reinforcing each other and producing a higher level of resonance. Hence, the patterns of data seen in the nodes of the GCP and the ME are the result of harmonious and coherently generated fields of consciousness. The notion that consciousness may act and/or operate in a field-like manner is not new. Such a view has a long history within psychology and the social sciences (e.g., Durkheim, 1951; James, 1890). According to Nelson (2010) a non-linear dynamic field model could indicate that individual minds are interactive and that these interactions give rise to an emergent field which is dependent upon individual consciousness but not reducible to it. The suggestion here is that it is the subtle interactions of such a field with the physical world that is evident in the changes produced by the GCP network. In a similar manner Orme-Johnson and Oates (2009) suggest that during meditation the individual provides a harmonious and coherent influence on the surrounding field of consciousness. Such ideas are no doubt provocative but Nelson (2010) argues that it is the most viable of the alternatives currently on offer.
According to Duval (1988) the ideas of a unified field and collective consciousness do not fit within mainstream thinking. Indeed, Fales and Markovsky (1997) criticise the findings related to the ME for suggesting that the effect is based on some form of collective consciousness that is both non-material and omnidirectional. However, Orme-Johnson and Oates (2009) respond by suggesting that the ME operates or connects with the Planck scale quantum field, which defies characterisation in the normal temporal and spatial sense. Nevertheless, a recent attempt was made by Despande and Kowall (2017) to provide a more coherent explanation of the ME with reference to the holographic principle of modern physics. They suggest that the ME represents a form of quantum entanglement with the consciousness of each individual overlapping with that of others, as in the overlapping circles of a Venn diagram. The overlap would be greater between loved ones, or those with close emotional ties, and less so for others, hence the idea that an individual can become more or less psychically connected to anyone. Unfortunately, Despande and Kowall (2017) incorrectly state that during the ME the meditators are focused on reducing crime and hence become connected to criminals. This connection encourages feelings of love in the criminals which in turn makes them less likely to commit crimes. However, as many others have stated, meditation is often self-focused and is invariably not focused on external factors (Orme-Johnson, 2003). As such, the changes seen in the environment may be a by-product of the meditation process.