For psychologist Sigmund Freud, man was determined by elemental, material passions: the need for food, sex, security. Matter does indeed provide security, but ultimately more matter does not provide more security. And beyond a certain point, more money, according to study after study, does not make us happier. The serious problems of modern civilization can be attributed to the fact that advancing material development has not gone hand in hand with parallel spiritual development. External evolution requires internal evolution. That was the dimension Abraham Maslow added to the basic Freudian needs: our search for meaning. We strive to develop our consciousness, to achieve self-actualization.
Spiritual development as humanityís ultimate goal is not new, of course. Itís a theme thatís been around 6,000 years. Enlightened spirits such as Lao Tse, Confucius, the writers of the Indian Upanishads and Rig Veda, Buddha, Socrates, Plato, Moses, Christ and Mohammed (Authorís note: I know many women have led this lineage but shamefully, their names are not in the history books) all devoted their lives to this pursuit. But they were lone voices in their day. The Information Age has put consciousness at a more prominent place on the agenda than ever before. The Internet links billions of us together, and we influence and inspire each other ever faster and more often. That means new insights are finding their way more easily. Jesus didnít have the Web at his disposal.An interesting research project seems to confirm that we are all part of a collective consciousness. Laboratory experiments had shown that human intention could induce small but significant changes in the output of so-called random number generators. Such instruments randomly flip virtual coins. Over time, there should be roughly as many heads as tails. However the experiments showed that human intention could change the outcome of these machines.
This research inspired Roger Nelson, a cognitive psychologist at Princeton University, to start the Global Consciousness Project in 1998. In cooperation with scientists around the world, Nelson put 65 machines generating random numbers at sites around the world. In the past 15 years, Nelson has seen global events resulting in collective emotions add structure to the random data of the instruments. By far the best example is provided by 9/11; when the World Trade Center fell, the instrument readings changed radically and remained constant for more than two days. The death of Princess Diana is another good example, as is the 2004 tsunami. Could these examples show that the Earth has a holistic response to what happens to her residents? Is there a global mind?Nelsonís work with the Global Consciousness Project points toward to a promise held in almost all cultures of a oneness, an interconnection fundamental to life. Yet in his experiments this connection is unconscious. A different dimension may open if we deliberately direct our awareness to achieve certain results.Experiments by British biologist Rupert Sheldrake suggest this. Sheldrake has shown that if a group of people completes a newly created crossword puzzle, which is then broadcast to millions on TV for viewers to complete, a new group that has not seen the puzzle will finish it significantly faster than the original group. Sheldrake and fellow researchers have also conducted experiments showing that we can sense the thoughts and intentions of others across space and time. He has shown, too, that telepathy between people is more than coincidental and is convinced we can develop these talents. That would mean we could expand our consciousness.
Autonomous development or self-direction is the logical next step in human evolution. Self-direction is the new definition of freedom. People will be more and more involved in designing their own lives. We will become masters of our brains. For centuries, external direction has been the model. Humanity has thought and lived within the framework of dominion: Humanity ruled nature, man ruled woman, rich ruled poor. There were rules that had to be followed, and examination and police were the instruments for compelling obedience. That ďtotalitarianĒ system has shaped the conditions for the next evolutionary phase of individual autonomy. First we needed the roads; now we can drive on them.
Explore these ideas in an online course from The Intelligent Optimist. Featuring Ervin Laszlo, Claire Zammit, Lynne McTaggart and other guests, The Consciousness Conversations will begin in March. To find out more, log in at theoptimist.com/events-courses/courses/the-consciousness-conversations