To give a flavor for how the power of intention is being studied in the laboratory, let’s briefly consider two experiments recently conducted at IONS. The first explored the quantum observer effect – modern physics’ “skeleton in the closet” suggesting that consciousness is inextricably wound into the fabric of reality.
Experienced meditators and nonmeditators were asked to imagine that they could intuitively perceive a low-intensity laser beam in a distant, shielded Michelson interferometer. If such nonlocal observation were possible, it would theoretically “collapse” the photons’ quantum wave-functions and change the pattern of light produced by the interferometer.
The optical apparatus we used was sealed inside the double steel- walled, shielded chamber in the IONS laboratory while participants sat quietly outside the chamber with their eyes closed. Light patterns created by the interferometer were recorded by a cooled digital camera once per second, and the average illumination levels of these images were compared in counterbalanced distant observation versus no-observation periods. According to the design of the study, a lower overall level of illumination was predicted to occur during the distant observation condition.
The outcome of the experiment was in accordance with the prediction, with odds of 500 to 1. This result was primarily due to nine sessions involving the experienced meditators, who together had combined odds against chance of over 100,000 to 1. We examined many conventional explanations and potential artifacts that might have accounted for these results and found them to be implausible.
The study suggests that intuitive perception and intentional action are fundamentally linked at the quantum level. It also supports time-honored meditation lore about the siddhis, or mental powers, associated with highly trained, tightly focused intentions.
The second experiment involved the role of intention in food. The motivation for this study was the possibility that good intentions in cooking might do more than simply make the chef feel good – they might act as a form of intentional ingredient that affects the people who eat that food. To test this idea, we used a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled protocol to see if chocolate exposed to “good intentions” would enhance peoples’ mood more than unexposed chocolate.
We assigned volunteers to one of four blinded and matched groups, three of which would eat intentionally treated chocolate and one which would eat the same but untreated chocolate as a placebo control. We asked participants to record their mood each day for a week using a standard questionnaire; on three of those days, each person ate a half-ounce of dark chocolate twice a day at prescribed times. The intentions were applied by Tibetan Buddhist monks, a Mongolian shaman, and an intention-imprinted device similar to those tested by Stanford Professor Emeritus William Tiller and his colleagues. Measurements focused on changes in participants’ sense of energy, vigor, and well-being.
The results showed that on the third day of chocolate eating, the average mood reported by the intention groups had improved significantly more than the same measure in the control group, with odds against chance of 25 to 1 and a rise in absolute mood of 67 percent.Analysis of a planned subset of study participants who on average eat less than 3 ounces of chocolate a week, and were thus more likely to be psychoactively sensitive to this food, showed a stronger improvement, with odds against chance of 10,000.
“Perhaps the fabric of reality is woven from the woof of matter/energy and the warp of mind.”
A Malleable Reality
The results of the preceding experiments suggest that physical and mental realities are related to each other in some essential way.This implies that the symbols we use to mentally represent the world may also be related to our understanding of physical reality.
Nobel Laureate physicist Eugene Wigner marveled over the astonishing ability of mathematics, the symbolic language of science, to accurately describe the behavior of the physical world. He noted that in spite of the baffling complexities of the world, some aspects are sufficiently stable that we’ve been lucky enough to identify “laws of nature.” Without those regularities science would never have developed. Wigner believed it was not at all natural that such laws of nature should exist, much less that we’ve been able to discover some of them.
Like Wigner, mathematician Sir Roger Penrose noted that some of the basic physical laws “are precise to an extraordinary degree, far beyond the precision of our direct sense experiences or of the combined calculational powers of all conscious individuals within the ken of mankind.” Penrose mentioned as an example Newton’s gravitational theory as applied to the movements of the solar system, which is precise to one part in 10 million. Einstein’s theory of relativity then improved on Newton by another factor of 10 million, and it also predicted bizarre new effects such as black holes and gravitational lenses. When astrophysicists went looking for these unexpected phenomena, to everyone’s astonishment (except perhaps Einstein’s) they found them.
Penrose offered that the amazing accuracy of the mathematical predictions “was not the result of a new theory being introduced only to make sense of vast amounts of new data. The extra precision was seen only after each theory had been produced . . .” One way of interpreting this is that pure mathematics is in contact with the realm of Platonic ideas and forms. This implies the independent existence of a purely mental or symbolic reality.
For those who insist that mind is nothing more than brain, then mathematics is nothing more than the brain’s representation of our observations of a preexisting physical world. This seems reasonable until we unpack the argument: Mathematical symbols generated by three pounds of clockwork tissue somehow describe not only vast swatches of the physical universe to an inconceivable degree of precision but they also predict phenomena that strongly contradict common sense, such as quantum entanglement and black holes.Those same mathematical equations must necessarily include the behavior of the very brains that created the mathematics in the first place. How is it possible for this tissue to describe itself and far more exotic realms with such dazzling accuracy?
One possibility is that the universe is composed of a complementary substance that has both physical and mental aspects, similar to physicist David Bohm’s idea of coexisting explicate and implicate orders. Within this view, scientists seeking to confir m theoretical predictions based on pure mathematics discover that the observable universe closely matches their predictions not because the mathematics was miraculous, but because their expectations literally caused physical reality and its “laws” to manifest.
This outrageous idea borders on the solipsistic “New Age” fantasy that if we only wish hard enough, we can create our own reality. Hardly anyone takes radical solipsism literally, except that it just might contain a small kernel of truth. Perhaps some aspects of physical reality really are shaped by our expectations and intentions.
Perhaps the fabric of reality is woven from the woof of matter/energy and the warp of mind. Instead of giving us grandiose superpowers, we have individual “micropowers” that in the collective scale up to shape the world we experience. Beyond such speculations, one thing is certain: Gaining a deeper understanding of consciousness will play an increasingly important role in twenty-first-century science.
If the evolution of knowledge in this century exceeds that of the last, which seems likely, then we can look forward to a future that’s likely to redefine our concepts of reality far more than any of the strangest concepts we’ve encountered so far.
“Intention and Reality: The Ghost in the Machine Returns” by Dean Radin, PhD, first appeared in Shift: At the Frontiers of Consciousness (No. 15, June–August 2007, pp. 22–26), the quarterly publication of the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS), and is reprinted with permission of IONS (Websites: www.noetic.org and www.shiftinaction.com), all rights reserved. Copyright 2007.
It will look like this: Intention and Reality – The Ghost in the Machine Returns II