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With the world's attention beginning to focus on the Climate Change talks in Copenhagen, I felt this might be a good moment to ask  what sense, if any, it makes to think of the 'world community' as a community, and asking this question with the aid of the  'Global Consciousness Project' seemed to be the least boring approach.

With the world's attention beginning to focus on the Climate Change talks in Copenhagen, I felt this might be a good moment to ask  what sense, if any, it makes to think of the 'world community' as a community, and asking this question with the aid of the  'Global Consciousness Project' seemed to be the least boring approach.

If you toss a coin a hundred times and find that you are getting heads every time, you would probably suspect that the coin was weighted in some way, or perhaps had heads on both sides. No wonder, because when something that is supposed to be random suddenly begins to show signs of order, we are inclined to look for an explanation.

So imagine if you had a machine that could randomly generate numbers every second of the day, and then you noticed that periodically these numbers became significantly less random, and that such moments corresponded with major world events. This curious correlation is precisely what a team of statisticians seem to have been discovering for several years, and they believe, with due scientific caution, that the 'ordering' of the random numbers may be related, in a statistically significant way, to those moments where a certain number of people pay attention to the same thing at the same time, for instance September 11 2001, and, wait for it, Lady Diana's funeral.

The Project is led by researchers at Princeton University in New Jersey, USA, but involves the collaboration of scientists around the globe, all of whom are engaged in forms of 'data mining'. While by no means core to our work at the RSA, I feel this project is a useful one to know about whenever you hear somebody talk about 'the global community'.

Many of the world's spiritual traditions seem to converge on the idea that we are fundamentally one rather than many, that our differences mask some sort of deeper unity.  Gens Una Sumus is the Latin expression. We are one people. But are we? Does it make it any sense?

If there is such unity at what philosophers call an ontological level, and not merely in a figurative way, then that level will almost certainly be consciousness, if only because there appears to be no concensus emerging on what is known as 'the hard problem' of consciousness, i.e. we don't really know what it is, and so the claim that consciousness is something we all share or inhere in might be more literally true than the idea that we all 'breathe the same air' as JFK once put it.

While the Global Consciousness Project, conducted by a group of scientists around the globe, continues to collect and analyse data, many sceptics have disputed the statistical methods and conclusions, but more fundamentally people have critiqued the study for lacking a clear theoretical basis. For instance Robert Matthews suggested  "The only conclusion to emerge from the Global Consciousness Project so far is that data without a theory is as meaningless as words without a narrative." Others have said that the stock market is a better guage of the state of global consciousness.

But personally I find the idea that we share our consciousness quite compelling, and I hope the Global Consciousness Project can find a way to continue to develop their idea and methods, so that, at whatever level of community we care about, when people say 'we are in this together', they mean it in a fundamental way.

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