XOR This: Burning Man Used to Scientifically Prove Magic

Yesterday I visited the Institute of Noetic Sciences at their splendid Earthrise campus in Petaluma, California. If you’ve ever read (or seen) The Da Vinci Code, you have heard of IONS. The Institute was started by Apollo 14 Astronaut Edgar Mitchell, who was inspired to found it after he had a religious experience in space.

On the trip home Dr. Mitchell sat in the window seat of the cramped cabin of the space capsule. As he saw Earth floating freely in the vastness of space, Dr. Mitchell was engulfed by a profound sense of universal connectedness—an epiphany. In Dr. Mitchell’s own words: “The presence of divinity became almost palpable, and I knew that life in the universe was not just an accident based on random processes . . . The knowledge came to me direAstronaut Edgar Mitchellctly.”

The experience that came to Dr. Mitchell in space led him to a startling hypothesis: Perhaps reality is more complex, subtle, and inexorably mysterious than conventional science had led him to believe. Perhaps a deeper understanding of consciousness (inner space) could lead to a new and expanded view of reality in which objective and subjective, outer and inner, are understood as coequal aspects of the miracle and mystery of being.

photo by Trey Ratcliff

photo by Trey Ratcliff

In 2008 Mitchell told the world that UFOs are real.

IONS is dedicated to examining consciousness scientifically. They believe that the soul exists, the heart exists, and so do things that humanity has documented across many cultures for thousands of years like intuition, pre-c0gnition, and telepathy. IONS was created to prove these things scientifically and reproduce them consistently in experiments.

Burner Dr Dean Radin from IONS (left)

Burner Dr Dean Radin from IONS (left)

One such experiment features Burning Man. In 2012, they came out to the Playa with a Random Number Generator. Their goal was to study the stream of randomness, using mathematical models to detect variations. They wanted to add to an earlier experiment, which had been measuring Burning Man’s randomness deviation with RNG’s all around the world since 1999. In short: did reality change?

And the answer was a clear: YES. When the Man burned, the Random Number Generator showed a demonstrable deviation from the norm. The event built up and peaked.

supernormalOur experiment tested the prediction that a random number generator (RNG) placed on the playa would demonstrate significant deviation from randomness during the period of highest collective intensity, i.e., during the burning of the man. In addition, the Global Consciousness Project (GCP) made a prediction that their global network of random number generators would also show a deviation from randomness. That prediction was based in part on a previously successful exploratory analysis that examined the average of eight years of global RNG data at the time of Burning Man (1999 – 2006).

They also brought out a laser that they hooked up to one of the RNGs. We promoted it and supported it, they raised their Indiegogo goal, but sadly, the Playa ate their laser. A common problem. The dusty conditions made this one a bit of a fizzer…maybe next time.

laser burst

To add an artistic element to the 2012 IONS Burning Man experiment, the same computer that was collecting the data from the playa RNG was also used to control a multicolor laser. The laser beam pattern was designed to become more stable and coherent when the RNG output departed from random and less coherent when the output was closer to random. Unfortunately, conditions on the playa made it difficult to protect the laser from the ever-present dust and wind, so the artistic aspect of the experiment was fully functional only for one night. During that night the laser functioned as planned, but it was not powerful enough to be seen by most attendees, nor was it widely known that the laser was being controlled by an RNG.

The next year, IONS went back with 6 Random Number Generators. Some of them used radioactive material. The event was measured again, and the result was statistically significant again.

figure 1

Figure 1. The Burning Man 2013 event began at 9 PM (21 hours) with the raising of the man’s arms; the man was ignited at 9:30 PM (21.5 hours). The peak deviation across all 6 RNGs occurred within minutes of the peak collective attention of the 65,000 minds at Burning Man.

This year, for Caravansary, Dr Dean Radin from IONS, who describes himself as a psycho-physicist, will be bringing 50 Random Number Generators, and distributing them around the Playa so they can measure not only the un-randomness occuring, but the actual chaos field.

ions paintingThese next-generation RNGs will be using different logic in their chips, too. The previous incarnation used XOR boolean logic filters, which combine random data into a single output that is very close to perfectly random. These could not be reverse-engineered (followed backwards). The new chip technology can be read backwards, so that what was going on in the microprocessor itself at the exact moment the deviation started can be replicated.

The maths and the logic is a little outside my field, but I get that: Burning Man moves the needle at the peak moment of the party. In a measurable and somewhat predictable way. There is magic at this party, and this magic is now scientifically proven to be real.

Here’s a TEDx talk that IONS researcher Dr Cassandra Vieten gave at Play)A(Skool , Black Rock City in 2012. TED distanced themselves from this science, refusing to believe what they weren’t taught in school, even in the face of years of evidence:

Note from TED: We’ve flagged this talk, which was filmed at an independent TEDx event, because it appears to fall outside TED’s curatorial guidelines. For example, its suggestion that random number generators can be affected by human thought would not be accepted by most scientists. The guidelines we give our TEDx organizers are described in more detail here:


The Global Consciousness project is directed by Roger Nelson from his home office in Princeton. IONS provides a logistical home for the project as it is not an official project of Princeton University.

The Global Consciousness Project 
Meaningful Correlations in Random Data

Map of egg locations around the world
The behavior of our network of random sources is correlated with interconnected human consciousness on a global scale.

Coherent consciousness creates order in the world 
Subtle interactions link us with each other and the Earth

When human consciousness becomes coherent, the behavior of random systems may change. Random number generators (RNGs) based on quantum tunneling produce completely unpredictable sequences of zeroes and ones. But when a great event synchronizes the feelings of millions of people, our network of RNGs becomes subtly structured. We calculate one in a trillion odds that the effect is due to chance. The evidence suggests an emerging noosphere or the unifying field of consciousness described by sages in all cultures.

The Global Consciousness Project is an international, multidisciplinary collaboration of scientists and engineers. We collect data continuously from a global network of physical random number generators located in up to 70 host sites around the world at any given time. The data are transmitted to a central archive which now contains more than 15 years of random data in parallel sequences of synchronized 200-bit trials generated every second.

Our purpose is to examine subtle correlations that may reflect the presence and activity of consciousness in the world. We hypothesize that there will be structure in what should be random data, associated with major global events that engage our minds and hearts.

Subtle but real effects of consciousness are important scientifically, but their real power is more immediate. They encourage us to make essential, healthy changes in the great systems that dominate our world. Large scale group consciousness has effects in the physical world. Knowing this, we can intentionally work toward a brighter, more conscious future.


10 comments on “XOR This: Burning Man Used to Scientifically Prove Magic

  1. Pingback: Scientists Endorse Animal Consciousness | Burners.Me: Me, Burners and The Man

  2. Ron, what are you talking about? The clear deviation in output for more than an hour should show you that the RNG is being effected for longer than just a few fire bursts. Roy, please explain how this isn’t “scientifically valid”. Several Random generating number machines are placed in a selected area and their results are observed during specific events. If that is not a valid experiment, please explain why. Claiming something is “unscientific” because it doesn’t fit the currently accepted model of possibilities is small minded and limiting at best. The world is not flat and while we may have advanced quite rapidly in the world of material science in the last century we still have much to learn about the nature of human consciousness.

    Liked by 1 person

    • If you look at the report at http://www.noetic.org/mindatlarge/ and scroll down to “Results” you’ll see graphs where they plot data for time periods from about 40 minutes to 2 hours. Each of those has a zero point for ignition. I’m only asking what they define as that moment. I’m not disputing their findings. But this is supposed to be scientific and I don’t think there’s a universally agreed upon moment that we would all call ignition, so let them say how they determine that moment.


  3. What is magic, but unexplained science? I don’t think an explanation makes it less significant or wonderful, just less mysterious.


  4. Their research depends on knowing within a minute the timing of the ignition of the Man. How do they define “ignition?” The process of ignition I’ve seen every year occupies several minutes. First the fireworks are shot off and sometimes one of those will strike a lucky hit on the Man and ignite a small fire. As the fireworks are dying down you can see that fires have been ignited in the plinth. Is that the moment of ignition? As those flames spread they can ignite additional small fires on the Man. Eventually the fireball is ignited that all the first-timers think is the BIG blast, until not more than a minute later comes the HUGE fireball. The Man pretty well catches fire with that first fireball, but the second fireball removes any ambiguity. So, at which of those points is “ignition” for the IONS people? In my heart it’s those first small fires in the plinth, because then we’re past the point of no return. There isn’t enough water on the playa to stop the Man from burning once fires are lighted in the plinth. The first fireball is a clearly defined moment, but the souls of the Burners are on fire before that happens.


    • if you read the research report linked to from the article, you will see that this is not true. They see a measured change in randomness, as the event builds up. The peak moment from the measurements seems to coincide with a time before the moment that the man collapses. But they can measure it building and changing over time, as the event occurs. They measured it during the Temple burn also.


      • What I said, in short, is that they do have not specified what they consider the moment of ignition. They use that as a reference point, so they should say what it is.


  5. Also, it’s important to remember than ANYBODY can create a TEDx talk…. At least this post is honest about the fact that the TED organization believes that this experiment did not follow accepted scientific methods.

    Still a fun story.


    • To me, the TED statement doesn’t mention anything about not following scientific methods.

      TED organization stated,
      “…its suggestion that random number generators can be affected by human thought would not be accepted by most scientists.”

      This appears to be about generally accepted ideas and personal biases among individuals who do science… not the scientific method per se.
      Kinda more of a social concern than anything else.
      At best, it tries to use the majority opinion/bias of scientists as a test for valid topics to include in its talk series.

      I think the irony is that in the TEDx talk Dr. Vieten makes the point that there are only unscientific methods, not unscientific topics – then TED flagged the talk based on its topic.

      ..What part of their experiment doesn’t follow the scientific method?

      Cool data. 🙂


  6. The title is misleading. Please do better reporting.

    Also, while what they do sounds cool, it is not scientifically valid. They are also trying to use science to prove something that is unscientific so…yeah…that doesn’t philosophically make sense either.


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