Journal of Scientific Exploration, Vol. 11, No. 1,1997 - Wishing for Good Weather: A Natural Experiment in Group Consciousness
Type of Spiritual Experience
The following is an extract - the full paper has all the charts and analyses that back up the conclusions.
The full paper can be found in the archives of the global consciousness project
A description of the experience
Journal of Scientific Exploration, Vol. 11, No. 1, pp. 47-58, 1997 0892-3310/97
© 1997 Society for Scientific Exploration
Wishing for Good Weather:
A Natural Experiment in Group Consciousness
ROGER D. NELSON
Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08540
Abstract—Many human activities are affected by the weather, and there is a long history of rituals and ceremonial efforts aimed at controlling it. In modern societies, such efforts are largely vestigial and amount to informal hoping or wishing for good weather for special occasions. Reunion and commencement activities at Princeton University, involving thousands of alumni, graduates, family and others, are held outdoors, and it is often remarked that they are almost always blessed with good weather. A comparison of the recorded rainfall in Princeton vs. nearby communities shows that there is significantly less rain, less often, in Princeton on those days with major outdoor activities.
Large gatherings of people with a common interest provide opportunities to assess a possible effect of their collective intentions or wishes on the environment.
Repeated gatherings may provide the essential components of a natural experiment allowing formal assessment of potential effects of group consciousness. For example, many of the year-end ceremonies at Princeton University traditionally bring huge numbers of people together in planned outdoor events. Of course everyone involved hopes the weather will be pleasant and dry for Reunions, the traditional P-Rade of alumni, and all the varied activities associated with Princeton's Commencement, and it seems remarkably often to be so. It is quite common to hear someone remark, "As usual, the rain stayed away, but no wonder, with all those people wishing for good weather."
Indeed, it is likely that most Princetonians have heard this idea expressed, and many will half-seriously have said something along these lines themselves.
President Clinton was invited to give an address at the 1996 Commencement, making contingency plans considerably more difficult than usual. An article in the local newspaper about the complex preparations included a description of the conditions that could require moving 10,000 people indoors:
The third scenario is the Monsoon scenario, where it rains hard and commencement has to be moved to Jadwin Gym. Traditionally, this never happens at a Princeton University commencement. Those few times in recent years when precipitation is not only forecast but seems imminent, the rain has miraculously held off.
For most people it feels natural to wish and hope for good weather for the springtime alumni celebrations and the ceremonies of Commencement, but it's something else again to expect any corresponding result. Nevertheless, whether there might indeed be some effect of those hopes and wishes is an interesting question. By modern, scientifically conditioned standards, it seems unlikely, but with a properly formulated analytical approach it is possible to obtain an objective answer to the question.
The Seeley G. Mudd Library archives includes documents on Commencement and related activities going back 250 years. Autumn was the season for graduation during Princeton's first century, with nearly all ceremonies held in September, but in 1844 the University began celebrating Commencement in the Spring, nearly always in June. Beginning in 1922 the graduates received their degrees on the lawn outside Nassau Hall and, weather permitting, this has been the venue since that time.
By tradition, the day of Commencement is a Tuesday, with Baccalaureate and Class Day on the preceding Sunday and Monday, respectively. The actual date varies considerably, and in this century the Tuesday chosen has gradually moved from late and middle June to earlier dates until, as in 1995, Commencement was held in late May.
Traditionally, the graduation festivities begin with the Reunions of the large and deeply interconnected Princeton alumni family, a gathering that culminates in the renowned Alumni P-Rade on the Saturday preceding commencement.
Thus, there are actually four days packed with major events related to Reunions and Commencement, and most of the activities are planned for the outdoors, with large numbers of people sharing an interest in having good weather. In recent times, as many as 15,000 alumni, their families and friends, and many well-wishers from the town, crowd the campus for the P-Rade. On the day of Commencement, some 9000 tickets are provided to the 1100-odd graduating seniors, 300 graduate students, their families and friends to attend
The Weather Database
Given the dates of graduation over the years, the second part of our developing analytical picture requires data from the daily records of weather for stations at Princeton and surrounding communities. The most important question for the graduates, the alumni and the University administration, concerns rain, since it definitely affects outdoor activities, and makes a rain contingency plan necessary where possible. Although the weather is notoriously fickle, because it is of abiding interest, our government provides services that measure and document practically anything one might want to know about temperature, pressure, precipitation, etc., on a daily basis. A widely dispersed network of stations records weather parameters in a standardized way, and some have been doing so for much of the present century. One of these stations operated in Pnnceton from 1950 to 1986, and some stations in surrounding communities, e. g., New Brunswick, have daily records going back more than 70 years.
An Analytical Question
With the history of Princeton Commencements and the historical record of local weather in hand, we can ask whether there is any difference in rainfall on Commencement Tuesday in Princeton over the years, compared with rainfall in nearby New Brunswick or Trenton on the same day. For a clearer picture, the survey can be extended to other communities surrounding Princeton, and the question formulated more specifically: Does the amount of precipitation on the Tuesday of Princeton's Commencement tend to be less than the average across surrounding communities on the same day? ….
The daily records of precipitation at Princeton and six surrounding stations were obtained from the National Climatic Data Center, in Asheville, North Carolina. The other communities used for comparison were Trenton, Moorestown, Indian Mills, New Brunswick, Boonton and Belvidere, and the data, measured in 100ths of an inch, were obtained for each day in June for all years with daily records.
A Curious Situation
Although many of us wish fervently for nice weather for special occasions, and some are even motivated to offer up a little prayer, it doesn't seem likely that many of us believe it will do any good. A modern education (such as Princeton delivers) tends to include a surfeit of implicit reasons and arguments against such an eventuality, and it certainly doesn't fit easily within our current scientific models of the world. Yet, we recognize that these models are incomplete, perhaps most glaringly because they have so little to say about human consciousness, including such hopes and wishes as might, possibly, affect the weather.
We have recently learned to view weather patterns in terms of chaos theory, where infinitesimally small effects can expand into great changes; the beat of a Brazilian butterfly wing may propagate through complex weather systems to cause a downpour in a small New Jersey town. Could the effects of communal interest from a great concentration of Princetonians compete with that butterfly wing?
A look at actual weather data seems to suggest that precipitation tends to stay away from Princeton for the P-Rade, and Class Day, and Commencement, to a somewhat unlikely degree. These intriguing results certainly aren't strong enough to compel belief, but the case presents a very challenging possibility, because if the analysis is correct, the only good candidate to explain the apparent differences, other than chance, would seem to be an influence from an informal but powerful communal wish for dry weather. In any case, it surely is premature to conclude, as the graffito has it, that God went to Princeton, but we may need to reconsider the old saw, "Everyone talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it."