The Hive Mind Project

On Friday last week, I went to see Complicite‘s performance Encounter at the Barbican Arts Centre in London. But this was no ordinary visit to the theatre. I was there as part of a science experiment organised by Rita Carter, a world-class science writer who has created several well-known books on the mind and the brain.

The Hive Mind Project is a study of what is commonly called “crowd consciousness”.  On this evening, Rita was monitoring the brain waves of a group of volunteers in the audience, using simple EEG devices. The specific aim was to see whether our brains tended to react to the play in a more synchronised way when we are in the presence of other audience members. A control group will be watching the recorded play in isolation.

Unlike conventional medical EEG equipment, which has 256 channels of data, mobile EEG devices may have 35 channels or fewer. This particular device has only five sensors, arranged across the forehead, plus two more behind the ears, which are sufficient to characterise the electrical activity of the frontal lobes of the brain. Branded MUSE, it is manufactured by Interaxon, Inc.

The author, Peter B Lloyd, wearing the MUSE mobile EEG monitor. Photo © 2016, Reka Komoli

The Muse is so comfortable and unobtrusive, it is marketed by Interaxon as an aid to meditation, using a smartphone app.

Experimental subjects hanging out before the start of Theatre Complicite’s performance, unfazed by their portable EEG headsets. Photo © 2016, Reka Komoli

The idea of group consciousness has been around a long time, usually associated with the mystical idea of telepathic connection. This is something that Rita and I have had many long and heated arguments: she has an unshakeable confidence in the physical sciences, whereas I am equally convinced on metaphysical grounds that there are more things more in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in that philosophy. The conventional explanation is that the brain unconsciously picks up cues from other people – their laughter, their breathing, their body language, their bodily odour and pheromones. In this experiment, one of these channels of unconscious communication is blocked out, as it is part of the performance that everyone in the audience is wearing headphones to provide an immersive audio environment (in this case, the Braziliam rainforest). Whatever synchronisation of the group mind remains, in this case, it is not cued by listening to your neighbour’s breathing rate. This experiment is one part of the Hive Mind Project, which is seeking more volunteers. Contact them through their web site if you are interested.

The people behind the project are: Rita Carter, science writer; and Tom Seffert, independent researcher and EEG expert. Aiste Noreikaite was one of the assistants, who fitted my head-mounted monitor.

Rita Carter explaining the procedure to two control subjects, who were required to write down their reactions to the play while others have their EEG monitored. Photo © 2016, Reka Komoli
Tony Seffert, EEG expert, checking the set-up of one of the portable monitors on volunteer David Rawcliffe. Photo © 2016, Reka Komoli
Aiste Noreikaite explaining the EEG monitor to one of the subjects. Photo © 2016, Reka Komoli

On the Friday when I attended, the setting up of the experiment was recorded by two AirBnB hosts: still photography by Reka Komoli and videography by Evelyn.


Théâtre de Complicite, or Complicite as the company is now called, has been producing remarkable and innovative works since 1983. Encounter is based on Petru Popescu’s book Amazon Beaming. In 1969, National Geographic photographer Loren McIntyre got lost among the people of the remote Javari Valley in Brazil. The encounter changed his life and raises a myriad questions about human consciousness – including group consciousness and the very nature of time and reality. In this one-man show, director Simon McBurney follows McIntyre’s trek into the trackless rainforest, using innovative audio technology to construct a challenging universe of sound.

Some of the things depicted in the performance reminded me very much of my own experiences in the Santo Daime rituals of ayahuasca. The structured bending of time, space, and consciousness is a difficult perspective to get across, especially to an audience embedded in Western materialism, but Simon McBurney did a good job of it.

I believe the performance is sold out, but you can watch it streaming live tonight only (Tuesday, March 1st) on the company’s web site I would definitely recommend it!


4 thoughts on “The Hive Mind Project”

  1. A very interesting project, I am really curious to learn how neuropsychology deals with the issue of crowd consciousness. Partly the process can be well explained on the level of sensory energie transmission amongst people (also see studies on Transactive Memory Systems) particularly of interest is the information (energy) transmission on a higher cognitive level. Does it exist and how can it be explained?

    1. Hi Roel,

      Thanks for your comment. This is a very tantalising subject as it is difficult to study. In the past EEG machines were large, unwieldy, and expensive. Now portable EEG headsets make it possible to record objective data in real-life crowd situations and this opens up a whole new world of possible experiments. At times like this, I wish I were an experimental psychologist! I must be such fun to attack a long-standing problem with innovative technologies!

      Are you doing any work yourself on ‘crowd consciousness’?


  2. While teaching in the Expressive Therapies program at Lesley College one of my students featured the idea of the “innernet” in her thesis, explaining that it is actually where we are all plugged into one another. As a playwright & poet myself, I have often experienced the benefits, and drawbacks, of group consciousness, which was a force very much in play in our work with “inter-modal transfers” & group processes. I am kind of out of the loop these days & not travelling to London as much as I used to but I would love to come over & participate in the experiment someday.

    1. Hi Deborah,

      Thanks for your message. I’ll put you in touch with Rita Carter.

      I’m also very interested in this notion of the “innernet”, as it is something that resonates with my own philosophical research into consciousness and the theoretical basis for psi phenomena.


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