AF 1992 - Michael Talbot
Today nearly everyone is familiar with holograms, three-dimensional images projected into space with the aid of a laser. Now two of the world's most eminent thinkers - University of London physicist David Bohm, a former protege of Einstein's and one of the world's most respected quantum physicists, and Stanford neurophysiologist Karl Pribram, one of the architects of our modern understanding of the brain - believe that the universe itself may be a giant hologram, quite literally a kind of image or construct created, at least in part, by the human mind.
Intriguingly, Bohm and Pribram arrived at their conclusions independently and while working from two very different directions. Bohm became convinced of the universe's holographic nature only after years of dissatisfaction with the standard theories' inability to explain all of the phenomena encountered in quantum physics. Pribram became convinced because of the failure of standard theories of the brain to explain various unsolved neurophysiological puzzles.
However, after arriving at their views, Bohm, Pribram, and other researchers who came to support their idea, realized the holographic model explained a wide range of other phenomena as well, including telepathy, precognition, psychokinesis (the ability of the mind to move physical objects without anyone touching them), mystical feelings of oneness with the universe, spontaneous healings, synchronicities, and even shamanic and near-death experiences. Indeed, it has become apparent to the ever growing number of scientists who have come to embrace the holographic paradigm that it helps explain virtually all paranormal and mystical experiences.
How did Bohm and Pribram arrive at their startling new view of the universe and what is it about the holographic model that enables it to explain so many extraordinary and disparate phenomena? To answer these questions we must look at the areas of research that first occupied Bohm and Pribram's attention.
THE BRAIN AS HOLOGRAM
The puzzle that started Pribram on the path to concluding that the universe is a hologram was the questions of how and where memories are stored in the brain. For decades numerous studies have shown that rather than being confined to a specific location, memories are dispersed throughout the brain. In a series of landmark experiments conducted from the 1920s through the 1940s, brain scientist Karl Lashley found that no matter what portion of the rat's brain he removed he was unable to eradicate its memory of how to perform complex tasks it had learned prior to surgery. The only problem was that no one was able to come up with a mechanism that might explain this curious state of affairs.
Pribram, who studied under Lashley, puzzled over this dilemma for years. Then, in the 1950s, he read an article on the fledgling new science of holography, and realized he had found the explanation he had been looking for. To understand why Pribram saw holography as the answer, one must understand a little more about holograms. As stated, a hologram is a three-dimensional image made with the aid of a laser. To make a hologram, the object to be photographed is first bathed in the light of a laser beam. Then a second laser beam is bounced off the reflected light of the first and the resulting interference pattern (the area where the two laser beams commingle) is captured on film. When the film is developed, it looks like a meaningless swirl of light and dark lines. But as soon as the developed film is illuminated by another laser beam, a three-dimensional image of the original object appears.
The tree-dimensionality of such images is not the only extraordinary characteristic of the hologram. If a hologram of a rose is cut in half and then illuminated by a laser, each half will still be found to contain the entire image of the rose. Indeed, even if the halves are divided again, and then again, each piece of film will always be found to contain a smaller but complete version of the entire original image. Unlike normal photographs, every part of a hologram contains all the information possessed by the whole.
It was this "whole in every part" nature of a hologram that gave Pribram the explanation he had been looking for.
Lashley's experiments had shown that every portion of the brain also appears to contain the whole of the brain's memories. Thus, Pribram concluded that the brain is itself a kind of hologram. How might memories be stored in a holographic brain?
Pribram now believes memories are encoded not in neurons, or small groupings of neurons, but in patterns of nerve impulses that crisscross the entire brain in the same way that patterns of laser light interference crisscross the entire area of a piece of film containing a holographic image.
The storage of memory is not the only neurophysiological puzzle that becomes more tractable in light of Pribram's holographic view of the brain. Another is how the brain is able to translate the avalanche of frequencies it receives via the senses (light frequencies, sound frequencies, and so on) into the concrete world of our perceptions. Encoding and decoding frequencies is precisely what a hologram does best. In fact, neurophysiologists have discovered that the brain uses the exact same mathematical language (known as "Fourier transforms") to decipher perception as are involved in the making of laser holograms. Given that Mother Nature has countless different mathematical languages at her disposal, this is as peculiar as if one discovered Eskimos speaking Swahili.
What does it all mean? Pribram believes it is not only further evidence that the brain is a kind of hologram, but suggests that the brain is actually a sort of lens, a translating device that takes the cascade of frequencies we receive through our senses and converts them into the familiar reality of our inner perceptions. Put another way, quasars, coffee cups, and oak trees do not exist objectively. They are only holograms we create inside our heads, for "out there" is just a frequency domain, a flowing and kaleidoscopic ocean of energy and vibration.
SUBATOMIC REALITY AS HOLOGRAM
The path that led Bohm to conclude that the universe is a hologram began at the very edge of matter, in the world of subatomic particles. Shortly after its inception quantum physics (the study of subatomic particles) made a striking prediction. Nearly everyone has heard accounts of identical twins who are able to instantly register one another's pain no matter how much distance separates them. Similarly, the mathematical formulations of quantum physics predicted that certain kinds of subatomic processes will in essence produce twin particles, particles that are also mysteriously connected so that one particle will always instantaneously register what is happening to its twin regardless of the distance separating the two.
The problem with this feat is that according to Einstein's theory of relativity no signal or communication can travel faster than the speed of light is tantamount to breaking the time barrier, Einstein himself refused to believe that such connections between particles could exist.
When the existence of such twin particles was first predicted, physicists did not possess the technological capability to test this controversial hypothesis, and for the better part of the century most researchers focused on quantum physics' less troubling predictions. However, in 1982 at the University of Paris a research team led by physicist Alain Aspect found a way to test the hypothesis and proved that such twin particles are indeed able to instantaneously register what is happening to one another.
Because most physicists refuse to believe Einstein's theory of relativity is wrong, many tried to come up with elaborate ways to ignore Aspect's findings and sweep them under the rug. Bohm, however, chose another route. Inspired by the strange properties of the hologram, he formulated a way to explain Aspect's findings without abandoning relativity's ban against faster-than-light communication.
Bohm believes subatomic particles can instantaneously register what is happening to one another, not because they are sending some sort of mysterious signal back and forth, but because their separateness is an illusion. He argues that at some deeper level of reality such particles are not individual entities, but are actually extensions of the same fundamental something.
To enable people to better visualize what he means, Bohm offers the following illustration. Imagine an aquarium containing a fish. Imagine also that you are unable to see the aquarium directly and your knowledge about it and what it contains comes from two television cameras, one directed at the aquarium's front and the other directed at its side. As you stare at the two television monitors, you might assume that the fish on each of the screens are separate entities. After all, because the cameras are set at different angles, each of the images will be slightly different. But as you continue to watch the two fish, you will eventually become aware that there is a certain relationship between them. When one turns, the other also makes a slightly different but corresponding turn; when one faces the front, the other always faces toward the side. If you remain unaware of the full scope of the situation you might even conclude that the fish must be instantaneously communicating with one another, but this is clearly not the case. This, says Bohm, is precisely what is going on between the subatomic particles in Aspect's experiment.
In terms of the hologram, just as every portion of a hologram contains the information of the whole, every member of a set of twin particles contains all information of both twins. Thus, according to Bohm, the apparent faster-than-light connection between subatomic particles is really telling us that there is a deeper level of reality we are not privy to, a holographic level analogous to the aquarium. We view objects such as subatomic particles as separate from one another because we are not seeing the proverbial piece of cosmic holographic film in which they are embedded. We are seeing only the illusory and shimmering image that comes out of the film.
THE COSMOS AS HOLOGRAM
Considered together, Bohm and Pribram's tandem discoveries -that our brains appear to be programmed to decipher something holographic and the very fabric of reality is structured like a hologram- seem more than just striking coincidences and suggest perhaps that the universe is itself a kind of giant hologram. This is not to say that it is composed of laser light, but that it possesses the properties of a hologram. Such a possibility has been greeted with scepticism by many scientists. However, it has galvanized others, and some are beginning to believe it may be the most accurate model of reality science has arrived at thus far.
As mentioned, one reason for taking the idea seriously is that if appears to solve virtually the entire range of parapsychological phenomena. In a universe in which individual brains are actually indivisible portions of the greater hologram and everything is holographically interconnected, telepathy may merely be the accessing of the holographic level. Put another way, in a universe that is a hologram, our brain, indeed every neuron and every atom in our brain, contains in some semblance the whole universe, and we are truly all part of a global mind. Poet William Blake's assertion that the universe can be found in a grain of sand becomes literally true. Thus, the ability of one brain to access information from another is not such a problem because every brain already contains every other brain.
Bohm and Pribram have also suggested that many religious and/or mystical experiences, such as a feeling of transcendental oneness with the universe, may also be due to the accessing of the holographic realm. As they note, perhaps the reason so many great mystics of the past have talked about experiencing a feeling of cosmic unity with all things is simply that they have learned how to reach that part of their minds in which all things really do possess cosmic unity.
Michael Talbot was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1953. He published seven books: Mysticism and the New Physics, Beyond the Quantum, Your Past Lives: A Reincarnation Handbook, The Holographic Universe, The Delicate Dependency, The Bog, Night Things.
His work appeared in the New York Times Book Review, the Village Voice, Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, and Omni magazine. He died in 1992.
Text originally published in ArtFutura's 1992 catalog.