Posted by Mary M Fisher on October 15, 1997 at 15:08:20:
The Universe as a Hologram
Does Objective Reality Exist, or is the Universe a Phantasm?
In 1982 a remarkable event took place. At the University of Paris a
research team led by physicist Alain Aspect performed what may turn out to be one
of the most important experiments of the 20th century. You did not hear
about it on the evening news. In fact, unless you are in the habit of reading
scientific journals you probably have never even heard Aspect's name,
though there are some who believe his discovery may change the face of science.
Aspect and his team discovered that under certain circumstances subatomic
particles such as electrons are able to instantaneously communicate with
each other regardless of the distance separating them. It doesn't matter
whether they are 10 feet or 10 billion miles apart.
Somehow each particle always seems to know what the other is doing. The
problem with this feat is that it violates Einstein's long-held tenet
that no communication can travel faster than the speed of light. Since traveling
faster than the speed of light is tantamount to breaking the time
barrier, this daunting prospect has caused some physicists to try to come up with
elaborate ways to explain away Aspect's findings. But it has inspired
others to offer even more radical explanations.
University of London physicist David Bohm, for example, believes Aspect's
findings imply that objective reality does not exist, that despite its
apparent solidity the universe is at heart a phantasm, a gigantic and
splendidly detailed hologram.
To understand why Bohm makes this startling assertion, one must first
understand a little about holograms. A hologram is a three- dimensional
photograph 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 three-dimensionality of such images is not the only remarkable
characteristic of holograms. 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, each snippet of film will
always be found to contain a smaller but intact version of the original
image. Unlike normal photographs, every part of a hologram contains all
the information possessed by the whole.
The "whole in every part" nature of a hologram provides us with an
entirely new way of understanding organization and order. For most of its history,
Western science has labored under the bias that the best way to
understand a physical phenomenon, whether a frog or an atom, is to dissect it and
study its respective parts.
A hologram teaches us that some things in the universe may not lend
themselves to this approach. If we try to take apart something
constructed holographically, we will not get the pieces of which it is made, we will
only get smaller wholes.
This insight suggested to Bohm another way of understanding Aspect's
discovery. Bohm believes the reason subatomic particles are able to
remain in contact with one another regardless of the distance separating them is
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
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.
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 more complex dimension beyond our own that
is analogous to the aquarium. And, he adds, we view objects such as
subatomic particles as separate from one another because we are seeing only a
portion of their reality.
Such particles are not separate "parts", but facets of a deeper and more
underlying unity that is ultimately as holographic and indivisible as the
previously mentioned rose. And since everything in physical reality is
comprised of these "eidolons", the universe is itself a projection, a
In addition to its phantomlike nature, such a universe would possess
other rather startling features. If the apparent separateness of subatomic
particles is illusory, it means that at a deeper level of reality all
things in the universe are infinitely interconnected.
The electrons in a carbon atom in the human brain are connected to the
subatomic particles that comprise every salmon that swims, every heart
that beats, and every star that shimmers in the sky.
Everything interpenetrates everything, and although human nature may seek
to categorize and pigeonhole and subdivide, the various phenomena of the
universe, all apportionments are of necessity artificial and all of
nature is ultimately a seamless web.
In a holographic universe, even time and space could no longer be viewed
as fundamentals. Because concepts such as location break down in a universe
in which nothing is truly separate from anything else, time and
three-dimensional space, like the images of the fish on the TV monitors,
would also have to be viewed as projections of this deeper order.
At its deeper level reality is a sort of superhologram in which the past,
present, and future all exist simultaneously. This suggests that given
the proper tools it might even be possible to someday reach into the
superholographic level of reality and pluck out scenes from the
What else the superhologram contains is an open-ended question. Allowing,
for the sake of argument, that the superhologram is the matrix that has given
birth to everything in our universe, at the very least it contains every
subatomic particle that has been or will be -- every configuration of
matter and energy that is possible, from snowflakes to quasars, from blue whales
to gamma rays. It must be seen as a sort of cosmic storehouse of "All That
Although Bohm concedes that we have no way of knowing what else might lie
hidden in the superhologram, he does venture to say that we have no
reason to assume it does not contain more. Or as he puts it, perhaps the
superholographic level of reality is a "mere stage" beyond which lies "an
infinity of further development".
Bohm is not the only researcher who has found evidence that the universe
is a hologram. Working independently in the field of brain research, Standford
neurophysiologist Karl Pribram has also become persuaded of the
nature of reality.
Pribram was drawn to the holographic model by the puzzle 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 in the 1920s, brain scientist Karl
Lashley found that no matter what portion of a 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 "whole in every part" nature of
Then in the 1960s Pribram encountered the concept of holography and
realized he had found the explanation brain scientists had been looking for.
Pribram 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. In other words,
Pribram believes the brain is itself a hologram.
Pribram's theory also explains how the human brain can store so many
memories in so little space. It has been estimated that the human brain has the
capacity to memorize something on the order of 10 billion bits of
information during the average human lifetime (or roughly the same amount of
information contained in five sets of the Encyclopaedia Britannica).
Similarly, it has been discovered that in addition to their other
capabilities, holograms possess an astounding capacity for information
storage--simply by changing the angle at which the two lasers strike a
piece of photographic film, it is possible to record many different images on
the same surface. It has been demonstrated that one cubic centimeter of film
can hold as many as 10 billion bits of information.
Our uncanny ability to quickly retrieve whatever information we need from
the enormous store of our memories becomes more understandable if the brain
functions according to holographic principles. If a friend asks you to
tell him what comes to mind when he says the word "zebra", you do not have to
clumsily sort back through some gigantic and cerebral alphabetic file to
arrive at an answer. Instead, associations like "striped", "horselike",
and "animal native to Africa" all pop into your head instantly.
Indeed, one of the most amazing things about the human thinking process
is that every piece of information seems instantly cross- correlated with
every other piece of information--another feature intrinsic to the hologram.
Because every portion of a hologram is infinitely interconnected with
every other portion, it is perhaps nature's supreme example of a
The storage of memory is not the only neurophysiological puzzle that
becomes more tractable in light of Pribram's holographic model 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.
Just as a hologram functions as a sort of lens, a translating device able
to convert an apparently meaningless blur of frequencies into a coherent
image, Pribram believes the brain also comprises a lens and uses holographic
principles to mathematically convert the frequencies it receives through
the senses into the inner world of our perceptions.
An impressive body of evidence suggests that the brain uses holographic
principles to perform its operations. Pribram's theory, in fact, has
gained increasing support among neurophysiologists.
Argentinian-Italian researcher Hugo Zucarelli recently extended the
holographic model into the world of acoustic phenomena. Puzzled by the
fact that humans can locate the source of sounds without moving their heads,
even if they only possess hearing in one ear, Zucarelli discovered that
holographic principles can explain this ability.
Zucarelli has also developed the technology of holophonic sound, a
recording technique able to reproduce acoustic situations with an almost uncanny
Pribram's belief that our brains mathematically construct "hard" reality
by relying on input from a frequency domain has also received a good deal of
It has been found that each of our senses is sensitive to a much broader
range of frequencies than was previously suspected.
Researchers have discovered, for instance, that our visual systems are
sensitive to sound frequencies, that our sense of smell is in part
dependent on what are now called "osmic frequencies", and that even the cells in
our bodies are sensitive to a broad range of frequencies. Such findings
suggest that it is only in the holographic domain of consciousness that such
frequencies are sorted out and divided up into conventional perceptions.
But the most mind-boggling aspect of Pribram's holographic model of the
brain is what happens when it is put together with Bohm's theory. For if the
concreteness of the world is but a secondary reality and what is "there"
is actually a holographic blur of frequencies, and if the brain is also a
hologram and only selects some of the frequencies out of this blur and
mathematically transforms them into sensory perceptions, what becomes of
Put quite simply, it ceases to exist. As the religions of the East have
long upheld, the material world is Maya, an illusion, and although we may
think we are physical beings moving through a physical world, this too is an
We are really "receivers" floating through a kaleidoscopic sea of
and what we extract from this sea and transmogrify into physical reality
but one channel from many extracted out of the superhologram.
This striking new picture of reality, the synthesis of Bohm and Pribram's
views, has come to be called the holographic paradigm, and although many
scientists have greeted it with skepticism, it has galvanized others. A
small but growing group of researchers believe it may be the most accurate
model of reality science has arrived at thus far. More than that, some believe it
may solve some mysteries that have never before been explainable by science
and even establish the paranormal as a part of nature.
Numerous researchers, including Bohm and Pribram, have noted that many
para-psychological phenomena become much more understandable in terms of
the holographic paradigm.
In a universe in which individual brains are actually indivisible
portions of the greater hologram and everything is infinitely interconnected,
telepathy may merely be the accessing of the holographic level.
It is obviously much easier to understand how information can travel from
mind of individual 'A' to that of individual 'B' at a far distance point
helps to understand a number of unsolved puzzles in psychology. In
particular, Grof feels the holographic paradigm offers a model for
understanding many of the baffling phenomena experienced by individuals
during altered states of consciousness.
In the 1950s, while conducting research into the beliefs of LSD as a
psychotherapeutic tool, Grof had one female patient who suddenly became
convinced she had assumed the identity of a female of a species of
prehistoric reptile. During the course of her hallucination, she not only
gave a richly detailed description of what it felt like to be encapsuled
such a form, but noted that the portion of the male of the species's
was a patch of colored scales on the side of its head.
What was startling to Grof was that although the woman had no prior
about such things, a conversation with a zoologist later confirmed that
certain species of reptiles colored areas on the head do indeed play an
important role as triggers of sexual arousal.
The woman's experience was not unique. During the course of his research,
Grof encountered examples of patients regressing and identifying with
virtually every species on the evolutionary tree (research findings which
helped influence the man-into-ape scene in the movie Altered States).
Moreover, he found that such experiences frequently contained obscure
zoological details which turned out to be accurate.
Regressions into the animal kingdom were not the only puzzling
psychological phenomena Grof encountered. He also had patients who appeared to tap into
some sort of collective or racial unconscious. Individuals with little or
no education suddenly gave detailed descriptions of Zoroastrian funerary
practices and scenes from Hindu mythology. In other categories of
experience, individuals gave persuasive accounts of out-of-body journeys, of
precognitive glimpses of the future, of regressions into apparent past-life
In later research, Grof found the same range of phenomena manifested in
therapy sessions which did not involve the use of drugs. Because the
common element in such experiences appeared to be the transcending of an
individual's consciousness beyond the usual boundaries of ego and/or
limitations of space and time, Grof called such manifestations
"transpersonal experiences", and in the late '60s he helped found a branch of psychology
called "transpersonal psychology" devoted entirely to their study.
Although Grof's newly founded Association of Transpersonal Psychology
garnered a rapidly growing group of like-minded professionals and has
a respected branch of psychology, for years neither Grof or any of his
colleagues were able to offer a mechanism for explaining the bizarre
psychological phenomena they were witnessing. But that has changed with
advent of the holographic paradigm.
As Grof recently noted, if the mind is actually part of a continuum, a
labyrinth that is connected not only to every other mind that exists or
has existed, but to every atom, organism, and region in the vastness of space
and time itself, the fact that it is able to occasionally make forays into
the labyrinth and have transpersonal experiences no longer seems so strange.
The holographic prardigm also has implications for so-called hard
sciences like biology. Keith Floyd, a psychologist at Virginia Intermont College,
has pointed out that if the concreteness of reality is but a holographic
illusion, it would no longer be true to say the brain produces
consciousness. Rather, it is consciousness that creates the appearance of the brain --
as well as the body and everything else around us we interpret as physical.
Such a turnabout in the way we view biological structures has caused
researchers to point out that medicine and our understanding of the
healing process could also be transformed by the holographic paradigm. If the
apparent physical structure of the body is but a holographic projection
of consciousness, it becomes clear that each of us is much more responsible
for our health than current medical wisdom allows. What we now view as
miraculous remissions of disease may actually be due to changes in consciousness
which in turn effect changes in the hologram of the body.
Similarly, controversial new healing techniques such as visualization may
work so well because in the holographic domain of thought images are
ultimately as real as "reality".
Even visions and experiences involving "non-ordinary" reality become
explainable under the holographic paradigm. In his book "Gifts of Unknown
Things," biologist Lyall Watson discribes his encounter with an
shaman woman who, by performing a ritual dance, was able to make an
grove of trees instantly vanish into thin air. Watson relates that as he
another astonished onlooker continued to watch the woman, she caused the
trees to reappear, then "click" off again and on again several times in
Although current scientific understanding is incapable of explaining such
events, experiences like this become more tenable if "hard" reality is
Perhaps we agree on what is "there" or "not there" because what we call
consensus reality is formulated and ratified at the level of the human
unconscious at which all minds are infinitely interconnected.
If this is true, it is the most profound implication of the holographic
paradigm of all, for it means that experiences such as Watson's are not
commonplace only because we have not programmed our minds with the
beliefs that would make them so. In a holographic universe there are no limits to
the extent to which we can alter the fabric of reality.
What we perceive as reality is only a canvas waiting for us to draw upon
it any picture we want. Anything is possible, from bending spoons with the
power of the mind to the phantasmagoric events experienced by Castaneda during
his encounters with the Yaqui brujo don Juan, for magic is our birthright, no
more or less miraculous than our ability to compute the reality we want
when we are in our dreams.
Indeed, even our most fundamental notions about reality become suspect,
for in a holographic universe, as Pribram has pointed out, even random events
would have to be seen as based on holographic principles and therefore
determined. Synchronicities or meaningful coincidences suddenly makes
sense, and everything in reality would have to be seen as a metaphor, for even
the most haphazard events would express some underlying symmetry.
Whether Bohm and Pribram's holographic paradigm becomes accepted in
science or dies an ignoble death remains to be seen, but it is safe to say that
it has already had an influence on the thinking of many scientists. And even
if it is found that the holographic model does not provide the best
explanation for the instantaneous communications that seem to be passing back and
forth between subatomic particles, at the very least, as noted by Basil Hiley,
a physicist at Birbeck College in London, Aspect's findings "indicate that
we must be prepared to consider radically new views of reality".
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