The Holographic Universe
Does Objective Reality Exist?
By Michael Talbot
- 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
- 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.
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
- 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.
people to better visualize what he means, Bohm offers the following
- 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
- 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
- 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 hologram.
- 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
- 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.
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
- 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 long-forgotten past.
- 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 Is."
- 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
- 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 holographic
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.
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 ever other portion,
it is perhaps nature's supreme example of a cross-correlated system.
- 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
- 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.
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 realism.
belief that our brains mathematically construct "hard" reality by relying on
input from a frequency domain has also received a good deal of experimental
- It has been
found that each of our senses is sensitive to a much broader range of
frequencies than was previously suspected.
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 "cosmic 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 objective reality?
- 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 illusion.
- We are really
"receivers" floating through a kaleidoscopic sea of frequency, and what we
extract from this sea and transmogrify into physical reality is 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.
researchers, including Bohm and Pribram, have noted that many para-psychological
phenomena become much more understandable in terms of the holographic
- 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 the mind of individual
'A' to that of individual 'B' at a far distance point and 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