A Holographic View of Reality
David S. Walonick, Ph.D.
For thousands of years, philosophers have pondered our role in the
universe. The study of social structures began as the study of our
souls. Only by turning inward could we unravel the mysteries of our
institutions. Society was viewed as a reflection and extension of our
A few hundred years ago, Descartes introduced the scientific method of
inquiry and dramatically changed the way that we searched for answers.
The scientific method stressed the individuality and separateness of
things. Institutions could be understood by dissecting and analyzing the
individual components. The inquirer was simply a passive observer of
external phenomena. This paradigm went unchallenged for over three
The twentieth century began with Einstein's theory of relativity. The
observer was no longer external to the phenomena being studied. In fact,
all patterns could be described only relative to the observer. At first,
Einstein's theory was confined to the physical world, however, twenty
years later, von Bertalanffy extended the idea of relativity to the
social sciences. General systems theory could be used to examine both
the physical and social sciences. The role of the mind in the
construction of reality became an issue of concern. In fact, for some
scientists, it had now become a central theme.
In the 1920's Wilder Penfield presented convincing evidence that
memories were stored in specific locations in the brain. Penfield
performed surgery on epileptic patients and found that when he
stimulated the temporal lobes, the patients relived experiences from the
past. He found that whenever he stimulated a specific region of the
brain, it evoked the same memory. In his book The Mystery of the Mind
(1975), Penfield described the patients experience as a "flashback",
where the patient actually re-lived the experience. Penfield concluded
that this meant that all experiences were stored in specific locations
of the brain in memory engrams.
In an effort to verify Penfield's experiments, biologist Karl Lashley
(1950) began searching for the elusive engrams. He had trained rats in
maze-running abilities and then attempted to surgically remove the
portion of the rat's brains that contained the maze-running knowledge.
Lashley found that no matter what portion of the brain he removed, the
rats retained their maze-running knowledge. Even when massive portions
of the brain were removed, the rats were still able to navigate through
Karl Pribram (1969), a student of Penfield, was astonished by Lashley's
research. Pribram noticed that when brain-injured patients had large
sections of their brain removed, they did not suffer a loss of any
specific memories. Instead, the patient's memory became increasingly
hazy as greater portions of the brain were removed. Further research
indicated that Penfield's experiments could be only duplicated on
epileptic patients. Pribram (1977) came to the conclusion that memories
are not localized in any specific brain cells, but rather, memory seemed
to be distribution throughout the whole brain. The problem was that
there was simply no known mechanism that would explain how this was
Pribram remained puzzled until the mid 1960's, when he ran across an
article in Scientific American describing the construction of laser
hologram. He immediately synthesized the information and hypothesized
that the mind itself was operating in a holographic manner.
Anatomist Paul Pietsch (1981) simply could not believe Pribram's theory,
and he set out to disprove the holographic theory of the brain. After
performing thousands of operations on salamanders, he became convinced
that the mind perceives and stores information by encoding and decoding
complex interference patterns.
A hologram is created by splitting a laser beam into two separate beams.
One beam is bounced off an object, and the other serves as a reference
beam. An interference pattern is created that bears little resemblance
to the object, however, it contains all the information necessary to
recreate the image of the object. The most remarkable feature to Pribram
was the idea that a photographic plate containing a laser image could be
broken in two, and each half would contain the complete image of the
object, but with less resolution. This was identical to the way that
memory in the brain seemed to be operating. Regardless of how many times
the photographic plate was broken, each piece contained the information
necessary to reconstruct the entire image.
Pribram hypothesized that the neurons, axions, and dendrites of the
brain create wave-like patterns that cause an interference pattern. In
1966 he published his findings and during the next few years he refined
his theory. According to Pribram, a holographic theory explains many of
the mysteries of the brain, including the enormous capacity of the brain
for the storage and retrieval of information.
By the 1970's several other researchers had expanded Pribram's theory.
British physicist Pieter van Heerden (1970) proposed that our ability to
recognize familiar objects is similar to recognition holography. A
similar technique known as interference holography could explain our
ability to perceive differences in a object that has changed. Harvard
researchers Daniel Pollen and Michael Tractenberg (1972) studied
individuals with eidetic (photographic) memories and proposed the idea
that memory is related to an individual's ability to create holographic
images in the brain. People with outstanding memories are better able to
access larger portions of their brains.
One distinguishing characteristic of a hologram is the ability to create
a virtual image. A virtual image is a three-dimensional extension in
space that appears to exist, yet contains no substance. We generally
believe that we are able to clearly distinguish between external and
internal events, however, considerable research has shown that the
division is not as well-defined as we perceive. The "world-out-there"
and the "world-in-here" are not always clearly delineated.
In the late 1960's Georg von Bekesy demonstrated that blindfolded
subjects could be induced to experience sensations in areas outside of
the body. By attaching vibrators to their knees, von Bekesy was able to
alter subject's perceptions of the location of the vibrators so they
believed that they were experiencing sensations in the space between
their knees. This artificially created phenomena is similar to the
phantom limb pain experienced by amputees. (Talbot, 1991, p.25)
Research in the 1960's had shown that each brain cell in the visual
cortex responds to a specific pattern. Some brain cells fired when
horizontal lines were perceived, while others responded to vertical
demonstrated that the brain was using Fourier mathematics to decode
visual images. Recently, Fourier analysis has been used to explain our
perception of hearing and smell. The brain operates as a complex
The problem with the holographic model comes when we try to understand
what the brain is actually perceiving. The holographic model implies
that our perceptions are merely an illusion. If we are perceiving an
interference pattern, what is the true nature of thing we are
perceiving? The hologram consists of both a reflected and reference
beam. What is the nature of the thing being reflected? Or equally
illusive, what is the brain's equivalent of a reference beam?
Quantum physics has presented us with a puzzling picture of the nature
of reality. Physicists have demonstrated that quanta can manifest
themselves as either particles or waves. When scientists are not looking
at electrons, they always exist as a wave, and whenever they design an
experiment to observe the elections, they always appear as particles.
Danish physicist Niels Bohr pointed out that it is meaningless to talk
about the properties and characteristics of a particle that is not being
observed. Einstein did not accept Bohr's argument. He believed that Bohr
had to be wrong because the implications of quantum theory were simply
too astounding (Talbot, 1991, p.35-38).
At the heart of the controversy was the idea of instantaneous
communication between particles. When two complimentary particles were
allowed to travel apart, their polarizations could be simultaneously
measured. Quantum theory predicted that regardless of the distance
between the particles, their polarizations would always be the same. The
act of measuring one would force the polarization of the other. Einstein
(1935) interpreted this to mean that quantum theory was incorrect
because nothing could travel faster than the speed of light. Bohr argued
that Einstein was incorrect in thinking of the particles as separate. He
maintained that they were part of an indivisible system. Quantum theory
proved to be incredible successful and became the accepted theory even
though the technology did not exist to actually perform the experiment.
Princeton physicist David Bohm (1980) became a believer in holographic
systems during his study of plasma systems. He found that when a gas
became a plasma, the individual electrons began behaving as a unified
whole. The electrons became engaged in a process of self-organization.
Bohm became disillusioned with quantum theory because it attempted to
isolate cause-and-effect relationships from the universe as a whole. He
maintained that only a holistic view would explain the electron
co-ordination in high energy plasma systems. Furthermore, Bohm argued
that space itself was an illusion, and that it was meaningless to
discuss the separateness of things at the quantum level. Physicists
began describing the quantum potential in terms of nonlocal connections.
By the 1960's Bohm began to view chaos as a misnomer. He believed that
"randomness" contains a hidden order, and that we perceive disorder only
because of our limited understanding of the complexity of the processes
involved. In 1980, Bohm published his first book on the holographic
nature of the universe entitled Wholeness and the Implicate Order. In
it, he referred to our level of existence as the explicate (unfolded)
order. He maintained that there was a deeper level of order in the
universe which he called the implicate order. The constant flow of
energy between the explicate and implicate levels of reality offered an
explanation of nonlocal phenomena. Bohm referred to the universe as a
Our Cartesian view of the world makes it difficult to comprehend the
implications of Bohm's theory. We have a tendency to divide things into
parts and give them unique names. "If we think of reality as constituted
of independent fragments, we will think in fragmented ways." (Ferguson,
1992) According to Bohm's theory, the separateness of things is but an
illusion, and all things are actually part of the same unbroken
continuum. Holographic theory is an extension of general system theory
because it recognizes that the boundaries of a system are an artificial
construct. System theory stresses the relationships between the
components of the system, however, the boundaries of the system are
defined to suit the researcher's purpose. In holographic theory, the
fragmentation created by the boundary definitions does not exist. Each
component is part of an unbroken whole. Systems theory stresses the
individuality of the system components. Holographic theory stresses the
oneness of its components. Component A is not simply related to
component B--A is B.
In 1982, Alain Aspect and a team of physicists were able to actually
carry-out the polarization experiment that Einstein had proposed nearly
fifty years before (Talbot, 1991, p.52-53). Photon pairs were created by
heating calcium atoms with a laser, and then allowed to travel in
opposite directions. Aspect discovered that the polarization of one
photon immediately polarized the other--just as quantum theory had
predicted. The photons were somehow communicating with each other at
speeds exceeding the speed of light, or nonlocal connections existed
between the electrons, or the separateness of the particles themselves
was an illusion.
Bohm (1987) concluded that the implications of nonlocal connections are
that objective reality itself is entirely a construct of the human
brain. The true nature of reality remains hidden from us. Our brains
operate as a holographic frequency analyzer, decoding projections from a
more fundamental dimension. Bohm concludes that even space and time are
constructs of the human brain, and they may not exist as we perceive
We normally perceive things as existing in the four dimensions of
space-time. Holographic theory, however, presumes that there is at least
a fifth dimension that represents a more fundamental aspect of reality.
Normally, we do not possess the sensory skills to perceive this
dimension, and it remains hidden from our awareness. The holographic
model of reality stresses the role of beat frequencies in our
construction of reality. Suppose the fifth dimension consists of
extremely high frequency energy far outside our range of normal
perception. When two or more wave fronts interact, a third frequency is
created that consists of the difference in frequencies between the two
waves. Since the beat frequency is all we can perceive, we construct
reality based on these illusory waves without any awareness of their
A problem with holographic theory is that we have little understanding
of why some energy fields appear as stationary matter, while others are
manifested as electromagnetic waves. Einstein spent the latter part of
his life looking for the unified theory that would link matter, energy,
and gravity. How does energy become matter and visa versa?
Bohm (1978) came to the conclusion that the black hole provides an
answer. The black hole is an area of collapsed matter where the density
and gravity become so great that nothing (not even light) can escape.
The escape velocity from a black hole is greater than the speed of light
itself. Within the black hole, space and time become distorted and merge
into a singularity. While we generally refer to black holes as an
astronomical phenomena, there is no reason to believe that these are the
only black holes. Stephen Hawking has demonstrated that mini black holes
are equally feasible (Milton, 1979).
Suppose that the center of every atom contained a mini black hole. Space
and time would merge into a singularity and would become
indistinguishable. This would explain how instantaneous travel is
possible below Plank's distance. It may be that the atom itself is a
wave form that has collapsed into a mini black hole. The apparent
solidity and permanence of matter may be the singularity of the black
hole. Matter itself may be gravitationally trapped light. (Toben, 1975)
One exciting prospect of quantum theory is the construct of zero-point
energy (Boyer, 1975). According to this theory, the fabric of space
itself contains enormous energy. "Zero-point" refers to the idea that
this energy exists even at a temperature of zero degrees Kelvin
(absolute zero). Quantum theory predicts this energy, and some
researchers have suggested that it may be possible to tap this energy.
Ilya Prigogine's work with dissipative systems led physicist Moray King
(1989) to believe that under certain conditions, nonlinear systems could
be induced into coherence. The two critical conditions are that the
system is far away from equilibrium, and dissipative (i.e., there is a
constant flow of energy through the system). King has suggested that
bucking magnetic fields through a caduceus coil may be one method to tap
Holograms are not necessarily created by light, but can be formed in the
presence of any wave action. To view the brain as a hologram, we must
develop an understanding of the mechanisms that create an interference
pattern. The holographic process involves both a reflection and
reference beam. In the brain, past experience might serve as the
reference beam. New incoming information is combined with the
experiences (memories) of the past to create an interference pattern.
Almost immediately, the new information becomes part of the "reference
beam" and learning has occurred. As each new piece of information
arrives at the brain, a new interference pattern is created and again
becomes part of the reference background. A constantly shifting
interference pattern provides the mind with a continually changing model
One of the most central themes of modern physics is to be able to
describe the mechanics of our perceived universe. In the 18th century,
Leibniz first maintained that space, time, matter, and energy were
merely intellectual constructs (Talbot, 1991, p. 291). Modern quantum
theory supports this proposition, where matter exists only as a
probability on a continuum. For example, when we attempt to observe an
electron, it becomes impossible to pinpoint its exact location. Bohm
remarked that "what appears to be a stable, tangible, visible, audible
world is an illusion. It is dynamic and kaleidoscopic--not really
there". Bentov (1982, p. 56) describes reality as a vast empty space
filled with oscillating fields.
If matter is a set of interacting fields, then we must make a
distinction between our perceived universe and the actual universe that
lies beyond our normal perception. Quantum theory states that when
individual particles move over distances less than Plank's distance
(10-33 cm), they can do so instantaneously. In order for this to be
possible, the particle must either be traveling at infinite velocity, or
the distance itself is but an illusion. Furthermore, it would seem
possible that a particle could make an infinite number of these tiny
jumps without time passage. If each change of location happens
instantaneously, then an infinite number of location changes can also
happen instantaneously. A particle could exist in all places
The holographic model of the universe views matter as the constructive
and destructive interference patterns created by interacting energy
waves. Standing waves occur when a wavefront takes on a stationary
appearance. Energy continues to pass through the system, however,
because each successive wave takes exactly the same position of the one
before, there is an illusion of stability. Holograms depend on standing
waves for their existence.
Physicists have confirmed that atoms are in a constant state of
vibration. Each atom is a micro-oscillator with its own characteristic
frequency. When similar atoms begin to vibrate in unison they form a
"tuned resonant system", where all atoms are oscillating in phase with
each other. Furthermore, the system becomes increasingly stable as more
oscillators are added to the system, and it becomes increasingly
difficult to disturb. The situation is analogous to plucking a tuning
fork and observing how a second tuning fork begins to oscillate in phase
with the first. At the atomic level, harmonic resonance may be
responsible for stable particle behavior.
The atoms of our bodies are very high frequency oscillators that vibrate
at a rate of about 1015 Hertz. It is quite possible that our bodies
blink on and off at this frequency. We currently have no technology to
measure such rapid phenomena. (Unterseher, et al., 1982, p. 364)
Carl Jung's theory of the collective unconscious is compatible with
theory . Jung observed that certain dreams, myths, hallucinations and
religious symbols are shared by many people and cultures. According to
Jung, these archetypes represent part of the collective unconscious
derived from our two-million-year-old collective history (Jung and
Pauli, 1955). Only a limited glimpse of the implicate order is available
to us because we lack the knowledge to perceive or decode the frequency
interference patterns. Dreams may be one way that we counteract our
tendency to fragment the world. Bohm has noted that dreams often reflect
a hidden wisdom that exceeds our waking consciousness.
New York psychologist Edgar Levenson (1977) believes that the
psychoanalytic process is best represented by the holographic model. He
points out that the therapeutic process is "capricious and unreliable."
When therapy is going well, the therapist is not really saying anything
new to the patient, but rather, the therapist somehow resonates with
something that the patient already knows. "The change results as a
consequence of the expansion of configurational patterns over time."
(Ferguson, 1992) The patient's insights (or revelation) can be viewed as
a holographic process.
Synchronicities are coincidences that are so meaningful that it is
unlikely that they can be attributed to chance alone. Jung was the first
to perceive these events as more than simple coincidence. He proposed
that some unknown mechanism buried deep within the psyche was
responsible for these events, and that they were controlled by some kind
of acausal mechanism. Physicist Paul Davies (1988) agrees that
"non-local quantum effects are indeed a form of synchronicity in the
sense that they establish a connection--more precisely a
correlation--between events for which any form of causal linkage is
forbidden." (Talbot, 1991, p. 79)
Another physicist, F. David Peat (1987), believes that synchronicities
represent "flaws" in the fabric of reality. These fissures give us a
momentary connection to the underlying nature of the implicate order.
They demonstrate the possibility of connecting with the true nature of
the universe. Peat believes that the scarcity of synchronicity
demonstrates the degree to which we have cut ourselves off from the
deeper orders of mind and reality.
Pribram (1977) believes that our brains have learned to edit out many of
the frequency patterns in the implicate order, leaving only a selective
subset of information available to our conscious awareness. By
perceiving only a fraction of the information, we often believe that we
are observing chaos without any underlying pattern. It may be that
seemingly random phenomena only appear chaotic because we are have
filtered out a portion of the information necessary to discern the true
underlying pattern. Bohm asserts that there is no such thing as
disorder, only orders of infinitely higher degree. (Talbot, 1991)
Valerie Hunt, a professor of kinesiology at UCLA, became interested in
human energy fields (Miller, 1983). While using an electromyograph (EMG)
to measure muscle activity, she discovered that the energy radiating
from the body was far more complex than originally believed. The highest
frequency for muscle activity was believed to be around 250 Hertz. Hunt
found that there were also very low amplitude fields emanating from the
areas of the body associated with the chakras. These fields were of a
much higher frequency, often averaging as high as 1600 Hertz.
Furthermore, Hunt found that the frequency of these energy fields
depended upon the psychological state of the person. When a person's
consciousness was directed towards the material world, the fields were
near 250 Hertz. Psychic healers emanated fields in the 400 to 800 Hertz
range, and people who claim to channel information from a higher source
emanate frequencies in the 800 to 900 Hertz range. Hunt's most
extraordinary finding came when she used a Poincar? map to examine these
frequencies. Instead of randomness, she found a dynamic pattern typical
of a strange attractor (Talbot, 1991, p. 177).
Life itself may be based on a holographic system consisting of coherence
and interference. Order and patterns are the cornerstone of holography.
Evolution itself might not be based on the Darwinian concept of random
mutations, but rather, environmental stress and disequilibrium might
have given rise to higher orders of organization.
Many scientists now believe the brain and body operate on holographic
principles on the cellular, molecular, and neural levels. In Space-Time
and Beyond, Bob Toben (1975, p. 130) describes how DNA contains the
coding for orderly growth. "Nonlinearity in electrochemical reaction
pathways of biological processes provides feedback patterns that are
responsible for self-organization. On a deeper level, there may be
self-organizing biogravitational fields whose structure determines the
shape of biological molecules, cellular differentiation, and the overall
shape of living systems".
Dissipative structures may provide a clue to the nature of Bohm's
implicate order. Nobel prize winning chemist Ilya Prigogine (1980)
discovered that some chemical systems develop into a more ordered
arrangement, not a more disordered one. But how do these systems come
into being? How can anything just suddenly pop into existence?
Prigogine, like Bohm and Pribram, believes that dissipative structures
are evidence of a deeper, more fundamental aspect of reality. "The
increased limitation of deterministic laws means that we go from a
universe that is closed, in which all is given, to a new one that is
open to fluctuations, to innovations."
Prigogine's theory of dissipative structures applies to open systems
that exchange energy with the environment. As systems become
increasingly complex, they require more and more energy to maintain
their structure. Complex systems are highly unstable and this gives rise
to internal fluctuations within the system. A slight perturbation can
drive the system into a sudden nonlinear change, where the new stability
is even more coherent. This higher order is even more sensitive to
perturbations. Internal fluctuations can force the system to even
greater complexity. At each level of complexity, there is greater
potential for new organization and change.
Israeli researcher Aharon Katchalsky (1972) first learned of Prigogine's
work with dissipative structures in 1971. He organized a workshop at MIT
to discuss Prigogine's theory's and how the brain might be viewed as a
dissipative structure. The brain displays characteristics of
non-linearity, sudden shifts, oscillations, and self-organization... the
same features that Prigogine had discovered in chemical systems.
The key characteristic of Prigogine's (1977) findings was that
dissipative structures can shift into higher levels of organization when
perturbed. Society can be viewed as an open system exchanging energy
with the environment. Fluctuations can be created by a small group of
people, and this in turn has the potential to change society as a whole.
If the perturbations exceed society's ability to "dampen" the
fluctuations, then a new level of social order can evolve. As social
organization becomes increasingly complex, it becomes more likely that
small perturbations can lead to higher orders of complexity. Social
change and evolution will happen at an ever increasing pace.
Holographic theory helps social scientists to understand organizational
and social systems by stressing the wholeness of the systems. Individual
components of a system cannot be manipulated without affecting all other
components in the system. Prigogine's work with dissipative structures
has revealed a new way of looking at planned change, whereby the
conditions of self-organization and nonlinearity can be used
advantageously. It suggests that we might be able to solve many
organizational and social problems through the use of strategies that
apply these concepts.
Prigogine is currently working on a way to link deterministic processes
and probability theory. He now believes that it is not possible to know
with complete certainty the initial starting conditions for a system. If
this turns out to be true, then many of our current theories will need
revision. Science has been under the belief that the initial conditions
of deterministic processes are knowable, and therefore, in order to
predict the future of a system, all we need to do is discovery the laws
under which the system operates.
Many physicists have begun to describe the universe in words that
resemble Eastern philosophy. Bohm talks about the "dimension of
consciousness beyond the concrete world of our ordinary experience".
Capra discusses the "web of connectedness which cannot be described in
words". Beauregard quotes from ancient Indian scriptures about the
"illusionary nature of separateness". John Wheeler summarized the
holographic view of the universe when he said, "There may be no such
thing as the 'glittering central mechanism of the universe.'... Not
machinery but magic may be the better description of the treasure that
is waiting." (Toben, 1975)
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