Cooper Cooper's Reviews > The Holographic Universe

The Holographic Universe by Michael Talbot
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's review
Jul 29, 2009

really liked it

This book is a popular treatment of the ideas of psychologist Karl Pribram and physicist David Bohm, which in turn are based on the concept of holography. Hungarian scientist Dennis Gabor invented (discovered?) holography, and was awarded the Nobel Prize the development of the laser allowed University of Michigan scientists to verify Gabor's theory in the laboratory. Holography produces, in thin air, the three-dimensional image (a hologram) of an object. This is accomplished by splitting a laser beam, with one of the split beams directly illuminating the object to be photographed, and the other beam illuminating the image of the object on a photographic plate. Where the two beams of light overlap on the plate, they produce a so-called interference pattern, and it is this pattern that (when re-illuminated) creates the three-dimensional image (the hologram) of the object. Interestingly, the whole hologram can be re-created from any portion of the holographic image—a phenomenon reminiscent of Mandelbrot's fractals (which for some reason Talbot fails to mention).
Trying to understand how memory works, psychologist Karl Pribram hit on the hologram as the best theory to account for the fact that memories are not localized in the brain (each memory stored in a separate group or circuit of neurons), but rather are distributed throughout the brain so that, for example, rats that have literally had their brains minced still retain memories for learned behaviors, and among humans, even after massive strokes that have incapacitated large areas of a cerebral hemisphere, many people continue to retain a remarkable store of memories. By retaining only scattered pieces of a memory, a damaged brain might still be able to reproduce (holographically) the whole memory.
Physicist David Bohm hit on holography while trying to understand how the universe works in the light of quantum theory, about which he was a leading, textbook-writing expert. It bothered him that quantum theory left many things unexplained:

*How can a quantum of energy be both a particle and a wave?
*Since we interfere with subatomic particles when we try to measure
them, how can we know with certainty what that nanoworld is really like?
*How is it that two photons in different locations can influence each other faster than the speed of light?

According to Bohm, the universe consists of energy waves. The physical reality that we perceive "out there" is our brains' translation of those waves (via mathematical equations called Fourier transforms) into sensory images. Well, not a translation of the waves themselves, but of the very interference patterns that produce holograms. So we live in a "holographic universe" teeming with energy waves that our fertile brains convert into the world we (think we) know.
That's not all: Bohm holds that the world we normally perceive, what he calls the "explicate order," continually arises out of a background world that we normally do not perceive, called the "implicate order." In the implicate order, time and space do not exist: the past, present and future freely intermix, and everything is everywhere. The implicate order, the matrix of existence where everything is possible, continually expresses itself by "unfolding" new configurations of energy waves.
And there's more. The implicate order is more like mind than like matter: for Bohm, matter arises from mind rather than vice versa, although mind and matter are really two apsects of the same substratum. With this view he enters an age-old dispute more on the side of Plato and the major religions, east and west, than on the side of conventional materialistic science (for a recent example of the materialistic position, see Daniel C. Dennett's Consciousness Explained ). Bohm's approach focuses on the whole, while modern materialistic science tends to focus on the parts, which are easier to model and analyze. Scientists have generally assumed that if you learn enough about the parts, you will automatically come to understand the whole. For complex systems, this has proved questionable—as any chaos or complexity theorist will tell you.
Bohm's implicate order accounts for the phenomena—nonlocality, indeterminacy—unexplained by quantum theory. It also accounts for psi phenomena such as telepathy, clairvoyance (remote viewing), clairaudience, precognition, retrocognition and psychokinesis. How? Since the implicate order is exempt from the conventional rules of time and space, it can "unfold" the same phenomenon in minds and places that are far apart physically or separated in time.
These are the basic ideas. Author Talbot elaborates with a lot of anecdotal evidence—some of it very engaging—that seems to support the holographic universe, and he cites (but not systematically) some of the more rigorous research that seems to support the theory. He also cites the usual New Age suspects: Robert Monroe on OBEs, Kenneth Ring on NDEs, Larry Dossey on remote healing, Deepak Chopra on correspondence between quantum physics and eastern religion, etc. I found the book interesting and thought-provoking, obviously written by an enthusiast who is trying to appear objective, fairly persuasive, somewhat repetitious, and strewn with fascinating anecdotal cases. I say "fairly persuasive" because for one thing, some research has challenged Pribram's notion of non-localized memory (see, for example, Joseph LeDoux’s The Emotional Brain), and for another thing, throughout the book I was nagged by the notion that Bohm's theory is really a modern-vocabulary version of the shamanic and vedic worldviews, and that while intellectually cogent and intuitively resonant, most of the theory is unverifiable in the scientific sense. Which doesn't invalidate it, but also doesn't allow us to advance much past speculation—and where speculation is unverifiable, one is never far from Ockham's supersharp razor. I'm not talking about the phenomena themselves (for example, psi)—these, I believe, have been well demonstrated (see, for example Dean I. Radin’s The Conscious Universe). Rather I'm talking about the theory that purports to explain them.
Overall: Highly recommended, but I would advise skeptics to read Radin's The Conscious Universe first.

Key concepts:

Explicate order
Implicate order
Psi Phenomena
Remote Viewing (clairvoyance)

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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Jcooper Cooper Great review. Useful. Thank you.

Sylvia Indeed a useful and good review. It's how I 'experienced' the book too. :)

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