A Holographic View of Reality

© 1993, 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 inner-selves.

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 hundred years.

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 the maze.

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 possible.

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 lines. Berkeley neurophysiologists Russel and Karen DeValois (1979) 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 frequency analyzer.

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 dynamic holomovement.

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 them.

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 true source.

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 this energy.

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 of reality.

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 simultaneously.

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 holographic

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 Poincaré 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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