The Universe as Hologram:
Does Objective Reality Exist, or Is the Universe a Phantasm?
"Space/time traveling can only make sense by conceiving of
consciousness as a kind of hologram of universal sourcefulness
which can create matter and form itself and to which . . . each of
us potentially, has access if we can open and 'let go' as called for
into this primal universal information or energy fabric."
--- John E. Mack, M.D.
Psychiatrist and Harvard Professor
in Abduction, pp. 239-40 (hardcover ed.)
A Short History of the Holographic Paradigm
The 1920s: Brain scientist Karl Lashley discovers evidence suggesting that
memories do not reside in specific places but are distributed all over the brain.
The 1950s: Psychiatric researcher Stanislav Grof coins the term
"transpersonal psychology" for those cases where patients appear to be able to
regress to former lifetimes -- some even predating the age of man -- or speak
verifiably of future events.
The 1960s: Lasers come into common scientific use, and with them,
holograms. Two of the more remarkable properties of holograms (which are created
when two laser beams hit a piece of film at different angles) are that . . .
if you break a hologram into pieces, each portion will contain not an
area but the entirety of its parent image, the only difference being that
the smaller the piece, the less the degree of detail in imaging
potentially, holograms could store more information than CDs (Compact Discs),
in that if differently angled additional pairs of laser beams are trained on the
same piece of film as a previous pair, additional images can be recorded
The 1960s Again: Stanford neurophysiologist Karl Pribram learns of the
structure of holograms and combines it with Karl Lashley's ideas to conclude that
memory is the result of nerve impulses ricocheting throughout the brain much in
the way laser beams crisscross film with their interference patterns
1982: University of Paris physicist Alain Aspect makes a discovery which
suggests that subatomic particles are not discrete units but actually aspects of
some enormously large something which allows them to act in accordance with one
another whether they are two inches apart or two light years apart
To make a long story at least a little shorter, Aspect's ideas were
taken to heart by one University of London quantum physicist David Bohm, who
concluded that Aspect's discovery implied that the entire universe is both spatially and
temporally holographic -- indeed, that it exists as a static entity outside of space/time.
Bohm then got together with Karl Pribram, and so the Holographic Paradigm was
created: our brains are small holograms interpreting an immense hologram. Resultingly,
Stanislav Grof's "'transpersonal psychology" was accorded validation in that
in the Holographic Paradigm, space/time can be transcended by correct attuning of the
part (brain) to the whole (the universe).
This idea of wholeness (called the "Enfolded Order," by Bohm) has been with
mankind in the forms of Taoism and certain aspects of Hinduism for quite some time.
The Universe as Hologram:
Does Objective Reality Exist, or Is the Universe a Phantasm?
From The Village Voice, September 22, 1987, pp. 31-34:
THE UNIVERSE AS HOLOGRAM: Does Objective Reality Exist, or Is the Universe a Phantasm?
by Michael Talbot
<#> indicates a page break in the original article as printed
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.
<32> 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, and then 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 I 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 I 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
To enable people to better visualize what he means, Bohm offers the
following illustration. 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 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 infinitely interconnected. The
electrons in a carbon atom in the human brain are connected to the
protons in a hydrogen atom on the surface of the sun, and these are in
turn 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
television 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, Stanford 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 memory storage.
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
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 <33> 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
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 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.
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
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 experimental support. 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 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 many 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 the mind of individual A to
the mind of individual B if the minds of both individuals are already
connected. Similarly, psychokinesis (the ability of the mind to move a
distant object without touching it) also becomes less mysterious, for in
an infinitely interconnected universe the individual and the object
being moved are already one.
Bohm and Pribram have also suggested that many religious and/or
mystical experiences, such as a feeling of transcendental oneness with
the universe, may also be due to the accessing of the holographic realm.
As they note, perhaps the reason so many great mystics of the past have
talked about experiencing a feeling of cosmic unity with all things is
simply that they have learned how to reach that part of their minds in
which all things really do possess cosmic unity.
The holographic paradigm has also received serious attention from
other areas of science. Stanislav Grof, chief of psychiatric research
at the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center and an assistant professor
of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, believes
it may explain 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 benefits of LSD as
a psychother<34>apeutic 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 in such a form, but noted that the portion of the male of the
species's anatomy she found most sexually arousing 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 knowledge about such things, a
conversation with a zoologist later confirmed that in 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
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 incarnations.
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 likeminded professionals
and has become 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 the 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 this
labyrinth and have transpersonal experiences no longer seems so strange.
The holographic paradigm 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
Even visions and experiences involving "non-ordinary" reality
become explainable under the holographic paradigm. In his book Gifts of
Unknown Things, biologist Lyall Watson describes his encounter with an
Indonesian shaman woman who, by performing a ritual dance, was able to
make an entire grove of trees instantly vanish into thin air. Watson
relates that as he and another astonished onlooker continued to watch
the woman, she caused the trees to reappear, then "click" off again and
on again several times in succession. Although current scientific
understanding is incapable of explaining such events, experiences like
this become more tenable if "hard" reality is only a holographic
projection. 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
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 make sense, and everything in reality would have to be seen as
a metaphor, for even the most haphazard events would express some
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."