The Holographic Universe

Michael Talbot (1991) New York: HarperCollins.


This paper is a review of The Holographic Universe It was written for a course in Technology and Learning at the University of Houston Clear Lake. Other texts of interest in instructional Technology are also being reviewed. Hot links to other reviews are available from the Index.


Michael Talbot explores an entirely new paradigm for reality. It is based on the work of two respected researchers: University of London quantum physicist David Brohm and Karl Pibram, a neurophysiologist at Stanford University, who arrived at the same conclusion independently. His conclusion that reality has hologtaphic properties is fascinating and radical.


Is it possible that the world we experience around us is only an illusion? Are the things we believe to have substance - our bodies, trees, flowers, the earth itself - really only "projections from a level of reality so beyond our own it is literally beyond space and time?" (p. 1) In his book, The Holographic Universe, Michael Talbot explores the theory that our reality, our universe, "is itself a kind of giant floating hologram." (p. 46 ) The theory is supported by some very prominent thinkers of our time. Talbot relies on the work of University of London quantum physicist David Brohm ( a protˇgˇ of Einstein's) and Karl Pibram, a neurophysiologist at Stanford University, who arrived at the same conclusion independently.

The book is divided into three sections. Part One "A Remarkable New View of Reality" offers the holographic model as an explanation of the functioning of the brain and even the functioning of the cosmos. Modern theories of how the brain stores memories, for example, do not explain how memories seem to be "distributed throughout the brain as a whole." Experiments with rats were done, where, after having been taught to run through various mazes, different portions of the rats' brains were surgically removed. No matter what portions of their brains were cut out, their memories of how to run the mazes were not eradicated. If memories had specific locations, then the rats would not be able to run the mazes after the "memory" had been cut out. In the holographic model, this is easily explained. If a piece of holographic film containing an image is cut into pieces, each piece still contains the entire image. "Every small fragment of holographic film contains all the information recorded in the whole." (p. 17) Therefore, the rats' memories must function like this holographic film. The author goes on to compare the various functions of the brain: vision, memory, recognition, and recall, to the holographic model. It seems that this theory can explain many things about the functioning of the brain that until now were a mystery.

In chapter two of Part One, "The Cosmos as Hologram," the author discusses eminent physicist David Bohm's dissatisfaction with the unexplained dual nature of subatomic particles - the fact that they behave sometimes as particles and sometimes as waves. Even quantum physics suggests an interconnectedness in all matter that can't be explained. According to Bohm, the holographic model can explain it. He says that our level of reality makes it appear as if things are separated, but in a deeper level of reality "everything in the universe is part of a continuum." (Bohm, p. 48)

In Part Two "Mind and Body," Talbot discusses the psychological aspects of the holographic model. According to Bohm, "In a universe in which all things are infinitely interconnected, all consciousnesses are also interconnected. Despite appearances, we are beings without borders. Deep down the consciousness of mankind is one." (p. 60) The holographic theory, according to the author, can explain many psychological phenomena. Some of these include psychic phenomena, the ability to see "auras", psychosis, the power of the mind to heal using visualization techniques, effects of placebos on healing, lucid dreaming and altered states of consciousness. The power of the mind is awesome and remains untapped. The author believes that by understanding the holographic model we can learn to access these powers. "In the implicate order, as in the brain itself, imagination and reality are ultimately indistinguishable, and it should therefore come as no surprise to us that images in the mind can ultimately manifest as realities in the physical body." (p. 84)

In part three, "Space and Time," Talbot tells us there is no linear time in the implicate order. He documents case after case of people who have the ability to transport themselves back and forth in time, have out-of-body experiences (OBE's), and return from near-death (NDE's). Retrocognition and precognition are innate in all of us. It's just that somewhere along the line of all this "civilizing" we've been doing the past few thousand years, we have let the ability atrophy. Education has brought us an attitude change that leaves no room for these phenomena. A holographic understanding of time may help us retrieve these abilities.

Even though the author is dealing with the complex scientific concepts of quantum physics, the text is easily read and it is not necessary to be a scientist to understand it. In the first section of the book, the author relates an analogy that Bohm used to explain the connection between subatomic particles that appear to be separate from one another:

Imagine a fish swimming in an aquarium. Imagine also that you have never seen a fish or an aquarium before and your only knowledge about them comes from two television cameras, one directed at the aquarium's front and the other at its side. When you look at the two television monitors you might mistakenly assume that the fish on 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 you will eventually realize there is a relationship between the two fish. When one turns, the other makes a slightly different but corresponding turn. When one faces the front, the other faces the side, and so on. If you are unaware of the full scope of the situation, you might wrongly conclude that the fish are instantaneously communicating with one another, but this is not the case. No communication is taking place because at a deeper level of reality, the reality of the aquarium, the two fish are actually one and the same. This, says Bohm, is precisely what is going on between particles such as the two photons emitted when a positronium atom decays. (p. 42) With analogies like this one, Talbot captures a concept visually for us. This is what makes this book extraordinary - the fact that he can convey complex physics verbally.

The last section of the book, "Space and Time," also conjures up the complexities of physics as seen in part one; however, the result is disappointing. The author chooses to relate concepts in terms of the arcane phenomenological experiences that are documented anecdotally, but without the hard scientific analogy of the first section. He doesn't deal with "space and time" scientifically, but rather more "mystically." We are asked to take a leap of faith and accept these concepts on the sheer volume of their alleged occurrences. I really wanted to see in what ways these occurrences could add to or subtract from the theory of relativity and Einstein's ideas about the space-time continuum.

Talbot tells us that the holographic theory provides a profound new way of looking at the world: Our brains mathematically construct objective reality by interpreting frequencies that are ultimately projections from another dimension, a deeper order of existence that is beyond both space and time: The brain is a hologram enfolded in a holographic universe. (p. 54)

Talbot's extensive source of references and the credentials of those who support the theory are convincing. He weaves a thread of consistency that begins with ancient cultures and how their beliefs echo holographic concepts. For example, Buddhists understand the indivisible nature of the universe and reality: the part is the whole. For the Hindus, nature is an illusion and Brahman the illusion maker. The twelfth century Sufis embraced the ancient Greek philosophers' idea that "the macrocosm is the microcosm." It took the invention of the laser and the holographic process, barely a generation ago, to give modern man a paradigm of reality that the ancients had already understood.

As educators it is helpful when attempting to design instructional materials that we understand how the brain functions. Indeed, we must understand how we perceive reality. The implications for education are profound if we accept the holographic model. It is doubtful that the scientific and educational community will begin operating from this paradigm of reality any time soon. The nature of modern science today is to deny the metaphysical. In his final chapter, Talbot calls for a basic restructuring of science, for an acceptance of psychic and spiritual phenomena. At the very least, teachers and instructional designers can design programs that leave room for the "fringe" theories so as not to stifle these innate psychic abilities that Talbot claims we all have.


The Holographic Universe is written in remarkably easy to understand prose - especially for the non-scientist. The book's structure is simple and it flows nicely. The controversial theory is supported by many prominent thinkers. If education is about expanding the mind then this book should be required reading for all educators. Talbot makes the point in the section on near-death experiences that all those who have returned to life from near-death are convinced that our main purpose in this existence is to learn as much as we can. This book is an excellent beginning in expanding our knowledge of ourselves and our universe.

This is Another Reveiw of "The Holographic Universe" Author: Sandy Bogus

An excerpt from Holographic Universe


In the movie Star Wars, Luke Skywalker's adventure begins when a beam of light shoots out of the robot Artoo Detoo and projects a miniature three-dimensional image of Princess Leia. Luke watches spellbound as the ghostly sculpture of light begs for someone named Obi-wan Kenobi to come to her assistance. The image is a hologram, a three-dimensional picture made with the aid of a laser, and the technological magic required to make such images is remarkable. But what is even more astounding is that some scientists are beginning to believe the universe itself is a kind of giant hologram, a splendidly detailed illusion no more or less real than the image of Princess Leia that starts Luke on his quest.

Put another way, there is evidence to suggest that our world and everything in it--from snowflakes to maple trees to falling stars and spinning electrons--are also only ghostly images, projections from a level of reality so beyond our own it is literally beyond both space and time.

The main architects of this astonishing idea are two of the world's most eminent thinkers: University of London physicist David Bohm, a protege of Einstein's and one of the world's most respected quantum physicists; and Karl Pribram, a neurophysiologist at Stanford University and author of the classic neuropsychological textbook Languages of the Brain. Intriguingly, Bohm and Pribram arrived at their conclusions independently and while working from two very different directions. Bohm became convinced of the universe's holographic nature only after years of dissatisfaction with standard theories' inability to explain all of the phenomena encountered in quantum physics. Pribram became convinced because of the failure of standard theories of the brain to explain various neurophysiological puzzles.

However, after arriving at their views, Bohm and Pribram quickly realized the holographic model explained a number of other mysteries as well, including the apparent inability of any theory, no matter how comprehensive, ever to account for all the phenomena encountered in nature; the ability of individuals with hearing in only one ear to determine the direction from which a sound originates; and our ability to recognize the face of someone we have not seen for many years even if that person has changed considerably in the interim.

But the most staggering thing about the holographic model was that it suddenly made sense of a wide range of phenomena so elusive they generally have been categorized outside the province of scientific understanding. These include telepathy, precognition, mystical feelings of oneness with the universe, and even psychokinesis, or the ability of the mind to move physical objects without anyone touching them.

Indeed, it quickly became apparent to the ever growing number of scientists who came to embrace the holographic model that it helped explain virtually all paranormal and mystical experiences, and in the last half-dozen years or so it has continued to galvanize researchers and shed light on an increasing number of previously inexplicable phenomena. For example:

In 1980 University of Connecticut psychologist Dr. Kenneth Ring proposed that near-death experiences could be explained by the holographic model. Ring, who is president of the International Association for Near-Death Studies, believes such experiences, as well as death itself, are really nothing more than the shifting of a person's consciousness from one level of the hologram of reality to another.

In 1985 Dr. Stanislav Grof, chief of psychiatric research at the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center and an assistant professor of psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, published a book in which he concluded that existing neurophysiological models of the brain are inadequate and only a holographic model can explain such things as archetypal experiences, encounters with the collective unconscious, and other unusual phenomena experienced during altered states of consciousness.

At the 1987 annual meeting of the Association for the Study of Dreams held in Washington, D.C., physicist Fred Alan Wolf delivered a talk in which he asserted that the holographic model explains lucid dreams (unusually vivid dreams in which the dreamer realizes he or she is awake). Wolf believes such dreams are actually visits to parallel realities, and the holographic model will ultimately allow us to develop a "physics of consciousness" which will enable us to begin to explore more fully these other-dimensional levels of existence.

In his 1987 book entitled Synchronicity: The Bridge Between Matter and Mind, Dr. F. David Feat, a physicist at Queen's University in Canada, asserted that synchronicities (coincidences that are so unusual and so psychologically meaningful they don't seem to be the result of chance alone) can be explained by the holographic model. Peat believes such coincidences are actually "flaws in the fabric of reality." They reveal that our thought processes are much more intimately connected to the physical world than has been hitherto suspected.

These are only a few of the thought-provoking ideas that will be explored in this book. Many of these ideas are extremely controversial. Indeed, the holographic model itself is highly controversial and is by no means accepted by a majority of scientists. Nonetheless, and as we shall see, many important and impressive thinkers do support it and believe it may be the most accurate picture of reality we have to date.

The holographic model has also received some dramatic experimental support. In the field of neurophysiology numerous studies have corroborated Pribram's various predictions about the holographic nature of memory and perception. Similarly, in 1982 a landmark experiment performed by a research team led by physicist Alain Aspect at the Institute of Theoretical and Applied Optics, in Paris, demonstrated that the web of subatomic particles that compose our physical uni- verse 'he very fabric of reality itself--possesses what appears to be an undeniable "holographic" property. These findings will also be discussed in the book.

In addition to the experimental evidence, several other things add weight to the holographic hypothesis. Perhaps the most important considerations are the character and achievements of the two men who originated the idea. Early in their careers, and before the holographic model was even a glimmer in their thoughts, each amassed accomplishments that would inspire most researchers to spend the rest of their academic lives resting on their laurels. In the 1940s Pribram did pioneering work on the limbic system, a region of the brain involved in emotions and behavior. Bohm's work in plasma physics in the 1950s is also considered landmark.

But even more significantly, each has distinguished himself in an other way. It is a way even the most accomplished men and women can seldom call their own, for it is measured not by mere intelligence or even talent. It is measured by courage, the tremendous resolve it takes to stand up for one's convictions even in the face of overwhelming opposition. While he was a graduate student, Bohm did doctoral work with Robert Oppenheimer. Later, in 1951, when Oppenheimer came under the perilous scrutiny of Senator Joseph McCarthy's Committee on Un-American Activities, Bohm was called to testify against him and refused. As a result he lost his job at Princeton and never again taught in the United States, moving first to Brazil and then to London.

Early in his career Pribram faced a similar test of mettle. In 1935 a Portuguese neurologist named Egas Moniz devised what he believed was the perfect treatment for mental illness. He discovered that by boring into an individual's skull with a surgical pick and severing the prefrontal cortex from the rest of the brain he could make the most troublesome patients docile. He called the procedure a prefrontal lobotomy, and by the 1940s it had become such a popular medical technique that Moniz was awarded the Nobel Prize. In the 1950s the procedure's popularity continued and it became a tool, like the McCarthy hearings, to stamp out cultural undesirables. So accepted was its use for this purpose that the surgeon Waiter Freeman, the most outspoken advocate for the procedure in the United States, wrote unashamedly that lobotomies "made good American citizens" out of society's misfits, "schizophrenics, homosexuals, and radicals."

During this time Pribram came on the medical scene. However, unlike many of his peers, Pribram felt it was wrong to tamper so recklessly with the brain of another. So deep were his convictions that while working as a young neurosurgeon in Jacksonville, Florida, he opposed the accepted medical wisdom of the day and refused to allow any lobotomies to be performed in the ward he was overseeing. Later at Yale he maintained his controversial stance, and his then radical views very nearly lost him his job.

Bohm and Pribram's commitment to stand up for what they believe in, regardless of the consequences, is also evident in the holographic model. As we shall see, placing their not inconsiderable reputations behind such a controversial idea is not the easiest path either could have taken. Both their courage and the vision they have demonstrated in the past again add weight to the holographic idea.

One final piece of evidence in favor of the holographic model is the paranormal itself. This is no small point, for in the last several decades a remarkable body of evidence has accrued suggesting that our current understanding of reality, the solid and comforting sticks-and- stones picture of the world we all learned about in high-school science class, is wrong. Because these findings cannot be explained by any of our standard scientific models, science has in the main ignored them. However, the volume of evidence has reached the point where this is no longer a tenable situation.

To give just one example, in 1987, physicist Robert G. Jahn and clinical psychologist Brenda J. Dunne, both at Princeton University, announced that after a decade of rigorous experimentation by their Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research Laboratory, they had accumulated unequivocal evidence that the mind can psychically interact with physical reality. More specifically, Jahn and Dunne found that through mental concentration alone, human beings are able to affect the way certain kinds of machines operate. This is an astounding finding and one that cannot be accounted for in terms of our standard picture of reality.

It can be explained by the holographic view, however. Conversely, because paranormal events cannot be accounted for by our current scientific understandings, they cry out for a new way of looking at the universe, a new scientific paradigm. In addition to showing how the holographic model can account for the paranormal, the book will also examine how mounting evidence in favor of the paranormal in turn actually seems to necessitate the existence of such a model.

The fact that the paranormal cannot be explained by our current scientific worldview is only one of the reasons it remains so controversial. Another is that psychic functioning is often very difficult to pin down in the lab, and this has caused many scientists to conclude it therefore does not exist. This apparent elusiveness will also be discussed in the book.

An even more important reason is that contrary to what many of us have come to believe, science is not prejudice-free. I first learned this a number of years ago when I asked a well-known physicist what he thought about a particular parapsychological experiment. The physicist (who had a reputation for being skeptical of the paranormal) looked at me and with great authority said the results revealed "no evidence of any psychic functioning whatsoever." I had not yet seen the results, but because I respected the physicist's intelligence and reputation, I accepted his judgment without question. Later when I examined the results for myself, I was stunned to discover the experiment had produced very striking evidence of psychic ability. I realized then that even well-known scientists can possess biases and blind spots.

Unfortunately this is a situation that occurs often in the investigation of the paranormal. In a recent article in American Psychologist, Yale psychologist Irvin L. Child examined how a well-known series of ESP dream experiments conducted at the Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York, had been treated by the scientific establishment. Despite the dramatic evidence supportive of ESP uncovered by the experimenters, Child found their work had been almost completely ignored by the scientific community. Even more distressing, in the handful of scientific publications that had bothered to comment on the experiments, he found the research had been so "severely distorted" its importance was completely obscured.'

How is this possible? One reason is science is not always as objective as we would like to believe. We view scientists with a bit of awe, and when they tell us something we are convinced it must be true. We forget they are only human and subject to the same religious, philosophical, and cultural prejudices as the rest of us. This is unfortunate, for as this book will show, there is a great deal of evidence that the universe encompasses considerably more than our current worldview allows.

But why is science so resistant to the paranormal in particular? This is a more difficult question. In commenting on the resistance he experienced to his own unorthodox views on health, Yale surgeon Dr. Bernie S. Siegel, author of the best-selling book "Love, Medicine, and Miracles", asserts that it is because people are addicted to their beliefs. Siegel says this is why when you try to change someone's belief they act like an addict.

There seems to be a good deal of truth to Siegel's observation, which perhaps is why so many of civilization's greatest insights and advances have at first been greeted with such passionate denial. We are addicted to our beliefs and we do act like addicts when someone tries to wrest from us the powerful opium of our dogmas. And since Western science has devoted several centuries to not believing in the paranormal, it is not going to surrender its addiction lightly.

I am lucky. I have always known there was more to the world than is generally accepted. I grew up in a psychic family, and from an early age I experienced firsthand many of the phenomena that will be talked about in this book. Occasionally, and when it is relevant to the topic being discussed, I will relate a few of my own experiences. Although they can only be viewed as anecdotal evidence, for me they have provided the most compelling proof of all that we live in a universe we are only just beginning to fathom, and I include them because of the insight they offer.

Lastly, because the holographic concept is still very much an idea in the making and is a mosaic of many different points of view and pieces of evidence, some have argued that it should not be called a model or theory until these disparate points of view are integrated into a more unified whole. As a result, some researchers refer to the ideas as the holographic paradigm. Others prefer holographic analogy, holographic metaphor, and so on. In this book and for the sake of diversity I have employed all of these expressions, including holographic model and holographic theory, but do not mean to imply that the holographic idea has achieved the status of a model or theory in the strictest sense of these terms.

In this same vein it is important to note that although Bohm and Pribram are the originators of the holographic idea, they do not embrace all of the views and conclusions put forward in this book. Rather, this is a book that looks not only at Bohm and Pribram's theories, but at the ideas and conclusions of numerous researchers who have been influenced by the holographic model and who have interpreted it in their own sometimes controversial ways.

Throughout this book I also discuss various ideas from quantum physics, the branch of physics that studies subatomic particles (electrons, protons, and so on). Because I have written on this subject before, I am aware that some people are intimidated by the term quantum physics and are afraid they will not be able to understand its concepts. My experience has taught me that even those who do not know any mathematics are able to understand the kinds of ideas from physics that are touched upon in this book. You do not even need a background in science. All you need is an open mind if you happen to glance at a page and see a scientific term you do not know. I have kept such terms down to a minimum, and on those occasions when it was necessary to use one, I always explain it before continuing on with the text.

So don't be afraid. Once you have overcome your "fear of the water," I think you'll find swimming among quantum physics' strange and fascinating ideas much easier than you thought. I think you'll also find that pondering a few of these ideas might even change the way you look at the world. In fact, it is my hope that the ideas contained in the following

Another reviewof The book "the holographic Universe"