Home Pages

The Holographic Universe
by Michael Talbot

Chapter One

The Brain as Hologram
It isn't that the world of appearances is wrong; it isn't that there aren't objects out there, at one level of reality. It's that if you penetrate through and look at the universe with a holographic system, you arrive at a different view, a different reality. And that other reality can explain things that have hitherto remained inexplicable scientifically: paranormal phenomena, synchronicities, the apparently meaningful coincidence of events.

--Karl Pribram in an interview in Psychology Today
The puzzle that first started Pribram on the road to formulating his holographic model was the question of how and where memories are stored in the brain. In the early 1940s, when he first became interested in this mystery, it was generally believed that memories were localized in the brain. Each memory a person had, such as the memory of the last time you saw your grandmother, or the memory of the fragrance of a gardenia you sniffed when you were sixteen, was believed to have a specific location somewhere in the brain cells. Such memory traces were called engrams, and although no one knew what an engram was made of -- whether it was a neuron or perhaps even a special kind of molecule -- most scientists were confident it was only a matter of time before one would be found.

There were reasons for this confidence. Research conducted by Canadian neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield in the 1920s had offered convincing evidence that specific memories did have specific locations in the brain. One of the most unusual features of the brain is that the object itself doesn't sense pain directly. As long as the scalp and skull have been deadened with a local anesthetic, surgery can be performed on the brain of a fully conscious person without causing any pain.

In a series of landmark experiments, Penfield used this fact to his advantage. While operating on the brains of epileptics, he would electrically stimulate various areas of their brain cells. To his amazement he found that when he stimulated the temporal lobes (the region of the brain behind the temples) of one of his fully conscious patients, they reexperienced memories of past episodes from their lives in vivid detail. One man suddenly relived a conversation he had had with friends in South Africa; a boy heard his mother talking on the telephone and after several touches from Penfield's electrode was able to repeat her entire conversation; a woman found herself in her kitchen and could hear her son playing outside. Even when Penfield tried to mislead his patients by telling them he was stimulating a different area when he was not, he found that when he touched the same spot it always evoked the same memory.

In his book The Mystery of the Mind, published in 1975, just shortly before his death, he wrote, "It was evident at once that these were not dreams. They were electrical activations of the sequential record of consciousness, a record that had been laid down during the patient's earlier experience. The patient 're-lived' all that he had been aware of in that earlier period of time as in a moving-picture 'flashback.'"

From his research Penfield concluded that everything we have ever experienced is recorded in our brain, from every stranger's face we have glanced at in a crowd to every spider web we gazed at as a child. He reasoned that this was why memories of so many insignificant events kept cropping up in his sampling. If our memory is a complete record of even the most mundane of our day-to-day experiences, it is reasonable to assume that dipping randomly into such a massive chronicle would produce a good deal of trifling information.

As a young neurosurgery resident, Pribram had no reason to doubt Penfield's engram theory. But then something happened that was to change his thinking forever. In 1946 he went to work with the great neuropsychologist Karl Lashley at the Yerkes Laboratory of Primate Biology, then in Orange Park, Florida. For over thirty years Lashley had been involved in his own ongoing search for the elusive mechanisms responsible for memory, and there Pribram was able to witness the fruits of Lashley's labors firsthand. What was startling was that not only had Lashley failed to produce any evidence of the engram, but his research actually seemed to pull the rug out from under all of Penfield's findings.

What Lashley had done was to train rats to perform a variety of tasks, such as run a maze. Then he surgically removed various portions of their brains and retested them. His aim was literally to cut out the area of the rats' brains containing the memory of their mazerunning ability. To his surprise he found that no matter what portion of their brains he cut out, he could not eradicate their memories. Often the rats' motor skills were impaired and they stumbled clumsily through the mazes, but even with massive portions of their brains removed, their memories remained stubbornly intact.

For Pribram these were incredible findings. If memories possessed specific locations in the brain in the same way that books possess specific locations on library shelves, why didn't Lashley's surgical plunderings have any effect on them? For Pribram the only answer seemed to be that memories were not localized at specific brain sites, but were somehow spread out or distributed throughout the brain as a whole. The problem was that he knew of no mechanism or process that could account for such a state of affairs.

Lashley was even less certain and later wrote, "I sometimes feel, in reviewing the evidence on the localization of the memory trace, that the necessary conclusion is that learning just is not possible at all. Nevertheless, in spite of such evidence against it, learning does sometimes occur." In 1948 Pribram was offered a position at Yale, and before leaving he helped write up thirty years of Lashley's monumental research.

Holographic Universe. Copyright by Michael Talbot. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Book Reviews Are individual experiences valid scientific data?, January 8, 2001 Reviewer: blisscoach (see more about me) from Moab, UT
USA This is one of the most provocative books I have read in years. In the first few chapters Mr. Talbot describes the emerging holographic paradigm in science, drawing on David Bohm's work in quantum physics and Karl Pribam's work in neuroscience. I found both descriptions to be fascinating, and especially enjoyed the historical context for the work of these two seminal thinkers. As a person with a master's degree in neuroscience and chaos/complexity theory, I found a couple of his simplifications misleading, but would give him high marks for his overall comprehension of the conclusions of Pribam and his followers.

The remaining 2/3 of the book is a discussion of how the holographic paradigm may provide a rational basis for interpreting a wide variety of phenomenon located around the fringes of established science. He looks at everything from strange historical "miracles" like stigmata and appearances of the Virgin Mary to modern psychic abilities and LSD experiences, from out-of-body and near-death-experiences to UFO abductions. In addition, he compares language used in the modern scientific discussion of holography with the language used by ancient mystical traditions. Mr. Talbot's writing style is unusually clear and lucid. All of this makes for a highly engaging book. It kept me up late every night for more than a week. I am a person who has had an OBE/NDE (out-of-body, near-death-experience), and can tell you that his description of such events is an astoundingly accurate portrayal of what I experienced.

I am also a scientist, and know that most of my highly rational, empirical colleages would have trouble accepting a majority of Mr. Talbot's conclusions. This work addresses something so completely out of the realm of everyday experience for most people, and probes a world that is normally invisible to the five senses. Hence, objective, empirical science -- as defined by a conventional theorist or practicing technician -- simply cannot address these experiences. They are outside the range of focus of the tool that Western minds currently rely on.

The service that Mr. Talbot provides is a challenge to rethink the conventional definition of science so that it can take into account a much wider range of human experience. What he argues for is the acceptance, as valid scientific data, of the experiences of individual humans, across cultures and throughout history, that are remarkably consistent with one another. These experiences address aspects of reality that are invisible to the skeptical eye, but become obvious to the person who chooses to develop other forms of perception.

As a person who was unwittingly thrown into an OBE/NDE experience, I am naturally inclined to read a book like this one with an open mind, and felt immensely rewarded for doing so. However, if I had reviewed the same book before having my own personal experience of some of the phenomena it describes, I would have reviewed it as a new-age excursion into a realm of fantasy. I am completely sympathetic to some of the reviewers who see it that way, and respectfully disagree.

I believe there is an extraordinary synthesis happening among the realms of human experience, one that can validate each individual's story, however unusual, and also one that honors all the different ways of knowing. I see Mr. Talbot's work as one of the more important bridges yet constructed between traditional science and spirituality, between rational discourse about repeatable, empirically verifiable phenomenon and the quirky, esoteric or mythological elements of personal experience that actually define most people's experience of reality. This book is a "must read" for any passionate seeker of truth. ~~~~~~~~~~

Excellent and makes you rethink your view of reality!, September 10, 2000 Reviewer: Winston from Washington state
This is definitely a must read for anyone who ever pondered the meaning of reality or the universe. It puts together a big picture of all kinds of phenomenon and how they exist. So many things about our mind, our world, and our universe are explained if we adopt a holographic paradigm. There is convincing scientific evidence to support this too, such as the 1982 Alan Aspect experiment that showed that there was no locality between the twin particles. This book is not some wacky theory, because it contains quotes and studies from credible people and sources. In addition, the holographic theory is consistent with the view of reality by mystics and the idea that we are all connected and one, which is why love is so important because it brings unity.

The only unanswered question I have that this book didn't seem to answer is this: If the universe is a hologram, then how is it that matter is solid to the touch? Why does my hand not pass through this table in front of me if it is a hologram? Upon reading the first 2 chapters closely, it appears that the answer to my question is that since our hands and our bodies are PART of the hologram of the universe, it would "feel" that other objects are solid too. I am not sure of this though, but that is my interpretation of it. If anyone else who has read the book knows the answer to my question, feel free to let me know. My email address is WWu777@aol.com Thanks, Winston ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Our Universe Is Not What It Seems....., May 23, 2002 Reviewer: chad steingraber (see more about me) from Lake Dallas, TX
Only one word can describe this book...., WOW. Nothing in this book is an actual recognised theory, but it makes sense. It makes so much sense that it's hard to understand why it isn't a full blown theory yet, or that many progressive scientists haven't caught on to it yet. For instance, the brain works like a hologram. All memories are stored in the brain at every single point in the brain. 98% of the brain can be removed (any given 98%) and NO MEMORY loss will occur. Any part of the brain can recall every single memory you've every had...and what works like this? A hologram. Every piece of the original object contains the entire stucture of the whole.

This book coroborates modern science with ancient knowledge that our 3D universe is just an illusion, that none of this physicalness is real. And, maybe that's the "danger-zone" that nobody wants to cross into yet. Because, then, what does this elude to? It would mean our higher dimensional selves are our true selves and this physical 3D version is just a reflection. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Editorial Reviews From Book News, Inc. Talbot explains the theory advanced by U. of London physicist David Bohm and Stanford U. neurophysiologist Karl Pribram
that despite its apparent tangible reality, the universe is actually a kind of three- dimensional projection and is ultimately no more real than a hologram, a three-dimensional image projected into space. Annotation copyright Book News, Inc. Portland, Or An interesting and thought provoking book, May 12, 2002 Reviewer: A reader from Toronto A friend recommended this book and I bought & read it blindly not knowing what it was about or what to expect.

It started out very scientific; with facts & experiments. For example it talks about how holograms are stored and projected, then it goes on to discuss how holographic type of storage may be used by our brains. This was just an amazing read.

Then a little past half way, the book started to take on a more spiritual aspect ... this kind of caught me off guard, but I kept reading anyway. As it turns out, it presented to me alot of alternate thoughts about the world. I didn't agree with everything it put forth, but it really presented something to think about.

This is definitely one of the most important books I've ever read. Even now, years later, I think about the concepts in this book regularly.

Email: bobcolee@yahoo.com