Resonating with the World

Virtually every experiment had been a failure. The rats were not performing as expected.


The entire point of the exercise, as far as Karl Lashley was concerned, had been to find where the engrams were - the precise location in the brain where memories were stored.


The name ‘engram’ had been coined by Wilder Penfield in the 1920s after he thought he’d discovered that memories had an exact address in the brain.


Penfield had performed extraordinary research on epileptic patients with anaesthetized scalps while they were fully conscious, showing that if he stimulated certain parts of their brains with electrodes, specific scenes from their past could be evoked in living color and excruciating detail.


Even more amazingly, whenever he had stimulated the same spot in the brain (often unbeknownst to the patient) it seemed to elicit the same flashback, with the same level of detail.

Penfield, and an army of scientists after him, naturally concluded that certain portions of the brain were allotted to hold captive specific memories.


Every last detail of our lives had been carefully encoded in specific spots in the brain, like guests at a restaurant placed at certain tables by a particularly exacting maitre d’. All we needed to find was who was sitting where - and, perhaps as a bonus, who the maitre d’ was.

For nearly 30 years Lashley, a renowned American neuropsychologist, had been looking for engrams. It was 1946, and at his laboratory at the Yerkes Laboratory of Primate Biology in Florida, he’d been searching across all sorts of species to find out what it was in the brain - or where it was - that was responsible for memory.


He’d thought that he would be amplifying Penfield’s findings, when all he seemed to be doing was proving him wrong. Lashley tended to the hypercritical, and small wonder. It was as though his life’s entire oeuvre had a singularly negative purpose: to disprove all the work of his forebears.


The other gospel of the time that still held the scientific community in thrall, but which Lashley was busily disproving, was the notion that every psychological process had a measurable physical manifestation - the move of a muscle, the secretion of a chemical. Once again, the brain was simply, fussily, the maitre d’.

Although he’d mainly been working in primate research in his early work, he’d then moved onto rats. He’d built them a jumping stand, where they learned to jump through miniature doors to reach a reward of food. To underscore the object of the exercise, those that didn’t respond correctly fell into pond water.1

Once he was convinced that they’d learned the routine, Lashley systematically set about trying to surgically blot out that memory. For all his criticism of the failings of other researchers, Lashley’s own surgical technique was a mess - a makeshift and hurried operation. His was a laboratory protocol that would have incensed any modern-day animal-rights champion.


Lashley didn’t employ aseptic technique, largely because it wasn’t considered necessary for rats. He was a crude and sloppy surgeon, by any medical standard, possibly deliberately so, sewing up wounds with a simple stitch - a perfect recipe for brain infection in larger mammals - but no cruder than most brain researchers of the day. After all, none of Ivan Pavlov’s dogs survived his brain surgery, all succumbing to brain abscesses or epilepsy.2


Lashley sought to deactivate certain portions of his rats’ brains to find which part held the precious key to specific memories. To accomplish this delicate task he chose as his surgical instrument his wife’s curling iron - a curling iron! - and simply burned off the part he wished to remove.3

His initial attempts to find the seat of specific memories failed; the rats, though sometimes even physically impaired, remembered exactly what they’d been taught. Lashley fried more and more sections of brain; the rats still seemed to make it through the jumping stand.


Lashley became even more liberal with the curling iron, working through one part of the brain to the next, but still it didn’t seem to have any effect on the rat’s ability to remember. Even when he’d injured the vast majority of the brains of individual rats - and a curling iron caused much more damage to the brain than any clean surgical cut - their motor skills might be impaired, and they might stagger disjointedly along, but the rats always remembered the routine.

Although they represented a failure of sorts, the results appealed to the iconoclast in Lashley.


The rats had confirmed what he had long suspected. In his 1929 monograph Brain Mechanisms and Intelligence, a small work that had first gained him notoriety with its radical notions, Lashley had already elucidated his view that cortical function appeared to be equally potent everywhere.4


As he would later point out, the necessary conclusion from all his experimental work,

‘is that learning just is not possible at all’.5

When it came to cognition, for all intents and purposes, the brain was a mush.6

For Karl Pribram, a young neurosurgeon who’d relocated to Florida just to do research with the great man, Lashley’s failures were something of a revelation.


Pribram had bought Lashley’s monograph for ten cents secondhand, and when he first arrived in Florida, he hadn’t been shy about challenging it with the same fervor Lashley had reserved for many of his peers. Lashley had been stimulated by his bright upstart apprentice, whom he would eventually regard as the closest he ever had to a son.

All of Pribram’s own views about memory and the brain’s higher cognitive processes were being turned on their heads. If there was no one single spot where specific memories were stored - and Lashley had burnt, variously, every part of a rat’s brain - then our memories and possibly other higher cognitive processes - indeed, everything that we term ‘perception’ - must somehow be distributed throughout the brain.

In 1948, Pribram, who was 29 at the time, accepted a position at Yale University, which had the best neuroscience laboratory in the world.


His intention was to study the functions of the frontal cortex of monkeys, in an attempt to understand the effects of frontal lobotomies being performed on thousands of patients at the time. Teaching and carrying out research appealed to him far more than the lucrative life of a neurosurgeon; at one point some years later he would turn down a $100,000 salary at New York’s Mt Sinai for the relatively impoverished salary of a professor.


Like Edgar Mitchell, Pribram always thought of himself as an explorer, rather than a doctor or healer; as an eight-year-old he’d read over and over - at least a dozen times - the exploits of Admiral Byrd in navigating the North Pole. America itself represented a new frontier to conquer for the boy, who’d arrived at that age from Vienna.


Pribram was the son of a famous biologist who’d relocated his family to the US in 1927 because he’d felt that Europe, war-torn and impoverished after the First World War, was no place to raise a child.


As an adult, possibly because he’d been so slight of build and not really the stuff of hearty physical exploration (in later life he’d resemble an elfin version of Albert Einstein, with the same majestic drapery of white shoulder-length hair) Karl chose the human brain as his exploratory terrain.

After leaving Lashley and Florida, Pribram would spend the next 20 years pondering the mysteries surrounding the organization of the brain, perception and consciousness.


He would set up his own experiments on monkeys and cats, painstakingly carrying out systems studies to work out what part of the brain does what. His laboratory was among the first to identify the location of cognitive processes, emotion and motivation, and he was extraordinarily successful. His experiments clearly showed that all these functions had a specific address in the brain - a finding that Lashley was hard-pressed to believe.

What puzzled him most was a fundamental paradox: cognitive processing had very precise locations in the brain, but within these locations, the processing itself seemed to be determined by, as Lashley had put it,

‘masses of excitations... without regard to particular nerve cells’.7

It was true that parts of the brain performed specific functions, but the actual processing of the information seemed to be carried out by something more basic than particular neurons - certainly something that was not particular to any group of cells.


For instance, storage appeared to be distributed throughout a specific location and sometimes beyond. But through what mechanism was this possible?

Like Lashley, much of Pribram’s early work on higher perception appeared to contradict the received wisdom of the day. The accepted view of vision - for the most part still accepted today - is that the eye ‘sees’ by having a photographic image of the scene or object reproduced onto the cortical surface of the brain, the part which receives and interprets vision like an internal movie projector.


If this were true, the electrical activity in the visual cortex should mirror precisely what is being viewed - and this is true to some extent at a very gross level. But in a number of experiments, Lashley had discovered that you could sever virtually all of a cat’s optic nerve without apparently interfering whatsoever with its ability to see what it was doing.


To his astonishment, the cat apparently continued to see every detail as it was able to carry out complicated visual tasks. If there were something like an internal movie screen, it was as though the experimenters had just demolished all but a few inches of the projector, and yet all of the movie was as clear as it had been before.8

In other experiments, Pribram and his associates had trained a monkey to press a certain bar if he was shown a card with a circle on it and another bar if shown a card with stripes. Planted in the monkey’s visual cortex were electrodes which would register the brain waves when the monkey saw a circle or stripes. What Pribram was testing for was simply to see if the brain waves differed according to the shape on the card.

What he discovered instead was that the monkey’s brain not only registered a difference related to the design on the card, but also whether he’d pressed the right bar and even his intention to press the bar before he did.


This result convinced Pribram that control was being formulated and sent down from higher areas in the brain to the more primary receiving stations.


This must mean that something far more complicated was happening than what was widely believed at the time, which was that we see and respond to outside stimuli through a simple tunnel flow of information, which flows in from our sense organs to the brain and flows out from the brain to our muscles and glands.9

Pribram spent a number of years conducting studies measuring the brain activities of monkeys as they performed certain tasks, to see if he could isolate any further the precise location where patterns and colors were being perceived. His studies kept coming up with yet more evidence that brain response was distributed in patches all across the cortex.


In another study, this time of newborn cats, which had been given contact lenses with either vertical or horizontal stripes, Pribram’s associates found that the behavior of the horizontally oriented cats wasn’t markedly different from that of the vertically oriented ones, even though their brain cells were now oriented either horizontally or vertically.


This meant that perception couldn’t be occurring with line detection.10


His experiments and those of others like Lashley were at odds with many of the prevailing neural theories of perception. Pribram was convinced that no images were being projected internally and that there must be some other mechanism allowing us to perceive the world as we do.11

Pribram had moved from Yale to the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University in 1958. He might never have formulated any alternative view if his friend Jack Hilgard, a noted psychologist at Stanford, hadn’t been updating a textbook in 1964 and needed some up-to-date view of perception.


The problem was that the old notions about electrical ‘image’ formation in the brain - the supposed correspondence between images in the world and the brain’s electrical firing - had been disproved by Pribram, and his own monkey studies made him extremely dubious about the latest, most popular theory of perception - that we know the world through line detectors.


Just to focus on a face would require a new huge computation by the brain anytime you moved a few inches away from it.


Hilgard kept pressing him. Pribram hadn’t a clue as to what kind of theory he could give his friend, and he kept racking his brain to offer up some positive angle. Then one of his colleagues chanced across an article in Scientific American by Sir John Eccles, the noted Australian physiologist, who postulated that imagination might have something to do with microwaves in the brain.


Just a week later, another article appeared, written by Emmet Leith, an engineer at the University of Michigan, about split laser beams and optical holography, a new technology.12

It had been right there, all along, right in front of his nose. This was just the metaphor he’d been looking for. The concept of wave fronts and holography seemed to hold the answer to questions he’d been posing for 20 years.


Lashley himself had formulated a theory of wave interference patterns in the brain but abandoned it because he couldn’t envision how they could be generated in the cortex.13


Eccles’ ideas appeared to solve that problem. Pribram now thought that the brain must somehow ‘read’ information by transforming ordinary images into wave interference patterns, and then transform them again into virtual images, just as a laser hologram is able to. The other mystery solved by the holographic metaphor would be memory.


Rather than precisely located anywhere, memory would be distributed everywhere, so that each part contained the whole.

During a UNESCO meeting in Paris, Pribram met up with Dennis Gabor, who’d won the Nobel prize in the 1940s for his discovery of holography in his quest to produce a microscope powerful enough to see an atom.


Gabor, the first engineer to win the Nobel prize in physics, had been working over the mathematics of light rays and wavelengths. In the process he’d discovered that if you split a light beam, photograph objects with it and store this information as wave interference patterns, you could get a better image of the whole than you could with the flat two dimensions you get by recording point-to-point intensity, the method used in ordinary photography.


For his mathematical calculations, Gabor had used a series of calculus equations called Fourier transforms, named after the French mathematician Jean Fourier, who’d developed it early in the nineteenth century. Fourier first began work on his system of analysis, which has gone on to be an essential tool of modern-day mathematics and computing, when working out, at Napoleon’s request, the optimum interval between shots of a cannon so that the barrel wouldn’t overheat.


Fourier’s method was eventually found to be able to break down and precisely describe patterns of any complexity into a mathematical language describing the relationships between quantum waves.


Any optical image could be converted into the mathematical equivalent of interference patterns, the information that results when waves superimpose on each other. In this technique, you also transfer something that exists in time and space into ‘the spectral domain’ - a kind of timeless, spaceless shorthand for the relationship between waves, measured as energy.


The other neat trick of the equations is that you can also use them in reverse, to take these components representing the interactions of waves - their frequency, amplitude and phase - and use them to reconstruct any image.14

The evening they were together, Pribram and Gabor drank a particularly memorable bottle of Beaujolais and covered three napkins with complicated Fourier equations, to work out how the brain might be capable of managing this intricate task of responding to certain wave-interference patterns and then converting this information into images.15


There were numerous fine points to be worked out in the laboratory; the theory wasn’t complete. But they were convinced of one thing: perception occurred as a result of a complex reading and transforming of information at a different level of reality.

To understand how this is possible, it’s useful to understand the special properties of waves, which are best illustrated in a laser optical hologram, the metaphor that so captured Pribram’s imagination. In a classic laser hologram, a laser beam is split. One portion is reflected off an object - a china teacup, say - the other is reflected by several mirrors.


They are then reunited and captured on a piece of photographic film. The result on the plate - which represents the interference pattern of these waves - resembles nothing more than a set of squiggles or concentric circles.

However, when you shine a light beam from the same kind of laser through the film, what you see is a fully realized, incredibly detailed, three-dimensional virtual image of the china teacup floating in space (an example of this is the image of Princess Leia which gets generated by R2D2 in the first movie of the Star Wars series).


The mechanism by which this works has to do with the properties of waves that enables them to encode information and also the special quality of a laser beam, which casts a pure light of only a single wavelength, acting as a perfect source to create interference patterns. When your split beams both arrive on the photographic plate, one half provides the patterns of the light source and the other picks up the configuration of the teacup and both together interfere. By shining the same type of light source on the film, you pick up the image that has been imprinted.


The other strange property of holography is that each tiny portion of the encoded information contains the whole of the image, so that if you chopped up your photographic plate into tiny pieces, and shone a laser beam on any one of them, you would get a full image of the teacup.

Although the metaphor of the holograph was important to Pribram, the real significance of his discovery was not holography per se, which conjures up a mental image of the three-dimensional ghostly projection, or a universe which is only our projection of it.


It was the unique ability of quantum waves to store vast quantities of information in a totality and in three dimensions, and for our brains to be able to read this information and from this to create the world. Here was finally a mechanical device that seemed to replicate the way that the brain actually worked: how images were formed, how they were stored and how they could be recalled or associated with something else.


Most important, it gave a clue to the biggest mystery of all for Pribram: how you could have localized tasks in the brain but process or store them throughout the larger whole. In a sense, holography is just convenient shorthand for wave interference - the language of The Field.

The final important aspect of Pribram’s brain theory, which would come a little later, had to do with another discovery of Gabor. He’d applied the same mathematics used by Heisenberg in quantum physics for communications - to work out the maximum amount that a telephone message could be compressed over the Atlantic cable.


Pribram and some of his colleagues went on to develop his hypothesis with a mathematical model demonstrating that this same mathematics also describes the processes of the human brain. He had come up with something so radical that it was almost unthinkable - a hot, living thing like the brain functioned according to the weird world of quantum theory.

When we observe the world, Pribram theorized, we do so on a much deeper level than the sticks-and-stones world ‘out there’. Our brain primarily talks to itself and to the rest of the body not with words or images, or even bits or chemical impulses, but in the language of wave interference: the language of phase, amplitude and frequency - the ‘spectral domain’.


We perceive an object by ‘resonating’ with it, getting ‘in synch’ with it. To know the world is literally to be on its wavelength.

Think of your brain as a piano. When we observe something in the world, certain portions of the brain resonate at certain specific frequencies. At any point of attention, our brain presses only certain notes, which trigger strings of a certain length and frequency.16


This information is then picked by the ordinary electrochemical circuits of the brain, just as the vibrations of the strings eventually resonate through the entire piano.

What had occurred to Pribram is that when we look at something, we don’t ‘see’ the image of it in the back of our heads or on the back of our retinas, but in three dimensions and out in the world. It must be that we are creating and projecting a virtual image of the object out in space, in the same place as the actual object, so that the object and our perception of the object coincide.


This would mean that the art of seeing is one of transforming. In a sense, in the act of observation, we are transforming the timeless, spaceless world of interference patterns into the concrete and discrete world of space and time - the world of the very apple you see in front of you. We create space and time on the surface of our retinas.


As with a hologram, the lens of the eye picks up certain interference patterns and then converts them into three-dimensional images. It requires this type of virtual projection for you reach out to touch an apple where it really is, not in some place inside your head. If we are projecting images all the time out in space, our image of the world is actually a virtual creation.

According to Pribram’s theory, when you first notice something, certain frequencies resonate in the neurons in your brain.


These neurons send information about these frequencies to another set of neurons. The second set of neurons makes a Fourier translation of these resonances and sends the resulting information to a third set of neurons, which then begins to construct a pattern that eventually will make up the virtual image you create of the apple out in space, on top of the fruit bowl.17


This three-fold process makes it far easier for the brain to correlate separate images - which is easily achieved when you are dealing with wave interference shorthand but extremely awkward with an actual real-life image.

After seeing, Pribram reasoned, the brain must then process this information in the shorthand of wave-frequency patterns and scatter these throughout the brain in a distributed network, like a local area network copying all major instructions for many employees in the office.


Storing memory in wave interference patterns is remarkably efficient, and would account for the vastness of human memory. Waves can hold unimaginable quantities of data - far more than the 280 quintillion (280,000,000,000,000,000,000) bits of information which supposedly constitute the average human memory accumulated through an average lifespan.18


It’s been said that with holographic wave-interference patterns, all of the US Library of Congress, which contains virtually every book ever published in English, would fit onto a large sugar cube.19


The holographic model would also account for the instant recall of memory, often as a three-dimensional image.

Pribram’s theories about the distributed role of memory and the wavefront language of the brain met with a great deal of disbelief, especially in the 1960s, when they were first published. Chief among those ridiculing the theory of distributed memory was Indiana University biologist Paul Pietsch. In earlier experiments, Pietsch had discovered that he could remove the brain of a salamander and although the animal became comatose, it would resume functioning once the brain was put back in.


If Pribram were right, then some of the salamander’s brain could be removed, or reshuffled, and it shouldn’t affect its ordinary function.


But Pietsch was certain that Pribram was wrong and he was fierce in his determination to prove it so. In more than 700 experiments, Pietsch cut out scores of salamander brains.


Before putting them back in, he began tampering with them. In successive experiments he reversed, cut out, sliced away, shuffled and even sausage-ground his test subjects’ brains. But no matter how brutally mangled, or diminished in size, whenever whatever was left of the brains were returned to his subjects and the salamanders had recovered, they returned to normal behavior.


From being a complete skeptic, Pietsch turned convert to Pribram’s view that memory is distributed throughout the brain.20

Pribram’s theories were also vindicated in 1979 by a husband-and-wife team of neurophysiologists at the University of California at Berkeley.


Russell and Karen DeValois converted simple plaid and checkerboard patterns into Fourier waves and discovered that the brain cells of cats and monkeys responded not to the patterns themselves but to the interference patterns of their component waves.


Countless studies, elaborated on by the DeValois team in their book Spatial Vision,21 show that numerous cells in the visual system are tuned into certain frequencies.


Other studies by Fergus Campbell of Cambridge University in England, as well as by a number of other laboratories, also showed that the cerebral cortex of humans may be tuned to specific frequencies.22


This would explain how we can recognize things as being the same, even when they are vastly different sizes.

Pribram also showed that the brain is a highly discriminating frequency analyzer. He demonstrated that the brain contains a certain ‘envelope’, or mechanism, which limits the otherwise infinite wave information available to it, so that we are not bombarded with limitless wave information contained in the Zero Point Field.23

In his own studies in the laboratory, Pribram confirmed that the visual cortex of cats and monkeys responded to a limited range of frequencies.24


Russell DeValois and his colleagues also showed that the receptive fields in the neurons of the cortex were tuned to a very small range of frequen-cies.25 In his studies of both cats and humans, Campbell at Cambridge also demonstrated that neurons in the brain responded to a limited band of frequencies.26


At one point, Pribram came across the work of the Russian Nikolai Bernstein.


Bernstein had made films of human subjects dressed entirely in black costumes on which white tapes and dots had been placed to mark the limbs - not unlike the classic Halloween skeleton costume. The participants were asked to dance against a black background while being filmed. When the film was processed, all that could be seen was a series of white dots moving in a continuous pattern in a wave form. Bernstein analyzed the waves.


To his astonishment, all the rhythmic movements could be represented in Fourier trigonometric sums to such an extent that he found that he could predict the next movements of his dancers,

‘to an accuracy of within a few millimeters’.27

The fact that movement could somehow be represented formally in terms of Fourier equations made Pribram realize that the brain’s conversations with the body might also be occurring in the form of waves and patterns, rather than as images.28


The brain somehow had the capacity to analyze movement, break it down into wave frequencies and transmit this wave-pattern shorthand to the rest of the body. This information, transmitted nonlocally, to many parts at once, would explain how we can fairly easily manage complicated global tasks involving multiple body parts, such as riding a bicycle or roller skating. It also accounts for how we can easily imitate some task.


Pribram also came across evidence that our other senses - smell, taste and hearing - operate by analyzing frequencies.29

In Pribram’s own studies with cats, in which he recorded frequencies from the motor cortex of cats while their right forepaw was being moved and up down, he discovered that, like the visual cortex, individual cells in the cat’s motor cortex responded to only a limited number of frequencies of movement, just as individual strings in a piano respond to a limited range of frequencies.30

Pribram struggled with where this intricate process of wavefront decoding and transformation could possibly take place.


It then occurred to him that the one area of the brain where wave-interference patterns might be created was not in any particular cell, but in the spaces between them.


At the end of every neuron, the basic unit of a brain cell, are synapses, where chemical charges build up, eventually triggering electrical firing across these spaces to the other neurons. In the same spaces, dendrites - tiny filaments of nerve endings wafting back and forth, like shafts of wheat in a slow breeze - communicate with other neurons, sending out and receiving their own electrical wave impulses.


These ‘slow-wave potentials’, as they are called, flow through the glia, or glue, surrounding neurons, to gently touch or even collide with other waves. It is at this busy juncture, a place of a ceaseless scramble of electromagnetic communications between synapses and dendrites, where it was most likely that wave frequencies could be picked up and analyzed, and holographic images formed, since these wave patterns criss-crossing all the time are creating hundreds and thousands of wave-interference patterns.

Pribram conjectured that these wave collisions must create the pictorial images in our brain.


When we perceive something, it’s not due to the activity of neurons themselves but to certain patches of dendrites distributed around the brain, which, like a radio station, are set to resonate only at certain frequencies. It is like having a vast number of piano strings all over your head, only some of which would vibrate as a particular note is played.

Pribram largely left it to others to test his views so that he wouldn’t jeopardize his more traditional laboratory work by being associated with his own revolutionary notions. For some years his theory languished. He would have to wait several decades after his initial proposal for other pioneers in the scientific community to catch up with him.


His most important support was from an unlikely source: a German trying to make a medical diagnostic machine work better.

Walter Schempp, a mathematics professor from the University of Siegen in Germany, believed he was simply carrying on the work of his ancestor Johannes Kepler, an astronomer working in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.


Kepler famously claimed in his book Harmonice mundi, that people on earth could hear the music of the stars.


At the time, Kepler’s contemporaries thought him crazy. It was four hundred years before a pair of American scientists showed that there is indeed a music of the heavens. In 1993, Hulse and Taylor landed the Nobel prize for discovering binary pulsars - stars which send out electromagnetic waves in pulses. The most sensitive of equipment located in one of the world’s highest places, high on a mountaintop in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, picks up evidence of their existence through radio waves.

As a nod to his forebear, Walter himself had specialized in the mathematics of harmonic analysis, or the frequency and phase of sound waves. It occurred to him one day, sitting at home in his garden - his three-year-old son was ill at the time - that you might be able to extract three-dimensional images from sound waves.


Without reading of Gabor, he’d worked out his own holographic theory, reconstructed from mathematical theory. He’d consulted his own books in mathematics to no avail, but after looking up what had been done in optical theory, he came across Gabor’s work.

By 1986, Walter had published a book which proved mathematically how you could get a hologram from the echoes of the radio waves received in radar, which came to be regarded as a classic in state-of-the art radar.


Schempp began thinking that the same principles of wave holography might apply to magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), a medical tool used to examine the soft tissues of the body, which was still in its infancy. But when he inquired about it, he soon realized that the people who’d developed and were running the machines had little idea how MRI worked.


The technology was so primitive that it was simply being used intuitively. Patients would have to sit still for four hours or more while pictures were slowly taken, by what means nobody was exactly sure. Walter was utterly dissatisfied with MRI technology as it then stood and realized that it was a relatively simple prospect to make sharper images.

To do so, however, required an incredible commitment from the then 50-year-old, who, despite having a young family, with his greying hair and melancholic nature already looked more mature than his years. He had to study medicine, biology and radiology in order to become trained as a doctor before being able to use the equipment.


He accepted a place offered at Johns Hopkins Medical School in Baltimore, Maryland, which has the best outpatient radiology department in the USA, and later trained at Massachusetts General Hospital, which is affiliated with MIT. After a fellowship in radiology in Zurich, Walter was finally able to return to Germany, where he now had the appropriate qualifications to officially lay hands on the machine.

Taking pictures of the brain and soft tissues of the body with MRI is ordinarily a matter of getting to the water lurking in the various nooks and crevices.


To do so, you need to be able to find the nuclei of the water molecules scattered throughout the brain. Because protons spin, like little magnets, locating them is often most simply accomplished by applying a magnetic field. This causes the spin to accelerate, eventually to the point where the nuclei behave like microscopic gyroscopes spinning out of control.


All this molecular manipulation makes the water molecules that much more conspicuous, enabling the MRI machine to locate them and ultimately to extract an image of the brain’s soft tissues.

As the molecules slow down, they give off radiation. What Walter discovered is that this radiation contained encoded wave information about the body, which the machine can capture and eventually use to reconstruct a three-dimensional image of the body. The information that you extract is an encoded hologram of a slice of the brain or body part that you wish to examine.


Through the use of Fourier transforms, and many slices of the body, you combine and eventually turn this information into an optical picture.

Schempp went on to help revolutionize the construction of MRI machines and wrote a textbook on the subject, showing that imaging worked as holography did, and he would soon become the world authority on the machine and functional MRI, which allows you to actually observe brain activity elicited by sensory stimuli.31


His improvements cut down the time required for a patient to sit still from 4 hours to 20 minutes. But he began to wonder whether the mathematics and theory of how this machine worked could be applied to biological systems.


He had called his theory ‘quantum holography’, because what he’d really discovered was that all sorts of information about objects, including their three-dimensional shape, is carried in the quantum fluctuations of the Zero Point Field, and that this information can be recovered and reassembled into a three-dimensional image.


Schempp had discovered, as Puthoff had predicted, that the Zero Point Field was a vast memory store.


Through Fourier transformation, MRI machines could take information encoded in the Zero Point Field and turn it into images. The real question he was posing went far beyond whether he could create a sharper image in MRI. What he was really trying to find out was whether his mathematical equations unlocked to the key to the human brain.

In his quest to apply his theories to something larger, Walter came across the work of Peter Marcer, a British physicist who’d worked as a student and colleague of Dennis Gabor and gone on to CERN in Switzerland. Marcer himself had been doing some work on a computation based on wave theory in sound, and he was sitting there with a theory, which he intuitively sensed could be applied to the human brain.


The problem was that the theory was abstract and general, and needed more mathematical rooting to make it concrete. In the early 1990s, he received a call from Walter Schempp, whose work threw a life jacket to his theory. It grounded his own work into something tidy and mathematical.

In Marcer’s mind, Walter’s machine worked on the same principle that Karl Pribram had worked out for the human brain: by reading natural radiation and emissions from the Zero Point Field. Not only did Walter have a mathematical map of how information processing in the brain may work, which amounted to a mathematical demonstration of the theories of Karl Pribram.


He also had, as Peter saw it, a machine which worked according to this process.


Like Pribram’s model of the brain, Schempp’s MRI machine underwent a staged process, combining wave-interference information taken from different views of the body and then eventually transforming it into a virtual image. MRI was experimental verification that Peter’s own quantum mechanical theory actually worked.

Although Walter had written some general papers about how his work could be applied to biological systems, it was only in partnership with Peter that he began to apply his theory to a theory of nature and the individual cell. They wrote papers together, each time refining their theories. Two years later, Peter was at a conference and heard Edgar Mitchell speak about his own theory of nature and human perception, which sounded serendipitously similar to his own.


They spent several excited lunches comparing notes and decided that all three of them needed to collaborate. Walter would also correspond with Pribram, trading information. What they all discovered was something that Pribram’s work had always hinted at: perception occurred at a much more fundamental level of matter - the netherworld of the quantum particle.


We didn’t see objects per se, but only their quantum information and out of that constructed our image of the world. Perceiving the world was a matter of tuning into the Zero Point Field.

Stuart Hameroff, an anesthesiologist from the University of Arizona, had been thinking about how anesthetic gases turn off consciousness.


It fascinated him that gases with such disparate chemistry as nitrous oxide (N2O), ether (CH3CH2OCH2CH3), halothane (CF3CHClBr), chloroform (CHCl3) and isoflurane (CHF2OCHClCF3) could all bring about loss of consciousness.32


It must have something to do with some property besides chemistry. Hameroff guessed that general anesthetics must interfere with the electrical activity within the microtubules, and this activity would turn off consciousness. If this were the case, then the reverse would also be true: electrical activity of microtubules that composed the insides of dendrites and neurons in the brain must somehow be at the heart of consciousness.

Microtubules are the scaffolding of the cell, maintaining its structure and shape. These microscopic hexagonal lattices of fine filaments of protein, called tubulins, form tiny hollow cylinders of indefinite length.


Thirteen strands of tubules wrap around the hollow core in a spiral; and all the microtubules in a cell radiate outward from the center to the cell membrane, like a cartwheel.


We know that these little honeycomb structures act as tracks in transporting various products along cells, particularly in nerve cells, and they are vital for pulling apart chromosomes during cell division. We also know that most microtubules are constantly remaking themselves, assembling and disassembling, like an endless set of Lego.

In his own experiments with the brains of small mammals, Hameroff found, like Fritz Popp, that living tissue was transmitting photons and that good penetration of ‘light’ occurred in certain areas of the brain.33

Microtubules appeared to be exceptional conductors of pulses. Pulses sent in one end traveled through pockets of protein and arrived unchanged at the other. Hameroff also discovered a great degree of coherence among neighboring tubules, so that a vibration in one microtubule would tend to resonate in unison through its neighbors.

It occurred to Hameroff that the microtubules within the cells of dendrites and neurons might be ‘light pipes’, acting as ‘waveguides’ for photons, sending these waves from cell to cell throughout the brain without any loss of energy. They might even act as tiny tracks for these light waves throughout the body.34

By the time that Hameroff began formulating his theory, many of Pribram’s ideas, which had been so outrageous when he had first formulated them, were being taken up in many quarters. Scientists in research centers around the globe were beginning to concur that the brain made use of quantum processes.


Kunio Yasue, a quantum physicist from Kyoto, Japan, had carried out mathematical formulations to help understand the neural microprocess. Like Pribram, his equations showed that brain processes occurred at the quantum level, and that the dendritic networks in the brain were operating in tandem through quantum coherence.


The equations developed in quantum physics precisely described this cooperative interaction.35 Independently of Hameroff, Yasue and his colleague Mari Jibu, of the Department of Anesthesiology, Okayama University, in Japan, had also theorized that the quantum messaging of the brain must take place through vibrational fields, along the microtubules of cells.36


Others had theorized that the basis of all the brain’s functions had to do with the interaction between brain physiology and the Zero Point Field.37


An Italian physicist, Ezio Insinna of the Bioelectronics Research Association, in his own experimental work with microtubules, discovered that these structures had a signaling mechanism, thought to be associated with the transfer of electrons.38

Eventually, many of these scientists, each of whom seemed to have one piece of the puzzle, decided to collaborate. Pribram, Yasue, Hameroff and Scott Hagan from the Department of Physics at McGill University assembled a collective theory about the nature of human consciousness.39


According to their theory, microtubules and the membranes of dendrites represented the Internet of the body. Every neuron of the brain could log on at the same time and speak to every other neuron simultaneously via the quantum processes within.

Microtubules helped to marshal discordant energy and create global coherence of the waves in the body - a process called ‘superradiance’ - then allowed these coherent signals to pulse through the rest of the body. Once coherence was achieved, the photons could travel all along the light pipes as if they were transparent, a phenomenon called ‘selfinduced transparency’.


Photons can penetrate the core of the microtubule and communicate with other photons throughout the body, causing collective cooperation of subatomic particles in microtubules throughout the brain. If this is the case, it would account for unity of thought and consciousness - the fact that we don’t think of loads of disparate things at once.40

Through this mechanism, the coherence becomes contagious, moving from individual cells to cell assemblies - and in the brain from certain neuron cell assemblies to others.


This would provide an explanation for the instantaneous operation of our brains, which occurs at between one ten-thousandth and one-thousandth of a second, requiring that information be transmitted at 100-1000 meters per second - a speed that exceeds the capabilities of any known connections between axons or dendrites in neurons.


Superradiance along the light pipes also could account for a phenomenon that has long been observed - the tendency of EEG patterns in the brain to get synchronized.41

Hameroff observed that electrons glide easily along these light pipes without getting entangled in their environment - that is, settling into any set single state. This means they can remain in a quantum state - a condition of all possible states - enabling the brain eventually to finally choose among them. This might be a good explanation for free will. At every moment, our brains are making quantum choices, taking potential states and making them actual ones.42

It was only a theory - it hadn’t undergone the exhaustive testing of Popp and his biophoton emissions - but some good mathematics and circumstantial evidence gave it weight. The Italian physicists Del Giudice and Preparata had also come up with some experimental evidence of Hameroff ’s theory that light pipes contained coherent energy fields inside them.

Microtubules are hollow and empty save for some water. Ordinary water, from a tap or in a river, is disordered, with molecules that move randomly.


But some of the water molecules in brain cells are coherent, the Italian team discovered, and this coherence extends as far as 3 nanometers or more outside the cell’s cytoskeleton. Since this is the case, it is overwhelmingly likely that the water inside the microtubules is also ordered. This offered indirect evidence that some sort of quantum process, creating quantum coherence, was occurring inside.43


They’d also shown that this focusing of waves would produce beams 15 nanometers in diameter - precisely the size of the microtubule’s inner core.44

All of this led to a heretical thought, which had already occurred to Fritz-Albert Popp. Consciousness was a global phenomenon that occurred everywhere in the body, and not simply in our brains. Consciousness, at its most basic, was coherent light.

Although each of the scientists - Puthoff, Popp, Benveniste and Pribram - had been working independently, Edgar Mitchell was one of the few to realize that, as a totality, their work presented itself as a unified theory of mind and matter - evidence of physicist David Bohm’s vision of a world of ‘unbroken wholeness’.45


The universe was a vast dynamic cobweb of energy exchange, with a basic substructure containing all possible versions of all possible forms of matter. Nature was not blind and mechanistic, but open-ended, intelligent and purposeful, making use of a cohesive learning feedback process of information being fed back and forth between organisms and their environment.


Its unifying mechanism was not a fortunate mistake but information which had been encoded and transmitted everywhere at once.46

Biology was a quantum process. All the processes in the body, including cell communication, were triggered by quantum fluctuations, and all higher brain functions and consciousness also appeared to function at the quantum level. Walter Schempp’s explosive discovery about quantum memory set off the most outrageous idea of all: short- and long-term memory doesn’t reside in our brain at all, but instead is stored in the Zero Point Field.


After Pribram’s discoveries, a number of scientists, including systems theorist Ervin Laszlo, would go on to argue that the brain is simply the retrieval and read-out mechanism of the ultimate storage medium - The Field.47


Pribram’s associates from Japan would hypothesize that what we think of as memory is simply a coherent emission of signals from the Zero Point Field, and that longer memories are a structured grouping of this wave informa-tion.48


If this were true, it would explain why one tiny association often triggers a riot of sights, sounds and smells. It would also explain why, with long-term memory in particular, recall is instantaneous and doesn’t require any scanning mechanism to sift though years and years of memory.

If they are correct, our brain is not a storage medium but a receiving mechanism in every sense, and memory is simply a distant cousin of ordinary perception. The brain retrieves ‘old’ information the same way it processes ‘new’ information - through holographic transformation of wave interference patterns.49


Lashley’s rats with the fried brains were able to conjure up their run in its entirety because the memory of it was never burned away in the first place. Whatever reception mechanism was left in the brain - and as Pribram had demonstrated, it was distributed all over the brain - was tuning back into the memory through The Field.

Some scientists went as far as to suggest that all of our higher cognitive processes result from an interaction with the Zero Point Field.50 This kind of constant interaction might account for intuition or creativity - and how ideas come to us in bursts of insight, sometimes in fragments but often as a miraculous whole. An intuitive leap might simply be a sudden coalescence of coherence in The Field.

The fact that the human body was exchanging information with a mutable field of quantum fluctuation suggested something profound about the world.


It hinted at human capabilities for knowledge and communication far deeper and more extended than we presently understand. It also blurred the boundary lines of our individuality - our very sense of separateness.


If living things boil down to charged particles interacting with a field and sending out and receiving quantum information,

  • Where did we end and the rest of the world begin?

  • Where was consciousness - encased inside our bodies or out there in The Field?

Indeed, there was no more ‘out there’ if we and the rest of the world were so intrinsically interconnected.

The implications of this were too huge to ignore.


The idea of a system of exchanged and patterned energy and its memory and recall in the Zero Point Field hinted at all manner of possibility for human beings and their relation to their world.


Modern physicists had set mankind back for many decades. In ignoring the effect of the Zero Point Field, they’d eliminated the possibility of interconnectedness and obscured a scientific explanation for many kinds of miracles.


What they’d being doing, in renormalizing their equations, was a little like subtracting out God.


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