Sit down before foct like a little child, and be prepared to give up every preconceived notion, follow humbly wherever and to whatever abyss Nature leads, or you shall learn nothing.
 - T. H. Huxley


1 - 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 engrains, 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 re-experienced 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 en-gram, 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 maze-running 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.” 2

In 1948 Pribram was offered a position at Yale, and before leaving he helped write up thirty years of Lashley’s monumental research.



The Breakthrough
At Yale, Pribram continued to ponder the idea that memories were distributed throughout the brain, and the more he thought about it the more convinced he became.


After all, patients who had had portions of their brains removed for medical reasons never suffered the loss of specific memories. Removal of a large section of the brain might cause a patient’s memory to become generally hazy, but no one ever came out of surgery with any selective memory loss.


Similarly, individuals who had received head injuries in car collisions and other accidents never forgot half of their family, or half of a novel they had read. Even removal of sections of the temporal lobes, the area of the brain that had figured so prominently in Penfield’s research, didn’t create any gaps in a person’s memories.

Pribram’s thinking was further solidified by his and other researchers’ inability to duplicate Penfield’s findings when stimulating brains other than those of epileptics. Even Penfield himself was unable to duplicate his results in non-epileptic patients.

Despite the growing evidence that memories were distributed, Pribram was still at a loss as to how the brain might accomplish such a seemingly magical feat. Then in the mid-1960s an article he read in Scientific American describing the first construction of a hologram hit him like a thunderbolt. Not only was the concept of holography dazzling, but it provided a solution to the puzzle with which he had been wrestling.

To understand why Pribram was so excited, it is necessary to understand a little more about holograms. One of the things that makes holography possible is a phenomenon known as interference. Interference is the crisscrossing pattern that occurs when two or more waves, such as waves of water, ripple through each other. For example, if you drop a pebble into a pond, it will produce a series of concentric waves that expands outward. If you drop two pebbles into a pond, you will get two sets of waves that expand and pass through one another. The complex arrangement of crests and troughs that results from such collisions is known as an interference pattern.

Any wavelike phenomena can create an interference pattern, including light and radio waves. Because laser light is an extremely pure, coherent form of light, it is especially good at creating interference patterns. It provides, in essence, the perfect pebble and the perfect pond. As a result, it wasn’t until the invention of the laser that holograms, as we know them today, became possible.

A hologram is produced when a single laser light is split into two separate beams. The first beam is bounced off the object to be photographed. Then the second beam is allowed to collide with the reflected tight of the first. When this happens they create an interference pattern which is then recorded on a piece of film (see fig, 1).

To the naked eye the image on the film looks nothing at all like the object photographed. In fact, it even looks a little like the concentric rings that form when a handful of pebbles is tossed into a pond (see fig. 2). But as soon as another laser beam (or in some instances just a bright light source) is shined through the film, a three-dimensional image of the original object reappears. The three-dimensionality of such images is often eerily convincing. You can actually walk around a holographic projection and view it from different angles as you would a real object.


However, if you reach out and try to touch it, your hand will waft right through it and you will discover there is really nothing there (see fig. 3).




A hologram is produced when a single laser light is split into two separate beaniE.

The first beam is bounced off the object to be photographed, in this case an apple.

Then the second beam is allowed to collide with the reflected light of the first, and the resulting interference pattern is recorded on film.


Three-dimensionality is not the only remarkable aspect of holograms. If a piece of holographic film containing the image of an apple is cut in half and then illuminated by a laser, each half will still be found to contain the entire image of the apple!


Even if the halves are divided again and then again, an entire apple can still be reconstructed from each small portion of the film (although the images will get hazier as the portions get smaller).




A piece of holographic film containing an encoded image.

To the naked eye the image on the film looks nothing like the object photographed

and is composed of irregular ripples known as interference patterns.

However, when the film is illuminated with another laser,

a three-dimensional image of the original object reappears.



The three-dimensionality of a hologram is often so eerily convincing

that you can actually walk around it and view it from different angles.

But if you reach out and try to touch it, your hand will waft right through it

[”Celeste Undressed.” Holographic stereogram by Peter Claudius, 1978.

Photograph by Brad Cantos, collection of The Museum of Holography]



Unlike normal photographs, every small fragment of a piece of holographic film contains all the information recorded in the whole (see fig. 4).*

This was precisely the feature that got Pribram so excited, for it offered at last a way of understanding how memories could be distributed rather than localized in the brain. If it was possible for every portion of a piece of holographic film to contain all the information necessary to create a whole image, then it seemed equally possible for every part of the brain to contain all of the information necessary to recall a whole memory.


* It should be noted that this astounding trait is common only to pieces of holographic film whose images are invisible to the naked eye. If you buy a piece of holographic film (or an object containing a piece of holographic film) in a store and can see a three-dimensional image in it without any special kind of illumination, do not cut it in half. You will only end UP with pieces of the original image.




Unlike normal photographs, every portion of a piece of holographic film contains all of the information of the whole.

Thus if a holographic plate is broken into fragments, each piece can still be used to reconstruct the entire image.



Vision Also Is Holographic
Memory is not the only thing the brain may process holographically.


Another of Lashley’s discoveries was that the visual centers of the brain were also surprisingly resistant to surgical excision. Even after removing as much as 90 percent of a rat’s visual cortex (the part of the brain that receives and interprets what the eye sees), he found it could still perform tasks requiring complex visual skills.


Similarly, research conducted by Pribram revealed that as much as 98 percent (the part of the brain that receives and interprets what the eye sees), he found it
could still perform tasks requiring complex visual skills. Similarly, research conducted by Pribram revealed that as much as 98 percent of a cat’s optic nerves can be severed without seriously impairing its ability to perform complex visual tasks.3


Such a situation was tantamount to believing that a movie audience could still enjoy a motion picture even after 90 percent of the movie screen was missing, and his experiments presented once again a serious challenge to the standard understanding of how vision works. According to the leading theory of the day, there was a one-to-one correspondence between the image the eye sees and the way that image is represented in the brain. In other words, when we look at a square, it was believed the electrical activity in our visual cortex also possesses the form of a square (see fig. 5).

Although findings such as Lashley’s seemed to deal a deathblow to this idea, Pribram was not satisfied. While he was at Yale he devised a series of experiments to resolve the matter and spent the next seven years carefully measuring the electrical activity in the brains of monkeys while they performed various visual tasks. He discovered that not only did no such one-to-one correspondence exist, but there wasn’t even a discernible pattern to the sequence in which the electrodes fired.


He wrote of his findings,

“These experimental results are incompatible with a view that a photographic-like image becomes projected onto the cortical surface.”4



Vision theorists once believed there was a one-to-one correspondence

between an image the eye sees and how that image is represented in the brain.

Pribram discovered this is not true.


Once again the resistance the visual cortex displayed toward surgical excision suggested that, like memory, vision was also distributed, and after Pribram became aware of holography he began to wonder if it, too, was holographic.


The “whole in every part” nature of a hologram certainly seemed to explain how so much of the visual cortex could be removed without affecting the ability to perform visual tasks. If the brain was processing images by employing some kind of internal hologram, even a very small piece of the hologram could still reconstruct the whole of what the eyes were seeing. It also explained the lack of any one-to-one correspondence between the external world and the brain’s electrical activity.


Again, if the brain was using holographic principles to process visual information, there would be no more one-to-one correspondence between electrical activity and images seen than there was between the meaningless swirl of interference patterns on a piece of holographic film and the image the film encoded.

The only question that remained was what wavelike phenomenon the brain might be using to create such internal holograms. As soon as Pribram considered the question he thought of a possible answer. It was known that the electrical communications that take place between the brain’s nerve cells, or neurons, do not occur alone.


Neurons possess branches like little trees, and when an electrical message reaches the end of one of these branches it radiates outward as does the ripple in a pond. Because neurons are packed together so densely, these expanding ripples of electricity - also a wavelike phenomenon -  are constantly crisscrossing one another.


When Pribram remembered this he realized that they were most assuredly creating an almost endless and kaleidoscopic array of interference patterns, and these in turn might be what give the brain its holographic properties.

“The hologram was there all the time in the wave-front nature of brain-cell connectivity,” observed Pribram. “We simply hadn’t had the wit to realize it,” 5



Other Puzzles Explained by the Holographic Brain Model
Pribram published his first article on the possible holographic nature of the brain in 1966, and continued to expand and refine his ideas during the next several years.


As he did, and as other researchers became aware of his theory, it was quickly realized that the distributed nature of memory and vision is not the only neurophysiologies! puzzle the holographic model can explain.



Holography also explains how our brains can store so many memories in so little space.


The brilliant Hungarian-born physicist and mathematician John von Neumann once calculated that over the course of the average human lifetime, the brain stores something on the order of 2.8 X 1020 (280,000,000,000,000,000,000) bits of information. This is a staggering amount of information, and brain researchers have long struggled to come up with a mechanism that explains such a vast capability.

Interestingly, holograms also possess a fantastic capacity for information storage. By changing the angle at which the two lasers strike a piece of photographic film, it is possible to record many different images on the same surface. Any image thus recorded can be retrieved simply by illuminating the film with a laser beam possessing the same angle as the original two beams.


By employing this method researchers have calculated that a one-inch-square of film can store the same amount of information contained in fifty Bibles! 6


Pieces of holographic film containing multiple images, such as those described above, also provide a way of understanding our ability to both recall and forget.


When such a piece of film is held in a laser beam and tilted back and forth, the various images it contains appear and disappear in a glittering stream. It has been suggested that our ability to remember is analogous to shining a laser beam on such a piece of film and calling up a particular image.


Similarly, when we are unable to recall something, this may be equivalent to shining various beams on a piece of multiple-image film, but failing to find the right angle to call up the image/memory for which we are searching.


In Proust’s Swann‘s Way a sip of tea and a bite of a small scallop-shaped cake known as a petite madeleine cause the narrator to find himself suddenly flooded with memories from his past.


At first he is puzzled, but then, slowly, after much effort on his part, he remembers that his aunt used to give him tea and madeleines when he was a little boy, and it is this association that has stirred his memory.


We have all had similar experiences - a whiff of a particular food being prepared, or a glimpse of some long-forgotten object - that suddenly evoke some scene out of our past.

The holographic idea offers a further analogy for the associative tendencies of memory.


This is illustrated by yet another kind of holographic recording technique.


First, the light of a single laser beam is bounced off two objects simultaneously, say an easy chair and a smoking pipe. The light bounced off each object is then allowed to collide, and the resulting interference pattern is captured on film.


Then, whenever the easy chair is illuminated with laser light and the light that reflects off the easy chair is passed through the film, a three-dimensional image of the pipe will appear. Conversely, whenever the same is done with the pipe, a hologram of the easy chair appears.


So, if our brains function holographically, a similar process may be responsible for the way certain objects evoke specific memories from our past.




At first glance our ability to recognize familiar things may not seem so unusual, but brain researchers have long realized it is quite a complex ability.


For example, the absolute certainty we feel when we spot a familiar face in a crowd of several hundred people is not just a subjective emotion, but appears to be caused by an extremely fast and reliable form of information processing in our brain.

In a 1970 article in the British science magazine Nature, physicist Pieter van Heerden proposed that a type of holography known as recognition holography offers a way of understanding this ability.* In recognition holography a holographic image of an object is recorded in the usual manner, save that the laser beam is bounced off a special kind of mirror known as a focusing mirror before it is allowed to strike the unexposed film.


* Van Heerden, a researcher at the Polaroid Research Laboratories m Cambridge, Massachusetts, actually proposed his own version of a holographic theory of memory in 1963, but his work went relatively unnoticed.

If a second object, similar but not identical to the first, is bathed in laser light and the light is bounced off the mirror and onto the film after it has been developed, a bright point of light will appear on the film. The brighter and sharper the point of light, the greater the degree of similarity between the first and second objects. If the two objects are completely dissimilar, no point of light will appear. By placing a light-sensitive photocell behind the holographic film, one can actually use the setup as a mechanical recognition system.7

A similar technique known as interference holography may also explain how we can recognize both the familiar and unfamiliar features of an image such as the face of someone we have not seen for many years. In this technique an object is viewed through a piece of holographic film containing its image. When this is done, any feature of the object that has changed since its image was originally recorded will reflect light differently. An individual looking through the film is instantly aware of both how the object has changed and how it has remained the same.


The technique is so sensitive that even the pressure of a finger on a block of granite shows up immediately, and the process has been found to have practical applications in the materials-testing industry.8



In 1972, Harvard vision researchers Daniel Pollen and Michael Tractenberg proposed that the holographic brain theory may explain why some people possess photographic memories (also known as eidetic memories).


Typically, individuals with photographic memories will spend a few moments scanning the scene they wish to memorize.


When they want to see the scene again, they “project” a mental image of it, either with their eyes closed or as they gaze at a blank wall or screen. In a study of one such individual, a Harvard art history professor named Elizabeth, Pollen and Tractenberg found that the mental images she projected were so real to her that when she read an image of a page from Goethe’s Faust her eyes moved as if she were reading a real page.

Noting that the image stored in a fragment of holographic film gets hazier as the fragment gets smaller, Pollen and Tractenberg suggest that perhaps such individuals have more vivid memories because they somehow have access to very large regions of their memory holograms.


Conversely, perhaps most of us have memories that are much less vivid because our access is limited to smaller regions of the memory holograms.9



Pribram believes the holographic model also sheds light on our ability to transfer learned skills from one part of our body to another.


As you sit reading this book, take a moment and trace your first name in the air with your left elbow. You will probably discover that this is a relatively easy thing to do, and yet in all likelihood it is something you have never done before.


It may not seem a surprising ability to you, but in the classic view that various areas of the brain (such as the area controlling the movements of the elbow) are “hard-wired,” or able to perform tasks only after repetitive learning has caused the proper neural connections to become established between brain cells, this is something of a puzzle. Pribram points out that the problem becomes much more tractable if the brain were to convert all of its memories, including memories of learned abilities such as writing, into a language of interfering wave forms. Such a brain would be much more flexible and could shift its stored information around with the same ease that a skilled pianist transposes a song from one musical key to another.

This same flexibility may explain how we are able to recognize a familiar face regardless of the angle from which we are viewing it


Again, once the brain has memorized a face (or any other object or scene) and converted it into a language of wave forms, it can, in a sense, tumble this internal hologram around and examine it from any perspective it wants.



To most of us it is obvious that our feelings of love, hunger, anger, and so on, are internal realities, and the sound of an orchestra playing, the heat of the sun, the smell of bread baking, and so on, are external realities.


But it is not so clear how our brains enable us to distinguish between the two. For example, Pribram points out that when we look at a person, the image of the person is really on the surface of our retinas. Yet we do not perceive the person as being on our retinas. We perceive them as being in the “world-out-there.” Similarly, when we stub our toe we experience the pain in our toe.


But the pain is not really in our toe. It is actually a neurophysiological process taking place somewhere in our brain. How then is our brain able to take the multitude of neurophysiological processes that manifest as our experience, all of which are internal, and fool us into thinking that some are internal and some are located beyond the confines of our gray matter?

Creating the illusion that things are located where they are not is the quintessential feature of a hologram. As mentioned, if you look at a hologram it seems to have extension in space, but if you pass your hand through it you will discover there is nothing there. Despite what your senses tell you, no instrument will pick up the presence of any abnormal energy or substance where the hologram appears to be hovering.


This is because a hologram is a virtual image, an image that appears to be where it is not, and possesses no more extension in space than does the three-dimensional image you see of yourself when you look in a mirror. Just as the image in the mirror is located in the silvering on the mirror’s back surface, the actual location of a hologram is always in the photographic emulsion on the surface of the film recording it.

Further evidence that the brain is able to Tool us into thinking that inner processes are located outside the body comes from the Nobel Prize-winning physiologist Georg von Bekesy. In a series of experiments conducted in the late 1960s Bekesy placed vibrators on the knees of blindfolded test subjects. Then he varied the rates at which the instruments vibrated.


By doing so he discovered that he could make his test subjects experience the sensation that a point source of vibration was jumping from one knee to the other. He found that he could even make his subjects feel the point source of vibration in the space between their knees. In short, he demonstrated that humans have the ability to seemingly experience sensation in spatial locations where they have absolutely no sense receptors.10

Pribram believes that Bekesy’s work is compatible with the holographic view and sheds additional light on how interfering wave fronts - or in Bekesy’s case, interfering sources of physical vibration - enable the brain to localize some of its experiences beyond the physical boundaries of the body. He feels this process might also explain the phantom limb phenomenon, or the sensation experienced by some amputees that a missing arm or leg is still present.


Such individuals often feel eerily realistic cramps, pains, and tinglings in these phantom appendages, but maybe what they are experiencing is the holographic memory of the limb that is still recorded in the interference patterns in their brains.



Experimental Support for the Holographic Brain
For Pribram the many similarities between brains and holograms were tantalizing, but he knew his theory didn’t mean anything unless it was backed up by more solid evidence.


One researcher who provided such evidence was Indiana University biologist Paul Pietsch. Intriguingly, Pietsch began as an ardent disbeliever in Pribram’s theory. He was especially skeptical of Pribram’s claim that memories do not possess any specific location in the brain.

To prove Pribram wrong, Pietsch devised a series of experiments, and as the test subjects of his experiments he chose salamanders. In previous studies he had discovered that he could remove the brain of a salamander without killing it, and although it remained in a stupor as long as its brain was missing, its behavior completely returned to normal as soon as its brain was restored.

Pietsch reasoned that if a salamander’s feeding behavior is not confined to any specific location in the brain, then it should not matter how its brain is positioned in its head. If it did matter, Pribram’s theory would be disproven. He then flip-flopped the left and right hemispheres of a salamander’s brain, but to his dismay, as soon as it recovered, the salamander quickly resumed normal feeding.

He took another salamander and turned its brain upside down. When it recovered it, too, fed normally. Growing increasingly frustrated, he decided to resort to more drastic measures. In a series of over 700 operations he sliced, flipped, shuffled, subtracted, and even minced the brains of his hapless subjects, but always when he replaced what was left of their brains, their behavior returned to normal.11

These findings and others turned Pietsch into a believer and attracted enough attention that his research became the subject of a segment on the television show 60 Minutes.


He writes about this experience as well as giving detailed accounts of his experiments in his insightful book Skujjtebrain.


The Mathematical Language of the Hologram

While the theories that enabled the development of the hologram were first formulated in 1947 by Dennis Gabor (who later won a Nobel Prize for his efforts), in the late 1960s and early 1970s Pribram’s theory received even more persuasive experimental support.


When Gabor first conceived the idea of holography he wasn’t thinking about lasers.


His goal was to improve the electron microscope, then a primitive and imperfect device. His approach was a mathematical one, and the mathematics he used was a type of calculus invented by an eighteenth-century Frenchman named Jean E. J. Fourier.

Roughly speaking what Fourier developed was a mathematical way of converting any pattern, no matter how complex, into a language of simple waves. He also showed how these wave forms could be converted back into the original pattern. In other words, just as a television camera converts an image into electromagnetic frequencies and a television set converts those frequencies back into the original image, Fourier showed how a similar process could be achieved mathematically. The equations he developed to convert images into wave forms and back again are known as Fourier transforms.

Fourier transforms enabled Gabor to convert a picture of an object into the blur of interference patterns on a piece of holographic film.


They also enabled him to devise a way of converting those interference patterns back into an image of the original object. In fact the special whole in every part of a hologram is one of the by-products that occurs when an image or pattern is translated into the Fourier language of wave forms.

Throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s various researchers contacted Pribram and told him they had uncovered evidence that the visual system worked as a kind of frequency analyzer. Since frequency is a measure of the number of oscillations a wave undergoes per second, this strongly suggested that the brain might be functioning as a hologram does.

But it wasn’t until 1979 that Berkeley neurophysiologists Russell and Karen DeValois made the discovery that settled the matter. Research in the 1960s had shown that each brain cell in the visual cortex is geared to respond to a different pattern - some brain cells fire when the eyes see a horizontal line, others fire when the eyes see a vertical line, and so on. As a result, many researchers concluded that the brain takes input from these highly specialized cells called feature detectors, and somehow fits them together to provide us with our visual perceptions of the world.

Despite the popularity of this view, the DeValoises felt it was only a partial truth. To test their assumption they used Fourier’s equations to convert plaid and checkerboard patterns into simple wave forms. Then they tested to see how the brain cells in the visual cortex responded to these new wave-form images. What they found was that the brain cells responded not to the original patterns, but to the Fourier translations of the patterns.


Only one conclusion could be drawn. The brain was using Fourier mathematics - the same mathematics holography employed - to convert visual images into the Fourier language of wave forms.12

The DeValoises’ discovery was subsequently confirmed by numerous other laboratories around the world, and although it did not provide absolute proof the brain was a hologram, it supplied enough evidence to convince Pribram his theory was correct. Spurred on by the idea that the visual cortex was responding not to patterns but to the frequencies of various wave forms, he began to reassess the role frequency played in the other senses.

It didn’t take long for him to realize that the importance of this role had perhaps been overlooked by twentieth-century scientists. Over a century before the DeValoises’ discovery, the German physiologist and physicist Hermann von Helmholtz had shown that the ear was a frequency analyzer. More recent research revealed that our sense of smell seems to be based on what are called osmic frequencies. Bekesy’s work had clearly demonstrated that our skin is sensitive to frequencies of vibration, and he even produced some evidence that taste may involve frequency analysis.


Interestingly, Bekesy also discovered that the mathematical equations that enabled him to predict how his subjects would respond to various frequencies of vibration were also of the Fourier genre.



The Dancer as Wave Form
But perhaps the most startling finding Pribram uncovered was Russian scientist Nikolai Bernstein’s discovery that even our physical movements may be encoded in our brains in a language of Fourier wave forms.




Russian researcher Nikolai Bernstein

painted white dots on dancers and filmed them dancing against a black background.

When he converted their movements into a language of wave forms,

 he discovered they could be analyzed using Fourier mathematics,

the same mathematics Gabor used to invent the hologram.



In the 1930s Bernstein dressed people in black leotards and painted white dots on their elbows, knees, and other joints.


Then he placed them against black backgrounds and took movies of them doing various physical activities such as dancing, walking, jumping, hammering, and typing.

When he developed the film, only the white dots appeared, moving up and down and across the screen in various complex and flowing movements (see fig. 6). To quantify his findings he Fourier-analyzed the various lines the dots traced out and converted them into a language of wave forms. To his surprise, he discovered the wave forms contained hidden patterns that allowed him to predict his subjects’ next movement to within a fraction of an inch.

When Pribram encountered Bernstein’s work he immediately recognized its implications. Maybe the reason hidden patterns surfaced after Bernstein Fourier-analyzed his subject’s movements was because that was how movements are stored in the brain. This was an exciting possibility, for if the brain analyzed movements by breaking them down into their frequency components, it explained the rapidity with which we learn many complex physical tasks.


For instance, we do not learn to ride a bicycle by painstakingly memorizing every tiny feature of the process. We learn by grasping the whole flowing movement. The fluid wholeness that typifies how we learn so many physical activities is difficult to explain if our brains are storing information in a bit-by-bit manner.


But it becomes much easier to understand if the brain is Fourier-analyzing such tasks and absorbing them as a whole.



The Reaction of the Scientific Community
Despite such evidence, Pribram’s holographic model remains extremely controversial.


Part of the problem is that there are many popular theories of how the brain works and there is evidence to support them all.


Some researchers believe the distributed nature of memory can be explained by the ebb and flow of various brain chemicals. Others hold that electrical fluctuations among large groups of neurons can account for memory and learning. Each school of thought has its ardent supporters, and it is probably safe to say that most scientists remain unpersuaded by Pribram’s arguments.


For example, neuropsychologist Frank Wood of the Bowman Gray School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, feels that,

“there are precious few experimental findings for which holography is the necessary, or even preferable, explanation.”13

Pribram is puzzled by statements such as Wood’s and counters by noting that he currently has a book in press with well over 500 references to such data.
Other researchers agree with Pribram.


Dr. Larry Dossey, former chief of staff at Medical City Dallas Hospital, admits that Pribram’s theory challenges many long-held assumptions about the brain, but points out that,

“many specialists in brain function are attracted to the idea, if for no other reason than the glaring inadequacies of the present orthodox views.”14

Neurologist Richard Restak, author of the PBS series The Brain, shares Dossey’s opinion.


He notes that in spite of overwhelming evidence that human abilities are holistically dispersed throughout the brain, most researchers continue to cling to the idea that function can be located in the brain in the same way that cities can be located on a map. Restak believes that theories based on this premise are not only “oversimplistic,” but actually function as “conceptual straitjackets” that keep us from recognizing the brain’s true complexities.16


He feels that “a hologram is not only possible but, at this moment, represents probably our best ‘model’ for brain functioning.”


Pribram Encounters Bohm

As for Pribram, by the 1970s enough evidence had accumulated to convince him his theory was correct.


In addition, he had taken his ideas into the laboratory and discovered that single neurons in the motor cortex respond selectively to a limited bandwidth of frequencies, a finding that further supported his conclusions.


The question that began to bother him was,

'If the picture of reality in our brains is not a picture at all but a hologram, what is it a hologram of?'

The dilemma posed by this question is analogous to taking a Polaroid picture of a group of people sitting around a table and, after the picture develops, finding that, instead of people, there are only blurry clouds of interference patterns positioned around the table.


In both cases one could rightfully ask,

'Which is the true reality, the seemingly objective world experienced by the observer/photographer or the blur of interference patterns recorded by the camera/brain?'

Pribram realized that if the holographic brain model was taken to its logical conclusions, it opened the door on the possibility that objective reality - the world of coffee cups, mountain vistas, elm trees, and table lamps - might not even exist, or at least not exist in the way we believe it exists.


Was it possible, he wondered, that what the mystics had been saying for centuries was true, reality was maya, an illusion, and what was out there was really a vast, resonating symphony of wave forms, a “frequency domain” that was transformed into the world as we know it only after it entered our senses?

Realizing that the solution he was seeking might lie outside the province of his own field, he went to his physicist son for advice. His son recommended he look into the work of a physicist named David Bohm.


When Pribram did he was electrified.


He not only found the answer to his question, but also discovered that according to Bohm, the entire universe was a hologram.


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