2 - The Cosmos as Hologram

One can't help but be astonished at the degree to which [Bohm] has been able to break out of the tight molds of scientific conditioning and stand alone with a completely new and literally vast idea, one which has both internal consistency and the logical power to explain widely diverging phenomena of physical experience from an entirely unexpected point of view...


It is a theory which is so intuitively satisfying that many people have felt that if the universe is not the way Bohm describes it, it ought to be.
John P. Briggs and F. David Peat

Looking Gloss Universe

The path that led Bohm to the conviction that the universe is structured like a hologram began at the very edge of matter, in the world of subatomic particles. His interest in science and the way things work blossomed early.


As a young boy growing up in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, he invented a dripless tea kettle, and his father, a successful businessman, urged him to try to turn a profit on the idea. But after learning that the first step in such a venture was to conduct a door-to-door survey to test-market his invention, Bohm’s interest in business waned.1

His interest in science did not, however, and his prodigious curiosity forced him to look for new heights to conquer. He found the most challenging height of all in the 1930s when he attended Pennsylvania State College, for it was there that he first became fascinated by quantum physics.

It is an easy fascination to understand. The strange new land that physicists had found lurking in the heart of the atom contained things more wondrous than anything Cortes or Marco Polo ever encountered. What made this new world so intriguing was that everything about it appeared to be so contrary to common sense. It seemed more like a land ruled by sorcery than an extension of the natural world, an Alice-in-Wonderland realm in which mystifying forces were the norm and everything logical had been turned on its ear.

One startling discovery made by quantum physicists was that if you break matter into smaller and smaller pieces you eventually reach a point where those pieces - electrons, protons, and so on - no longer possess the traits of objects. For example, most of us tend to think of an electron as a tiny sphere or a BB whizzing around, but nothing could be further from the truth. Although an electron can sometimes behave as if it were a compact little particle, physicists have found that it literally possesses no dimension.


This is difficult for most of us to imagine because everything at our own level of existence possesses dimension. And yet if you try to measure the width of an electron, you will discover it’s an impossible task. An electron is simply not an object as we know it.

Another discovery physicists made is that an electron can manifest as either a particle or a wave. If you shoot an electron at the screen of a television that’s been turned off, a tiny point of light will appear when it strikes the phosphorescent chemicals that coat the glass. The single point of impact the electron leaves on the screen clearly reveals the particle-like side of its nature.

But this is not the only form the electron can assume. It can also dissolve into a blurry cloud of energy and behave as if it were a wave spread out over space. When an electron manifests as a wave it can do things no particle can. If it is fired at a barrier in which two slits have been cut, it can go through both slits simultaneously. When wavelike electrons collide with each other they even create interference patterns.


The electron, like some shape-shifter out of folklore, can manifest as either a particle or a wave.

This chameleon-like ability is common to all subatomic particles. It is also common to all things once thought to manifest exclusively as waves. Light, gamma rays, radio waves, X rays - all can change from waves to particles and back again. Today physicists believe that subatomic phenomena should not be classified solely as either waves or particles, but as a single category of somethings that are always somehow both. These somethings are called quanta, and physicists believe they are the basic stuff from which the entire universe is made.

Perhaps most astonishing of all is that there is compelling evidence that the only time quanta ever manifest as particles is when we are looking at them. For instance, when an electron isn’t being looked at, experimental findings suggest that it is always a wave. Physicists are able to draw this conclusion because they have devised clever strategies for deducing how an electron behaves when it is not being observed (it should be noted that this is only one interpretation of the evidence and is not the conclusion of all physicists; as we will see, Bohm himself has a different interpretation).

Once again this seems more like magic than the kind of behavior we are accustomed to expect from the natural world. Imagine owning a bowling ball that was only a bowling ball when you looked at it. If you sprinkled talcum powder all over a bowling lane and rolled such a “quantum” bowling ball toward the pins, it would trace a single line through the talcum powder while you were watching it. But if you blinked while it was in transit, you would find that for the second or two you were not looking at it the bowling bail stopped tracing a line and instead left a broad wavy strip, like the undulating swath of a desert snake as it moves sideways over the sand (see fig. 7),

Such a situation is comparable to the one quantum physicists encountered when they first uncovered evidence that quanta coalesce into particles only when they are being observed.


Physicist Nick Herbert, a supporter of this interpretation, says this has sometimes caused him to imagine that behind his back the world is always,

“a radically ambiguous and ceaselessly flowing quantum soup.”

But whenever he turns around and tries to see the soup, his glance instantly freezes it and turns it back into ordinary reality. He believes this makes us all a little like Midas, the legendary king who never knew the feel of silk or the caress of a human hand because everything he touched turned to gold.

“Likewise humans can never experience the true texture of quantum reality,” says Herbert, “because everything we touch turns to matter.”2

Quanta, is the plum! of quantum. One electron is a quantum. Several electrons are a group of quanta. The word quantum is also synonymous with wave particle, a term that is also used to refer to something that possesses both particle and wave aspects.


Bohm and Interconnectedness
An aspect of quantum reality that Bohm found especially interesting was the strange state of interconnectedness that seemed to exist between apparently unrelated subatomic events. What was equally perplexing was that most physicists tended to attach little importance to the phenomenon.


In fact, so little was made of it that one of the most famous examples of interconnectedness lay hidden in one of quantum physics' basic assumptions for a number of years before anyone noticed it was there.

That assumption was made by one of the founding fathers of quantum physics, the Danish physicist Niels Bohr. Bohr pointed out that if subatomic particles only come into existence in the presence of an observer, then it is also meaningless to speak of a particle’s properties and characteristics as existing before they are observed. This was disturbing to many physicists, for much of science was based on discovering the properties of phenomena. But if the act of observation actually helped create such properties, what did that imply about the future of science?

One physicist who was troubled by Bohr’s assertions was Einstein. Despite the role Einstein had played in the founding of quantum theory, he was not at all happy with the course the fledgling science had taken.




Physicists have found compelling evidence that the only time electrons

and other “quanta” manifest as particles is when we are looking at them.

At all other times they behave as waves.

This is as strange as owning a bowling ball that traces a single line down the lane while you are watching it,

but leaves a wave pattern every time you blink your eyes.


He found Bohr’s conclusion that a particle’s properties don’t exist until they are observed particularly objectionable because, when combined with another of quantum physics' findings, it implied that subatomic particles were interconnected in a way Einstein simply didn’t believe was possible.

That finding was the discovery that some subatomic processes result in the creation of a pair of particles with identical or closely related properties. Consider an extremely unstable atom physicists call positronium. The positronium atom is composed of an electron and a positron (a positron is an electron with a positive charge).


Because a positron is the electron’s antiparticle opposite, the two eventually annihilate each other and decay into two quanta of light or “photons” traveling in opposite directions (the capacity to shapeshift from one kind of particle to another is just another of a quantum’s abilities). According to quantum physics no matter how far apart the photons travel, when they are measured they will always be found to have identical angles of -polarization. (Polarization is the spatial orientation of the photon’s wavelike aspect as it travels away from its point of origin.)

In 1935 Einstein and his colleagues Boris Podolsky and Nathan Rosen published a now famous paper entitled “Can Quantum-Mechanical Description of Physical Reality Be Considered Complete?”


In it they explained why the existence of such twin particles proved that Bohr could not possibly be correct. As they pointed out, two such particles, say, the photons emitted when positronium decays*, could be produced and allowed to travel a significant distance apart.


* Positronium decay is not the subatomic process Einstein and his colleagues employed in their thought experiment, but is used here because it is easy to visualize.


Then they could be intercepted and their angles of polarization measured. If the polarizations are measured at precisely the same moment and are found to be identical, as quantum physics predicts, and if Bohr was correct and properties such as polarization do not coalesce into existence until they are observed or measured, this suggests that somehow the two photons must be instantaneously communicating with each other so they know which angle of polarization to agree upon.


The problem is that according to Einstein’s special theory of relativity, nothing can travel faster than the speed of light, let alone travel instantaneously, for that would be tantamount to breaking the time barrier and would open the door on all kinds of unacceptable paradoxes. Einstein and his colleagues were convinced that no “reasonable definition” of reality would permit such faster-than-light interconnections to exist, and therefore Bohr had to be wrong.3


Their argument is now known as the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen paradox, or EPR paradox for short.

Bohr remained unperturbed by Einstein’s argument. Rather than believing that some kind of faster-than-light communication was taking place, he offered another explanation. If subatomic particles do not exist until they are observed, then one could no longer think of them as independent “things.” Thus Einstein was basing his argument on an error when he viewed twin particles as separate.


They were part of an indivisible system, and it was meaningless to think of them otherwise.

In time most physicists sided with Bohr and became content that his interpretation was correct. One factor that contributed to Bohr’s triumph was that quantum physics had proved so spectacularly successful in predicting phenomena, few physicists were willing even to consider the possibility that it might be faulty in some way. In addition, when Einstein and his colleagues first made their proposal about twin particles, technical and other reasons prevented such an experiment from actually being performed. This made it even easier to put out of mind.


This was curious, for although Bohr had designed his argument to counter Einstein’s attack on quantum theory, as we will see, Bohr’s view that subatomic systems are indivisible has equally profound implications for the nature of reality.


Ironically, these implications were also ignored, and once again the potential importance of interconnectedness was swept under the carpet.



A Living Sea of Electrons
During his early years as a physicist Bohm also accepted Bohr’s position, but he remained puzzled by the lack of interest Bohr and his followers displayed toward interconnectedness.


After graduating from Pennsylvania State College, he attended the University of California at Berkeley, and before receiving his doctorate there in 1943, he worked at the Lawrence Berkeley Radiation Laboratory.


There he encountered another striking example of quantum interconnectedness.

At the Berkeley Radiation Laboratory Bohm began what was to become his landmark work on plasmas. A plasma is a gas containing a high density of electrons and positive ions, atoms that have a positive charge. To his amazement he found that once they were in a plasma, electrons stopped behaving like individuals and started behaving as if they were part of a larger and interconnected whole.


Although their individual movements appeared random, vast numbers of electrons were able to produce effects that were surprisingly well-organized. Like some amoeboid creature, the plasma constantly regenerated itself and enclosed all impurities in a wall in the same way that a biological organism might encase a foreign substance in a cyst.4 So struck was Bohm by these organic qualities that be later remarked he’d frequently had the impression the electron sea was “alive.” 5

In 1947 Bohm accepted an assistant professorship at Princeton University, an indication of how highly he was regarded, and there he extended his Berkeley research to the study of electrons in metals. Once again he found that the seemingly haphazard movements of individual electrons managed to produce highly organized overall effects. Like the plasmas he had studied at Berkeley, these were no longer situations involving two particles, each behaving as if it knew what the other was doing, but entire oceans of particles, each behaving as if it knew what untold trillions of others were doing.


Bohm called such collective movements of electrons plasmons, and their discovery established his reputation as a physicist.


Bohm’s Disillusionment
Both his sense of the importance of interconnectedness as well as his growing dissatisfaction with several of the other prevailing views in physics caused Bohm to become increasingly troubled by Bohr’s interpretation of quantum theory.


After three years of teaching the subject at Princeton he decided to improve his understanding by writing a textbook. When he finished he found he still wasn’t comfortable with what quantum physics was saying and sent copies of the book to both Bohr and Einstein to ask for their opinions.


He got no answer from Bohr, but Einstein contacted him and said that since they were both at Princeton they should meet and discuss the book. In the first of what was to turn into a six-month series of spirited conversations, Einstein enthusiastically told Bohm that he had never seen quantum theory presented so clearly. Nonetheless, he admitted he was still every bit as dissatisfied with the theory as was Bohm. During their conversations the two men discovered they each had nothing but admiration for the theory’s ability to predict phenomena.


What bothered them was that it provided no real way of conceiving of the basic structure of the world. Bohr and his followers also claimed that quantum theory was complete and it was not possible to arrive at any clearer understanding of what was going on in the quantum realm.


This was the same as saying there was no deeper reality beyond the subatomic landscape, no further answers to be found, and this, too, grated on both Bohm and Einstein’s philosophical sensibilities.


Over the course of their meetings they discussed many other tilings, but these points in particular gained new prominence in Bohm’s thoughts. Inspired by his interactions with Einstein, he accepted the validity of his misgivings about quantum physics and decided there .had to be an alternative view. When his textbook Quantum Theory was published in 1951 it was hailed as a classic, but it was a classic about a subject to which Bohm no longer gave his full allegiance.


His mind, ever active and always looking for deeper explanations, was already searching for a better way of describing reality.



A New Kind of Field and the Bullet That Killed Lincoln
After his talks with Einstein, Bohm tried to find a workable alternative to Bohr’s interpretation. He began by assuming that particles such as electrons do exist in the absence of observers.


He also assumed that there was a deeper reality beneath Bohr’s inviolable wall, a subquantum level that still awaited discovery by science. Building on these premises he discovered that simply by proposing the existence of a new kind of field on this subquantum level he was able to explain the findings of quantum physics as well as Bohr could. Bohm called his proposed new field the quantum potential and theorized that, like gravity, it pervaded all of space.


However, unlike gravitational fields, magnetic fields, and so on, its influence did not diminish with distance. Its effects were subtle, but it was equally powerful everywhere. Bohm published his alternative interpretation of quantum theory in 1952.

Reaction to his new approach was mainly negative. Some physicists were so convinced such alternatives were impossible that they dismissed his ideas out of hand. Others launched passionate attacks against his reasoning. In the end virtually all such arguments were based primarily on philosophical differences, but it did not matter. Bohr’s point of view had become so entrenched in physics that Bohm’s alternative was looked upon as little more than heresy.

Despite the harshness of these attacks Bohm remained unswerving in his conviction that there was more to reality than Bohr’s view allowed. He also felt that science was much too limited in its outlook when it came to assessing new ideas such as his own, and b a 1957 book entitled Causality and Chance in Modern Physics, he examined several of the philosophical suppositions responsible for this attitude.


One was the widely held assumption that it was possible for any single theory, such as quantum theory, to be complete. Bohm criticized this assumption by pointing out that nature may be infinite. Because it would not be possible for any theory to completely explain something that is infinite, Bohm suggested that open scientific inquiry might be better served if researchers refrained from making this assumption.

In the book he argued that the way science viewed causality was also much too limited. Most effects were thought of as having only one or several causes. However, Bohm felt that an effect could have an infinite number of causes. For example, if you asked someone what caused Abraham Lincoln’s death, they might answer that it was the bullet in John Wilkes Booth’s gun.


But a complete list of all the causes that contributed to Lincoln’s death would have to include all of the events that led to the development of the gun, all of the factors that caused Booth to want to kill Lincoln, all of the steps in the evolution of the human race that allowed for the development of a hand capable of holding a gun, and so on, and so on.


Bohm conceded that most of the time one could ignore the vast cascade of causes that had led to any given effect, but he still felt it was important for scientists to remember that no single cause-and-effect relationship was ever really separate from the universe as a whole.


If You Want to Know Where You Are, Ask the Nonlocals
During this same period of his life Bohm also continued to refine his alternative approach to quantum physics.


As he looked more carefully into the meaning of the quantum potential he discovered it had a number of features that implied an even more radical departure from orthodox thinking. One was the importance of wholeness.


Classical science had always viewed the state of a system as a whole as merely the result of the interaction of its parts. However, the quantum potential stood this view on its ear and indicated that the behavior of the parts was actually organized by the whole. This not only took Bohr’s assertion that subatomic particles are not independent “things,” but are part of an indivisible system one step further, but even suggested that wholeness was in some ways the more primary reality.

It also explained how electrons in plasmas (and other specialized states such as superconductivity) could behave like interconnected wholes.


As Bohm states, such,

“electrons are not scattered because, through the action of the quantum potential, the whole system is undergoing a coordinated movement more like a ballet dance than like a crowd of unorganized people.”

Once again he notes that,

“such quantum wholeness of activity is closer to the organized unity of functioning of the parts of a living being than it is to the kind of unity that is obtained by putting together the parts of a machine.” 8

An even more surprising feature of the quantum potential was its implications for the nature of location. At the level of our everyday lives things have very specific locations, but Bohm’s interpretation of quantum physics indicated that at the subquantum level, the level in which the quantum potential operated, location ceased to exist. All points in space became equal to all other points in space, and it was meaningless to speak of anything as being separate from anything else.


Physicists call this property “non locality.”

The nonlocal aspect of the quantum potential enabled Bohm to explain the connection between twin particles without violating special relativity’s ban against anything traveling faster than the speed of light. To illustrate how, he offers the following analogy: Imagine a fish swimming in an aquarium. Imagine also that you have never seen a fish or an aquarium before and your only knowledge about them comes from two television cameras, one directed at the aquarium’s front and the other at its side.


When you look at the two television monitors you might mistakenly assume that the fish on the screens are separate entities. After all, because the cameras are set at different angles, each of the images will be slightly different. But as you continue to watch you will eventually realize there is a relationship between the two fish. When one turns, the other makes a slightly different but corresponding turn.


When one faces the front, the other faces the side, and so on. If you are unaware of tile full scope of the situation, you might wrongly conclude that the fish are instantaneously communicating with one another, but this is not the case. No communication is taking place because at a deeper level of reality, the reality of the aquarium, the two fish are actually one and the same.


This, says Bohm, is precisely what is going on between particles such as the two photons emitted when a positronium atom decays (see fig. 8).




Bohm believes subatomic particles are connected in the same way as the images of the fish on the two television monitors.

Although particles such as electrons appear to be separate from one another,

on a deeper level of reality - a level analogous to the aquarium - they are actually just different aspects of a deeper cosmic unity.


Indeed, because the quantum potential permeates all of space, all particles are non-locally interconnected.


More and more the picture of reality Bohm was developing was not one in which subatomic particles were separate from one another and moving through the void of space, but one in which all things were part of an unbroken web and embedded in a space that was as real and rich with process as the matter that moved through it.

Bohm’s ideas still left most physicists unpersuaded, but did stir the interest of a few. One of these was John Stewart Bell, a theoretical physicist at CERN, a center for peaceful atomic research near Geneva, Switzerland. Like Bohm, Bell had also become discontented with quantum theory and felt there must be some alternative.


As he later said,

“Then in 1952 I saw Bohm’s paper. His idea was to complete quantum mechanics by saying there are certain variables in addition to those which everybody knew about. That impressed me very much.”

Bell also realized that Bohm’s theory implied the existence of non-locatity and wondered if there was any way of experimentally verifying its existence.


The question remained in the back of his mind for years until a sabbatical in 1964 provided him with the freedom to focus his full attention on the matter. Then he quickly came up with an elegant mathematical proof that revealed how such an experiment could be performed. The only problem was that it required a level of technological precision that was not yet available.


To be certain that particles, such as those in the EPR paradox, were not using some normal means of communication, the basic operations of the experiment had to be performed in such an infinitesimally brief instant that there wouldn’t even be enough time for a ray of light to cross the distance separating the two particles.


This meant that the instruments used in the experiment had to perform all of the necessary operations within a few thousand-millionths of a second.



Enter the Hologram
By the late 1950s Bohm had already had his run-in with McCarthyism and had become a research fellow at Bristol University, England.


There, along with a young research student named Yakir Aharonov, he discovered another important example of nonlocal interconnectedness. Bohm and Aharonov found that under the right circumstances an electron is able to “feel” the presence of a magnetic field that is in a region where there is zero probability of finding the electron.


This phenomenon is now known as the Aharonov-Bohm effect, and when the two men first published their discovery, many physicists did not believe such an effect was possible. Even today there is enough residual skepticism that, despite confirmation of the effect in numerous experiments, occasionally papers still appear arguing that it doesn’t exist.

As always, Bohm stoically accepted his continuing role as the voice in the crowd that bravely notes the emperor has no clothes.


In an interview conducted some years later he offered a simple summation of the philosophy underlying his courage:

“In the long run it is far more dangerous to adhere to illusion than to face what the actual fact is.” 8

Nevertheless, the limited response to his ideas about wholeness and non-locality and his own inability to see how to proceed further caused him to focus his attention in other directions. In the 1960s this led him to take a closer look at order. Classical science generally divides things into two categories: those that possess order in the arrangement of their parts and those whose parts are disordered, or random, in arrangement.


Snowflakes, computers, and living things are all ordered. The pattern a handful of spilled coffee beans makes on the floor, the debris left by an explosion, and a series of numbers generated by a roulette wheel are all disordered.

As Bohm delved more deeply into the matter he realized there were also different degrees of order. Some things were much more ordered than other things, and this implied that there was, perhaps, no end to the hierarchies of order that existed in the universe. From this it occurred to Bohm that maybe things that we perceive as disordered aren’t disordered at all.


Perhaps their order is of such an “indefinitely high degree” that they only appear to us as random (interestingly, mathematicians are unable to prove randomness, and although some sequences of numbers are categorized as random, these are only educated guesses).

While immersed in these thoughts, Bohm saw a device on a BBC television program that helped him develop his ideas even further.


The device was a specially designed jar containing a large rotating cylinder. The narrow space between the cylinder and the jar was filled with glycerin - a thick, clear liquid - and floating motionlessly in the glycerin was a drop of ink. What interested Bohm was that when the handle on the cylinder was turned, the drop of ink spread out through the syrupy glycerin and seemed to disappear.


But as soon as the handle was turned back in the opposite direction, the faint tracing of ink slowly collapsed upon itself and once again formed a droplet (see fig. 9).


Bohm writes,

“This immediately struck me as very relevant to the question of order, since, when the ink drop was spread out, it still had a ‘hidden’ (i.e., non-manifest) order that was revealed when it was reconstituted. On the other hand, in our usual language, we would say that the ink was in a state of ‘disorder' when it was diffused through the glycerin. This led me to see that new notions of order must be involved here.” 9



When a drop of ink is placed in a jar full of glycerin and a cylinder inside the jar is turned,

the drop appears to spread out and disappear.

But when the cylinder is turned in the opposite direction,

the drop comes back together.

Bohm uses this phenomenon as an example of how order can be either manifest (explicit) or hidden (implicit).


This discovery excited Bohm greatly, for it provided him with a new way of looking at many of the problems he had been contemplating.


Soon after coming across the ink-in-glycerin device he encountered an even better metaphor for understanding order, one that enabled him not only to bring together all the various strands of his years of thinking, but did so with such force and explanatory power it seemed almost tailor-made for the purpose. That metaphor was the hologram.

As soon as Bohm began to reflect on the hologram he saw that it too provided a new way of understanding order. Lake the ink drop in its dispersed state, the interference patterns recorded on a piece of holographic film also appear disordered to the naked eye. Both possess orders that are hidden or enfolded in much the same way that the order in a plasma is enfolded in the seemingly random behavior of each of its electrons.


But this was not the only insight the hologram provided.

The more Bohm thought about it the more convinced he became that the universe actually employed holographic principles in its operations, was itself a kind of giant, flowing hologram, and this realization allowed him to crystallize all of his various insights into a sweeping and cohesive whole. He published his first papers on his holographic view of the universe in the early 1970s, and in 1980 he presented a mature distillation of his thoughts in a book entitled Wholeness and the Implicate Order. In it he did more than just link his myriad ideas together.


He transfigured them into a new way of looking at reality that was as breathtaking as it was radical.



Enfolded Orders and Unfolded Realities
One of Bohm’s most startling assertions is that the tangible reality of our everyday lives is really a kind of illusion, like a holographic image.


Underlying it is a deeper order of existence, a vast and more primary level of reality that gives birth to all the objects and appearances of our physical world in much the same way that a piece of holographic film gives birth to a hologram.


Bohm calls this deeper level of reality the implicate (which means “enfolded”) order, and he refers to our own level of existence as the explicate, or unfolded, order. He uses these terms because he sees the manifestation of all forms in the universe as the result of countless enfolding and unfolding between these two orders.


For example, Bohm believes an electron is not one thing but a totality or ensemble enfolded throughout the whole of space. When an instrument detects the presence of a single electron it is simply because one aspect of the electron’s ensemble has unfolded, similar to the way an ink drop unfolds out of the glycerin, at that particular location. When an electron appears to be moving it is due to a continuous series of such enfoldments and enfoldments.

Put another way, electrons and all other particles are no more substantive or permanent than the form a geyser of water takes as it gushes out of a fountain. They are sustained by a constant influx from the implicate order, and when a particle appears to be destroyed, it is not lost. It has merely enfolded back into the deeper order from which it sprang.


A piece of holographic film and the image it generates are also an example of an implicate and explicate order. The film is an implicate order because the image encoded in its interference patterns is a hidden totality enfolded throughout the whole. The hologram projected from the film is an explicate order because it represents the unfolded and perceptible version of the image.

The constant and flowing exchange between the two orders explains how particles, such as the electron in the positronium atom, can shape-shift from one kind of particle to another. Such shiftings can be viewed as one particle, say an electron, enfolding back into the implicate order while another, a photon, unfolds and takes its place. It also explains how a quantum can manifest as either a particle or a wave.


According to Bohm, both aspects are always enfolded in a quantum’s ensemble, but the way an observer interacts with the ensemble determines which aspect unfolds and which remains hidden. As such, the role an observer plays in determining the form a quantum takes may be no more mysterious than the fact that the way a jeweler manipulates a gem determines which of its facets become visible and which do not.


Because the term hologram usually refers to an image that is static and does not convey the dynamic and ever active nature of the incalculable enfolding and unfoldings that moment by moment create our universe, Bohm prefers to describe the universe not as a hologram, but as a “holo-movement.”

The existence of a deeper and holographically organized order also explains why reality becomes nonlocal at the subquantum level. As we have seen, when something is organized holographically, all semblance of location breaks down. Saying that every part of a piece of holographic film contains all the information possessed by the whole is really just another way of saying that the information is distributed non-locally.


Hence, if the universe is organized according to holographic principles, it, too, would be expected to have nonlocal properties.



The Undivided Wholeness of All Things
Most mind-boggling of all are Bohm’s fully developed ideas about wholeness.


Because everything in the cosmos is made out of the seamless holographic fabric of the implicate order, he believes it is as meaningless to view the universe as composed of “parts,” as it is to view the different geysers in a fountain as separate from the water out of which they flow. An electron is not an “elementary particle.”


It is just a name given to a certain aspect of the holo-movement. Dividing reality up into parts and then naming those parts is always arbitrary, a product of convention, because subatomic particles, and everything else in the universe, are no more separate from one another than different patterns in an ornate carpet.

This is a profound suggestion. In his general theory of relativity Einstein astounded the world when he said that space and time are not separate entities, but are smoothly linked and part of a larger whole he called the space-time continuum. Bohm takes this idea a giant step further. He says that everything in the universe is part of a continuum. Despite the apparent separateness of things at the explicate level, everything is a seamless extension of everything else, and ultimately even the implicate and explicate orders blend into each other.

Take a moment to consider this. Look at your hand. Now look at the light streaming from the lamp beside you. And at the dog resting at your feet. You are not merely made of the same things. You are the same thing. One thing. Unbroken. One enormous something that has extended its uncountable arms and appendages into all the apparent objects, atoms, restless oceans, and twinkling stars in the cosmos.

Bohm cautions that this does not mean the universe is a giant undifferentiated mass. Things can be part of an undivided whole and still possess their own unique qualities. To illustrate what he means he points to the little eddies and whirlpools that often form in a river. At a glance such eddies appear to be separate things and possess many individual characteristics such as size, rate, and direction of rotation, et cetera.


But careful scrutiny reveals that it is impossible to determine where any given whirlpool ends and the river begins. Thus, Bohm is not suggesting that the differences between “things” is meaningless.


He merely wants us to be aware constantly that dividing various aspects of the holo-movement into “things” is always an abstraction, a way of making those aspects stand out in our perception by our way of thinking. In attempts to correct this, instead of calling different aspects of the holo-movement “things,” he prefers to call them “relatively independent subtotalities.”10

Indeed, Bohm believes that our almost universal tendency to fragment the world and ignore the dynamic interconnectedness of all things is responsible for many of our problems, not only in science but in our lives and our society as well.


For instance, we believe we can extract the valuable parts of the earth without affecting the whole. We believe it is possible to treat parts of our body and not be concerned with the whole. We believe we can deal with various problems in our society, such as crime, poverty, and drug addiction, without addressing the problems in our society as a whole, and so on.


In his writings Bohm argues passionately that our current way of fragmenting the world into parts not only doesn’t work, but may even lead to our extinction.



Consciousness as a More Subtle Form of Matter
In addition to explaining why quantum physicists find so many examples of interconnectedness when they plumb the depths of matter, Bohm’s holographic universe explains many other puzzles.


One is the effect consciousness seems to have on the subatomic world. As we have seen, Bohm rejects the idea that particles don’t exist until they are observed. But he is not in principle against trying to bring consciousness and physics together. He simply feels that most physicists go about it the wrong way, by once again trying to fragment reality and saying that one separate thing, consciousness, interacts with another separate thing, a subatomic particle.

Because all such things are aspects of the holo-movement, he feels it has no meaning to speak of consciousness and matter as interacting. In a sense, the observer is the observed. The observer is also the measuring device, the experimental results, the laboratory, and the breeze that blows outside the laboratory.


In fact, Bohm believes that consciousness is a more subtle form of matter, and the basis for any relationship between the two lies not in our own level of reality, but deep in the implicate order. Consciousness is present in various degrees of enfoldment and enfoldment in all matter, which is perhaps why plasmas possess some of the traits of living things.


As Bohm puts it,

“The ability of form to be active is the most characteristic feature of mind, and we have something that is mind-like already with the electron.”11

Similarly, he believes that dividing the universe up into living and nonliving things also has no meaning.


Animate and inanimate matter are inseparably interwoven, and life, too, is enfolded throughout the totality of the universe. Even a rock is in some way alive, says Bohm, for life and intelligence are present not only in all of matter, but in “energy,” “space,” “time,” “the fabric of the entire universe,” and everything else we abstract out of the holo-movement and mistakenly view as separate things.

The idea that consciousness and life (and indeed all things) are ensembles enfolded throughout the universe has an equally dazzling flip side. Just as every portion of a hologram contains the image of the whole, every portion of the universe enfolds the whole. This means that if we knew how to access it we could find the Andromeda galaxy in the thumbnail of our left hand.


We could also find Cleopatra meeting Caesar for the first time, for in principle the whole past and implications for the whole future are also enfolded in each small region of space and time. Every cell in our body enfolds the entire cosmos.


So does every leaf, every raindrop, and every dust mote, which gives new meaning to William Blake’s famous poem:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand

And Eternity in an hour.


The Energy of a Trillion Atomic Bombs in Every Cubic Centimeter of Space
If our universe is only a pale shadow of a deeper order, what else lies hidden, enfolded in the warp and weft of our reality?


Bohm has a suggestion.


According to our current understanding of physics, every region of space is awash with different kinds of fields composed of waves of varying lengths. Each wave always has at least some energy. When physicists calculate the minimum amount of energy a wave can possess, they find that every cubic centimeter of empty space contains more energy than the total energy of all the matter in the known universe!

Some physicists refuse to take this calculation seriously and believe it must somehow be in error. Bohm thinks this infinite ocean of energy does exist and tells us at least a little about the vast and hidden nature of the implicate order. He feels most physicists ignore the existence of this enormous ocean of energy because, like fish who are unaware of the water in which they swim, they have been taught to focus primarily on objects embedded in the ocean, on matter.

Bohm’s view that space is as real and rich with process as the matter that moves through it reaches full maturity in his ideas about the implicate sea of energy. Matter does not exist independently from the sea, from so-called empty space. It is a part of space. To explain what he means, Bohm offers the following analogy: A crystal cooled to absolute zero will allow a stream of electrons to pass through it without scattering them. If the temperature is raised, various flaws in the crystal will lose their transparency, so to speak, and begin to scatter electrons.


From an electron’s point of view such flaws would appear as pieces of “matter” floating in a sea of nothingness, but this is not really the case. The nothingness and the pieces of matter do not exist independently from one another. They are both part of the same fabric, the deeper order of the crystal.

Bohm believes the same is true at our own level of existence. Space is not empty. It is full, a plenum as opposed to a vacuum, and is the ground for the existence of everything, including ourselves.


The universe is not separate from this cosmic sea of energy, it is a ripple on its surface, a comparatively small “pattern of excitation” in the midst of an unimaginably vast ocean.

“This excitation pattern is relatively autonomous and gives rise to approximately recurrent, stable and separable projections into a three-dimensional explicate order of manifestation" states Bohm.11

In other words, despite its apparent materiality and enormous size, the universe does not exist in and of itself, but is the stepchild of something far vaster and more ineffable. More than that, it is not even a major production of this vaster something, but is only a passing shadow, a mere hiccup in the greater scheme of things.

This infinite sea of energy is not all that is enfolded in the implicate order.


Because the implicate order is the foundation that has given birth to everything in our universe, at the very least it also contains every subatomic particle that has been or will be; every configuration of matter, energy, life, and consciousness that is possible, from quasars to the brain of Shakespeare, from the double helix, to the forces that control the sizes and shapes of galaxies. And even this is not all it may contain. Bohm concedes that there is no reason to believe the implicate order is the end of things.


There may be other undreamed of orders beyond it, infinite stages of further development.



Experimental Support for Bohm’s Holographic Universe
A number of tantalizing findings in physics suggest that Bohm may be correct.


Even disregarding the implicate sea of energy, space is filled with light and other electromagnetic waves that constantly crisscross and interfere with one another. As we have seen, all particles are also waves. This means that physical objects and everything else we perceive in reality are composed of interference patterns, a fact that has undeniable holographic implications.

Another compelling piece of evidence comes from a recent experimental finding. In the 1970s the technology became available to actually perform the two-particle experiment outlined by Bell, and a number of different researchers attempted the task. Although the findings were promising, none was able to produce conclusive results.


Then in 1982 physicists Alain Aspect, Jean Dalibard and Gerard Roger of the Institute of Optics at the University of Paris succeeded. First they produced a series of twin photons by heating calcium atoms with lasers. Then they allowed each photon to travel in opposite directions through 6.5 meters of pipe and pass through special filters that directed them toward one of two possible polarization analyzers.


It took each filter 10 billionths of a second to switch between one analyzer or the other, about 30 billionths of a second less than it took for light to travel the entire 13 meters separating each set of photons. In this way Aspect and his colleagues were able to rule out any possibility of the photons communicating through any known physical process.

Aspect and his team discovered that, as quantum theory predicted, each photon was still able to correlate its angle of polarization with that of its twin. This meant that either Einstein’s ban against faster-than-light communication was being violated, or the two photons were non-locally connected. Because most physicists are opposed to admitting faster-than-light processes into physics, Aspect’s experiment is generally viewed as virtual proof that the connection between the two photons is nonlocal.


Furthermore, as physicist Paul Davis of the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, England, observes, since all particles are continually interacting and separating,

“the nonlocal aspects of quantum systems is therefore a general property of nature.”13

Aspect’s findings do not prove that Bohm’s model of the universe is correct, but they do provide it with tremendous support. Indeed, as mentioned, Bohm does not believe any theory is correct in an absolute sense, including his own. All are only approximations of the truth, finite maps we use to try to chart territory that is both infinite and indivisible.


This does not mean he feels his theory is not testable. He is confident that at some point in the future techniques will be developed which will allow his ideas to be tested (when Bohm is criticized on this point he notes that there are a number of theories in physics, such as “superstring theory,” which will probably not be testable for several decades).



The Reaction of the Physics Community
Most physicists are skeptical of Bohm’s ideas.


For example, Yale physicist Lee Smolin simply does not find Bohm’s theory “very compelling, physically.”14 Nonetheless, there is an almost universal respect for Bohm’s intelligence.


The opinion of Boston University physicist Abner Shimony is representative of this view.

“I’m afraid I just don’t understand his theory. It is certainly a metaphor and the question is how literally to take the metaphor. Still, he has really thought very deeply about the matter and I think he’s done a tremendous service by bringing these questions to the forefront of physics' research instead of just having them swept under the rug. He’s been a courageous, daring, and imaginative man.”15

Such skepticism notwithstanding, there are also physicists who are sympathetic to Bohm’s ideas, including such big guns as Roger Penrose of Oxford, the creator of the modern theory of the black hole; Bernard d’Espagnat of the University of Paris, one of the world’s leading authorities on the conceptual foundations of quantum theory; and Cambridge’s Brian Josephson, winner of the 1973 Nobel Prize in physics.


Josephson believes Bohm’s implicate order may someday even lead to the inclusion of God or Mind within the framework of science, an idea Josephson supports.16



Pribram and Bohm Together
Considered together, Bohm and Pribram’s theories provide a profound new way of looking at the world: Our brains mathematically construct objective reality by interpreting frequencies that are ultimately projections from another dimension, a deeper order of existence that is beyond both space and time: The brain is a hologram enfolded in a holographic universe.

For Pribram, this synthesis made him realize that the objective world does not exist, at least not in the way we are accustomed to believing. What is “out there” is a vast ocean of waves and frequencies, and reality looks concrete to us only because our brains are able to take this holographic blur and convert it into the sticks and stones and other familiar objects that make up our world.


How is the brain (which itself is composed of frequencies of matter) able to take something as insubstantial as a blur of frequencies and make it seem solid to the touch?

“The kind of mathematical process that Bekesy simulated with his vibrators is basic to how our brains construct our image of a world out there,” Pribram states.17

In other words, the smoothness of a piece of fine china and the feel of beach sand beneath our feet are really just elaborate versions of the phantom limb syndrome.

According to Pribram this does not mean there aren’t china cups and grains of beach sand out there. It simply means that a china cup has two very different aspects to its reality. When it is filtered through the lens of our brain it manifests as a cup. But if we could get rid of our lenses, we’d experience it as an interference pattern.


Which one is real and which is illusion?

“Both are real to me,” says Pribram, “or, if you want to say, neither of them are real.”18

This state of affairs is not limited to china cups. We, too, have two very different aspects to our reality.


We can view ourselves as physical bodies moving through space. Or we can view ourselves as a blur of interference patterns enfolded throughout the cosmic hologram. Bohm believes this second point of view might even be the more correct, for to think of ourselves as a holographic mind/brain looking at a holographic universe is again an abstraction, an attempt to separate two things that ultimately cannot be separated.19

Do not be troubled if this is difficult to grasp. It is relatively easy to understand the idea of holism in something that is external to us, like an apple in a hologram. What makes it difficult is that in this case we are not looking at the hologram.


We are part of the hologram...

The difficulty is also another indication of how radical a revision Bohm and Pribram are trying to make in our way of thinking. But it is not the only radical revision. Pribram’s assertion that our brains construct objects pales beside another of Bohm’s conclusions: that we even construct space and time.20


The implications of this view are just one of the subjects that will be examined as we explore the effect Bohm and Pribram’s ideas have had on the work of researchers in other fields.


Back to Contents