Michael Coleman Talbot was a science fiction writer who turned to non-fiction in an attempt to reconcile his mystical inclinations with his deep appreciation for modern science.(2) Since childhood, Talbot had experienced a wide array of poltergeist-like activity, which forced him to accommodate the paranormal into his view of the world. He devoted his career to helping scientists and laymen do the same. Unfortunately, Talbot’s promising career was cut short when he died of lymphocytic leukemia at the young age of 38, and he did not get to see the far-reaching impact that The Holographic Universe would have in the anomalistic and spiritualist communities.
Talbot was not a researcher in his own right; The Holographic Universe is primarily a work of synthesis. As he explains from the outset, he conceived of the book after reading of two separate references to a “holographic” model of reality in the works of physicist David Bohm, and psychologist Karl Pribram. Talbot found the holographic model helpful in more areas than Bohm and Pribram had applied it to, including in understanding anomalous phenomena.
The Holographic Model
Going in, I was not entirely clear on what exactly was entailed in a holographic model of reality. A real, laser-activated hologram, explains Talbot, contains the totality of the image it projects in every piece of its physical structure. This means that if you cut off a small corner of the hologram and shine a laser through it, you will see the same image projected as you would have if you’d shone the laser through the whole. One could keep cutting smaller pieces off of smaller pieces, and shining a laser through any one of them would still project the same, whole image; it would just get a little fainter each time.
There are two main features of holograms that Talbot finds relevant to our understanding of reality: their ability to store the whole in every piece, and their ability to project a derivative image from a lower, condensed form. Pribram, who had been conducting experiments to locate where specific memories were stored in the brain, found that removing any piece of the brain would only diminish overall cognitive capacity, and would not eliminate any particular memories. He saw in the brain a kind of “holographic” way of storing memories: all of them in every piece.
Bohm, meanwhile, had argued that the three-dimensional world of space and time that we recognize as reality is merely a projection of information stored in what he called “the implicate order.” The implicate order stores information as non-local wave-state possibilities, which our brains collapse to locate things in the dimensions of time and space that our perceptual systems are attuned to. Bohm thought that this implicate order stored information non-locally, much like the holographic brain, and he went on with Pribram to develop the holonomic model of human cognition, incorporating each of their insights.
The concept of reality being stored and accessed in a holographic way is fascinating, but it’s not terribly well fleshed out. I had expected Talbot to build robust and testable theory of holographic physical processes, but he used the holographic model more as a metaphor for understanding anomalous process. This metaphor is invoked throughout the book in order to explain particular, observed phenomena that appear to defy our understanding of time and space, even when the connections between these phenomena are not so clear.
Holograms and the Paranormal
After introducing the holographic model through Pribram and Bohm, Talbot spends the rest of the book discussing anomalous phenomena and how they might be understood as holographic projections from the implicate order.
He mentions Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious, and posits that its source is in the implicate order, which contains all information in the universe. Consciousness reaches in to the implicate order to retrieve symbols and sentiments from the totality of human experience, which we all share, and from which we all pull the same information.
Talbot then goes on to propose a similar mechanism for dreams, lucid dreams, schizophrenic episodes, and psychedelic drug experiences. All of these experiences can involve people accessing information that they could not otherwise have retrieved unless drawing it from the implicate order.
Talbot then goes on to explore the literature on dissociative identity disorder (multiple personality disorder) and the holographic way in which the brain creates new personalities as wholes within the whole of itself. Like memories, these distinct personalities - every bit as complete as the patient’s original personality - are not stored locally in the brain, and their existence alongside others - sometimes hundreds of others - does not diminish the wholeness of any one.
Spring-boarding from Jung’s concept of synchronicity, Talbot explores the possibility of a connection between “inner” mental events, and “outer” physical events. After all, if the mind is reading them both from enfolded wave-forms in the implicate order, why could there not be a link between the two? To demonstrate this possibility, Talbot explores cases of “miraculous” self healing and remarkable belief-based recoveries before broaching the subject of religious miracles.
The idea that certain miraculous feats may actually have happened as recorded, but only as an effect of witnesses’ belief in divine power, and not because of the intervention of any divine power as such, was one of the most interesting insights that the book offered for me. For example, Talbot mentions the case of the Saint Januarius miracles, in which a vial of a red, crusty substance apparently liquifies before crowds of pilgrims on three appointed holy days per year, and spontaneously throughout the year. He theorizes that it is the spectators themselves who are causing the liquefaction: simply by believing that the liquefaction will occur, the spectators collectively retrieve a possibility from the implicate order in which this event occurs, and manifest it in the physical world.
While I’m fascinated by this possibility, which helps to explain so many alleged miracles in history without necessitating belief in the hundreds of different and contradictory theologies used to justify them, it’s still rather speculative. Like most of the unifying theories presented in this book, it also seems only distantly related to the holographic model presented in the introduction.
The second half of the book delves into topics more familiar to seasoned anomalists; poltergeist activity, the spontaneous or intentional materialization of objects, faith healings, psychic readings, and clairvoyance. I was fascinated to learn of “clairvoyant archeology,” and the promise it offers to our study of the past. Likewise, I was surprised to find out just how much research has been done on the concept of reincarnation. Having previously written a book on past lives, Talbot offers a wealth of knowledge on this topic. After being introduced to the work of psychiatrist Dr. Ian Stevenson, who virtually proved the case for reincarnation by investigating, and often confirming, the past-life memories of 3000 children, I’ve been fascinated by the subject and its strong, empirical basis.
The implicate order model applies particularly well to the research on precognition and remote viewing, by positing the existence of some atemporal realm accessible at all times and places by the conscious mind. It also helps explain why and how people undergoing near-death and out-of-body experiences report moments of omniscience, and engage with real-world people and places they had never previously encountered.
Finally, Talbot addresses the topic of UFOs, which he aptly presents in all its complexity as both a physical and subjective phenomenon. In order to understand the UFO phenomenon, he claims, we need to integrate the data from quantum physics telling us that consciousness is a participant in the creation of the physical world, and to see UFOs as projections of the collective consciousness of all beings. Like all anomalies, Talbot suggests, UFOs maybe instances of “the dream dreaming itself.” (3)
Even for its admirable attempt at integrating explanations for anomalous phenomena, it was this second half of the book that began to lose me, as I couldn’t help but feel that Talbot was straying beyond the parameters of his holographic analogy. For example, he devotes nearly 30 pages to discussing things like Yogic “layers” of energy, “therapeutic touch,” and auras, only to weakly connect them by positing that these fields of energy represent a kind of implicate order for the body, or the unconscious mind. The data is interesting, as it always is under Talbot’s curation, but not necessarily supportive of a holographic view of reality.
The book is a treasure trove of anomalous information and brilliant, alternative ontologies. If you choose to flip through a copy of Talbot’s classic yourself, you’ll be exposed to a wide array of paradigm-challenging facts and perspectives. You’ll enjoy letting Talbot guide you through the last half-century of anomalistic research, regardless of what you think of the holographic analogy.
- Jason Charbonneau
(1) Michael Talbot. The Holographic Universe. London: Harper Collins, 1996. ‘
(2) See Talbot’s famous interview for more on his life and background: “Michael Talbot - Part 1 Complete- Synchronicity and the Holographic Universe - Thinking Allowed,” YouTube video, uploaded by ThinkingAllowedTV, Dec 18, 2010, accessed July 18, 2016: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6rgYz_BU2Ew.
(3) Talbot, Holographic Universe, 285.