Swedenborg and the Holographic Paradigm by Michael Talbot
If Emanuel Swedenborg were alive today, it is very likely that he would consider many of the findings of the “new physics” compatible with his own thought. This is surprising, for many of the concepts arrived at by contemporary physics are so foreign to everyday ways of thinking that it is difficult for modern sensibilities to grasp them. That a man born three centuries ago should articulate them in his writings is nothing short of remarkable.
For example, in the Newtonian view of physics, time and space were considered absolute. Even Einstein, who proposed that time was relative and space a malleable something subject to the warping effects of gravity, shied away from the theoretical territory that would have allowed him to postulate the existence of “black holes.” It wasn’t until the German physicist Karl Schwarzschild calculated what space would look like surrounding a gravitationally collapsed star that the concept of a black hole was given birth and with it the understanding that there could exist regions literally beyond space and time. However, in his writings Swedenborg revealed that he was already quite comfortable with the notion that there existed regions beyond space and time. As he wrote, “I beg you, though, not to muddle your concepts with time and space. To the extent that there is time and space in your concepts as you read what follows, you will not understand it; for the Divine is not in time and space” (DLW 51).
Another assertion of twentieth-century physics that has caused no small amount of dismay among scientists is the discovery that the mere act of observation alters and actually helps create what is perceived in the subatomic landscape. Although it is difficult for most Earthbound minds to fathom, the current view of physics holds that subatomic particles or “quanta” do not really exist until an observer enters the picture and, through the act of observation, somehow imbues them with actuality.
Although this mysterious transaction between the observer and the observed is now an accepted phenomenon of quantum physics, physicists are still in staunch disagreement as to what it implies about the workings of reality. Some refuse to confront the philosophical implications at all, while others assert that it is undeniable evidence that the human consciousness actually reaches out and interacts with physical reality, and again Swedenborg would most assuredly concur. As he stated in Heaven and Hell:
There are people who believe that thoughts and affections do not really reach out around them, but occur within them, because they see their thought processes inside themselves, and not as remote from them; but they are quite wrong. As eyesight has an outreach to remote objects, and is influenced by the pattern of things seen “out there,” so too that inner sight which is discernment has an outreach in the spiritual world, even though we do not perceive it. (HH 203)
Swedenborg even foretold the finding that gave quantum physics its name, the discovery that at the subatomic level phenomena in nature cease to be continuous. For the better part of human existence the idea that phenomena in nature are continuous had been accepted as self-evident. After all, this is what our everyday experience tells us. When you turn the spigot on a keg of cider, the cider flows out in a continuous stream, not in discontinuous spurts. Similarly, rivers move along continuously, as do air currents, and when you pedal faster on a bicycle, the bicycle does not accelerate in sporadic lurches, but accelerates smoothly.
It thus came as some surprise to physicists to discover that this was not the case with subatomic phenomena. The first indication of the discontinuous nature of the quantum realm was made in 1900 by the German physicist Max Planck. Planck was studying black-body radiation, or the way that nonluminous objects such as iron bars give off light when they are heated to high temperatures. Much to his chagrin, he found that the frequency of radiation given off by such slowly heated objects did not rise continuously, but instead rose in distinct spurts. As he stated later, out of “sheer desperation” he called these discrete spurts of energy “quanta,” and thus gave quantum physics its name.
In time it was discovered that many other subatomic phenomena were similarly quantized. For example, although a planet theoretically can occupy any orbit in the solar system, it was found that electrons could only inhabit very specific orbits, or energy levels, around the nucleus of an atom. In short, as science probed deeper into the very small, it was found that although reality appears to be continuous at our level of existence, like a photograph in a magazine, which is composed of so many tiny dots, at the subatomic level reality is discontinuous and granular. (Although it should be noted that, again, the granular appearance of subatomic reality does not actually coalesce into being until an observer enters the picture.) The acceptance of this fact is one of the first lessons that a modern student of physics must acknowledge in order to have any hope of pushing the boundaries of science farther. Or as Swedenborg prophetically wrote:
A knowledge of levels is like a key for unlocking the causes of things and entering into them. Without this knowledge, one can know hardly anything about the causes of things. In fact, the objects and subjects of each world seem straightforward, as though nothing more were involved than the eye can observe. Yet this, relative to what lies within, is only a minute fraction – most minute. The deeper matters that are not visible cannot be unveiled without a knowledge of levels. We progress from more outward to more inward things, and through these to the inmost, by levels – not by a continuous slope [literally, continuous levels] but by quantum leaps [literally, discrete levels]. (DLW 184)
Such remarkable insights notwithstanding, perhaps the most astonishing foreshadowing of new-physics ideas in Swedenborg’s writings are the similarities between his world view and a revolutionary new way of looking at nature known as the “holographic paradigm.”
To understand what is meant by the holographic paradigm, it is first necessary to say a few words about holography. Holography is a type of photography that utilizes laser light instead of regular light to create three-dimensional photographs known as “holograms.” To make a hologram, a laser is shone on an object and then a second laser beam is bounced off the reflected light of the first. The pattern that results from the intermingling of the two lasers (known as a “pattern of interference”) is then recorded on a piece of photographic film. To the naked eye such a pattern is a meaningless swirl. However, when a laser beam is passed through the film, a three-dimensional image of the original object reappears.
Aside from being three-dimensional, holograms differ from normal photographs in another intriguing way. If you cut a photograph of an apple in half, you will end up with only half an apple in each severed piece. However, if you cut a hologram of an apple in half, each half will still contain a smaller but complete image of the whole apple. In other words, because it is the product of a pattern of interference, the image in a hologram is not localized, but is contained equally in every portion of the whole.
This is an important point, for it illustrates an entirely new way of perceiving and thinking about order. Throughout most of human history we have viewed the universe and the various natural phenomena it contains as functioning like so many machines. To figure out the way something works – whether it be an atom or a blood cell – we have sought to break it down into its respective parts. Such an approach, the belief that a phenomenon can be understood by dismantling it and studying the way its pieces fit together, is known as “mechanism.”
What a hologram teaches us is that not everything in the universe is put together like a machine and therefore a mechanistic approach may not always lead us to a greater understanding of a phenomenon. For example, if we try to take apart something that is constructed holographically, we do not get the pieces of which it is made, we only get smaller wholes. [emphasis added]
A Holographic Model of the Brain
The principle of holography was first advanced in 1947 by the British physicist Dennis Gabor and was first given substance in the early 1960s with the invention of the laser. However, it wasn’t until the middle 1960s that an understanding of holographic ordering started to impact on other areas of science. One branch of science on which it had an influence was brain research, and the man responsible for this thought-provoking marriage of ideas was Stanford neurophysiologist Karl Pribram.
One of the problems Pribram was interested in solving was how and where the brain stores memories. For example, for decades brain researchers had searched for the specific site within the brain where memories were located, but their efforts had all been resoundingly unsuccessful. In fact, experimental evidence seemed to indicate that there was no such specific site (as is borne out by the fact that a head injury, for example, does not make a person forget half of his or her family). In pondering this strange state of affairs Pribram began to realize that memories seem somehow to be spread throughout the whole brain, although he was at a loss to come up with a brain model that might explain how this was possible. It wasn’t until he encountered an article on holography that he realized he had found the model he was looking for. Memories were not stored in the brain mechanistically, but holographically. The brain functioned like a hologram.
Moreover, Pribram began to realize that memory storage was not the only problem that became more tractable in light of a holographic model of the brain. Another long-standing neurophysiological puzzle is how the brain is able to translate the ocean of frequencies it receives via our senses (light frequencies, sound frequencies, and so on) into the objective world of our mental constructs. However, once again, this problem becomes far less troublesome in light of a holographic brain model, for encoding and decoding frequencies are precisely what a hologram does best.
Bohm’s Implicate Order
Pribram was not the only one musing on the implications of holographic ordering. At about this same time and working halfway around the world, University of London physicist David Bohm was applying the holographic model to yet another natural phenomenon. However, the subject occupying Bohm’s thoughts was not the human brain but some of the most fundamental problems of quantum physics.
One of the problems in which Bohm was interested was the seeming ability of subatomic particles to remain in contact with one another regardless of the distance separating them. For example, if you isolate an atom of an extremely unstable substance called “positronium” and allow it to decay (break down into its constituent parts), it will release two “protons,” or wave particles of light, in opposite directions. What is unusual about these photons is that no matter how far apart they travel, when they are measured they will always be found to have identical angles of “polarization” (the spatial orientation of a light wave as it travels through space).
This would not present a problem if it weren’t for two other factors. The first is that a photon’s angle of polarization is one of those features of the subatomic landscape which does not coalesce into reality until an observer enters the picture. In other words, a photon’s angle of polarization literally does not exist until it is measured. This seems to indicate that, at the moment they are measured, the photons must somehow signal each other in order to be able to know what angle of polarization to assume. However, experimentation has shown that, even when the photons have been allowed to travel far apart and then are both measured simultaneously, they still have identical angles of polarization. This suggests that, if the photons are communicating with one another, their communication takes place instantaneously, and this does present a problem. According to Einstein’s special theory of relativity, no communication or signaling process can travel faster than the speed of light, for if it did, it would break the time barrier and this would open the door on all sorts of unacceptable paradoxes.
In a purely mechanistic universe such a state of affairs presents an unsolvable quandary. However, Bohm began to perceive another way of looking at the phenomenon. What if the photons were not sending signals back and forth at all? What if they always possessed the same angle of polarization, not because they were communicating, but because their separateness was an illusion and at some deeper level of reality they were actually extensions of the same fundamental something?
To illustrate what he was talking about, Bohm came up with the following example. Imagine an aquarium containing a goldfish. Imagine also that there are two television cameras focused on the aquarium, one pointed at the front and one pointed at the side. Finally, imagine that each television camera is connected to a monitor and that you cannot see the aquarium or the fish directly, but are only able to see what takes place in the aquarium by watching the two television monitors. If you did not have a full understanding of what was going on, you might at first assume that what you were watching was really two fish. After all, you would be seeing them from different angles and in different locations. However, after a while you would also begin to assume that the two fish were communicating with each other, for as one moved, the other would also make a slightly different but corresponding movement. This, says Bohm, is precisely what is going on between the two photons. At our own level of reality – a level Bohm calls the “explicate order” – the two photons appear to be separate. But at a deeper level of reality – a level Bohm calls the “implicate order” – everything is an unbroken whole and the two photons, like the goldfish above, are actually just different facets of the same fundamental something.
Although Bohm was convinced that he had arrived at an important new insight into the workings of subatomic reality, he realized that his theory did more than just explain the seeming ability of quantum particles to communicate instantaneously over vast tracts of space and time. It indicated that, far from being built like a giant machine, the universe was structured along the lines of quite a different order. At its most fundamental level the cosmos was quite literally a gigantic, multidimensional hologram.
This then is the holographic paradigm, that both the brain and reality itself are Holographic, and although many of the implications of this new way of looking at nature may seem new and astonishing, it is a tribute to Swedenborg’s visionary genius that they were already a part of his body of ideas. For example, if Bohm is correct and subatomic particles are just different facets of a fundamental unity, this means that, like a hologram at its most basic level, the universe is indivisible and ultimately cannot be broken down into constituent parts. Similarly, in True Christian Religion Swedenborg seems to imply that spiritual reality is equally indivisible. As he stated, “[In heaven, no one can pronounce a trinity of persons each of whom separately is God] – the heavenly aura itself, in which their thoughts fly and undulate the way sound does in our air, resists [such pronouncement]” (TCR 173 ).
Another aspect of the holographic universe is the infinite interconnectedness of all things. Just as every portion of a hologram contains all of the information of the whole, so would every portion of a holographic universe contain the whole; every subatomic particle would be an extension of every other subatomic particle, and every point in space and time would, at a deeper level, be adjacent to every other point in space and time. Again, throughout his writings Swedenborg frequently seems to refer to the same stupendous interconnectedness of all things. As he wrote, “Nothing unconnected ever occurs, and anything unconnected would instantly perish” (AC 2556e).
As startling as such assertions as the indivisibility and infinite interconnectedness of subatomic reality may seem, two other ideas advanced by the holographic paradigm are even more astounding. The first is Bohm’s proposal that in a universe in which subatomic particles are merely facets of a more fundamental unity, objective reality itself must be seen as an illusion of sorts, a projection from a more complex dimension beyond our own. In other words, just as the two fish on the television monitors in the earlier illustration are actually two-dimensional projections of the three-dimensional reality of the aquarium, our own three-dimensional universe must be seen as a projection of a yet more multidimensional level of reality. Put another way, the universe as we perceive it is only one of the images that might be extracted out of Bohm’s implicate order – the superhologram that has given our cosmos birth. [emphasis added]
As for what other images/realities this superhologram contains, this is an extremely open-ended question. If Bohm is correct in his surmise, it is clear that it contains everything we perceive in reality and more. Because it is the matrix that gives birth to both space and time, it contains the entire recorded past of our universe and its future. Because it is the archetypal or primary reality from which all things spring, it contains every subatomic particle that ever has been or will be; every conceivable energy state and configuration of matter that is possible, from sequoia trees to neutron stars, from maple leaves to gamma rays to human brain cells. In short, it must be seen as the cosmic storehouse of All That Is, the very womb of creation itself. And this is the very least that it contains.
As for what else the superhologram contains, that is a matter on which mere mortals must remain silent, for, as Bohm prudently notes, it is a question that requires a knowledge of things transcendent. However, he does venture to say that we have no reason to assume that it does not contain more, levels of reality not yet even suspected by science and aspects of existence still beyond our most fantastical imaginings. Furthermore, because of the remarkable diversity and richness of the forms put forth by the superhologram and because we live in a universe in which projections of the superhologram are governed by extraordinarily ordered and dependable laws of physics, Bohm feels that whatever its full extent, at the very least it is safe to conclude that this more complex dimension beyond our own is “purposive” and possesses “deep intentionality.” Indeed, because it is the wellspring from which our self-awareness is derived and is itself a realm in which all things become indivisible, Bohm feels that the superholographic level of reality should not even be thought of as a material plane. As he states, “It could equally well be called Idealism, Spirit, Consciousness. The separation of the two – matter and spirit – is an abstraction. The ground is always one.”
As for how the projections we know as physical reality manage to coalesce out of the superhologram, Bohm sees this as a rich and unending process of enfoldment and unfoldment. In other words, subatomic particles are no more objects moving through space than are the images on a television screen. Rather, what is perceived as movement is actually the result of the continuous appearance and disappearance of the projection, an unending exchange between the two levels of reality. [Emphasis added. Ed’s note: see The Amazing Story of the Clairvoyants Who Observed Atoms for more on this on-off-on-off projection idea.]
Again, this radical departure from the mechanistic view of the universe, that the objective world is a projection of a more fundamental and spiritual level of existence, is clearly elucidated in Swedenborg’s writings:
Absolutely everything comes from the first Reality [Esse], and the design is so established that the first Reality is present in the derived forms [both] indirectly and directly, just as much in the most remote part of the design, therefore, as in its first part. The actual Divine-True is the only substance; its derivatives are simply successive secondary forms. This also enables us to see that the divine does flow directly into absolutely everything. (AC 7004 )
Indeed, Bohm’s notion that the objective reality is actually the product of a constant series of enfoldings and unfoldings is mirrored uncannily in Swedenborg’s assertion that everything in the universe is the result of two intersecting forces he calls “direct” and “indirect” inflow. As he put it in Arcana Coelestia, “There are always two forces which hold anything together in its coherence and its form – a force acting from the outside, and a force acting from within. Where they meet is the thing that is being held together (AC 3628 ). [Ed’s note: see The Amazing Story of the Clairvoyants Who Observed Atoms for more on this inflow and outflow idea.]
Similarly, in Heaven and Hell he wrote, “The Lord unites all the heavens by means of a direct and an indirect inflow – by a direct inflow from himself into all the heavens, and by an indirect inflow from one heaven into another” (HH 37).
An Ocean of Frequency
But the most mind-boggling proposal made by the holographic paradigm is the new picture of reality that develops when both Pribram’s and Bohm’s ideas are considered together. For if the concreteness of the world is but a secondary reality and what is “there” is actually an inchoate ocean of potentiality, and if the brain is a hologram and simply plucks various frequencies out of this ocean and mathematically converts them into images, what becomes of objective reality? Put quite simply, it ceases to exist. As the religions of the East have long upheld, the material world is maya, an illusion, and although we may think that we have physical bodies and are moving through a physical domain, this, too, is an illusion. What we really are are “frequency receivers” floating through a kaleidoscopic sea of frequency, and what we extract from this sea and transmogrify into physical reality is but one channel from many beamed to us from a dimension beyond our own.
To support this view further, Pribram points out that studies have shown that our visual systems are also sensitive to sound frequencies. [emphasis added] Even the very cells of our bodies are known to respond to a broad range of frequencies that we do not necessarily translate into perceptions. It is suggested that only in the holographic domain of consciousness are these sorted out into those which will be translated into perceptions and those which will not. Thus, in this view it is not the eye that sees, but the holographic domain of consciousness, and again Swedenborg echoes this sentiment:
The thinking mind flows into the sight, subject to the state imposed on the eyes by the things that are being seen – a state which that mind, further, organizes at will . . . . If our more inward sight were not constantly flowing into our outer or eyesight, this latter could never apprehend or discern any object. For it is the more inward sight that apprehends through the eye what the eye is seeing: it is by no means the eye [that does this], even though it may seem so. We can also determine from this how involved people are in sensory illusions if they believe that their eye sees, when on the contrary it is the sight of their spirit, a more inward sight, that sees through the eye. (AC 1954)
If Bohm and Pribram are correct in their views, even Swedenborg’s mystical experiences become more comprehensible. For example, once his spiritual vision had been awakened, Swedenborg reported that he was able actually to see thought. As he wrote in Arcana Coelestia:
I could see solid concepts of thought as though they were surrounded by a kind of wave, and I noticed that this wave was nothing other than the kinds of thing associated with the matter in my memory, and that in this way spirits could see the full thought. But nothing reaches [normal] human sensation except what is in the middle and seems to be solid. (AC 6200)
Such an ability remains unexplainable in terms of our current paradigm of reality, but if the hologram of our brain is only converting a small portion of the frequencies it receives into sensory data, it may be that Swedenborg’s spiritual awakening was simply the result of his brain’s learning to convert a bit more of the frequencies it was receiving into concrete images. Perhaps he was merely plucking a little more out of the super-hologram than most of us do.
Even Swedenborg’s concept of “portrayals” – his assertion that the inhabitants of spiritual regions communicate through elaborate sequences of images or pictures – may be explainable in terms of the holographic paradigm. If the apparent concreteness of objective reality is only a partial and fragmented translation of All That Is, it may be that the various spiritual kingdoms Swedenborg witnessed were only deeper levels of the super-holographic domain. If this is the case, it may be that the deeper our “frequency receivers” travel into the super-hologram, the more freely such frequencies are translated into images. In other words, here in the so-called physical world the holograms of our brains have learned to translate frequencies in a rigid and highly structured manner, and this has caused us to view reality as solid and objective. However, as we drop this misconception and learn to tune into more and more of the super-hologram (become spiritually awakened), like children who have grown beyond needing the rigid lines of a coloring book, we may no longer need such rigorously defined parameters and will instead translate the frequencies we receive more loosely and into more flowing shapes and patterns.
In a way, this is perhaps what Swedenborg is getting at when he says that everything in nature has a correspondence with things that exist in the spiritual world, that everything in objective reality is also, in its own way, a portrayal (AC 2999), for in a holographic universe nothing can be seen as truly objective. No matter how concrete our perceptions may seem, they are always the product of a deeper level of reality, a still richer strata of the holographic domain. And the deeper we penetrate into this holographic domain, the greater the spectrum of frequencies that must be translated into portrayals until portrayals or concrete images cease to be able to convey the richness of the information coming through and pure frequency must by necessity predominate. Perhaps this is why Swedenborg found that the language of “angels of the third heaven” appeared to him only as “a streaming of light, containing a perception, from its flame, of the good within it” (AC 3346).
If this is the case, if Swedenborg had become privy to a holographic level of reality, a spiritual dimension that science is only now beginning to rediscover, it is important to realize that all of his descriptions of spiritual regions are also only portrayals. Such an admission is not intended to diminish the magnitude of his mystical experience, but merely to point out that in a holographic universe there can no longer be any distinction between what is symbolic and what is real. All apparent realities possess a deeper symbolic meaning, for all are translations of a deeper and still more fundamental level of order.
In this light, Swedenborg’s assertion that each region of heaven corresponds with a different member or organ of the human body and that every human being “is a heaven in miniature” (HH 203) becomes his most holographic concept of all. Viewed as a portrayal, what else can it mean but that the whole is the part and the part is the whole; that like a hologram the cosmos too contains the entire design in every minute portion? Or as Swedenborg so eloquently put it, “The divine is the same in the largest and smallest things” (DLW 77-81)
From A View from Within, comp. and trans. George F. Dole (New York: Swedenborg Foundation, 1985) p. 29.
Ibid., p. 24.
Heinz Pagels, The Cosmic Code (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1982), p. 26.
From Dole, View, p. 29.
Ibid., p. 36.
Ibid., p. 37.
David Bohm and Renee Weber, “Nature as Creativity,” Revision 5, no. 2 (Fall 1982), p. 40
From Dole, View, p. 35.
Wiktor Osiatynski, Contrasts: Soviet and American Thinkers Discuss the Future (New York Macmillan 1984), pp. 70-73
From Dole, View, p.26
Ibid., p. 36.
From George F. Dole, Emanuel Swedenborg: The Universal Human and Soul-Body Interaction (New York: Paulist Press, 1984), p. 41.
Ibid., p. 53.
From Dole, View, p. 40.
Ibid., p. 34.
from Larsen R, Larsen S, Lawrence JF, Woofenden, WR (eds.) Emanuel Swedenborg. A Continuing Vision. New York: Swedenborg Foundation, Inc., 1988, p. 443-448