I’ve always had a weird relationship with reality. Part of it comes, I suppose, from having an especially vivid imagination. When I wake up in the morning, if I’ve had especially vivid dreams, it often takes me a moment to reestablish that the real world, or what we call the real world, actually exists. (It’s often a relief, actually.)
When I read about scientific theories, I have a tendency to ask myself, not whether they are true, but whether they are interesting and useful. So, for example, I find Sigmund Freud’s theories of the human mind incredibly useful for analyzing literature, but reading the case history he recorded in Dora: Fragments of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria destroyed any belief I might have had in his ability to understand an actual human mind. It was so obvious to me that, in Dora’s case, he was simply making stuff up (and ignoring evidence of actual underlying abuse).
I’ve been very interested recently by the strange experiments being done in physics. I love the idea of quantum entanglement, which seems to confirm in some way my fundamental instinct that the universe is much stranger than we think. And recently I came across the theory of the holographic universe. (I think I followed a facebook link to an article that led me to a book by Michael Talbot called The Holographic Universe: The Revolutionary Theory of Reality.)
So you know what I’m talking about, I’ll quote from an article of his I found online called “The Universe as a Hologram:”
“Does Objective Reality Exist, or is the Universe a Phantasm?
“In 1982 a remarkable event took place. At the University of Paris a research team led by physicist Alain Aspect performed what may turn out to be one of the most important experiments of the 20th century. You did not hear about it on the evening news. In fact, unless you are in the habit of reading scientific journals you probably have never even heard Aspect’s name, though there are some who believe his discovery may change the face of science.
“Aspect and his team discovered that under certain circumstances subatomic particles such as electrons are able to instantaneously communicate with each other regardless of the distance separating them. It doesn’t matter whether they are 10 feet or 10 billion miles apart. Somehow each particle always seems to know what the other is doing. The problem with this feat is that it violates Einstein’s long-held tenet that no communication can travel faster than the speed of light. Since traveling faster than the speed of light is tantamount to breaking the time barrier, this daunting prospect has caused some physicists to try to come up with elaborate ways to explain away Aspect’s findings. But it has inspired others to offer even more radical explanations.
“University of London physicist David Bohm, for example, believes Aspect’s findings imply that objective reality does not exist, that despite its apparent solidity the universe is at heart a phantasm, a gigantic and splendidly detailed hologram. ”
That’s actually inaccurate. If you read Talbot’s article carefully, what you find is that a hologram is a useful metaphor for how the universe works. That’s what the science actually implies. But I’m going to quote a little more:
“This insight suggested to Bohm another way of understanding Aspect’s discovery. Bohm believes the reason subatomic particles are able to remain in contact with one another regardless of the distance separating them is not because they are sending some sort of mysterious signal back and forth, but because their separateness is an illusion. He argues that at some deeper level of reality such particles are not individual entities, but are actually extensions of the same fundamental something.
“To enable people to better visualize what he means, Bohm offers the following illustration. Imagine an aquarium containing a fish. Imagine also that you are unable to see the aquarium directly and your knowledge about it and what it contains comes from two television cameras, one directed at the aquarium’s front and the other directed at its side. As you stare at the two television monitors, you might assume that the fish on each of 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 the two fish, you will eventually become aware that there is a certain relationship between them. When one turns, the other also makes a slightly different but corresponding turn; when one faces the front, the other always faces toward the side. If you remain unaware of the full scope of the situation, you might even conclude that the fish must be instantaneously communicating with one another, but this is clearly not the case.
“This, says Bohm, is precisely what is going on between the subatomic particles in Aspect’s experiment. According to Bohm, the apparent faster-than-light connection between subatomic particles is really telling us that there is a deeper level of reality we are not privy to, a more complex dimension beyond our own that is analogous to the aquarium. And, he adds, we view objects such as subatomic particles as separate from one another because we are seeing only a portion of their reality. Such particles are not separate ‘parts,’ but facets of a deeper and more underlying unity that is ultimately as holographic and indivisible as the previously mentioned rose. And since everything in physical reality is comprised of these ‘eidolons,’ the universe is itself a projection, a hologram.
“In addition to its phantomlike nature, such a universe would possess other rather startling features. If the apparent separateness of subatomic particles is illusory, it means that at a deeper level of reality all things in the universe are infinitely interconnected.The electrons in a carbon atom in the human brain are connected to the subatomic particles that comprise every salmon that swims, every heart that beats, and every star that shimmers in the sky. Everything interpenetrates everything, and although human nature may seek to categorize and pigeonhole and subdivide, the various phenomena of the universe, all apportionments are of necessity artificial and all of nature is ultimately a seamless web.”
This makes perfect sense to me, and it fits with the way I write about the world we live in. The underlying assumptions on which my writing is based are that the world is stranger than we can understand, but that it does have an underlying pattern, and that we see only part of that pattern. I think that’s why Miss Emily Gray weaves in and out of my stories.
Later in the article, Talbot proposes some things that you might think go too far: for him, the theory explains things like coincidences, premonitions, etc. All the small indications we have that the universe is following laws different than the ones we learned about in school, which we tend to ignore because they make us uncomfortable. I tend to ignore them too, despite the fact that they happen to me with some frequency: dreaming about the future, for example. In a sense, what he’s proposing is a sort of magical universe, or a universe in which magic can happen because the reality we think we live in is not actually the reality that exists – that underlying reality is far stranger than we can guess.
And true or not, that theory is interesting and useful. It certainly describes the universe I write about.