Goleman: History tells us that, with
every paradigm shift in science, a new frontier
of legitimate investigation opens. And from
that new frontier come answers to questions
the old paradigm did not allow to be asked.
It seems to me you're posing questions that
have not been allowed before a precarious position.
Pribram: Let me tell you how I got
into the holographic story. First, though, I
want to make it clear that this is a development
of theory and is fairly independent of the day
today laboratory research program that engages
me. The theory is largely based on the research
of others. Nonetheless, because I am actively
doing brain research, I have had the opportunity
of at least checking for myself the essential
results on which it is based.
in the 1950s, people dealing with the brain
and those dealing with mental processes weren't
together. Psychologists, who were supposed to
be dealing with mental processes, by and large
at that time thought “mind" was a
dirty word; they were dealing with behavior.
People who studied the brain were in neurophysiology.
I wondered why people who were interested in
behavior weren't also interested in brain function.
The answer always was that we simply didn't
know enough about the brain- a fair evaluation
of the state of the art.
one thing, brain science was plagued by some
classic, unsolved mysteries. One was the puzzle
of memory loss. More exactly, why was that any
given discrete memory would not be lost after
brain injury? If a person has a stroke, and
half his in is destroyed, he doesn't come home
and recognize only half his family. It doesn't
work that way. Either memory is destroyed completely
or nothing is lost. There's no correspondence
between how much tissue is damaged and how much
memory is lost.
had been done showing that just 2 percent of
the fibers in a particular system would retain
that system's functions. There's an amazing
amount of redundancy in the brain. Imagine if
98 percent of your kidneys were gone, but the
other 2 percent worked so well you couldn't
d anything wrong at all. The brains spare reserve
for memory is fantastic. And we couldn't explain
for over half a century, physiologists have
searched for an “engram”—a
change in brain cells that marks a memory trace.
They've never found one. Memory seems to be
distributed throughout the brain, located in
no particular part.
What are the other classic puzzles of brain
One, there's the constancy problem, the question
of how we can recognize an object regardless
of distance or the perspective from which it
is viewed. No matter where you sit in this room
I can recognize you as Dan Goleman. You can
sit far away or very near, and I don't look
at you and think that your head has become swollen
or shrunk. Your head looks a reasonable size
no matter where you are. Yet the question raised
is: how does a hard wired brain, in which connections
between parts are fixed, allow perceptual flexibility?
there's a similar puzzle in the motor system,
in which skills can be transferred from one
limb to another...I'm right handed, but if I
try, I can write with my left hand. Or even
by holding a pencil in my teeth. Next time you
are at the beach, try to write in the sand with
your left big toe. The puzzle is that the part
of the brain that controls the left hand, or
the teeth, or the big toe has never written
anything before. How does that particular group
of brain cells process information about writing?
has happened that takes memory of my learning
how to write and distributes it to places in
the brain where it's never been called on before.
There was, until .recently, no good explanation
for the brain's ability to do that.
Where have puzzles like that led you?
Ideas started to come together in the mid 60s.
A major factor was the invention of the hologram.
A hologram produces a three dimensional image
from a photographic film on which the interference
pattern of light waves reflected from an object
or scene has been recorded. When the film is
illuminated, an image of the object is produced.
What does any of this have to do with the brain?
Sir John Eccles mentioned in an article several
years ago that "synaptic potentials"
-the electrical exchanges between brain cells
-don't occur alone. Every nerve branches, and
when the electrical message goes down the branches
a ripple, or a wave front is formed. When other
wave fronts come to the same, location from
other directions, the wave fronts intersect
and set up an interference pattern. It's somewhat
like the meeting of ripples that form around
two pebbles thrown into a pond.
seemed plausible to me that if there are interfering
wave fronts in the brain, those fronts might
have the same properties as a hologram. Both
holograms and brain tissue can be cut up without
removing their image-processing capabilities.
Holograms are resistant to damage- like memory
in the brain. The persistent puzzle of a distributed
memory might be solved. The brain had to behave,
in part, like a hologram.
The puzzle couldn't be solved without the hologram.
Right. We'd been searching for some organizational
principle that would allow for the basic facts
of perceptual constancy, transfer of learning,
and the elusiveness of memory in the brain.
Suddenly, this principle was presented to us
in the hologram.
So that was the single organizing principle
that allowed for some understanding of all those
things you already knew to be both true and
puzzling about the brain.
Yes. Best of all, we didn't have to conjure
up a mechanism in the brain; the hologram was
there all the time in the wave front nature
of brain cell connectivity. We simply hadn't
had the wit to realize it. Even Eccles, who
pointed to the wave phenomenon in the first
place, has more recently gone back to emphasizing
the nerve impulse aspects of brain functioning.
But this is all theory. Do you have any data
to back it up?
Once we saw where to look, it became clear that
one test that could be readily made was whether
the behavior of single cells in, for instance,
the visual system, would obey the mathematical
laws that comprise a hologram. The physical
hologram stores the interference patterns of
light reflected from objects. The question became,
therefore, whether there are cells in the brain
that respond to the interference patterns of
sensory input. In short, do they act as frequency
analyzers -that is, do the cells resonate to
Which is to say, that when the environment presents
a certain frequency, a specific group of cells
in the brain resonates to that frequency and
not to others?
Right. A century ago, Georg Simon Ohm suggested
that brain cells in the auditory system act
as frequency analyzers for sounds. Ohm is also
responsible for Ohm's Law in electricity, which
relates to voltage, amperage, and resistance.
Hermann. von Helmholtz followed up Ohms suggestions
and, for many years, the auditory system was
considered to be something like a piano keyboard.
Then Georg von Bekesy showed that the cochlea
of the inner ear operated more along the lines
of a string than a keyboard. He also showed
that not only the ear, but the skin as well
acts like a string: it is sensitive to vibrations
and their frequencies in such away that, for
example, fine tuning forks vibrating on the
forearm are perceived as a simple point of vibration
when their phases of vibration are properly
our laboratory, we showed that only a single
response is produced in the brain cortex under
those conditions. A further inference than can
now be readily tested quantitatively is that
the brain cells respond in terms of this interaction
of the response and the frequencies of the tuning
How so? What are the mathematics involved?
It's called a Fourier analysis, and is a form
of calculus that transforms a complex pattern
into its component sine waves. Helmholtz showed
that this kind of analysis could explain the
functioning of the auditory system. Then an
entirely different line of research, done in
Russia by N. Bernstein in the 1930s, showed
that the same type of analysis fit the motor
system. We didn't hear of that work until the
1960s, because Bernstein's book, The Coordination
and Regulation o/ Movements [Pergamon Press),
wasn't translated until 1967.
What did Bernstein do?
It was really fascinating. He dressed people
in black leotards and took movies of them against
black backgrounds. Black on black. Except that
he painted white dots on their joints -elbows,
knees, and so on. Then he had them do things
like hammer nails, or jump up and down on platforms
that were on springs. Of course, all that his
movies showed were white dots moving up and
down along the film, creating wave forms.
did a frequency analysis at the wave forms.
The mathematics he used were Fourier's. With
that analysis, he was able to predict within
a few millimeters where the next step in the
sequence would fall.
I read Bernstein's work and saw that he was
using the same mathematics for motor activity
that Ohm had used to describe the auditory system.
And that was the same mathematical principle
that Gabor had used to invent the hologram.
So I thought, "If Bernstein can do a Fourier
analysis on these movements, why can't his brain
do it? And if his brain can do it, mine can,
too, and perhaps this is the way everyone’s
brain analyzes movements into their "frequency
So you have the same organizing principle in
the auditory, somatosensory, and the somatomotor
That left the visual system. In 1968 or so,
I got a note from Fergus Campbell at Cambridge
University. His group had just shown that the
visual system also worked as a frequency analyzer
The significance of his discovery has still
not filtered down to textbooks, which consider
cells in the visual system as "feature
detectors," cells that are selective of
highly specific features, such as lines and
comers. A classic study had shown that cells
in a frog's visual system fired only in response
to buglike movements. From such studies, it
was concluded that all of the brain's involvement
in perception was due to the fact that particular
cells detected particular features. That turns
out to be only a partial truth.
not that cells in the visual system are detecting
only a certain line. What they respond to is
the patterns of shadow and light. Everywhere
one looks there are light and dark areas. It
is these areas the eyes take in and transmit
to the visual cortex. The light to dark alternations
are measured in terms of spatial frequency whereas
the auditory signal is measured in terms of
temporal frequency. Cells in the visual cortex
are frequency analyzers; they fire in response
to a particular spatial frequency. With visual
patterns, the alternations are rather complex,
but the Fourier theorem says that no matter
how complicated a wave form is, you can break
it down into its component sine waves. Seven
or at the most 12 of these turn out to describe
even a fairly complex pattern rather well.
DeValois at Berkeley has recently performed
a critical experiment. He mathematically converted
a plaid pattern into the Fourier domain by computer
and then recorded how the cells in the visual
cortex re sponded to the same plaid. David Hubel
and Torsten Wiesel at Harvard Medical School
had shown in the late 1950s that those cells
are selective of certain spatial patterns. DeValois
pointed out that the plaid pattern and its Fourier
transform are different.
he found was that the cells were selective for
the Fourier transform of the plaid, not for
the pattern of the original plaid itself.
now, evidence from a half dozen laboratories
from Leningrad and Cambridge to Harvard and
Berkeley, and our own laboratories at Stanford,
supports the conception that this is how the
visual system does, in fact, work. But the issue
continues to be controversial because it is
intuitively simple to think visual pattern's
are composed of features, as in Euclid's geometry,
while it is counterintuitive and difficult to
grasp that visual patterns might be decomposed
into their sine wave components.
So the visual system analyzes a pattern into
its component frequencies. Then, instead of
a localized engram that might make up a specific
memory, visual memory is composed of wave forms
and organized like the hologram. So that the
memory becomes activated when the right set
of wave forms is transmitted from the eye.
Then, when a familiar room floods us with memories,
it's because the patterns of shadow- light shadow
that it evokes trigger a set of stored holograms.
What we call 'situational cues "for memory
are no other than a set of wave forms that can
activate the appropriate hologram.
It also explains how imitative learning can
Imitative learning? When a child learns to march
by watching a parade, or a novice at tennis
learns how to serve by watching a pro?
Yes. Imagine what it would be like to learn
a tennis serve if you had to extract every feature
of what you were copying, and to describe every
move to yourself, feature by feature. You never
think about doing it that way -you just watch
how it's done, then go ahead and try it yourself.
You'd never be able to imitate the subtleties
of the serve piece by piece. But if the whole
configuration is transmitted and analyzed by
virtue of its component wave forms -if the brain
does a Fourier transform and activates the appropriate
holographic motor pattern -then the entire movement
can be readily imitated.
So what happens is that the brain resonates
with a set of wave forms encoded in the movement;
the brain then activates similar wave forms
to execute the tennis serve.
In a sense, we thus resonate to vibrations -the
counterculture had it right: we actually can
resonate to each other's "vibes."
Goleman: It reminds me of the master hypnotist,
Milton Erickson who has the ability to tune
into everything about the other person -body
posture, tome of voice, breath rate, facial
expression -and imitate it perfectly.
He does it to establish a deep rapport with
the patient that leads easily to a trance state.
Erickson's genius seems to be in doing this
a step deeper than most of us do normally when
we are with another person.
holographic model seems to say that when two
people are in synchrony this way, their brains
arc picking up and implementing the same holographic
Exactly. The brain can instantly resonate to
and thus "recognize" wave forms. Once
"recognized," the inverse transform
them to be implemented in behavior.
apparently need to get on the same wavelength
-literally -before we can understand each other.
Perhaps this accounts for the fact that a behaviorist
may operate in one particular mode composed
of different combinations of frequencies from
those characteristic of the humanist.
Then when people don't "connect" in
everyday life, just don't understand each other,
is there some sense in which their holograms
are out of phase?
Absolutely. The hologram yields a new way of
looking at consciousness that is very different
from the old behaviorist and phenomenologist
approaches. The behaviorist looks for cause
and effect; the phenomenologist, for reasons
and intentions. In holography, however, one
looks for the transformations involved in moving
from one domain to another.
It sounds as though there is not a single hologram
in the brain, but, rather, the capacity for
a vast array of them.
That's right. And it's an important caveat.
You must understand that the brain is a very
particular kind of holographic instrument. Brain
physiologists have found that the receptive
field of a single cell in the visual system
covers at most 5 degrees of visual angle. It
is within this 5 degree patch that there's a
hologram. When one records electrical impulses
from cells in the visual cortex, one finds that
within any given 5 degrees, a cell records in
the pattern predicted by the frequency domain.
to that is another cell with another 5 degree
receptive field. Thus, the cortical surface
is composed of these patches, each of which
encodes in the frequency domain.
holograms within the visual system are therefore
patch holograms. The total image is composed
much as it is in an insect eye that has hundreds
of little lenses instead of one single big lens;
the insect gets a composite image that's just
as good as if there were a single lens. Or,
take the audio speaker system that uses 18 small
four inch drivers, or condensed speakers [as
in some of the Bose systems] instead of one
big 12 or 18 inch speaker. One obtains the same
single "image" from either.
an advantage to patches, though. When one moves
across the control surface from one patch to
another, the encoding is slightly different,
and so movement can be sensed. The multilensed
insect eye is far more sensitive to slight movements.
Patch holograms are a much more powerful way
of encoding than a simple hologram.
But if my visual system is a patchwork composite
of all these 5 degree spans, why don't I experience
a room as a visual patchwork?
Pribram: In each patch, the
activity of the cells creates a wave front;
I believe that the interaction of these wave
fronts is what you experience. You get the total
pattern all woven together as a unified piece
by the time you experience it.
of the elegant things about the holographic
domain is that memory storage is fantastically
great. Storage is also simpler, because all
that is needed is to store a few rules rather
than vast amounts of detail. Another advantage
is that correlations are done incredibly rapidly.
In a computer, the fastest way to analyze data
is to transform them to the Fourier domain and
do cross correlations; the computer is simulating
what neural holograms do is the brain.
Then the hologram would seem to be an efficient
mode for decision making. It would allow a person
to interact spontaneously with a very complex
Extremely efficient. Decisions fall out as the
holographic correlations are performed. One
doesn't have to think things through one-two
three four -a step at a time. One takes the
whole constellation of a situation, correlates
it, and out of that correlation emerges the
correct response. And one can execute numerous
This seems to me to explain how it is that we
can take in so much information from our surroundings
but consciously attend to very little of it.
We somehow immediately isolate the critical
aspects of a situation from moment to moment
and deal with them all at once.
As I look around the room, the amount of information
I'm processing is fantastic! My brain can do
this only if one stage of information processing
is in the frequency domain, like a hologram.
In such instances, it is probably best not to
speak of information processing, but of image
processing. The term "information"
suggests that the sensory input has become divided
into sections, alternative events, whereas image
processing implies a more holistic mechanism
is at work.
of holistic images brines me to another point.
When I was teaching at Harvard, B. F. Skinner
once confronted me with a challenge. He and
other behaviorists would talk about what went
on inside the head in terms of a "black
box." They insisted on dealing only with
behavior that could be directly observed; the
brain was a mystery they chose to ignore. Skinner
asked me what I thought of Wolfgang Kohler's
theory of isomorphism: the idea that there was
a one to one correspondence between the form
(morphology) of the world around us and the
form in the brain representing that world.
isomorphism was literal: if, one were observing
a square, Kohler would expect to find electrical
activity in the form of a square in the brain.
Skinner asked whether I would like to imagine
mowing a lawn. What might be going on in my
brain if isomorphism were correct? I had to
reply that I had no good answer to his question;
in that case, he said, he would go on treating
the behavior of organisms in terms of the black
box approach. But now that I can think of the
brain as a hologram, which is just the patterning
of wave forms, I am in a much better position
to answer Skinner. However, it also entails
the view that the world around us is isomorphic
to the brain, i.e., that the world is, in part,
made up of the patterning of wave forms.
The wave forms "out there" are isomorphic
to the wave forms in the brain.
Yes! One aspect of the universe is that it is
composed of wave forms.
But we perceive the world as images and objects.
We make images of objects, but at another level
of analysis, quantum physics tells us that the
universe is composed of wave forms that interact
to form particles or vice versa.
Then we cannot directly apprehend the world
as it actually is, but only as the filters in
our brains make it seem?
No, that's not quite right. The world we directly
apprehend is one reality. Another, perhaps a
more encompassing reality, is the one the physicists
have become aware of in the past half century.
scientist who's putting the most thought into
this problem is David Bohm of London University.
He's a theoretical physicist who has come at
the problem from a totally different direction,
but is coming out in the same place that I am
from my work with the brain. That is, the physical
universe and our brains have in common an order
of reality that is similar in organization to
pointed out that ever since the telescope and
the microscope were invented, we've been looking
the micro and macrouniverse through lenses.
And, what's more, deriving our conceptual models,
our concepts of physics and biology in the same
Does this mean that our models of the physical
universe are limited in some fashion, in the
same way that the properties of lenses limit
what the viewer sees through them.? What's limiting
about a lens?
A lens objectifies. Scientists are always trying
to be objective, to work with objects and particles
and things. But in quantum physics, particles
don't act only like objects, they also behave
as if they were wave forms. David Bohm has been
suggesting that these wave forms may compose
hologram like organizations he calls the "implicate
order." That is a very different way of
looking at the universe from the lens defined
world view, different from the "objective"
approach, which Bohm refers to as the "explicate
order." If psychology is to understand
the conditions that produce the world of appearances,
it must hook to the thinking of physicists like
Does Bohm have any support among other physicists?
He's in very good company. Some of the others
who have grappled with the same problems include
Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, Eugene Wigner
and, of course, Albert Einstein. Bohm had worked
with Einstein, who was searching for a unified
field theory. Einstein didn't like the probabilistic,
statistical view that, at bottom, the physical
universe is composed of essentially, haphazard
movements of minute objects, particles such
as electrons, photons, and quarks. As Einstein
once put it, he did not believe God played dice
with the universe. Bohm is offering an alternative
conceptual resolution of the particle wave dilemma
by suggesting that behind haphazard appearance
lies a domain of constraints that, when uncovered,
will provide a consistent, nonstatistical basis
for the apparently haphazard comings and goings
of individual particles.
But the universe we see and understand is the
explicate order. You've said tour brains can
analyze holographically, which should be within
the implicate order. Why, then, is our reality
one of objects rather than wave forms?
Because our sesnes are all lens systems of one
sort or another.. The lens of the eye is more
highly developed than that of the cochlea in
the ear or that of the sensors in the skin.
But those sensory surfaces all act, as shown
by Bekesy’s work, as primitive forms of
Then, we create an object world because of the
way our senses and brain are organized, not
because of the way the world is organized per
Don't misunderstand. The world of appearances
is certainly a real world. But it is not the
only order of reality. Both physics and biology
tell us that. We directly perceive only one
order. Yet we know from other sources that the
world is round. The fact that in the world of
appearances it seems flat doesn't contradict
the other reality, its roundness.
In the range at which I have too deal with the
world, it is irrelevant that it is round.
Exactly. The same holds for holographic reality.
It isn't that the world of appearances is wrong;
it isn't that there aren't objects out there,
at one level of reality. It's that if you penetrate
through and look at the universe with a nonlens
system, in this case a holographic system, you
arrive at a different view, a different reality.
And that otther reality can explain things that
have hitherto remained inexplicable scientifically.
Such as paranormal phenomena. Synchronicities,
the apparently meaningful coincidence of events.
As a way of hooking at consciousness, holographic
theory is much closer to mystical and Eastern
philosophy. It will take a while for people,
to became comfortable with an order of reality
other than the world of appearances. But it
seems to me that some of the mystical experiences
people have described for millennia begin to
make some scientific sense. They bespeak the
possibility of tapping into that order of reality
that is behind the world of appearances. I have
no personal experience with that, but when I
read some descriptions of mystical experiences,
I wonder if somehow those people haven't hit
upon a mechanism that lets them tap into the
What might such a mechanism be?
My best hunch is that access to those other
domains of consciousness is through attention.
That makes sense. Many classical spiritual methods
deal with retraining attention, mainly through
meditation. Eastern religious literature is
rife with accounts of the paranormal and transcendental
states people have reached through these methods,
ranging from simple precognition through knowledge
of another's thoughts to a leap into transcendental
mysticism aside, most of us have experienced
what Jung called "synchronicity,"
where two or more events happen that suggest
an uncanny connectedness. For example, you get
a letter from a friend the day you start to
write one yourself, yet you've booth been outt
of touch for years. Unless you discount it as
just haphazard coincidence, there's no explanation
In terms of holographic theory, all those events
are plausible if the brain can somehow abrogate
its ordinary constraints and gain access to
the implicate order.
If the key to the implicate order is attention,
what part of the brain turns the key?
We have some likely candidates. There's the
frontal lobe-limbic connection--which ties structures
in the depths pf the brain to the cortex at
the top. We know it is a major regulator of
You suggest that there is a particular mechanism
in the brain that probes the doorway to the
implicate order, and that, once entered, that
order allows a range of experiences that defy
our assumptions of what is possible for consciousness.
The implications are staggering. The hologram
and Fourier frequency domain have the makings
of good science fiction.
It is mind boggling. The frequency domain deals
with the density of occurrences only; time and
space are collapsed. Ordinary boundaries of
space and time, such as locations of any sort,
disappear. They are read out, or re created,
when transformations into the domain of objects
and images occur. In the absence of space time
coordinates, the causality upon which most scientific
explanations depend is also suspended.
Density of occurrences. But isn't density a
quality of space?
Fine, if there is space! You see, we don't know
how to talk in anything but space time coordinates.
But when I do a frequency analysis of an EEG,
neither of my coordinates displays time or space.
One axis deals with the spectrum, the other
with power, or the amount of activity in its
density at each node in the spectrum.
So it's possible to translate time space phenomena
into other domains in which the organizing principles
are not interims of time or space, repackaging
information in a new way.
Yes. In the frequency domain, time and space
become collapsed. In a sense, everything is
happening all at once, synchronously. But one
can read out what is happening into a variety
of coordinates of which
space and time are the most helpful in bringing
us into the ordinary domain of appearances.
Is there any way an ordinary person’s
brain can jump into such a timeless and spaceless
It does it all the time. I've been talking to
you for two hours, and I didn’t have any
of the material we discussed organized in time
or space. It was holographically organized,
and I've been reading it out of my brain. Like
printout from a computer memory. My memory is
organized along other dimensions than time and
space -though space and time tags may be attached
to particular memories.
Even so, the paranormal demands much more than
our ordinary access to the implicate order.
While we don't know what the mechanisms for
a leap to the paranormal might be, for the first
time, we have to suspend clue disbelief in such
phenomena because there is now a scientific
base that allows understanding. Perhaps if we
could discover the rules for "tuning in"
on the holographic implicate domain, we could
come to some agreement as to what constitutes
normal and paranormal, and even some deeper
understanding of the implicate order of the
all could perhaps then leap, occasionally, into
the timeless and spaceless domain.
In some metaphysical systems, that domain corresponds
to the definition of God.
That's right. Leibnitz talked about "monads,"
and a windowless, indivisible entity that is
the basic unit of the universe and a microcosm
of it. God, said Leibnitz, was a monad. Leibnitz
was the inventor of the calculus, the same mathematics
that Gabor used to invent the hologram. I would
change one word in the monadology. Instead of
calling it windowless, I prefer to call monads
lensless. In a monadic organization, the part
contains the whole—as in a hologram. "Man
was made in the image of God." Spiritual
insights fit the descriptions of this domain.
They're made perfectly plausible by the invention
of the hologram.