Michael Talbot’s book is in the same category as Fritjof Capra’s ‘The Tao of Physics’ and others that deal with some implications of the cutting edge of science. It simultaneously is a work on science and a work on mystical spirituality. Unlike Capra’s work, it is much broader in scope and is not focused solely on physics. Also, it is only partly theoretical; much of its material is a series of discussions of specific recorded cases of unusual, paranormal phenomena that defy description within the normal paradigms of contemporary science. Thus, it enters such fields as psychology and medicine as well as quantum physics.
The underlying principle is the conviction that the physical world of objects, space and time is not a true reality in the way we are conditioned to believe that it is. Following the teachings of Far Eastern mysticism (Vedanta, Buddhism and Taoism), and building upon the inferences some thinkers have made from quantum physics, Talbot suggests that the phenomenal world is better understood as a gigantic projection arising from the deepest and little understood depths of mind. He proposes that we think of the phenomenal world using the analogy of a hologram, like the images that were projected out of Artoo Detoo in the first episode of ‘Star Wars’ or the 'holodeck' of the Starship Enterprise. The subtle energy that projects the vast and complex ‘hologram’ of corporeal experience is not literally specialized light used to create holograms, in the stricter denotation of the term, but is the foundational energy that is the ‘stuff’ of the universe. The energy of mind is one and the same as this subtle, indestructible energy.
Talbot argues that the best way to demonstrate the reality of the cosmic hologram is not by trying to analyze 'normal', everyday experience, where the vast majority of us are lost in the illusion, but to consider paranormal phenomena. The more shocking the phenomena are, the stronger they demonstrate the thesis of the hologram, and some of the examples that Talbot discusses are awe-inspiring indeed. Some of the most potent are taken from rare cases of multiple-personality disorders, such as the recorded case of a man who had all the physical symptoms of type I diabetes in one of his personalities but absolutely no symptoms in other personalities of his psyche.
Or, take the case of a man who could shake off both the pain and swelling of a wasp sting in one personality, but could make the symptoms totally disappear in another. Stepping down from such rare but verifiable cases, Talbot suggests that such phenomena as a ‘phantom limb’ commonly experienced after amputation is evidence of a holographic universe.
Talbot covers a huge array of research, although he lands squarely on certain favorites. In discussing the implications of quantum physics, Talbot devotes considerable attention to the work of David Bohm. In neurology and psychology, Talbot focuses on such researchers as Karl Pibram and Stanislav Grof. Pibram pioneered the research that suggested that the brain itself functions as a hologram, and Grof was one of the principal researches into the effects of LSD while he still lived in Czechoslovakia, before the age of hippies and the chemical culture. Because LSD was risky and eventually faced severe legal restrictions, Grof, having moved to California, developed the technique of ‘holotropic breathwork’ and is still offering workshops in the technique, which can induce altered states without the negative risks of LSD.
Talbot’s work, although based on a large compendium of scientific research, still is challenged by the most die-hard sceptics of our world, and can be disturbing to religious fundamentalists. Although it received positive reviews in some scientific circles, the best place to find it is in the New Age section of bookstores. For adventurous souls seeking a deeper understanding of reality, it is one of the most fascinating books recently written.